Why Are Blueprints Blue?

Antonina Kaushan/iStock via Getty Images
Antonina Kaushan/iStock via Getty Images

Technical drawings of architectural or engineering designs always seem to consist of white images and text on blue paper. Why?

It’s because of how those documents are made. The blueprinting process was developed in the mid-1800s, when scientists discovered that ammonium iron citrate and potassium ferrocyanide created a photosensitive solution that could be used for reproducing documents.

The process goes like this: Someone creates a drawing on translucent tracing paper or cloth. The drawing is placed over a piece of blueprinting paper, which has been coated with a mix of ammonium iron citrate and potassium ferrocyanide from an aqueous solution and dried. When the two papers are exposed to a bright light, the two chemicals react to form an insoluble blue compound called blue ferric ferrocyanide (also known as Prussian Blue), except where the blueprinting paper was covered, and the light blocked, by the lines of the original drawing. After the paper is washed and dried to keep those lines from exposing, you’re left with a negative image of white (or whatever color the blueprint paper originally was) against a dark blue background.

The technique was faster and more cost-effective than hand-tracing original documents, and caught on as an easy, inexpensive way to reproduce drawings and texts. After carbon copying and copier machines took on that job for smaller documents, architects, engineers and shipwrights continued to use blueprinting to copy their large-scale drawings. More recently, the diazo whiteprint process and large-format xerographic photocopiers have largely replaced blueprinting even for these specialized purposes, and many “blueprints” are now black or grey lines on a white background. Xerograph just doesn't have the same ring as blueprint for a shorthand description for a master plan, though.

Why Does Hand Sanitizer Have an Expiration Date?

Hand sanitizer does expire. Here's why.
Hand sanitizer does expire. Here's why.
galitskaya/iStock via Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic has turned hand sanitizer from something that was once idly tossed into cars and drawers into a bit of a national obsession. Shortages persist, and people are trying to make their own, often to little avail. (DIY sanitizer may not be sterile or contain the proper concentration of ingredients.)

If you do manage to get your hands on a bottle of Purell or other name-brand sanitizer, you may notice it typically has an expiration date. Can it really go “bad” and be rendered less effective?

The short answer: yes. Hand sanitizer is typically made up of at least 60 percent alcohol, which is enough to provide germicidal benefit when applied to your hands. According to Insider, that crucial percentage of alcohol can be affected over time once it begins to evaporate after the bottle has been opened. As the volume is reduced, so is the effectiveness of the solution.

Though there’s no hard rule on how long it takes a bottle of sanitizer to lose alcohol content, manufacturers usually set the expiration date three years from the time of production. (Because the product is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, it has to have an expiration date.)

Let's assume you’ve found a bottle of old and forgotten sanitizer in your house somewhere. It expired in 2018. Should you still use it? It’s not ideal, but if you have no other options, even a reduced amount of alcohol will still have some germ-fighting effectiveness. If it’s never been opened, you’re in better shape, as more of the alcohol will have remained.

Remember that sanitizer of any potency is best left to times when soap and water isn’t available. Consider it a bridge until you’re able to get your hands under a faucet. There’s no substitution for a good scrub.

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Why Are Sloths So Slow?

Sloths have little problem holding still for nature photographers.
Sloths have little problem holding still for nature photographers.
Geoview/iStock via Getty Images

When it comes to physical activity, few animals have as maligned a reputation as the sloth. The six sloth species, which call Brazil and Panama home, move with no urgency, having seemingly adapted to an existence that allows for a life lived in slow motion. But what makes sloths so sedate? And what horrible, poop-related price must they pay in order to maintain life in the slow lane?

According to HowStuffWorks, the sloth’s limited movements are primarily the result of their diet. Residing mainly in the canopy vines of Central and South American forests, sloths dine out on leaves, fruits, and buds. With virtually no fat or protein, sloths conserve energy by taking a leisurely approach to life. On average, a sloth will climb or travel roughly 125 feet per day. On land, it takes them roughly one minute to move just one foot.

A sloth’s digestive system matches their locomotion. After munching leaves using their lips—they have no incisors—it can take up to a month for their meals to be fully digested. And a sloth's metabolic rate is 40 to 45 percent slower than most mammals' to help compensate for their low caloric intake. With so little fuel to burn, a sloth makes the most of it.

Deliberate movement shouldn’t be confused for weakness, however. Sloths can hang from branches for hours, showing off some impressive stamina. And because they spend most of their time high up in trees, they have no need for rapid movement to evade predators.

There is, however, one major downside to the sloth's leisurely lifestyle. Owing to their meager diet, they typically only have to poop once per week. Like going in a public bathroom, this can be a stressful event, as it means going to the ground and risking detection by predators—which puts their lives on the line. Worse, that slow bowel motility means they’re trying to push out nearly one-third of their body weight in feces at a time. It's something to consider the next time you feel envious of their chill lifestyle.

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