Science Briefs: Natural rubies enhanced after microwave treatment

New technique to improve rubies? Microwave treatment

Researchers from India’s Institute of Minerals and Materials Technology have tested a new way to improve the color, clarity and luster of rubies: microwaves.

Most natural rubies are not uniform in color, and sometimes blue patches can be seen in the red stone. Heat treatments – such as high energy, lasers, applying different chemicals or surface coatings and particle or electron beam irradiation – have been used to improve the color saturation, clarity and trading value of gemstones.

The Indian researchers placed the gemstones in a microwave furnace – not the kind of machine you use to thaw and cook frozen peas – and treated them at 2,732 degrees Fahrenheit. This created visible changes in the gemstones’ color and structure. In particular, the rubies changed color from reddish black to light pink. The researchers believe this subtle change in surface color and the increase in clarity may be caused by changes in the included chromium, iron and titanium elements. Fewer defects, irregularities and impurities in the stones were also noted because of changes in their atom layout and crystal structure.

The study is published in the journal Applied Physics A.

What makes Parmesan savory? 31 compounds

Grated Parmesan cheese can add special flavor to pasta dishes and pizza – but what gives Parmesan its signature flavor? The food industry has been turning to science to analyze products and come up with systematic ways to improve them.

According to a report in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers from the Technical University of Munich, Germany, have investigated Parmesan’s particular suite of tasty compounds. The researchers extracted the active, key taste compounds from samples of Parmesan and identified 31 that were critical to the cheese’s savory and bitter flavors. Several peptides were identified for the first time in Parmesan and were found at high concentrations.

Ribbeting fun Saturday at museum

Some species of frogs fly, others scream and gladiator frogs battle each other with bizarre weapons. Find out more about the world of frogs on Saturday when the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences hosts its annual Reptile & Amphibian Day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s a rare opportunity to come face-to-face with reptiles and amphibians from North Carolina and around the world.

James Madison University biologist David McLeod presents “Freaky Frogs: Flaps, Fangs, Claws and Other Weirdness” in the SECU Daily Planet Theater at 1:30 p.m. Herpetologist Bryan L. Stuart of the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences – co-discoverer of the vampire flying frog – will reveal other new species he’s been finding in Southeast Asia, at 11:30 a.m.

There will be live frog feedings in Windows on the World Theater at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. You can also see and learn about the world’s two species of venomous lizards — the Mexican beaded lizard and the Gila monster.

All floors of the museum, at 11 W. Jones St., in Raleigh, will offer dozens of guest exhibitors and herpetology experts, live reptiles and amphibians, and information on a wide-range of topics reptile and amphibian. Admission: free. Details:

Celebrate Pi Day at Discovery Place

Care for pi? In math, that’s the ratio of a circle’s circumference to diameter; while commonly abbreviated to 3.14159 the precise ratio is literally – computers have taken it to more than a trillion digits beyond its decimal point. Next Mondayis National Pi Day (March 14 is “3/14” – get it?) and Discovery Place will feature celebratory activities for all ages throughout the day on a random basis. They include a hula hoop contest (pi is used for measuring circles), simon says pi (try to repeate as many digits in the pi sequence as you can) and – weather permitting, there will be pie catapult launchings on the center’s patio.

Discovery Place is at 301 N. Tryon St., in uptown Charlotte. National Pi Day activities are included with regular admission. Details: More about pi: