How Does a Breathalyzer Work?

iStock
iStock


How does a breathalyzer work?Adey Hill:

The breathalyzer or intoxilyzer is a modified IR spectrometer.

Before I get into that, let's talk about alcohol and how it gets into the blood and breath: Alcohol is a general name for a group of organic compounds. Ethanol, the alcohol we consume in alcoholic beverages, is a relatively small molecule. As such it is easily absorbed through the stomach into the blood. Alcohol is volatile and your body is warm. Each time you breathe, a small amount of the alcohol in your blood vaporizes and is passed into the alveoli in your lungs and passed out of your body. The more alcohol you have consumed, the greater the amount that passes out.

Organic compounds absorb infrared radiation (IR) at different wavelengths and have an IR signature. The infrared (IR) spectrometer in the intoxilyzers is calibrated so that it is at the wavelength that ethanol absorbs it.

When you blow into an intoxilyzer, the breath you expire passes into a sample chamber and if you have been drinking then so will some of the alcohol that has passed from your blood to your breath. In the case of the Lion Intoxilyzer 6000s produced by Lion Labs, the machine starts sampling the breath immediately as it starts to enter the chamber and does so 37 times per second. The machine continues to monitor this until you blow a consecutive reading for three seconds. This is so that it is taking the reading from the deep lung air, where the greatest concentration of alcohol is. Once this is achieved the machine will register that a satisfactory sample has been taken. It will then purge itself and move to the next stage (either a second sample or a calibration check).

The breath in the sample chamber is surveyed by a beam of infrared radiation (there is an IR detector behind the chamber). The machine knows the amount of IR that was fired at the chamber and the detector calculates how much has been absorbed. Some clever math works out how many micrograms of alcohol are present in 100 ml of breath. This reading is then displayed.

Some other factoids about the machines: breathalyzers can detect other substances such as methanol, isopropyl alcohol, or acetone. If these are present in sufficient quantities, the machine will register them as an interfering substance and your sample will not be deemed satisfactory.

The breath tube (which you blow into via a single use mouthpiece) is preheated to a specific temperature to ensure that the samples conform to Boyle's law and are consistent and accurate every time.

The machines can detect mouth alcohol. If you have recently consumed alcohol or used an alcohol-based mouthwash, the machine can detect it. The intoxilyzer starts sampling as you start to blow, so it will detect a high concentration of alcohol present at the start of the process, followed by a downward slope (on a graph); this spike tells the machine that there was more alcohol present at the beginning of the sampling process than at the end, and that this must be due to the presence of mouth alcohol.

You cannot cheat or defeat the intoxilyzers by trying to blow down the sides of the mouthpiece, putting your tongue over it, or putting some kind of catalyst (like a copper coin) in your mouth first. The only way to beat it is to not drink and drive!

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips/Amazon

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket
Baloo/Amazon

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

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This Insulated Growler Keg Lets You Pour Carbonated Beer, Soda, and Cocktails on the Go

GrowlerWerks
GrowlerWerks

The biggest hurdle for taking draft beer on the go is keeping it cold and carbonated once you leave the brewery. And while insulated travel growlers help keep drinks fresh for longer, traditional glass growlers start losing carbonation once they're opened.

Portland-based GrowlerWerks combats the scourge of flat ales with a line of growler kegs featuring built-in tap handles that mimic a brewery-fresh pour. And with the company's lightweight and affordable uKeg Go ($99) model, GrowlerWerks is making sure your sudsy drink of choice can survive all-day cookouts, lazy nights on the patio, or a week in the fridge.

How is the uKeg Go different from a growler?

The main selling point of the 64-ounce uKeg Go is its tap, which dispenses beer just like you'd be served at a brewery. But it’s not as simple as just filling it up and playing bartender—you’ll first need to install an 8g CO2 cartridge before you even pour your first pint. Much like an actual keg, the CO2 is what’ll actually keep your drink nice and foamy after you've filled the growler. (GrowlerWerks sells its own CO2 charges separately at $12 for a pack of 10. Each cartridge should last for the entire 64 ounces.)

The cartridge itself pops right into a sleeve, which you then screw into the bottom of the cap. Once you've tightly secured the cap onto the growler, you can choose your carbonation setting—first position for beer and cider and the second position for soda and cocktails—and start pouring.

Though the system isn’t complex, you’ll definitely want to give the instructions a once-over before you first use it—I wound up wasting my first CO2 cartridge because I didn’t have the cap in the “off” position when I first installed it, resulting in it emptying out before I could even screw it on.

So, does it work?

My first drink—Coke, because my local breweries still aren’t allowing private growler fills due to COVID-19—came out perfectly chilled and fizzy, as if it had just been poured from a fountain. But time is the enemy of all carbonated beverages, so over the next eight hours I poured a few more glasses to see how both the CO2 and the temperature held up.

I found that there was very little difference between that first cold glass at 8:00 a.m. and that final one at 5:00 p.m. The drink suffered virtually no temperature change, thanks to the uKeg Go’s double-wall vacuum insulation, and never lost any of that bubbly character. Even when the keg was left out in the sun from noon to 5:00 p.m., the soda remained unaffected.

GrowlerWerks uKeg Go
GrowlerWerks

Because we're talking about a keg here, I knew I had to test out beer as best I could, so I transferred a few cans to the uKeg, and the result was pretty much the same—the growler maintained the beer’s temperature and carbonation level all day long, resulting in a consistent pour that never lost flavor or crispness. It’s basically indistinguishable from having beer straight from a brewery tap, and it'll probably be my go-to travel vessel anytime I bring local beer on the go.

While these tests simulated bringing the uKeg to an all-day event, the company claims the growler would be able to maintain the carbonation for up to two weeks.

How's the build?

The whole idea behind the uKeg Go is portability—it's meant to travel with you wherever you go, from a backyard barbecue to a weekend excursion out into the woods. And it sports a stainless-steel body that should be up for the challenge. It's lightweight, but the build is sturdy enough that you shouldn't fret that you've got fragile cargo with you (just be aware that there is a tap faucet to think about, so you might not want to jostle it around too much). There's also a convenient handle secured onto the top, making it easy to carry around with a finger or two while also traveling with beach bags and other outdoor necessities.

In terms of appearance, the uKeg Go is sportier and sleeker than the company's traditional uKeg model, looking more like an insulated bottle from HydroFlask or Stanley than a piece of brewery equipment. And there are two colors to choose from: a uniform tungsten gray model and a slightly bolder chili red, which is what I went with.

You can pick up a uKeg Go for $99 on both the GrowlerWerks website or Amazon. There’s also the company’s standard uKeg growler that ranges from 64 to 128 ounces and features a much more nuanced CO2 system. That'll run you $159–$209, depending on the exact model you get. And if coffee is more your speed, the company recently released the uKeg Nitro ($199) model that dispenses creamy, nitro-infused cold brew with the pull of a lever.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.