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August 24, 2009
Volume 87, Number 34
p. 56

Breaths Of Chocolate, No Sweat Research

Daniella Jaeger

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Sweet inhaler: The cocoa aerosol puffer Le Whif. Sublim-LaboGroup
Sweet inhaler The cocoa aerosol puffer Le Whif.

Now, you can indulge in one of the world’s finest flavors without gaining weight. How so, you ask? It has become possible to, say, sit at a chic café and inhale chocolate to your heart’s content without the threat of accumulating cellulite. All you have to do is online-order a pack of LE WHIFS: lipstick-sized tubes filled with chocolate particles that you puff into your mouth for a cocoa sensation. Calorie count? Less than one.

“It’s like an inhalable fork,” says Le Whif co-inventor and Harvard University professor David A. Edwards. Edwards, a biomedical engineer whose research focuses on aerosol drug delivery, got inspired while dining in Bordeaux, France, and talking to avant garde chef Thierry Marx, who ended up contributing his culinary creativity to Edwards’ “desperate attempt” to bring aerosols to the dinner table.

“When you eat, most of the mass that you take into your mouth doesn’t arrive at your taste buds, it just passes into your stomach,” says Edwards. As part of his effort to deliver the taste of food while evading its calorie-laden sustenance, Edwards posed the idea of inhalable food to his students. After many experiments and coughing fits, they came up with Le Whif.

“We knew that we wanted food particles that are in the range of 40–300 µm,” Edwards says, because anything smaller could enter the lungs and create a health hazard. “But even if you took big particles and put them in a medical inhaler and inhaled, you would cough. They’re going to land by inertia in the back of your throat.” Le Whif’s design tackles this potential downer: A shielded opening with slits on the sides directs the airflow to the sides of your mouth rather than the back.

Le Whif is closely related to Edwards’ work with Medicine in Need, a nonprofit organization based in South Africa that develops dry powder vaccines for the developing world.

Le Laboratoire, an art-science experimentation center started by Edwards in Paris, is introducing whiffing to the public in a yearlong world tour. In October, the lab will present a spin-off concept, Le Whaf, which Edwards describes as a beautiful cloud of suspended liquid particles that you inhale through a straw from a vaselike device. Word is that martinis are on the menu, but Edwards’ lab has yet to move the concept into a practical, commercial product, so don’t look for it at happy hour.

If Le Whif is inspiring you to ditch the gym in favor of more leisurely huffing and puffing, you might also consider another opportunity for the lazy altruist in you: help cure diseases like HIV without moving a muscle, by donating your idle computer time to research.

Dock it: Computer downtime crunches data Docking@Home
Dock it Computer downtime crunches data.

Docking@Home, a project started by computer scientist Michela Taufer of the University of Delaware, allows Internet-connected scientists and laymen alike to turn computer downtime into data crunching for discovering disease-fighting molecules.

Before researchers test new drugs, they routinely simulate molecular binding interactions to predict drug-worthy candidates, a process called DOCKING. Determining preferred binding orientations also indicates how tightly candidate molecules are likely to bind to their targets, thereby helping researchers zero in on the most effective molecular configurations.

But because of the infinite number of molecules and possible binding orientations, the process takes an enormous amount of computing power—a big expense. So Docking@Home distributes this computing task across a pool of volunteers that now totals nearly 11,000.

So many good things, so little effort, and all just a click away.

Daniella Jaeger wrote this week's column. Please send comments and suggestions to

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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