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05.2013

Massachusetts Beverage Business

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THE AMAZING POISON DETECTOR

In America we take it for granted that when we buy alcohol it’s poison free. But in much of the developing world, poisonous alcohol is a very real problem. Beverages tainted with methanol are frequently causing blindness and oftentimes death. The drinks can come from botched batches of home-distilled liquor but it’s more likely that a criminal gang has cut standard alcohols with methanol and sold the resulting concoctions for inflated profits. Because adding methanol doesn’t change the drink’s flavor, color, or smell, there’s been no easy way to tell if it’s poisonous, until now. At a meeting of the American Physical Society, scientists reported that they have developed a reusable wireless chip that can analyze a drink’s proportion of methanol to ethanol (the good kind of alcohol) and warn consumers of any danger. This first generation device costs about $5 and still requires an antenna, but within two years they hope to have a commercial product that sends easy-to-interpret results directly to a user’s cell phone. Until then, it’s drinker beware.

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