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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Science Note/Sticky Rice

Air Date: Week of September 24, 2010

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Chemists from China have discovered the formula of a durable ancient mortar made of sticky rice and limestone, which will help archaeologists restore ancient tombs and palaces. Living on Earth’s Meghan Miner brings us this science note.


GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bruce Gellerman. Just ahead: sun, sun, sun, California here it comes! But first, this Note on Emerging Science from Meghan Miner.


MINER: Sticky rice is popular in East Asia, partly because it’s conveniently clumpy for eating with chopsticks. But its stickiness also made it useful to ancient Chinese builders.

Fifteen hundred years ago, Chinese bricklayers mixed heated limestone and water with sticky rice to create a mortar. The sticky rice-lime paste may be the world’s earliest “combination mortar,” that used both organic and inorganic materials.

The use of sticky rice mortar persisted through the Ming Dynasty, which flourished until the mid seventeenth century. City walls, tombs and palaces built with the rice-lime paste have proven durable- resilient to earthquakes and standing up to the test of time.

Chemists in China have recently uncovered the ‘secret ingredient’ that makes this rice-lime paste work. It’s amylopectin, a complex carbohydrate in the sticky rice.

The researchers say this information will prove helpful in restoring ancient buildings. And, this can be a tricky process…using modern alternatives can lead to the failure of the restoration work and even further damage to the historic structures.

Which just goes to show that sticky rice is not only tasty, but restorative too. That’s this week’s note on Emerging Science, I’m Meghan Miner.




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