Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Coffee!: What if you drank a glass of heavy water?

While touring SNOLAB, the underground neutrino detector in the active Creighton Mine in Sudbury (Ontario, Canada) yesterday, I asked one of the senior scientists what would happen if a visitor drank a glass of the heavy water used in the apparatus for detecting the neutrinos that spill out of the sun.

Heavy water is D2O rather than H2O, with heavy hydrogen replacing the normal hydrogen that forms part of the compound we call water. Our metabolism functions via the normal "light" water.

He replied that that visitor would soon feel unwell.

The heavy water, he explained, would attempt to do the job that normal water does in our bodies, it but can't. Our bodies operate on normal water.

So, as he put it, the person's metabolism would be "deuterized."

A few litres more and there would be no need to worry about metabolism any more ...

He also mentioned that, no matter how elaborate the methods the researchers use to scrub the normal water that surrounds the globe of heavy water in the neutrino detector, they always find a few living cells in it anyway. But they never, ever find living cells in heavy water.