Atom Beers, Schrödingers Cat
If you were to pay a visit to the Atom Brewery in Hull on a school day you might find that it was full of GCSE students learning about science. By any standards, this would be unusual in a brewery setting. But for the founders Allan Rice and Sarah Thackray this was central to their reasons for starting a brewery. Allan explains;
“Myself and my better half Sarah founded the brewery in 2014 to create a space where we could inspire the next generation of scientists. And what better way to do that than by using the scientific process of making beer to create that opportunity to hopefully educate and inspire people. Plus we had the added bonus of making beer that we could enjoy.”
With beer names like Pulsar and Quantum State, there’s a distinctly Professor Brian Cox vibe to the brewery. But this commitment to science goes beyond references to quantum physics.
“We have always strived to incorporate our scientific principles in everything we do, be that creating a recipe, looking at flavour profiles, to looking at how our beers are served. By embracing science we are also embracing quality and a willingness to be open and be critiqued with the aim of brewing the best beers we can that people can enjoy again and again. But that's just the beer. Science underlines everything we do.”
Doing things differently is clearly paying off. In their first 12 months, the brewery undertook scientific projects with the University of Hull, launched a (sold out) beer school and was awarded Start-Up of the Year by The Guardian. In addition to all this and brewing a lot of beer, Sarah and Allan have made a commitment to dedicating time to teach school groups. This is something that Sarah and Allan are really passionate about.
“It’s always been with us. Having a passion for science, beers and education in general helps. However, all of us at the brewery have been very fortunate to get the education we have had and we have also met countless students who come from disenfranchised backgrounds who have not had that opportunity. We therefore undertake teaching programs with local colleges to work with them to bring students around the brewery, teach them about the science, the engineering and hopefully instil in them the belief that they could do it as well. We have only just scratched the surface of this, with our plans for 2018 and potential to raise investment we want to make it bigger and be capable of teaching upwards of 200 students weekly with analytical and practical classroom teaching and at a later date use small batch special release beers to create a fund that will give finance to students to help them with getting the education they deserve.”
Hands up if you wish your school sent you to a brewery to learn about science. Yup, us too.
This week’s beer, Schrödinger’s Cat is their take on a classic American amber ale but like its namesake, it is a paradox, a full-bodied and balanced beer with an uncharacteristically low ABV. There’s more to this beer than it being good and having a quirky name though. It was also part of a project with the University of Hull and their Science Without Borders programme. Allan elaborates on this;
“[Atom got to] help give University students the chance to undertake research in a working environment and present there results internationally. Through the programme, we looked at the constituent components of the beer and how we could create a new technique to make a fuller bodied beer that had a lower ABV. It’s just one project we have done, with many to follow.”
We’re looking forward to tasting the results of these future experiments.
Schrödinger’s Cat (as explained by BeerBods)
We thought we’d have a go at explaining Erwin Schrödinger’s famous quantum physics thought experiment. Please note: No cats were harmed in this entirely theoretical exercise.
A cat is placed in a sealed box (see Figure 1).
Inside that box is a beer that has a 50% chance of getting the cat drunk in the next hour (see Figure 2).
At the end of that hour, the Scientists ask themselves “Is the cat drunk or not?” (see Figure 3). Common sense would suggest that the cat is either drunk or not drunk but Schrödinger asserted that, according to quantum physics, just prior to opening the box the cat is equal parts drunk and not drunk.
It’s only when the box is opened (see Figure 4) that we know what the cat’s single definite state is. Until the point at which we observe the state of the cat, it is both drunk and also not drunk.
It’s exactly this sort of thing that makes quantum physics seem totally bonkers but its also the reason your computer works and you’re reading this right now. Quantum physics that is, not an imaginary cat in a theoretical box.