BALTIMORE, MARYLAND—There's nothing like suddenly going blind to spoil a good happy hour. Alcoholic beverages tainted with poisonous methanol are a scourge of the developing world, causing blindness and even death. The dangerous drinks can come from botched batches of home-distilled liquor, but they often have a more sinister origin; criminal gangs will cut standard alcohols with methanol and sell the resulting concoctions to unassuming customers for inflated profits. Because adding methanol doesn't change the drink's flavor, color, or smell, there's no easy way to tell if the brew you're about to imbibe could poison you—until now. Scientists in Colombia have developed a reusable wireless chip that can analyze a drink's proportion of methanol to ethanol (the good kind of alcohol) and warn consumers of any danger, they reported this week at the meeting here of the American Physical Society. This first generation device (pictured above) costs about $5 and still requires an antenna, but within 2 years they hope to have a commercial product that sends easy-to-interpret results directly to a user's cell phone. Until then, you might want to lay off the hooch.
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