Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Can we make beer in space?

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These gases are most easily detected in regions where stars are being created in our galaxy. These gases are most easily detected in regions where stars are being created in our galaxy. Image: Hubble ESA

Through a series of profile stories, ScienceNetwork WA takes a look at the people behind the science in Western Australia and what inspires them.

FOR years humans have gazed up at the stars and pondered their place in the universe. And for years they have sought similar answers in beer!

So astronomer Andrew Walsh has posed the question—could we make beer in space?

It’s a puzzle he’ll tackle as a speaker at the Pint of Science series on Wednesday May 25 at the Boston hotel in Northbridge.

For Dr Walsh, who’s a senior research fellow at Curtin University and part of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, the subject is the coming together of two loves—astronomy and beer making.

Even as a kid he remembers being fascinated by night skies, and would spend hours poring through books on astronomy and staring up at the heavens.

“I was just really impressed at how beautiful things looked,” he says.

Dr Walsh furthered his passion at university where he conducted a PhD which questioned how stars form in our galaxy.

This work required him to understand complex molecules in space and the specific conditions they needed to form.

By understanding conditions of temperature, mass and age, he could get a picture of how stars were created.

Professor Andrew Walsh.

 

During his study Dr Walsh noticed that some of the complex molecules he was studying in space were the same as those you can find in beer.

They ranged from the simplest and most common one, water (H2O), to others including methyl mercaptan (CH3SH), acetaldehyde (CH3CHO) and ethanol (CH3CH2OH).

And they are most easily detected in regions where stars are being created in our galaxy.

So how did Dr Walsh make the link between beer and space?

Because he has also been brewing beer for years, and is also a judge in beer home-brewing competitions. As such a judge he came to realise the role of molecules in creating a wonderful beer, or an awful one.

And he began to wonder.

“Now that we stand on the verge of space exploration, not with our minds, but with our bodies, it is time to bring together our best understanding of interstellar chemistry and our love of beer to ask the question: can we make beer out of the complex molecules in space?” he says.

To book tickets for Dr Walsh’s talk or for more information on the Pint of Science series, visit the website.

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