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Ethanol: Absolute Alcohol


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The great elixir, alcohol, has come to be many things to many people. For most it is a beverage meant to dull the edges of a hard day or make festive a gathering of friends and family. Alcohol has been banned, celebrated, and reviled, but it has also been a key component in scientific circles. Also known as absolute ethyl alcohol or ethanol, alcohol is a colorless, flammable liquid often used for sanitizing or cleaning. It has also been used extensively as an effective transporter of odors ad scents and has been featured in perfumes, colognes, paints, hand creams, inks, and even explosives.

Alcohol has been used since man first distilled gains and vegetables. Traces of alcohol have been found in pottery dating back 9,000 years, suggesting Neolithic peoples were ingesting it far before recorded history. The Persian alchemist, Muhammad Ibn Zakariya Razi, known in the West as Rhazes, was the first to record its isolation as a compound sometime in the 8th or 9th Century. Approximately 1,000 years later Archibald Scott Couper would publish the structural formula for ethanol.

The molecular formula for ethanol is C2H5OH. It is the product of a fusion of a carbon of the methyl group and a carbon of a methylene group to an oxygen molecule of a hydroxyl group. For those of you who are more scientifically or chemically inclined, ethanol is a constitutional isomer of dimethyl ether.

Used extensively as lamp fuel and even fuel for automobiles in the United States, ethanol would stop being used with the enactment of Prohibition in 1920. As a fuel source it would be disregarded until late in the 20th century and the new emergence of bio-fuels. As the key component of alcoholic beverages and spirits, it has, of course, endured.

Alcohol, in the form of absolute alcohol, has been the longest used recreational drug in human history. Though it has been used as a means of ceremonial and spiritual communion, alcohol is first and foremost a drug. Indeed, there are numerous industrial and medical uses for the compound, but it seems forever fused into the human experience as a drug.

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