Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Journalist, writer, bard. Winner of the «Diamond Owl» intellectual game «What? Where? When?»
Liberal Arts
7 minutes for reading

BORIS BURDA: how to bring life to water

BORIS BURDA: how to bring life to water
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Marianna Storozhenko. «Flexibility» collage, 2021 / Facebook, «Sil-Sol»




The German resort of Niederselters has been popular since the Romans — perhaps its name comes from the Latin words for «jumping water». As early as the 16th century, it gained international fame. And in 1775 Swedish mineralogist Thorburn Bergman learned how to artificially obtain what made the resort so attractive. What did he get?




Simply sparkling water — still sometimes called «Seltzer water» in honor of the Niederselters resort.




Almost since antiquity, we have been periodically explained that science is not smart but abstruse. That scientists are mainly engaged in fooling our brothers as they want. They communicate with each other in incomprehensible jargon on topics no one needs and fool the head of the common man so that, God forbid, he did not figure out that he benefited from them, as from the milk of not very high-yielding goats.

I won’t even pretend to be surprised by this: ignorant and aggressive people find everything that is even a little incomprehensible to be stupidity at best and an insidious conspiracy at worst. It is much more pleasant for them when what they do not understand is incomprehensible to them not because they do not understand it well but because they want to deceive them, but they are so smart that they immediately realize it.

One of the main postulates of this stupid and evil theory is that all the so-called great scientists cannot invent anything useful. Well, who among them invented anything that could really be useful to a simple person like them — an iron, a toothpick, a folding knife, a coffee mill… You say that Einstein is very clever — why didn’t he invent something like that?

What’s interesting is that they are very wrong here — refrigerators «Crystal», millions of which stood in Soviet kitchens, were invented by Einstein, and they do not know it — their problems. And in general, a lot of simple and useful things that we all use were invented by representatives of «pure science» — we just forget about them inherent in our ingratitude. For example, this one…




Joseph Priestley was a typical representative of «pure science» — a philologist and theologian, how much further from practice? The son of a poor clothier, he began his career as a priest. His ability as a linguist was outstanding — besides his native English, he knew German, French, Italian, Latin, Ancient Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, and Chaldean.

In time, he went to Warrington Academy — to teach foreign languages and literature. By the way, there he created a textbook of English grammar, on which the subject was taught for more than half a century. Enough for fame and without any applied inventions. But this was not enough for him — he met Benjamin Franklin and began to be interested in natural sciences.

Following Franklin’s suggestion, in 1767, he published «The History and Present State of Electricity». This is also a theory, but the fact is that in the same year, he discovered that graphite conducts electricity — here, you could not do it without experiment. Then, he also suggested that the force of interaction of electric charges is inversely proportional to the distance between them, anticipating Coulomb’s law.

However, the most outstanding results he achieved were in chemistry — a science that is not at all abstract and associated with experiments. The main sphere of his interests became various «airs» — so in those days, called gases. It was he who first obtained «saltpeter air» (nitrogen monoxide), «hydrochloric acid air» (hydrogen chloride), and «alkaline air» (ammonia), and in 1774, it was he who discovered oxygen.


Джозеф Пристли (24 марта 1733 – 6 февраля 1804) — британский священник-дисентер, естествоиспытатель, философ, общественный деятель. Вошел в историю прежде всего как выдающийся химик, открывший кислород и углекислый газ
Joseph Priestley (March 24, 1733 – February 6, 1804) was a British dissenter priest, naturalist, philosopher, and social activist. He made history primarily as an outstanding chemist who discovered oxygen and carbon dioxide / wikipedia.org


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In those days, the theory of phlogiston, a kind of gas responsible for combustion, the primary element of fire, had not yet been abandoned. When Cavendish isolated hydrogen in 1766, he considered it pure phlogiston because it burned perfectly. And Priestley considered oxygen, in the atmosphere of which combustion took place most intensively, «dephlogisticated air» — because, they said, everything burns so brightly in it that phlogiston rushes into it.

Even before this discovery, Priestley conducted his famous experiment with a mouse under a glass hood. After a while, the mouse suffocated and died — so the air under the hood was somehow spoiled by the mouse’s breath. And then Priestley put under this hood, and a bush of mint — and the mouse continued to live! So the scientist discovered the phenomenon of photosynthesis — the mint, as it was found out later, released oxygen. But what did it absorb?

Priestley had a clue to this question, too. Even earlier, he noticed that the fermentation of beer formed bubbles of new «air», found that it is collected near the ground — so it is heavier than normal air. It did not support life — it was even tried to be called «dead air» And, to isolate and collect it, Priestley used the fact that it is well dissolved in water. All that was left was to taste it…

So Priestley did. He saw that the water in which this gas (we call it carbon dioxide) was dissolved became quite pleasant to the taste. Priestley, contrary to the general opinion of pure science, did not consider this useless — he made a report to the Royal Society on his discovery, treated those present to the resulting drink (he called it «Pyrmont Water»), and with that began the worldwide history of soda.


Оборудование Джозефа Пристли для экспериментов с различными газами, 1775
Joseph Priestley’s equipment for experimenting with various gases, 1775 / wikipedia.org




The Royal Society of London awarded Priestley a medal for this report, but there were more helpful incentives. Not three years later, the mentioned above Bergman Thorburn invented the saturator — a device that allowed large quantities of water to be saturated with carbon dioxide under pressure and made available for sale as an artificial analog of natural carbonated water (a typical example of such water is narzan).

The jeweler Johann Jacob Schweppe, who had long dreamed of creating artificial champagne without alcohol but with bubbles, saw such an opportunity in Bergmann’s device, improved it, and began mass production of carbonated water. Soon, Schweppe began to call his product «soda water» because he used soda to obtain carbon dioxide gas. It was even used to treat diseases from scurvy to malaria.

Only in 1835, the heirs of Schweppe’s company made a step that now seems extremely natural: they added some sweet lemon syrup to the soda and released Schweppe’s Lemonade — the first sweet soda in history. Soon there was a new type of such a drink — cream soda, then began to carbonate not only water, but also wine… And at the end of the XIX century the era of Coca-Cola began…

However, now sodas are not considered therapeutic — rather the opposite. Dentists decorate waiting rooms with bottles of Coca-Cola, in which 32 pieces of sugar are stuffed — that’s how much sugar is contained in such a bottle, and ask to drink it only through a straw so that it harms only the front teeth, not all of them. In France, sweet sodas have been taxed since 2011 — to fight the obesity they contribute to.


Первые бутылки Schweppe’s Lemonade з оливково-зеленого стекла, 1795–1831
First bottles of Schweppe’s Lemonade in olive green glass, 1795–1831 / spiritschweppes.com





Here you are: a representative of academic science, a philosopher, a theologian, and as soon as he noticed a helpful thing — he fixed, justified, reported, even began to develop technology, and implemented the beneficial effect he noticed so that in the whole world it would be difficult to find a man who would not use the idea that struck him. Carbonic acid had been discovered before Priestley, but they hadn’t figured out how to use it!

Maybe it was just a rare accident? Absolutely not — this ability to notice the useful properties of substances should have worked more than once! And so it was: Priestley was the one who discovered that pieces of dried rubber could be used to erase incorrectly drawn pencil lines from a piece of paper. Previously, it had been tried with bread crumbs, but it was of little use. Thus, Priestley invented the eraser, which is still in use today.

Don’t make the same mistake as the ancient Romans! Those, probably, thought that at the siege of Syracuse, they was nothing to threaten them, because some scientist relative of the king by the name of Archimedes is dealing with defense problems. Many of them, when the shells of ballistae designed by Archimedes fell on them, and did not have time to think that this can not be and the representative of «pure science» will not be able to invent anything useful… And to their cost!


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