APS News

Zero Gravity: The Lighter Side of Science

TOKYO (AP) - Here in the chic pubs of the Aoyama district, the latest fad inspired by beer makers struggling through a sluggish economy is the flammable suds of the new Hydrogen Beer. The latest craze among the environmentally conscious crowd of twentysomethings, the "Suiso" beer made by the Asaka Beer Corporation has been extremely popular at karaoke sing-along bars and discotheques.

Hydrogen, like helium, is a gas lighter than air. Because hydrogen molecules are lighter than air, sound waves are transmitted more rapidly; individuals whose lungs are filled with the nontoxic gas can speak with an uncharacteristically high voice.

Exploiting this quirk of physics, chic urbanites can now sing soprano parts on karaoke sing-along machines after consuming a big gulp of Suiso beer.

The drink comes in a transparent hexagonal bottle imported from the maker of the new American drink "Zima," according to Hideki Saito, marketing director of Asaka Beer Corp. While the bottles are imported from Tennessee, the labels are made with a 100 percent biodegradable polymer. The bottle caps are equipped with a safety valve to prevent excess build-up of pressure in high temperatures.

The flammable nature of hydrogen has also become another selling point, even though Asaka has not acknowledged that this was a deliberate marketing ploy. It has inspired a new fashion of blowing flames from one's mouth using a cigarette as an ignition source. Many new karaoke videos feature singers shooting blue flames in slow motion, while flame contests took place in pubs everywhere in Tokyo on New Year's Eve.

So far, Asaka beer has insisted that the quantities of hydrogen used in the drinks is too low to create potential for bodily harm. In the factory, the carbon dioxide that is dissolved in the beer is partially extracted and replaced with hydrogen gas. Mr. Saito maintained that the remaining carbon dioxide mixed with hydrogen prevents the rate of combustion from increasing dramatically. Carbon dioxide is a nonflammable gas that is naturally contained in the exhaled breath of humans.

However, the company has hesitated from marketing the product in the US due to legal complications.

Each bottle of Suiso beer sells for approximately 1,200 yen, or US$11. The bottles are packed in special crates lined with concrete to prevent chain explosions in the event of a fire.

Readers are invited to send in their favorite humorous science item. If published, you will be sent a (water-drinking) dunking bird.

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin