Brain of Glass
January 23, 2020 10:37 AM   Subscribe

Archaeologists have long known that the heat from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE was extreme enough to turn victims' brain matter into soap, a process known as saponification. A new short paper in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that at least one victim's brain was vitrified--fused into glass.
posted by sugar and confetti (28 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is so cool, and so horrifying...
posted by Cozybee at 10:50 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


That's really interesting. I wonder if anyone would have an appetite for doing experiments on donated bodies to try to replicate the conditions and see what happens.
posted by bleep at 10:51 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Now you’re not so proud of being “clear minded,” are you?
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:56 AM on January 23 [5 favorites]


Dang...
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:58 AM on January 23


This is why nobody names their kids Vitrivius anymore.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 11:00 AM on January 23 [4 favorites]


Once I had a love and it was a gas
Soon turned out had a brain of glass
Seemed like the real thing, only to find
Volcanic burst, love's gone behind

Once I had a love and it was divine
Soon found out I was losing my mind
It seemed like the real thing but I was so blind
Volcanic burst, soapy residue behind

... yeah, it needs some work.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:01 AM on January 23 [25 favorites]


Once that volcano spewed out some gas
Soon enough gave me a brain of glass
Seemed like the kind of thing you should avoid
Mucho ejecta, Pompeii's destroyed
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:01 AM on January 23 [14 favorites]


.... dagnabit.
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:01 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]


edited bc everyone else made the same joke while i was vainly trying to figure out how to fit in 'italia' or 'pompeii'
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 11:01 AM on January 23 [9 favorites]


this happened to me once after a bad breakup
posted by gottabefunky at 11:07 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]


Anyway let me know if you want a referral to the vitrivia league
posted by Huffy Puffy at 11:08 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


can't believe I was beat to this Blondie joke by 5 whole minutes.

"This suggests that extreme radiant heat was able to ignite body fat and vaporize soft tissue,"

I feel the same way during those summer heatwaves. big mood, glass-brained Pompeiian.
posted by GuyZero at 11:08 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Mountain exploded, hot ball of gas
Blew up my skull, with a brain of glass

That's my contribution, and it's all I have the attention-span for at the moment.
posted by sugar and confetti at 11:09 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]


I like the correction at the end that suggests instead they baked to death, which somehow makes it worse, not better.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:16 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]


In the ash, temperature increasing as I vitrify
Pyroclastic flow, there's naught to do but fry
Now I fear I'm losing life
It's just too hot, it's causing me such strife
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:28 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Petrone et al. estimate that temperatures could have been as high as 520° Celsius (984° Fahrenheit), based on evidence gleaned from charred wood at the site.

That seems quite low for vitrification. Most pottery clays vitrify around 800 - 1400ºC (1450 - 2550ºF). Pure silicon dioxide (the primary component of glass) melts at 1710ºC (3110ºF).

Seems natural enough to do an experiment by subjecting some animal heads to high heat / low oxygen conditions and seeing what happens.
posted by jedicus at 11:29 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


There's an old speculative-scifi short whose name I forget, but whose plot crux was that an explorer marooned on Pluto with no near-term hope for rescue decides that he needs to cryofreeze himself as his only hope. He just plants a transmitter, strips out of his suit as fast as he can into nothing and lets the thin, cold Plutonian atmosphere freeze-dry him in the hopes that he can someday be thawed out and recovered.

The plot twist is that it works, but turns his nervous system into a superconductor in the process; he's standing on the surface of Pluto, frozen solid, mind racing faster than any human's ever has, hypersensate and feeling everything. But memory is chemical, also now frozen, so there he is; sensitive to every wisp of atmosphere and the impact of every stray photon, trapped in this hypersensate, hyperfast and mercilessly immediate now, this single crystal moment that becomes forever.

I thought of that story, as I read of this notion of the brain suddenly being vitrified; wondering what the sensations might be, and how long they'd last. Maybe being baked to death reasonably quickly isn't so bad, all things considered.
posted by mhoye at 11:32 AM on January 23 [15 favorites]


There's an old speculative-scifi short whose name I forget

"Wait It Out" by Larry Niven.
posted by jedicus at 11:45 AM on January 23 [16 favorites]


I'm keeping this in mind to help describe the scene after my D&D players cast Fireball
posted by exogenous at 12:13 PM on January 23 [5 favorites]


That’s cool, but I want to know more about this brain soap. Can you actually wash with it? How is it with sensitive skin? Scented or unscented?
posted by rodlymight at 12:18 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: Seems natural enough to do an experiment by subjecting some animal heads to high heat
posted by nickmark at 12:23 PM on January 23


Scented or unscented?

Brain scented.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:24 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Portal 2 players are currently wondering if Vesuvius was packed with fluorescent calcium.
posted by hanov3r at 2:16 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Thanks mhoye and jedicus, I had been wondering what that story was for ages and ages.
posted by zengargoyle at 2:49 PM on January 23


I was trying to work out what "vitrified" meant in this context. Maybe it's what is described here as glassy carbon? If so, it's a fascinating substance.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:53 PM on January 23




I’ve had a few indica strains that do the same thing!
posted by spitbull at 9:12 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


so for all of you who have re-written Heart of Glass, you may like to hear that I have been singing your songs to my bird and he's enjoying them.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:07 AM on January 24 [6 favorites]


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