Metatalktail Hour: Other Science Facts April 22, 2017 3:48 PM   Subscribe

Good Saturday Evening, Metafilter! In honor of the March for Science, share your favorite science story or science fact!

Science stories can be from history or they can be from your personal science adventures or they can be about how you set your high school lab partner's hair on fire (possibly I am speaking from experience ...)! Remember, these are just conversation starters, not conversation limiters, so feel free to kibbitz about anything you like, excluding politics!
posted by Eyebrows McGee to MetaFilter-Related at 3:48 PM (190 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

Very basically: the muscles to bend our fingers are all the way up in our forearms.
Amaze and astound your friends and kids by having them relax their arm/hand/fingers on a table, palm side up, grabbing their forearm a few inches away from the wrist, and gently squeezing.

Fingers gently curl in.

Can do it to yourself.
posted by herrdoktor at 4:01 PM on April 22 [16 favorites]


After the premiere of the New MST3K, I reminded myself it's just a show, I should really just relax.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:09 PM on April 22 [5 favorites]


Mustard gas is called mustard gas, IIRC, because it smells like mustard, not because it comes from mustard seeds. But you still can't breathe when you burn mustard seeds when cooking.
posted by hoyland at 4:27 PM on April 22 [1 favorite]


The sunset on Mars is blue.
posted by invokeuse at 4:37 PM on April 22 [16 favorites]


hoyland, I flat did not know that. I honestly thought that was why mustard is so strong.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:41 PM on April 22 [2 favorites]


Saliva is one of the first steps in the digestive process. It contains amylase, which is an enzyme that breaks down starch into glucose.

We tested it out in my high school science lab once (spit, potatoes, iodine) and as a person who did not consider herself "sciency" I still remember having an "oh!" moment as we worked through the "scientific method" uh, method, and arrived at the answer.
posted by janepanic at 4:53 PM on April 22 [4 favorites]


Favorite science story of the day: I was taking BART to the science march in San Francisco, and most everyone on the train was going to the march (lots of signs, lab coats, buttons). A family with two little girls got on, also going to the march, and the bigger little girl wanted to stand rather than sit. Her mom told her she had to hold on to the railing otherwise she'd fall when the train started. The girl said, "Why?" and two women behind me on the train, all decked out in science gear, gleefully shouted, "PHYSICS!"

The same two women also pointed out that I had dropped my debit card when I stood up. Those two women were awesome.
posted by lazuli at 4:57 PM on April 22 [65 favorites]


My second child's fascination with space has been a ceaseless delight to me and introduced me, rather late but in plenty of time!, to the joy of stargazing. Which I make a lot of posts about, including about the great Caroline Herschel, the first woman to earn a salary for science, and a song about exoplanets that we were just now watching and singing along to!
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 4:59 PM on April 22 [7 favorites]


I still love that microwave ovens were a byproduct of radar research, and that their cooking power was discovered by a tech whose chocolate bar melted in his pocket when he got too close.
posted by mordax at 5:00 PM on April 22 [10 favorites]


hoyland, I flat did not know that. I honestly thought that was why mustard is so strong.

Me neither! I googled after one particularly spectacular cooking mishap.
posted by hoyland at 5:06 PM on April 22 [1 favorite]


Pro tip: If you ever have back to back 3 hour electrical engineering labs in college do not have the same lab partner for both labs. It will ruin your friendship, and possibly your grade if one of you, in a fit of frustration at hour 5 one day late in the semester, rips all the wires out of the breadboard you've been working on for 2 hours and throws them at your lab partner, as you tell him to build the damn circuit himself.

Or so I've heard.
posted by COD at 5:27 PM on April 22 [5 favorites]


I can't really think of much in the way of science facts right now but I guess one of my favorite science-y things is that some time after Gary Larson drew a Far Side cartoon about the spikey things on the end of some dinosaur's tails, actual scientists started using the term "Thagomizer" and now it's apparently a thing.

In other science news, I attended my first ever protest/rally/march today. I went to the Science March in Boston, which wasn't really a march but it was fun. We met up with some friends and took a train full of nerds into the city. It was fun and inspiring but also frustrating because I know the current administration will completely ignore it.

I'm not a very political person usually but denial of facts scares the crap out of me. When I see people I have known since I was a kid posting on Facebook about how "there is absolutely no proof for evolution" or about "the sinful lifestyles of homosexuals" I want to grab them by the throat and scream at them instead of just de-friending them because fuck that noise.
posted by bondcliff at 5:31 PM on April 22 [14 favorites]


At the speed of light, 1 second is a little over halfway to the moon. 1 millisecond is about the distance from Boulder to Walsenburg, 1 microsecond is about the distance from my house to the fire station, and 1 nanosecond is about the distance from my elbow to my wrist.
posted by Bruce H. at 5:49 PM on April 22 [7 favorites]


Charles Darwin peed on carnivorous plants while trying to determine if their leaves were absorbing nutrients. A good read!
posted by jamaro at 5:50 PM on April 22 [2 favorites]


Off topic: 7 days without a MetaTalk? That's got to be close to a record.
posted by Bruce H. at 5:52 PM on April 22 [9 favorites]


According to Bill Bryson in A Short History of Nearly Everything, slime molds have the ability to turn themselves into slugs, and after turning themselves into slugs, they turn themselves into plants. (I realize that Bryson, although a very funny writer, is not a scientist, so if he got this wrong, please don't ruin it for me.)
posted by scratch at 6:03 PM on April 22 [2 favorites]


Never mind my boring stories, I want to hear about how you set your high school lab partner's hair on fire!
posted by languagehat at 6:04 PM on April 22


Comedy=Tragedy+Time

Comedy-Time=Tragedy

ComedyxSurprise>Comedy

Comedy-Surprise=Humor

TruthComedy =Power
posted by Stanczyk at 6:35 PM on April 22 [6 favorites]


"I want to hear about how you set your high school lab partner's hair on fire!"

I am a relatively clumsy human being, and I was TERRIFICALLY careless with the bunsen burner and neither my lab partner or I thought we needed to put our hair in ponytails because 15. To be honest I set HER hair on fire, and then two days later I set MY OWN hair on fire exactly the same way because I failed to learn from the first error that we needed to pull our hair back. We actually had a hilariously great time in chemistry primarily because I was constantly spilling things and setting things on fire in lab and she thought my incompetence was completely hilarious.

We're still friends. But she may or may not recall when I set her hair on fire and I'm afraid to remind her in case she doesn't, and we're only still friends because she doesn't remember that I set her on fire.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 6:36 PM on April 22 [13 favorites]


NASA has an award voted on by astronauts to give to the ground crew, it's called the Silver Snoopy. The actual medal was designed by Charles Schulz and is a space-flown sterling silver pin (It used to be always be shuttle-flown but they aren't anymore because... Reasons). The award is presented, in person, by an astronaut from the mission and the recipient doesn't always know that they are getting it. As astronauts are kind of rockstars in the NASA world, getting one is a major accomplishment. Even being present at a presentation is the sort of thing engineers get giddy about.

Also, NASA treats moon rocks as their own version of Crown Jewels, kept under lock and key with armed guards in sterile rooms. Except that on certain occasions, for reasons of science or diplomacy, they choose to share them with others, because they are the Crown Jewels of the planet, not the nation.

TL;DR: Sometimes, NASA is even more awesome than you ever dared hope.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 6:39 PM on April 22 [29 favorites]


Everybody knows you should thank us biochemists for beer (at least, for large-scale consistent beer), but did you know we also discovered the magic that enables chocolate-covered cherries?

I mean, how on earth do you put a cherry inside a chocolate shell completely filled with syrup? Invertase to the rescue, my friends! It is an enzyme that converts starch to sugar, and to make this candy you start by covering a cherry in a starch paste that contains a little invertase, then you dip it in chocolate. Over the next few weeks, invertase converts the starch into a thick sugar syrup (which is why you sometimes see little specks of white stuff in the sugar syrup when you bite into the candy - that's bits of the original starch paste where the invertase hasn't completely finished its work).

I'm not a big fan of beer but I do love chocolate-covered cherries, so high five to my biochemistry forebears!
posted by Quietgal at 6:40 PM on April 22 [36 favorites]


My mom has a friend who has four fully-functional kidneys. This sounded very strange, so I googled, and it turns out that it is not particularly rare for people to have extra kidneys, although they're usually not fully formed. It's also not terribly uncommon for women to have two reproductive systems: two uteruses, cervixes, and vaginas. Many women don't realize they have this condition until it's discovered during a pelvic exam or they can't figure out why they've inserted a tampon and they're still bleeding.

Bodies are weird, you guys!
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:47 PM on April 22 [8 favorites]


I'm not a big fan of beer but I do love chocolate-covered cherries

I'm a big fan of beer without chocolate-covered cherries in it, so we cancel each other out and Balance is maintained.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:58 PM on April 22


Except that on certain occasions, for reasons of science or diplomacy, they choose to share them with others, because they are the Crown Jewels of the planet, not the nation.

Sometimes they loan them to really cool teachers and kids get to look at them in class and then nerdy dads and moms of those kids get to come to class and hold a freaking piece of the moon and nerd out because they are holding a freaking piece of the moon.

And then one of the dads does a little research to find out which missions collected those pieces of the moon and realizes that they're from the later missions which means, not only did the astronauts collect them, but they probably drove them on the Lunar Rover.

And somehow that makes it about a zillion times cooler.

I held the a bunch of pieces of the freaking Moon, you guys!

Basalt: Apollo 15, east edge of Mare Imbrium
Breccia: Apollo 15, near the canyon Hadley Rille.
Anorthosite: Apollo 16, Descartes region
Orange soil: Apollo 17
Highland Soil: Apollo 16
Mare soil: Apollo 17

posted by bondcliff at 7:00 PM on April 22 [24 favorites]


Science Fact: Bruce H. jinxed it and we are about to have a serious meltdown MeTa.
posted by Etrigan at 7:16 PM on April 22 [1 favorite]


I don't know if it's my FAVORITE science tale, but a recent one:

I was doing some yardwork, and noticed a whole bunch of mushrooms growing in the remains of an old partially-rotted stump in our yard. Naturally, as with most items I encounter in or on the ground, I wondered if I could eat them.

After a while googling, I determined they were almost certainly Glistening Inkcap mushrooms, and that they were indeed edible! Google reported that they were non-toxic, and didn't report that there were any toxic lookalikes I could be fooled by, so I picked a few. Just to be on the safe side, I asked twitter if any mushroom-hunters knew anything about em, and someone said they should be fine to eat, so I did.

That same person, though, quickly added: I shouldn't drink any alcohol for the next couple of days.

Back to google I went, and discovered a fact I hadn't gotten the first time around: Glistening Inkcaps are indeed nontoxic and perfectly fine to eat, but ONLY if you don't mix them with liquor. They contain a chemical that keeps your body from breaking down alcohol properly, so if you do drink even a day or two after eating them, you apparently feel absolutely wretched. Consequently, a common folk name for them is "Tippler's Bane."

Bane they were! I resigned myself to being straightedge for the next few days, and listened only to Earth Crisis while drawing big black Xs on my hands
posted by Greg Nog at 7:20 PM on April 22 [61 favorites]


Oh, interesting! My parents used to tell us about a time my father had a "weird" reaction to mushrooms at a restaurant during a business dinner thing and acted like he was reeeeeeeeeeeeeeaalllly drunk. I wonder if that's the type of mushroom he ate?
posted by lazuli at 7:30 PM on April 22


Remember, there are two kinds of countries on Earth: those that use Metric, and those that have been to the Moon.

I kid, because I bounce back and forth between systems and have amazed folks occasionally: "How did you know that 333 grams of water was one third of a liter? Shouldn't you measure it!?" Me: "I did."

Which leads to another outdated fun fact: 50 cubic centimeters is approximately the size of a film canister. Handy if you have to measure things on the fly in a darkroom... and you're back in the 80s...
posted by 1f2frfbf at 7:37 PM on April 22 [4 favorites]


My mom has a friend who has four fully-functional kidneys.

Be careful who you say that to.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 7:46 PM on April 22 [12 favorites]


For a little while, the astronomers who discovered physical evidence of the Big Bang thought it might be pigeons.
posted by moonmilk at 8:18 PM on April 22 [2 favorites]


More pigeon details!
posted by moonmilk at 8:20 PM on April 22


The existence of tardigrades.
posted by delight at 8:46 PM on April 22 [4 favorites]


The jagged line on an EKG (the beep-beep-beep heart monitor thing in TV shows) isn't just some wiggly representation of your heart beat. The individual up and down lines show how electricity is spreading across the muscles of your heart, starting from the top, sliding down across the front, hitting the bottom and then traveling up along the sides, contracting individual cells along the way.

The first lump in the EKG is a node firing at the top of your heart. The top chambers of your heart squeeze, pushing blood to and from your lungs. The EKG line then flattens out for a moment, dips and BAM, the big spike, the moneymaker, showing where electricity has hit a knot of cells called the bundle of His and then cascaded down into the Purkinje fibers. The muscles in the bottom half of the heart slam together, pushing blood out to the outmost capillaries, as distant as stars are to us. Then a pause, a brief flat line where your heart gets a rest, and...
posted by not_the_water at 9:00 PM on April 22 [31 favorites]


I once had a Physics TA that wore his v-neck sweater backwards.
posted by Kabanos at 9:20 PM on April 22 [13 favorites]


I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: Do not pour liquid bleach into a vessel which contains dried residue from Miracle-Gro solution.

"Surely the bubbling sound gave it away?"
"No."
"The faint brown mist in the container as you began to fill it from the tap?"
"No."
"Then it must have been the sensation of inhaling steel wool whilst simultaneously having your eyes sandblasted?"
"Bingo."

posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:37 PM on April 22 [10 favorites]


I once watched the Earth, rotate away from the sun, rather than the sun setting. I could also see the last rays of the sun, agitating the atmosphere. it was quite a day. I never lost my faith in the gravity that held me to the meadow, in spite of my new understandings. I had to say to my terrified friend at one point, when I described the feeling of looking down into the universe, and being held in place by gravity; "Just because you look at it this way, doesn't mean gravity will be suspended!" Though, wouldn't it be cool if you could understand the physics of it all, well enough to exert your own force and levitate? I am still not ready for that.
posted by Oyéah at 9:40 PM on April 22 [7 favorites]


The James Webb Space Telescope is power enough to see a bee at the distance of the Moon. See it both in emitted IR and reflected IR. Amazeballs!
posted by Rob Rockets at 9:46 PM on April 22 [9 favorites]


I never lost my faith in the gravity that held me to the meadow, in spite of my new understandings.

Acid is a hell of a drug, innit?
posted by bondcliff at 9:57 PM on April 22 [7 favorites]


My favorite science teacher had a wiggly butt. She would write the instructions for the lab activity on the blackboard while we stared at her behind.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 9:58 PM on April 22 [2 favorites]


OK, CrazyLemonade, you've made me feel better about hitting "Post Comment" on this.

True limeonaire trivia: My greatest romances have mostly been with geeks who were musicians as well as highly into the whole math-and-science thing. That's always been the case, but I became curious as to what degree this was true and compiled stats.
  • 72 percent studied math and/or science
  • 72 percent are or have been musicians
  • 72 percent believe in the supernatural
  • 56 percent have done the math/science thing and are musicians
  • 36 percent have all of the above characteristics
  • 91 percent have been into sci-fi, fantasy, and/or anime
I'm the kind of person who finds Good Will Hunting, A Beautiful Mind, and Real Genius to be romantic. So there you go. As mentioned elsewhere, I've been doing some overall life evaluation lately, so this was a bit of an interesting exercise to me, at least. Math and science and music and geekdom are all intertwined in my idea of romance.
posted by limeonaire at 10:02 PM on April 22 [6 favorites]


My favourite science class was AP Chemistry. I didn't do very well in that class but I enjoyed the hell out of it. Our major class project was to determine an unknown chemical that was placed inside of a test tube. We only had the contents of that one test tube to perform our tests so choosing the right tests and not wasting the contents of that tube were paramount. I can still picture the colour of the liquid in my test tube, a deep and very dark purple. Sadly, I cannot recall what that liquid actually was. It's still a fun memory.
posted by Fizz at 10:08 PM on April 22 [1 favorite]


Oh, and Hackers. Hackers should really be No. 1 on that list.
posted by limeonaire at 10:08 PM on April 22 [4 favorites]


OK, CrazyLemonade, you've made me feel better about hitting "Post Comment" on this.

And now you've made me think if I should clarify that her wiggly butt was not the reason this teacher was my favorite science teacher, heh. It's just something that came up in my brain right now thinking about science. Weird.

I wish I could do lab work again
posted by CrazyLemonade at 10:14 PM on April 22 [3 favorites]


I love Hackers, too. Curiously, my husband is a systems engineer and self taught so he can pretty much hack anything useful for a regular household. It's sort of a turn on to see him working on those sorts of proyects. Or to see him programming.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 10:19 PM on April 22 [1 favorite]


When I was 20 weeks pregnant with my first child, and they did the anatomical sonogram where you get to see all the organs, they zeroed in on the four-chambered heart to make sure all the structures were normal and working correctly, very much like this, and I burst into tears because HOLY SHIT YOU GUYS, it's a centimeter-large human heart pumping away like crazy with this incredibly complex choreography of chambers, just doing its sturdy little thing, already ready to be born and pump away. Eventually it'll be the size of an adult fist but for now it's the size of a walnut and just doing its thing.

"Amaze and astound your friends and kids by having them relax their arm/hand/fingers on a table, palm side up, grabbing their forearm a few inches away from the wrist, and gently squeezing."

Can confirm, spent 20 minutes performing on local McGees.

"Which leads to another outdated fun fact: 50 cubic centimeters is approximately the size of a film canister. Handy if you have to measure things on the fly in a darkroom... and you're back in the 80s..."

aka 1 vodka shot, if you're a journalist
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 10:19 PM on April 22 [12 favorites]


80% of people can't really see the color red--instead they see a warm hue of green that their minds process as a separate color.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:29 PM on April 22 [2 favorites]


Human breast milk contains a type of sugar known as oligosaccharides. They are, in fact, the third biggest ingredient in breast milk. And yet, human babies can't digest them. Why are we filling our breasts with sugar that babies can't even eat?

It's not for the babies, it's for bacteria in their stomachs. Good bacteria loves eating oligosaccharides, and that bacteria greatly aids digestion and does a crapload of other stuff, too.

We have evolved our breast milk to provide feasts for bacteria that lives in our childrens' bodies. (The book that except if from is fantastic, btw).
posted by smoke at 10:35 PM on April 22 [42 favorites]


According to recent research, there's no such thing as a "true Scotsman."
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:41 PM on April 22 [9 favorites]


it's for bacteria in their stomachs

That reminds me, smoke: the human placenta has its own unique microbiome, more similar to the oral biome than anything else, including the vaginal midrobiome:
Humans and their microbiomes have coevolved as a physiologic community composed of distinct body site niches with metabolic and antigenic diversity. The placental microbiome has not been robustly interrogated, despite recent demonstrations of intracellular bacteria with diverse metabolic and immune regulatory functions. A population-based cohort of placental specimens collected under sterile conditions from 320 subjects with extensive clinical data was established for comparative 16S ribosomal DNA–based and whole-genome shotgun (WGS) metagenomic studies. Identified taxa and their gene carriage patterns were compared to other human body site niches, including the oral, skin, airway (nasal), vaginal, and gut microbiomes from nonpregnant controls. We characterized a unique placental microbiome niche, composed of nonpathogenic commensal microbiota from the Firmicutes, Tenericutes, Proteobacteria, Bacteroidetes, and Fusobacteria phyla. In aggregate, the placental microbiome profiles were most akin (Bray-Curtis dissimilarity l. t. 0.3) to the human oral microbiome. 16S-based operational taxonomic unit analyses revealed associations of the placental microbiome with a remote history of antenatal infection (permutational multivariate analysis of variance, P = 0.006), such as urinary tract infection in the first trimester, as well as with preterm birth <37 weeks (P = 0.001).
posted by jamjam at 11:02 PM on April 22 [7 favorites]


I can still picture the colour of the liquid in my test tube, a deep and very dark purple.

Maybe potassium permanganate?

80% of people can't really see the color red--instead they see a warm hue of green that their minds process as a separate color.


How is this different from "really see[ing] the color red"?
posted by Jpfed at 11:44 PM on April 22 [4 favorites]


Common household dust is composed largely of dinosaur snot.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 12:36 AM on April 23 [4 favorites]


My dad is a chemical engineer/analytical chemist so he has many comedy stories, including what happens if the previous chemist for a water treatment plant doesn't mention that he works in US Liquid Gallons in his calculations/notes and just uses 'gal' as the notation and the incoming chemist uses imperial gallons, which are also just referred to as 'gal'. Also you're in Saudi in the early 90s and no one else knew what the previous dude was up too.

A lot of maths was redone at very short notice.

Also, I am pretty sure that my parents' garage has probably the only hazmat suit in their village.
posted by halcyonday at 2:20 AM on April 23 [3 favorites]


A partially defrosted adult squirrel, on a miniature viking boat-style funeral pyre, requires a surprising amount of petrol (gasoline) for an effective - full - and befitting cremation.
posted by Wordshore at 5:56 AM on April 23 [21 favorites]


I turned in my dissertation on Diana monkey behavior, ecology, reproduction, and endocrinology on Tuesday. The culmination of 5 years of work including 19 months of fieldwork, 4 months of lab work, a week in the hospital. It is literally the product of my blood, sweat, tears, and some other bodily fluids. I birthed botflies, sheltered innumerable plasmodia, made wonderful friends, met wonderful monkeys, fell into a few rivers, danced, cried, made mistakes, wrote a lot, and now it's all done. I defend in a week and a half, and then this chapter of academic hazing is over and I can start asking all sorts of new and exciting questions about my monkeys and the places they live and the things they eat. What do they tell us about the diversification of Miocene apes? Is it true that their diet is less abrasive than chimpanzees and what does that mean for interpreting fossil teeth? When you have closely related species sharing the forest, I know that resources overlap - but what about their nutritional intake? What happens to oxytocin and prolactin while females are lactating? How can I consider justice for the communities in which I do my work? I'm so excited about becoming a real grownup scientist very soon!

And I won an award at the conference I was at this week for my talk, which was very affirming and exciting!

And, now, a monkey story!

Nina is one of the females in my study group who was fairly aggressive - relatively speaking, lots of lunging at other females, chasing them, vocalizing a lot. When I was last in the forest, she had an older infant who was starting to do most of his foraging for himself. The group was traveling with some lesser spot nosed guenons and foraging on some fruit. Nina was sitting a little further away from the group foraging for insects, and her infant was over by the spot nosed monkeys looking for fruit. The adult male spot nosed monkey was baring his teeth at the infant to get him to move, and the infant started shrieking. Nina heard her infant shrieking, and came RUNNING over to the tree with the infant, but I don't think she realized that he was being threatened by the adult male, who was substantially larger than her. She got there, stopped in front of the baby, and then immediately pooped. It was one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Literally had the shit scared out of her.

Reader, I analyzed it.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:04 AM on April 23 [101 favorites]


Re: ArbitraryAndCapricious's mother's friend with the four kidneys.... I'm not that weird, but I do have three fully-functional kidneys, as did my father and his mother. (I'm told that mine are all slightly on the smallish size for kidneys, but all are within the normal size range.) At least two of my sisters also have three kidneys.
posted by easily confused at 6:29 AM on April 23 [4 favorites]


limeonaire: "I'm the kind of person who finds Good Will Hunting, A Beautiful Mind, and Real Genius to be romantic."
limeonaire: "Oh, and Hackers. Hackers should really be No. 1 on that list."

Wait; Not everyone finds these movies romantic?
posted by Mitheral at 6:57 AM on April 23 [4 favorites]


I wore a lab coat to the Denver science march, which I'm pretty sure is the first time all year. Sometimes I wear them while doing phenol extractions, but otherwise, we work with yeast, so what's the point?

Whereas when a little kid gets big-eyed high fiving me while I tell them to join us in the lab soon, that's a good use of lab coat.
posted by deludingmyself at 7:00 AM on April 23 [11 favorites]


When I was a wee Augie, my older brother used to tell me that McDonalds' milkshakes were one atom/molecule away from being actual styrofoam. About two years ago, I had a Mickey D's chocolate shake. My brother is not wrong.
posted by AugustWest at 7:18 AM on April 23 [4 favorites]


I mention this every opportunity I get - the notion that wings produce lift because of the pressure difference between the top and bottom surfaces is wrong and you should feel bad for believing it. Every science textbook illustrates lift as this idea of two particles starting at the leading edge of the airfoil and because of something something they have to reach the trailing edge at the same time, but the trip across the top is longer so that particle has to travel faster and therefore low pressure over the wing. It's wrong and immediately obvious when you understand the fact that even a flat plate can produce lift.

Our world runs on friction, and lift is no exception.

What I mean by that - fluids experience friction just like solids, only we call it viscosity. Air is a fluid. As air travels over the wing, viscosity causes the air to "stick" to it. The air then follows the contour of the wing and will depart the trailing edge in the direction it was coaxed in to by the viscous forces. Conservation of momentum tells us that if we change the velocity of the air stream, then the body that did that also needs an energy change and so as the wing pushes air downward then it must get pushed upward.

You can experience this yourself in the comfort of your own home by taking a spoon, holding the tip of the handle between your fingertips, and slowly moving the convex face of the spoon bowl towards a stream of running water coming out of your faucet. The spoon will get sucked in to the stream as soon as they touch, and you can see the water shooting off the end of the spoon in a different direction.

Also I blew up a middle school classroom once.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:20 AM on April 23 [28 favorites]


I was astonished recently to learn just how late in history it remained common for scientists to doubt the existence of atoms as real physical phenomena. At the turn of the 20th century, many of the famous physicists and chemists you can name were skeptical of the idea. (Planck, Rayleigh, etc.) To modern eyes, Einstein's work on Brownian motion seems like a tiny footnote to a much more important history, but at the time it was a major piece of evidence in favor of atomic theory. To attempt to place oneself in the mind of a 1910 physicist who accepts special relativity but doubts the existence of atoms is a fun excercise.
posted by eotvos at 8:39 AM on April 23 [6 favorites]


I can remember learning, in otherwise ungreat biology class, that earthworms had five hearts because we dissected a worm and saw them!

I've mentioned this story before, but my dad was a physicist and got to work for/with NIST before time was networked. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory was building satellite tracking stations all over the world and they needed to have super precisely synchronized time. However this was pre-internet and so the way they managed this was to have a young guy (my dad, in 1966-ish?) travel around the world with a super precise clock to set the times there. He also helped build the stations (some old photos here) so he wasn't just a clock errand boy but the clock story is what captures everyone's imagination. Networked time became a thing in the seventies.

In looking up links for this I have learned the term optical molasses.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 8:44 AM on April 23 [25 favorites]


Now I'm imagining the Great Optical Molasses Disaster at MIT.
posted by moonmilk at 8:59 AM on April 23 [7 favorites]


Not a story, but I can share one of my favorite artifacts, the Tuxtla statuette (lots more photos of it here). It is not only an amazing looking thing, but it also is one of the few sources for an ancient Mesoamerican writing system, Isthmian or Epi-Olmec. (Bonus, if you go to Washington, D.C., it is currently on display at the National Museum of Natural History exhibit "Objects of Wonder", so you can see it in person).
posted by gudrun at 8:59 AM on April 23 [5 favorites]


Back in high school I opted for regular Chemistry instead of AP because I already was taking a bunch of other AP classes and doing the ballet thing pretty heavily. I remember the exact moment I regretted that decision, because I asked our teacher something that I couldn't find the answer to in our textbook. She got all snippy and said we didn't need to know that for the test. When I said that I didn't care if it wasn't on the test, I just wanted to know for my own curiosity, she got really pissed off and I realized she was incapable of teaching outside the textbook.

In more recent times, an article here in the Blue about the atomic level biological warfare that is pregnancy was amazing reading. I had fun telling my mom she and I are low level DNA chimeras because of having kids.
posted by romakimmy at 9:10 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]


I turned in my dissertation on Diana monkey behavior, ecology, reproduction, and endocrinology on Tuesday.

:cheers:
posted by biogeo at 9:12 AM on April 23 [5 favorites]


"Aluminium has a low melting point" said my father recently.
"There was this P-38 Lightning that had crashed. And other P-38s were circling to shoot it aflame. To prevent it falling in the hands of the Germans. The aluminium was dripping in the fire."

I love my 88 yr old father. He was 13 then.
posted by jouke at 9:15 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]


>I turned in my dissertation on Diana monkey behavior, ecology, reproduction, and endocrinology on Tuesday.

:cheers:
posted by biogeo at 9:12 AM on April 23 [+] [!]


Oh my goodness, yes! Congratulations!!!
posted by lazuli at 9:19 AM on April 23 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: Fingers gently curl in....Can do it to yourself.
posted by mule98J at 9:43 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


My parents were both scientists -- my mother a biological chemist and my father an extremely well known physical chemist. So, yea, met Linus Pauling as a child had Robert Curl over for dinner and all that, knew the laws of thermodynamics at a young age and was sometimes instructed to reduce the entropy of my bedroom, etc. Was not a very good science student myself, however, and my parents were really not much help with my schoolwork. Memorably, my chemistry lab partner in high school and I used to just mix everything together at the end of each session to see what would happen. Anyway, one thing that this upbringing did make me good at doing is explaining science-type stuff to laypeople. So around 15 years ago I wrote what became the leading internet guide on the physics of cookware. Got feature articles in newspapers, etc. out of it. My father used to joke, only slightly sarcastically, that my one piece of quasi-scientific work had been read by orders of magnitude more people than had read his entire scientific output.
posted by slkinsey at 10:05 AM on April 23 [16 favorites]


Two fun facts:
The rock that forms the top of Mount Everest contains fossils laid down at the bottom of an ocean.
No congenitally blind person has ever been recorded as developing schizophrenia.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 10:08 AM on April 23 [19 favorites]


People with schizophrenia have a lower incidence of cancer.
posted by theora55 at 10:35 AM on April 23 [3 favorites]


I worked at a hospital that was developing an advanced computer system for facilitating all things medical. There was this amazing scientist who was running the program. Our department's computers were filling with this sort of dust, and I wondered what it was, was it harmful, what was it, and I asked him. He told me he had already analyzed it, and I thought it was cellulose from the girders inside the building that were spray coated. He said he had thought that at first, but it was lint from the laundry. I'm like what? It was the hundreds of sheets and blankets opened and shaken, closed and used every day in the hospital setting.
posted by Oyéah at 11:05 AM on April 23 [8 favorites]


I recently learned that the whole magenta part of the color wheel, the whole area from purplish-red to reddish-purple, doesn't exist. Or rather, it doesn't exist as a single-wavelength value within the visible light spectrum. It's essentially a psychological hue manufactured by our brains.
posted by KathrynT at 12:33 PM on April 23 [5 favorites]


Glistening Inkcaps are indeed nontoxic and perfectly fine to eat, but ONLY if you don't mix them with liquor. They contain a chemical that keeps your body from breaking down alcohol properly, so if you do drink even a day or two after eating them, you apparently feel absolutely wretched. Consequently, a common folk name for them is "Tippler's Bane."

This reminded me of how the drug antabuse was discovered. Like these mushrooms, antabuse makes it so your body can't metabolize alcohol*, and you will get very, very sick if you drink while taking it, so it's used as a deterrent for alcoholics.

Anyway, apparently some scientists decided to take the drug themselves to test it out for anti parasitic properties, and then they drank alcohol, and discovered how bad a combination that was.

I really love stories of scientists accidentally discovering uses for things other than what they originally intended and also stories of how scientists back in the day would test things on themselves. Also, I love science.

*I'm not sure if that type of mushroom acts the same way, but antabuse works by blocking a particular enzyme, acetaldehyde dehydrogenase. When you consume alcohol, the alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme breaks alcohol down into acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is a big contributor to hangover symptoms, but the acetaldehyde dehydrogenase enzyme breaks the acetaldehyde into something benign. But without that crucial enzyme, if you drink alcohol, it's like instantly the worst hangover ever. In case anyone was curious.
posted by litera scripta manet at 12:37 PM on April 23 [7 favorites]


Oh, and upon looking over the antabuse wiki article again, it appears that the ink cap mushroom does in fact work the same way as antabuse. So that's another fun science fact.
posted by litera scripta manet at 12:38 PM on April 23 [9 favorites]


Just this morning on This American Life, I listened to an astonishing account of Leonid Rogozov, the Russian surgeon who removed his own appendix while on an Antarctic expedition. (Be warned: there's some graphic description in both the audio account and the BBC article, and the article also has a mid-surgery photo further down the page.)

Previous MeFi post about Rogozov.

From the audio link:
Ira Glass
What's the most impressive part of this to you?

Doug Smink
There are so many parts that are impressive to me. Probably most impressive to me, though, is what is the mental aspect of this. And he obviously had the perfect personality to pull this off. And then to have the courage, but also the wherewithal to assemble a team and explain to them what they were going to do while he had appendicitis.

Ira Glass
That's the thing. When I read this, I can't tell, well, could most surgeons do this or was he special?

[surgeon] Doug Smink
I think many people would be really uncomfortable doing it on themselves or would not be able to remain composed while also the patient.

Ira Glass
Could you do this?

Doug Smink
Well, as we were talking, I was trying to think if I could. I don't know. I think you would never know until you were put in that situation. I'd like to think I could, if given no other option.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:40 PM on April 23 [3 favorites]


Glistening Inkcaps are indeed nontoxic and perfectly fine to eat, but ONLY if you don't mix them with liquor. ...

*I'm not sure if that type of mushroom acts the same way, but antabuse works by blocking a particular enzyme, acetaldehyde dehydrogenase. When you consume alcohol, the alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme breaks alcohol down into acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is a big contributor to hangover symptoms, but the acetaldehyde dehydrogenase enzyme breaks the acetaldehyde into something benign. But without that crucial enzyme, if you drink alcohol, it's like instantly the worst hangover ever. In case anyone was curious.
. . .
Oh, and upon looking over the antabuse wiki article again, it appears that the ink cap mushroom does in fact work the same way as antabuse. So that's another fun science fact.


I don't think blocking acetaldehyde dehydrogenase -- whether by Glistening Inkcaps or Antabuse -- is ever a very good idea:
Aldehyde dehydrogenase inhibition as a pathogenic mechanism in Parkinson disease.
posted by jamjam at 1:40 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty low-fi when it comes to chemistry education.

However I did learn that helpful friends can be too casual in their choices of cleaners, as can I in borrowing them. We all brought our own bits of cleaning sponges and solutions to help trash out a house. I grabbed a little bit of Linda's, I grabbed a little bit of Paul's, and learned all about mixing bleach and ammonia in a non functioning shower stall that day.
Mainly, DON'T. An approximateation of mustard gas ensues, apparently.
posted by tilde at 1:44 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]


A pot of water gets quieter as it comes to the boil as the vapour bubbles stop collapsing once boiling point is reached.

Two very clean and optically flat steel surfaces can be a) “wrung” together and hold due to atmospheric pressure; and b) will quite soon be impossible to get apart, as the metal crystals will diffuse across the boundary. This is why old metrology types don't let rookies near the good gauge blocks.
posted by scruss at 1:54 PM on April 23 [10 favorites]


Since mustard gas was mentioned earlier in the thread: ammonia + bleach = chlorine, right? Which is different from phosgene which is different from mustard gas, though they used all 3 in WWI.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 1:56 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]


So many fun biology facts. You can also have a single horseshoe shaped kidney! And when they transplant a kidney, they don't remove the old one!

Topping the list of amazing science things I've seen/done was definitely scrubbing into a liver transplant on a patient I'd been following for a couple weeks. Her liver function was so poor that we knew she was at the top of the list. I asked if I could watch when it happened and then got in touch with the surgical resident on the transplant service, telling them to call me if a liver became available.

It was in the middle of the night, as they usually are, and that lends a certain otherworldliness to the already unbelievable scientific feat. Transplant surgeries are often packed with people of more importance than you (whose big heads get in the way of your sightline), including the harvesting surgeon, the main transplant surgeon, the lesser transplant surgeon, the surgical resident, the scrub nurse, and as many medical students as can be packed in there. In this case, there were just a couple surgeons so I had a good view, and when the old (shrunken, dark, and knobby) liver was removed, the intimidating main transplant surgeon put my hand in the empty cavity and gruffly said "what is this? Hm?" and my mind was racing – what was he referring to? My hand was just on warm abdominal fat. And I stuttered out, "the kidney," for that is the next organ behind its shield of retroperitoneal fat. "Good!" he replied, and that was all that he spoke to me the whole time.

Several more surgeons arrived, one preparing the donated organ and I went to the side table to watch. After that, they brought the new organ to her body and huddled over it, performing the delicate work of connecting the blood vessels and bile duct. I stood at the end of the bed, unable to see anything for an hour (or two? who knows). Then one of the lesser transplant surgeons looked at me and nodded to me to come closer. He gave up his spot so I could stand within sight of the transplanted liver as they released the clamp holding her blood inside her body while they made the anastomosis. And then I watched her blood flow into her new liver and plump it up from a dull brown to a vibrant red. The moment.

The patient went to the ICU after the surgery but as soon as she was no longer sedated I stopped by to say hi and we marveled over organ transplantation together. She's still doing well as far as I know.
posted by bobobox at 2:41 PM on April 23 [50 favorites]


Speaking of accidental discoveries, the story I was told about how the Laetoli footprints, which helped show that Australopithecus were at least partially bipedal, is that people were blowing off some steam on their paleoanthropological expedition by having a dried elephant poop fight (like a snowball fight, except with dried elephant poop), and someone picked up a dry elephant patty to throw at someone, and looked down to see these clearly bipedal footprints embedded in the rock.
posted by ChuraChura at 3:28 PM on April 23 [18 favorites]


When I was a freshman in college, I got an assignment in an English class to do an essay related to either my major or a field of interest. I was a chemistry major, and I remembered a video my high school chemistry teacher had shown about various household chemicals that could be mixed to produce surprising results - to put it another way, it was a video about various household chemicals that definitely should not be mixed. So I did a paper about the dangers under your sink, and how people each year are hospitalized after doing things like mixing cleaning products together or throwing away open containers. The paper itself was easy - I found some fireman's handbook at the library that had a list of things to be wary of when being called in for household chemical fires (this was in the nascent days of the internet, no wikipedia), including a common list of things that might have combined accidentally to produce smoke or fire.

But we also had to do a presentation for the class. I remembered that one of the demonstrations in the video my teacher had shown was brake fluid being squirted onto powdered pool chlorine and bursting into flames. I thought a very small scale version of that could be a neat presentation. So I went to Walmart and bought the two ingredients (I had no problem doing so, by the way, but at that same Walmart I could not buy white-out because I wasn't yet 18, and they carded for that; apparently huffing it was a thing, or at least so worried local legislators. Anyway.). Happily, I did have enough foresight to test whether it would work similarly in much smaller amounts before trying it in class. Less happily, I did not have enough foresight to conduct said test outside.

Long story short, I didn't end up getting in trouble, but I did have a hard time explaining to my roommate that yes, it was our room he'd seen smoke pouring out of on his walk back to the dorm, but no, the room wasn't on fire exactly, but all the same it would be best not to go in there for a while yet.

Place smelled like a pool for weeks.
posted by solotoro at 3:34 PM on April 23 [8 favorites]


Right now, I'm in the midst of an observation study of our new drive-around-rather-randomly Electrolux vacuum cleaner. How does it assemble its info about our furniture leg placement? How does it operate to cover the entire floor? Why does it dither at the right hand corner of the fridge? How far from home does it need to be to forget where the charging station is? Where's the vacuum-riding cat that was supposed to be included?
I actually can't do my usual research any more, because I keep watching the thing driving around our home. But it's very clean here all of a sudden.
posted by Namlit at 4:19 PM on April 23 [6 favorites]


If you mix cinnamon and brake fluid, the resulting gas can cause diarrhea.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:38 PM on April 23 [5 favorites]


In 1929 Dr Warner Forssman introduced a catheter into his own heart. This eventually led to the Swan Ganz catheter, which is floated through your right atrium, right ventricle and into your pulmonary artery.
posted by SyraCarol at 4:56 PM on April 23 [4 favorites]


> ammonia + bleach = chlorine, right?

Not chlorine (Cl2) but chloramine (NH2Cl). Which is technically less bad than chlorine, but bad enough.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 5:11 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: like a snowball fight, except with dried elephant poop
posted by Huffy Puffy at 5:18 PM on April 23 [5 favorites]


Not a story but a science fact and a recycled one at that.

Blasdelb explains this much better than I ever could but our immune system relies on generating cells with random antigen binding sites.
posted by rdr at 5:21 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


If you make bar bets using Joseph Gurl's science facts, you will lose money.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 5:25 PM on April 23 [6 favorites]


In the 1930s, two German scientists secretly sent their solid gold Nobel Prize medals to the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen to keep them out of Nazi hands. Then Hitler invaded Denmark. To ensure the medals weren't discovered, George de Hevesy dissolved them in a mixture of nitric acid and hydrochloric acid, then left the flask containing the solution on a shelf in his lab. The Nazis searched the Institute but never found out what had happened. When de Hevesy got back to the lab after the war, the flask was still untouched -- so he precipitated the gold back out of the solution and sent it to the Swedish Academy, which re-cast the medals and returned them to their rightful owners. (via)
posted by Gerald Bostock at 5:27 PM on April 23 [68 favorites]


> stories of how scientists back in the day would test things on themselves

Do scientists never test things on themselves any more?
posted by languagehat at 5:32 PM on April 23


The metalurgist who wrote this paper for the government in the 1950s was my grandfather. He was a professor at the University of Connecticut at the time. He'd retired from UConn by the time I was wee, so I knew him more for his retirement project (overseeing the family cranberry farm), but I also remember he still had this unimpressive-looking metal rod about the size of a pencil hanging out on his desk that I didn't think anything of until one day when I was in my 20's and overheard him telling someone it was a single crystal of nickel.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:04 PM on April 23 [5 favorites]


Technically, all mushrooms are neurotoxic, but as long as you also consume enough hydrogen (including in the form of H2O), you don't have to worry about their effects.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:13 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]




Steel changes size by 6-1/2 millionths of an inch for every one degree of change in its temperature (F). This becomes important if you're machining things to very precise tolerances, or laying railroad track.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:00 PM on April 23 [3 favorites]


In the words of my wizened, elderly, and extremely stern German anatomy professor:

Zere are five water fowl in ze thorazic cavity:

Zee esopha-goose
Zee vay-goose (Vagus nerve)
Zee azay -goose (azygous vein)
Zee hemiazay-goose (hemiazygous vein)
and zee thoracic-DUCK! (thoracic duct)

Med school: fascinating and hilarious.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:05 PM on April 23 [37 favorites]


WORMANIA!

When I worked at the Ag End Outreach department of an agricultural college, part of my job was to review curriculum materials that we would recommend for grade school teachers who wanted to incorporate agricultural science related topics into their curricula. Even though it was wacky as hell, Everybody loved this vermiculture video and the materials that went along with it. I was so tickled to find it online.

My favorite part, "The Worm Mating Song" comes at about 15:40. The whole classroom kit used to come with a CD of just the songs, which are all golden.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:29 PM on April 23 [6 favorites]


Since high school, I considered myself unique because of my pointer fingers: my mid-digit segments on my pointer fingers are bare, while my other 3 fingers have hair. I was told that the presence or absence of mid-digital hair is controlled by a single gene with two alleles, but I see now that this is a myth, and it's a characteristic that some people have hair on the back of the middle segment of some fingers.

(And the story of the bisected worm becoming two new worms depends on the details, including the type of earthworm and the location and tidiness of the amputation.)
posted by filthy light thief at 10:02 PM on April 23


Eyebrows, I had that same amazing experience seeing my kids' hearts.

A few years ago, I had some extensive imaging done of my brain, and the doctor showed them to me. I remember being absolutely flabbergasted as the images moved down from the top of my head in slices, and we got to the ones where you could see my optic nerves, or at least the channels they travel in from the eyes to the brain. Sometimes I have this weird idea that internal organs and bodily structures are somehow metaphorical, and being reminded that they actually exist in this visible, tangible way kind of blows my mind.

One of my kids dissected a crayfish for fun a few years ago. None of us has ever gotten over our amazement that the crayfish's brain looked exactly like a tiny piece of chocolate cake.

I suffer from Chronic Daily Headache, and during a hospitalization to treat it, I learned that benadryl is effective at treating headaches. Like many headache treatments, such as botox, this was discovered because people receiving it for something else mentioned to their doctors that they'd noticed their headaches had improved. But! Benadryl only helps in IV form. Pills do nothing. I also learned that there is a growing theory that colic in babies may be a form of migraine disease.
posted by Orlop at 10:03 PM on April 23 [6 favorites]


Plants do not "like" direct sunlight. I always figured that the ones growing in shade had adaptations that let them outcompete in the left-over shady spots, and if they had a chance they'd do better in the sun. It's basically the opposite. Plants that get direct sun spend have to fight the damage from the massive incoming UV radiation--they can only harvest a tiny fraction for photosynthesis.
posted by mark k at 10:08 PM on April 23 [5 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: The metalurgist who wrote this paper for the government in the 1950s was my grandfather.

Weird brag: my paternal grandfather found a niche in the publications on practical uses of chemicals - the story goes that he would read patents for chemicals, and then write what were basically brochures on how to use those chemicals. He was so prolific in this that he had to use pseudonyms to avoid seeming like he was fabricating his facts, or something like that. Apparently he had a biographer writing up his full bibliography, among other things, but I'm not sure where that went. Also, a chemistry book he wrote in the 1960s was still used in India for so long that he went back and re-wrote it, to bring it up to date. (I should really ask my dad about all this. My brother-in-law did come across something my grandfather wrote, which was neat.)
posted by filthy light thief at 10:08 PM on April 23 [5 favorites]




That is a fascinating read unliteral.
posted by Mitheral at 12:35 AM on April 24


A now-extinct species of canine--once common in the Frisian islands--is known to have been fully bipedal.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 1:09 AM on April 24 [6 favorites]


Worth remembering for the next time someone asks you: "What's updog?"
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:10 AM on April 24 [11 favorites]


Sure, but who're we kidding? I'll never remember that.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:16 AM on April 24


Orlop reminded me - we usually laugh at animals with their eyes on stalks for looking silly but OUR EYES ARE ON STALKS TOO! The stalks are just inside of our head!
posted by bobobox at 4:35 AM on April 24 [9 favorites]


In Upper 6th Chemistry (17-18 years old) we had far too much access to interesting things, and a teacher with a somewhat pragmatic attitude to safety. I have many stories to bore you with, but let's go with a simple one.

We were doing some simple solvent extraction. For some reason cyclohexane was involved. Similar general properties to gasoline, but a less forgiving nature.

We were mostly taking somewhat sensible precautions with it - small quantities, well away from flames, fire blankets to hand.

Except one chap. He was notorious for a more-than-usually lackadaisacal attitude to basic safety practices.

He managed to spill about 100ml of the cyclohexane across the bench top. The sound of the glass falling caused the rest of us to freeze and look on in horror as the flood gushed towards a lit bunsen.

"WHOOSH" went the vapour as a fireball hit the ceiling.

No panicking - just sensible and rapid steps in the right direction. Most made for the door. One person reached for a fire blanket. The teacher and tech both grabbed extinguishers. The flames subsided to a gentle few inches as the remaining liquid burned away.

If we'd all left it there, the fire would have burned out with no harm done. All it took was for Our Clumsy Hero to step back and let the grown-ups sort it out.

That is not what happened.

Inhaling deeply, Our Hero decided to blow the flames out. By this stage the flames were covering over a square meter of bench. His attempts were remarkably successful until about a third of the way across. We all watched as realisation dawned. He wasn't going to make it all the way across. Soon, he would need to inhale.

And that is how he ended up in the ER being bollocked by his mother - by coincidence, a nurse who worked there - for the Most Stupid First Degree Burns of the day.
posted by Combat Wombat at 5:07 AM on April 24 [10 favorites]


A partially defrosted adult squirrel, on a miniature viking boat-style funeral pyre, requires a surprising amount of petrol (gasoline) for an effective - full - and befitting cremation.
posted by Wordshore at 5:56 AM on April 23 [11 favorites +] [!]

OK, so is this the same squirrel you referred to last week? And you were just saving him to stage a miniature viking funeral pyre? Why didn't you just say so at the time?


Geez—it's like pulling teeth to get info from this guy.
posted by she's not there at 5:38 AM on April 24 [9 favorites]


I supervised a PhD in anaerobic digestion a couple of years back. The idea was to assess the potential for reducing parasitic energy in small systems to improve the economics of farm based AD. The aim was to consider whether stirring has as much impact on methane productivity as has been assumed in the literature (Spoiler: We think not). The method was a series of experiments which used fresh cow slurry under different sets of conditions and with different levels of stirring. This was placed in the appropriate receptacle and left for a period of time, with measurements taken at regular intervals. Anyway, one Friday evening my student decided to see what would happen if he left 5% rather than 10% leeway when filling the vessels with fresh cow poo. Written down like that it seems so obvious doesn't it? Anyway, he got a phone call from the lab manager at 8am on the Monday. The flask had broken its glass valve (a feature) and shot its contents straight up at the ceiling where some of then had gone straight into the A/C vent, continued through the system and out of the roof vent. The rest had hit the biodegradable roof tiles and bounced back over the rest of the lab. My student's reward for his scientific curiosity was largely cloth and bleach based. The tiles were replaced. The A/C was cleaned out by professionals. If you have been paying attention you will notice that in the middle of that, some actual shit hit an actual fan. It is just as messy as you might have imagined.
posted by biffa at 6:26 AM on April 24 [25 favorites]


My parents were both scientists ... was sometimes instructed to reduce the entropy of my bedroom

So you turned down the thermostat?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:40 AM on April 24 [10 favorites]


A few years ago, I had some extensive imaging done of my brain, and the doctor showed them to me. I remember being absolutely flabbergasted as the images moved down from the top of my head in slices, and we got to the ones where you could see my optic nerves, or at least the channels they travel in from the eyes to the brain.

Interestingly, the eyes (and optic nerves, natch) are formed from the neural tube. So whether or not eyes are a window into someone's soul, they are an exposed piece of not-quite-brain.
posted by Jpfed at 7:29 AM on April 24 [3 favorites]


I was a shy and sheltered maidenly young thing when I was fourteen. So when we were looking at amoebas under the microscope in biology class, and I saw two stuck together, my friends followed me when I went to ask the teacher about it - just so they could watch me blush when he told me.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:37 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


I don't actually understand "science", but I had a look on the internet (which is great - you guys should check it out!) - and I found a really interesting fact: the EARTH is FLAT!!!

Apparently it's all because of the "music of the spheres". We have eight planets, right, which tonally cover the major scale. That's why Pluto isn't a "planet", by the way: it's just Venus, but one octave higher.

Anyway: they are all tuned according to some kind of logger-rhythms, but because Earth has the most logs (and branches, leaves, etc) it keeps on missing the rhythm, and as a result the Earth is 2.3 cents flat. Compare the moon, or "Earth Sharp", which is right on pitch, 'cos it doesn't have any damn logs.

But the good news is that we can probably correct the whole issue if you guys could just give me 2.3 cents each. Because - and I really can't stress this enough - the whole problem with the Earth today, as I see it, is that I don't have any fucking cents. "There goes quidnunc", people say, "he doesn't make a fucking lick of cents, the stupid tedious piece of fucking shit Jesus Christ I wish he would just shut the fuck up", ha! ha! ha! h-wait ... wait a second ... I'm ... an idiot?

OK! Thanks for sciencing with me guys!
posted by the quidnunc kid at 7:39 AM on April 24 [9 favorites]


> you guys should check it out!

I presume that's a typo and you meant to say "you guys should chuck it out!" I did, and I've never been happier. Who needs a damn internet? This tin can with string works for me!
posted by languagehat at 7:42 AM on April 24 [2 favorites]


Oh, you've got a Tin Can 7 - with string? Sure they look great but where's the headphone jack!?
posted by the quidnunc kid at 8:02 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


the quidnunc kid: "Anyway: they are all tuned according to some kind of logger-rhythms, but because Earth has the most logs (and branches, leaves, etc) it keeps on missing the rhythm, and as a result the Earth is 2.3 cents flat. Compare the moon, or "Earth Sharp", which is right on pitch, 'cos it doesn't have any damn logs."

True fact: The Starship Enterprise went out into space in order to fill it with logs -- Captain's Logs.
posted by chavenet at 8:18 AM on April 24 [3 favorites]


True fact: The Starship Enterprise went out into space in order to fill it with logs -- Captain's Logs

OMG is that true??? So that's why Captain Kirk was always BEAMing up! With, like - wooden beams! Made from logs! And his name was James TREE Kirk!!! Science is AMAZING!!! And also guys if I keep saying stupider and stupider things, then will I eventually go all the way past stupid and come back the other side with something really SMAR- wait ... no. No I won't. Uh ... I'm sorry. I am very sorry :-(
posted by the quidnunc kid at 8:47 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.”


― Philip K. Dick," I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon"
posted by Combat Wombat at 8:53 AM on April 24 [7 favorites]


Welding doesn't actually require heat. If two completely clean pieces of similar metal are brought and held in contact, they'll stick together. This is because of the nature of metallic bonding; electrons delocalize from their nuclei, forming a kind of electrochemical soup, and the two adjacent atoms of metal can't "tell" which piece they are part of.

This can happen spontaneously in space because, if the metals start clean enough, there are no pollutants to mar the surfaces. It doesn't ordinarily happen on Earth because the metals' surfaces are almost always coated by a very thin oxide layer and/or contaminating particles. It can be done in a strong vacuum, however.

Cold welding
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 9:24 AM on April 24 [14 favorites]


some kind of logger-rhythms

What does a birth control method for lumberjacks have to do with the movement of the planets??
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:37 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Do scientists never test things on themselves any more?
It was relatively recently discovered that ulcers are caused by bacteria.
Wikipedia H. pylori was first discovered in the stomachs of patients with gastritis and ulcers in 1982 by Drs. Barry Marshall and Robin Warren of Perth, Australia. At the time, the conventional thinking was that no bacterium could live in the acid environment of the human stomach. In recognition of their discovery, Marshall and Warren were awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Marshall tested it on himself.
posted by theora55 at 10:13 AM on April 24 [2 favorites]


Also, I hadn't seen that Nobel medal thread and it's really good.
posted by theora55 at 10:27 AM on April 24


OMG is that true??? So that's why Captain Kirk was always BEAMing up! With, like - wooden beams! Made from logs! And his name was James TREE Kirk!!!

And his chief engineer was made out of Scots pine, which is how he could always beam him a board.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:47 AM on April 24 [7 favorites]


I worked in a lab in undergrad that studied, among other things, the relationship between cancer and depression using a rodent model.

How do you tell if rats are depressed, you ask? You throw 'em in a bucket. The non-depressed ones swim. The depressed ones give up quickly and just float around.

(On a related note, one of the best pieces of science-ese I've ever heard came from that lab. Instead of telling me that rats float, the PI of the lab said, extremely earnestly, "Rodents are neutrally buoyant." I still get that phrase stuck in my head from time to time.)
posted by coppermoss at 11:15 AM on April 24 [5 favorites]


How do you tell if rats are depressed, you ask? You throw 'em in a bucket. The non-depressed ones swim. The depressed ones give up quickly and just float around.

But, how do you know that depression or lack thereof is the reason that the rats are floating vs swimming?
posted by she's not there at 1:03 PM on April 24


How do you tell if rats are depressed, you ask? You throw 'em in a bucket.

.. and whatever god wants, he keeps!
posted by Greg Nog at 1:33 PM on April 24 [10 favorites]


I once watched the Earth, rotate away from the sun, rather than the sun setting. I could also see the last rays of the sun, agitating the atmosphere. it was quite a day.

In the same vein but perhaps more mundane, I was flying eastward over the prairies in central North America once late in the afternoon. Around sunset, I saw that the wings of the plane were now in shadow but far above us I could see sunlight streaming through the atmosphere. Then I surveyed the near 180 degrees I could see from my window and observed a darker wedge of sky: thinnest far behind where the sun had just vanished over the rapidly retreating horizon, growing gradually thicker the further forward I looked. We were at the terminator and I could see the shadow of the earth in its atmosphere.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:48 PM on April 24 [6 favorites]


Do scientists never test things on themselves any more?

I'm sure they do sometimes (the H. Pylori test, mentioned above), but I think "take this random drug FOR SCIENCE" is not practiced quite as much these days, although I could be wrong. In terms of research in this day and age, there are definitely rules in place that weren't around in previous decades. I mean, you wouldn't get away with the Stanford Prison Experiment today, at least not without some changes. Even Marshall's ulcer experiment was done in 1984.

Still, it's not like I'm an expert. I'd love to hear more current stories of scientists doing self testing, if anyone knows any more stories.
posted by litera scripta manet at 1:59 PM on April 24


Since high school, I considered myself unique because of my pointer fingers: my mid-digit segments on my pointer fingers are bare, while my other 3 fingers have hair. I was told that the presence or absence of mid-digital hair is controlled by a single gene with two alleles, but I see now that this is a myth, and it's a characteristic that some people have hair on the back of the middle segment of some fingers.

Ugghh, we learned this in my HS biology class, too, and it made me ridiculously self-conscious about the hair on my ring fingers (the only fingers with the mid-digit hair) and then about all the hair on my hands and arms, in the way that teenage girls can be.
posted by lazuli at 2:27 PM on April 24


I have one hair on my ring finger mid-digit, none on any other fingers.
posted by Bruce H. at 4:50 PM on April 24


"Hi, Bruce!"
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 5:50 PM on April 24


Orlop reminded me - we usually laugh at animals with their eyes on stalks for looking silly but OUR EYES ARE ON STALKS TOO! The stalks are just inside of our head!

Funny thing about this: it means that your eyes are actually part of your brain.
posted by rhizome at 7:08 PM on April 24


Oh yeah, and water is the only substance we interact with regularly whose solid form is less dense than its liquid, making ice float.
posted by rhizome at 7:10 PM on April 24


Speaking of water, it's a little known fact that when placed under extreme pressure, water becomes sentient.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:33 PM on April 24 [3 favorites]


... it's a little known fact ...

Very little known. Very, very little known.
posted by Bruce H. at 7:36 PM on April 24


Today I cleaned my silver using science! How to remove tarnish. Basically tarnish is sulfur bonding to your silver, and sulfur would rather bond with aluminum, so you line a glass casserole dish with aluminum foil, put the silver in, add some baking soda and salt to speed the reaction, and pour hot water over it. SCIENCE! saving me all the work of polishing my silver.

(It does make the kitchen smell a bit like raw eggs due to all the sulfur. But still! Less polishing.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 7:58 PM on April 24 [15 favorites]


I went to high school with Les Polishing! He was a rather dull and unsophisticated lad.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:38 PM on April 24 [3 favorites]


Eyebrows: please assure me this won't harm the silver. I have a very tarnished place-setting for 12 and various serving pieces hidden in a kitchen drawer because the prospect of all that polishing is more than I can handle. There is no consensus among the strangers on the internet, but I'll take you at your word.
posted by she's not there at 10:38 PM on April 24


I've told this story before but it's one of my most shameful moments that doesn't involve alcohol and it revealed my lack of knowledge when it comes to some basic scientific principles.

I was talking to a friend and he told me that no-one really knows how gravity is caused and I scoffed, ladies and gentlemen, because it was completely obvious to me, based on having ridden on the showride known as the Gravitron, that of course it was due to the rotation of the planet.

He was very kind and advised me that it was probably a good idea to look up 'centrifugal force' and to perhaps not argue with someone who had actually studied physics at university.

My face is still red when I think of this.
posted by h00py at 12:51 AM on April 25 [2 favorites]


please assure me this won't harm the silver.

I've never heard that it would, but it will blow away the dark bits on your jewelry that contribute to the design, like engraving and so on.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:56 AM on April 25


Oh yeah, and water is the only substance we interact with regularly whose solid form is less dense than its liquid, making ice float.


Well explain ice cream floats then smartypants.
posted by biffa at 1:24 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


please assure me this won't harm the silver.

It shouldn't harm the silver to any extent that you would notice without using a very powerful microscope. What is happening is that the aluminium is working as a sacrificial anode (or is it cathode I can never remember). The Al will become pitted as it is oxidised to an aluminium and sulphur compound (probably aluminium sulphide Al2S3 assuming a complete reaction) While the silver sulphide will be reduced back down to metallic silver. It could migrate and leave defects in the surface of the silver, but these defects would be mere atoms thick so you shouldn't notice it. Removal of this silver sulphide is what you do when you polish it anyways so in essence this should harm your silver less than the actual polishing.

Having actually done this woth some rather tarnished silver you should be advised that to get the real shine on it will require some post treatment polishing anyways to rebuff the surface of the silver., but this will be MUCH less than if you had to polish the silver completely by hand to remove the tarnish. It also might require multiple treatments to remove all of the tarnish if it is really bad. If your silver pieces are museum quality with very delicate details then I wouldn't try it and would instead take it to a museum to see what they would recommend, but if it is more like actual tableware meant to be used then I wouldn't worry and do the Al and electrolyte process to reverse the tarnishing and then buff with a mildly abrasive cloth (really just a terrycloth or something like that) to get a good shine where appropriate.
posted by koolkat at 2:08 AM on April 25 [3 favorites]


(reads silver-polish-with-science tip, notebook in hand)

What about tarnish on brass or copper?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:43 AM on April 25


I'm not sure off the top of my head, but I suspect it would work, but it really depends on the type of tarnish. Copper gets a patina (CuO) which actually protects it, wheras brass (copper and tin right) would also get a similar protective oxidized layer. It all depends on the relative reduction potentials of the various compounds, but aluminium is quite active so it should work fairly well as a sacrificial anode. Mercury or a mercuey aluminium amalgum would work better, (or a lithium mercury amalgum, but that one would be very dangerous and there would be issues with ionic transport without using water because boom otherwise) Tin and copper are both more "active" than silver so it might not work as well, but from the back of my brain calculation of chemical activities I suspect it would work. If you notice the water turning green, then stop because the copper is dissolving.

As an aside I once precipitated a not so small amount of silver from silver nitrate using copper as a sacrifical anode. I even managed to grow crystalline silver, but most of it was powdered which I melted in a furnace and smithed my own ring using a wax mold in finely ground sand. I should have used plaster and melted the wax out of the mold, but I only had access to the sand and pouring molten silver into a plaster mold seemed more dangerous than pouring molten silver into sand. The plaster could ave exploded if it wasn't REALLY dry.
posted by koolkat at 6:02 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


Mr. Miller was my honors physics teacher in senior year of high school. He was also a farmer. He got up at like 3 a.m. and dealt with his cows and pigs and then came to school. We asked him if he drank a lot of coffee; he said no, he had to drink a big glass of milk fresh from the cow just to calm down enough to drive. I think there may have been something amiss with Mr. Miller, metabolically speaking.

Once someone driving past his farm on the curvy Ohio roads drove straight through his fence and into one of his cows, which fortunately was unharmed. The car was pretty messed up, though. The driver attempted to sue him for damaging his car. The telling of this story was the only time we saw Mr. Miller actually outraged: "You drove THROUGH MY FENCE and INTO MY COW which was IN THE PASTURE GRAZING and YOU are trying to sue ME???" The driver did not win.

The semester before I had his class I had chemistry across the hall. I mentioned to my chemistry teacher that I had a presentation in economics that afternoon, on vegetarianism. (This had been assigned at random but I was the only vegetarian in the class.) Chemistry teacher brightened: "Mr. Miller has his piglets in today! You could borrow one!" We went across the hall. There were two piglets in the fume hood. (That was where Mr. Miller always kept his piglets when he brought them to school.) Mr. Miller was somewhat taken aback but the chemistry teacher vouched for me ("She's smart! You'll have her next semester!") and so after our vegetarianism presentation, when everyone was busy sampling my mediocre tofu and quinoa, I slipped out of the classroom, downstairs to the physics room, and crept back in with a squealing piglet in a tupperware bin. Chaos! Shrieking! Delight! Teachers frantically shooing me back out into the hall with my bin of piglet!

Once Mr. Miller told us very proudly about his new pig truck and how he had been transporting pigs somewhere and his girlfriend was with him and she stepped in pig shit so he made her ride in the back of the truck so she didn't mess up the cab. And then she was like?? Mad? Or something??? Roomful of seventeen-year-olds clutching their heads and groaning: Mr. Miller, nooo! Noooooo! YOU DIDN'T!!!

Mr. Miller was very sweet, though. On the last day of classes he made everyone pancakes on griddles over the bunsen burners. Once I bombed a test and tore it up in a bout of perfectionist rage, but then when we went over the answers I realized he had marked something wrong that I should have gotten partial credit for. At the end of class once everyone else was gone I went up and explained. He looked confused. "Great, hand me your test and I'll look at it." I showed him two-hands-ful of shredded paper. He looked somewhat alarmed but wordlessly opened up his gradebook and held it out. I poured the test in. The next day he returned it to me, painstakingly scotch-taped back together, with my adjusted grade.
posted by little cow make small moo at 6:13 AM on April 25 [43 favorites]


koolkat has answered better than I could! Chemical detarnishing is supposed to leave more silver atoms intact than mechanical polishing. I always have to wipe some now-loose tarnish off with a soft cloth. I wouldn't do it on something old with a historic patina, since it gets in the crevices in a way a cloth can't and you'll lose patina, but yeah, everyday silver is fine.

I just buff mine up a bit with a soft cloth (they come out of the bath dull), which doesn't give a mirror shine finish but I don't care, I'm using them to eat! Pretty shiney is shiney enough for me.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 7:03 AM on April 25


I once watched the Earth, rotate away from the sun, rather than the sun setting. I could also see the last rays of the sun, agitating the atmosphere. it was quite a day.

Whoa! Time Lapse Sky Shows Earth Rotating Instead of Stars edited from the inspiring VLT timelapse video.
posted by jjj606 at 7:25 AM on April 25 [3 favorites]


I worked in a lab in undergrad that studied, among other things, the relationship between cancer and depression using a rodent model.

How do you tell if rats are depressed, you ask? You throw 'em in a bucket. The non-depressed ones swim. The depressed ones give up quickly and just float around.


My undergrad lab worked with sheep, studying how body weight affects the levels of various hormones (with the goal of understanding how and why women who are very over- or underweight sometimes stop menstruating and become infertile. Super-interesting). This meant we needed fat and thin sheep. You make sheep fat by feeding them more. You make sheep thin by putting them on a treadmill. Science!
posted by une_heure_pleine at 7:28 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


koolkat: I should have used plaster and melted the wax out of the mold, but I only had access to the sand and pouring molten silver into a plaster mold seemed more dangerous than pouring molten silver into sand. The plaster could ave exploded if it wasn't REALLY dry.

I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:23 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


Not super-sciency as such, but I sometimes remind the kids that of the tree, only the oldest one provably has a brain in her as we had a MRI scan of her head once. And the youngest one is the only one with papers proving that he's not dumb - as he had a psych evaluation to determine why he was late in developing language which says "normal cognitive skills". The middle one is kind of left high and dry here.
posted by Harald74 at 9:01 AM on April 25 [3 favorites]


Off topic: 7 days without a MetaTalk? That's got to be close to a record.

At 7 days 2 hours 39 minutes, the gap between this MeTa and the previous one is the fourth longest interval between non-deleted posts in the history of MetaTalk, beating out the gap between this and this by less than 3 minutes.

The longest gap between MetaTalk posts is the unimaginable 15 days 9 hours 7 minutes between this and this.

(Datawankery is science, right?)
posted by Gerald Bostock at 11:09 AM on April 25 [8 favorites]


Late last year, we figured out that these mysterious radio flashes ("Fast Radio Bursts") we'd been finding (for about 10 years now) were actually coming from beyond our Milky Way galaxy - in fact, for this one source, from over 2.5 billion light years away.

The story got a fair bit of press (e.g.) when we published all our papers in January, but we nailed the distance to the host galaxy - purely by coincidence - on the 9th of November, 2016. I'll always have ambivalent feelings about that date ... on the one hand, fantastic result! On the other hand, the end of the world as we know it.
posted by RedOrGreen at 3:10 PM on April 25 [4 favorites]


the shadow of the earth in its atmosphere I have been trying to describe this for years, I think. In the late sixties and very early seventies, driving south in the Southern Utah desert, at sunset, you could see a very blue layer of sky at the horizon, to the east. Well, for one thing the air was so clean then you could see it at the ground level. That is a sight that is no more. Maybe, maybe after a massive rainstorm, in the month of the vernal equinox, when the sun is more or less east west, then you might see it. There are some views off of the shoulder of one mountain that facilitate a very far look to the east.
posted by Oyéah at 9:01 PM on April 25

...the shadow of the earth in its atmosphere...
Darkrise.

It happens just after sunset. Watch the sun fall below the horizon, then turn and see the sky darken from the edge of the world to the vault of the heavens.

It's numinous.
posted by Combat Wombat at 6:07 AM on April 26 [2 favorites]


The half life of facts in psychology is 7.1 years.*

In other words, half of the established 'facts' of psychology will be discredited or disproven within that period.

Extrapolation: assuming that the generation of new 'facts' (not based on, dependent or derived from the old 'facts') is less than the rate of half life decay, psychology is heading asymptotically towards zero factual basis.**

*(may be presently skewed by the replication crisis)

**(better put, we are slowly coming to realise this underlying truth)
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:27 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


>> ...the shadow of the earth in its atmosphere...
> Darkrise.


Here's a picture of the shadow of a volcano. Everyone inside that shadow has experienced sunset already.

But this is even cooler: the literal shadow of the moon sweeping across the ground.
posted by RedOrGreen at 7:47 AM on April 26 [3 favorites]


I saw this other thing once, which amazed me. We take the shadows under trees for granted, kind of rounded pools of light in between areas of shadows. Well each of the not shadows under trees is the result of a pinhole camera created by the spaces between leaves, and the rounded areas of light we likely do not notice, are pinhole camera images of the sun. They change at the time of an eclipse. In a partial eclipse, once happening at near midday, a light wind was blowing, and I noticed that the not shadows under the trees were all moving crescents echoing the status of the eclipse going on over head. I got pictures of that, they are somewhere in my troves. I was amazed.
posted by Oyéah at 9:46 AM on April 26 [13 favorites]


If you electrocute a pickle it glows yellow (due to the sodium in the salt). Also smells quite odd.
posted by kjs4 at 9:48 PM on April 26


the not shadows under the trees were all moving crescents

I was in Balboa Park years ago for a partial eclipse and noticed that. Also that Cheez-Its make a half-decent pinhole camera.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:08 PM on April 26


The highest efficacy, common lighting source we have is Low Pressure Sodium; a gas discharge lamp using, drum roll, excited sodium to produce a stunning 200 lumens per watt (a good LED struggles to reach a third of that). "These lamps produce a virtually monochromatic light averaging a 589.3 nm wavelength (actually two dominant spectral lines very close together at 589.0 and 589.6 nm)". Because of this areas lit entirely by LPS lamps appear to be in colour (specifically we perceive the sickly yellow) but the scenes are actually monochromatic meaning it can be very difficult to distinguish the colour of objects with the same contrast without noticing.

The same monochromatic effect led to film stars wearing really strange make up in black and white film to appear natural when in B&W.
posted by Mitheral at 10:42 PM on April 26 [6 favorites]


By request, a few more details about Nutkins.

+ + + + +

There was this squirrel that, for a while now, had brought entertainment and amusement to several of us in this part of the street. Unusually adventurous, even by squirrel standards, the squirrel would run along the rooftops, jump from tree to tree, try and get into bird feeders, and not run away from the many cats in this area (apart from Catzilla, but even people ran away from him). The squirrel would also get quite close to people, watch them, and steal food from plates. But no-one minded, because squirrel.

The kids two doors away were particularly taken by the squirrel. The younger kid, about three or four years old, gave the name Nutkins and would talk to it. Sometimes, one of the neighbors would message others with "Nutkins is outside" or "I can't find the lawnmower; can a squirrel steal a lawnmower? Is that possible?" - that kind of thing. Nutkins became an integral thread of the fabric of this micro-community.

Unfortunately Nutkins recently passed away (details in the eulogy below). This presented a problem which I so nearly put on AskMe but was worried about getting an "Again, you don't use AskMe for its intended purpose; maybe it's time to consider a different website" message from the mods, so I didn't. The problem was: what to do with Nutkins?

The options, as discussed by some of us:

1) Nutkins could not be buried. This is because there is a problem around here with badgers digging up things such as bones in the nearby church graveyard. This was complicated by the fact that the local schoolkids who went to the evangelical Sunday school on the other side of town had received an unnecessarily graphic sermon about the resurrection over Easter at Sunday school, We could realistically see a scenario where the younger kid two doors away discovered the dug-up body, wailing "NUTKINS HAS RISEN!" and being completely traumatised.

2) The dad of the kids is a bit ... odd. He is seriously into Ray Mears and Bear Grylls programmes, and likes outdoor barbeques as it means he can fantasize about his masculine cooking abilities and how he can probably survive in the wild (I have seen him in fluffy slippers and dressing gown, filling a hot water bottle before bedtime, and I quietly dispute this). None of us trusted him with the body of Nutkins, or with any knowledge of the demise of our favorite squirrel.

Look, it's startling enough glancing out of the window on one side of this property to see the elderly naturist neighbors play badminton every time the sun comes out (now I know why it's called a shuttlecock), without looking out of the other to see your neighbor trying to barbeque a squirrel and feed it to his children.

3) Ringing the council. Nope; they would probably charge money, or come round and make a big fuss (alerting the young child) with forms and procedures and "Ooooh, there's a problem" and sharp intakes of breath. Unnecessary reminder that I currently live in rural England.

4) Hurried disposal in the bin. Nope; there's probably some rubbish disposal law against it, and the binmen will be carrying out covert checks, along with the usual byzantine criteria for recycling. You know: "On the third thursday of every second month you are permitted to dispose of a prime number of plastic items plus one recently deceased ferret only", that kind of thing. As well as this, myself and a few of the other neighbors wanted to do something a bit more respectful for Nutkins than just putting in the bin.

5) Take to the vets. No - have you been to the vets recently? A twenty second examination and "Ah, your kitten Fifi is just mildly constipated. Give her a tin of prunes. That will be seven hundred pounds plus VAT, please."

So, Nutkins was wrapped and put in the bottom drawer of the freezer (only just fitting because, well, Nutkins was not a thin squirrel) and a few of us had a chat. And we decided on a Viking-style cremation. One of the neighbors, who was into all things Viking and played online games to that effect, eagerly volunteered to make a pyre. Fine. I volunteered to officiate; a third neighbor to bring some alcohol for the toast.

We decided not to tell the young kid. Instead, if asked, the story was that one of us saw Nutkins swinging from tree to tree one day, going far into the distance, in search of the perfect tree. Something positive and inspirational.

At a convenient time, we went to a nearby body of water. No houses nearby, and apart from the footpath pretty quiet. The location is secret, and photos were banned as - again, this is England - no doubt we were breaking a myriad of by-laws, and there would be a "NO CREMATING ANIMALS: MAXIMUM FINE £500" one or similar. The pyre, which was pretty impressive, was carefully lain in the water. Nutkins was respectfully unwrapped (well, as respectfully as I could for a frozen and very stiff squirrel).

I had prepared the eulogy earlier and delivered it in my best English vicar voice:

+ + + + +

Nutkins.

We are gathered here today to celebrate the short but eventful life of Nutkins. Nutkins! Super squirrel; adventurer; stealer of items; and, alas, chewer of electric cables.

We have known Nutkins for some time since he or she chose to live amongst us. We have followed the adventures and travels of our intrepid neighbor around, along and above our tiny part of the world. Nutkins chose the outdoor life over the indoor life. Nutkins explored and experimented, was bold and fearless, scaled dizzy heights, and ate - or attempted to eat - many things. We never saw Nutkins with a partner; maybe there was one, or maybe Nutkins chose the single, uncompromising life. We do not know. We also do not know where Nutkins was born, nor when.

But we do know when Nutkins expired - at exactly 6:02pm when the power went off - and where. And, verily, we are gathered at that exact time of the day again to acknowledge the force that is, was, and always will be, Nutkins, in our lives.

For Nutkins did not spend his or her time correcting people on the Internet. Nor did Nutkins troll strangers. Nor did Nutkins take pleasure in the misfortune of others. Nor did Nutkins get drunk within 20 minutes of the pub opening and angrily shout abuse at strangers. Because Nutkins had a life, a positive life, and exuded a finer squirrel version of humanity.

Nutkins lived. For it is better to be a squirrel for a day than an Internet addict for all of yours {several people frowned and looked at their shoes at this point}. Be the Nutkins you want to be in the world!

{dramatic pause}

While Nutkins sets sail on his or her final voyage, we will sing the hymn being handed out to you now, "All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Creatures Great and Small".

+ + + + +

At this point, two Mormons who had been walking along the footpath and listening in decided to join us. Fair enough; all are welcome in a celebration. The hymn sheet was handed out.

Richard poured a small amount of petrol (gasoline) onto the pyre, lit it, but it went out almost immediately (probably as the wood was, by this time, rather damp). The same happened again. A larger amount of petrol was used, and WHOMP!, the pyre briefly became a miniature fireball. Despite wearing the kind of plastic Viking-like helmet that Poundland sell on the run-up to Halloween, Richard yelped something about his eyebrows, while one of the Mormons used a stick to quickly push the fiercely burning pyre away from the shore (which was starting to catch fire) and us.

The hymn was then sung (accompanied by a bit of stamping out of flames on the ground) as we looked at the fire and the surprisingly large column of smoke rising above rural England. I wondered if anyone would phone the police. So, after six verses (it's quite long) I brought the hymn to an end; by this time there wasn't much left of the pyre anyway.

A small boat chugged past. From the muffled noises coming from inside, a couple below deck were nearing the conclusion of a most satisfactory act of intimacy. The two stoic people outside at the back of the boat stared at us and the smouldering remnants. We stared back. No-one said anything. It was the most English scene I have ever witnessed.

As they chugged off into the distance, we heard one ask the other "What the bloody hell was all that about?"

We filled the glasses with good single malt - the Mormons politely declined (I noticed they had been taking notes so suspect that someone in Utah will be getting a few offbeat field notes about now) - and raised them in the direction of the canal, giving three renditions of "ALL HAIL NUTKINS!" And we departed, after the Mormons had politely given us some literature and we politely accepted. Because English.

The bit of street were we live is a little quieter, a little less interesting, without Nutkins. The young kid hasn't asked (thankfully), finding interest in other things. His dad, as I type this, is ill with self-inflicted food poisoning. The badgers are still digging up human bones on an occasional basis, giving the local journalists some repeat work and exasperating "Trendy Wendy", our lefty socialist church minister.

Life goes on for us, but Nutkins does not, and will not, be forgotten. If you've read all of this to the bottom, consider that Nutkins would have spent the time outside, swinging from tree to tree, running along cables, doing Nutkins things. Perhaps consider turning off your computer for a while, and being like Nutkins (except for the chewing of the cables thing), going outside, and remembering what it is like to live amongst nature a while.

All hail Nutkins.
posted by Wordshore at 9:24 AM on April 27 [57 favorites]


Do scientists never test things on themselves any more?

I'd love to hear more current stories of scientists doing self testing, if anyone knows any more stories.


It's not, you know, testing a medicine or anything, but when I'm doing fieldwork and need to record if a sedimentary rock with particles less than 1/16 mm is clay or silt based I will bite a small chunk off - no matter how little silt is in the rock due to its larger particle size rock with silt be gritty, while clay has a creamy texture. I find it amazing that our mouths are that sensitive, because clay is typically less than 1/256 mm or .0004 mm. (It's possible that maybe the fine silts on the smaller end can't be discerned, but still pretty cool.) There's lab work one can do for more precision and accuracy but 75% of the time when describing rock I don't need that level of precision. I've seen older sedimentologists with visible wear on their teeth from doing that repeatedly for 30 years.

There's a few other "lick tests" out there. A quick way to distinguish fossil bone from rock if you're unsure (which happens, bone fragments are pretty common) is to touch your tongue to it - your tongue will stick to mineralized bone. Certain clays like kaolinite will also stick to your tongue, and a really surefire way to distinguish salt from other minerals without hauling out your acid or loupe if you've got a mineral in pretty ugly shape is to lick it. And I admit that 3-4 times a day while doing fieldwork if I'm having a hard time identifying the minerals in a rock I'll give the rock a lick because I'm too lazy to pour water on it from my bottle or Camelbak.

On the tasting front, I've read that Newton tasted around 108 metals and described them; it's hypothesized he suffered from mercury poisoning due to high concentrations in his hair (along with arsenic and lead). Thus one of my favorite science-y tidbits is Newton describing the taste of mercury as "strong, sourish, ungrateful." I just love that.

My favorite science tidbit of all time, however, is that the chemist Thomas Midgley Jr.*, who helped develop CFCs, is the same chemist who also put lead into gasoline, in what Bryson called "an instinct for the regrettable that was almost uncanny. " Someone else said he "had more impact on the atmosphere than any other single organism in Earth's history." Luckily for us all SCIENCE HERO Claire Patterson discovered and vigorously campaigned against the enormous amounts of lead being introduced into the atmosphere and oceans, helping to develop one of the first "clean rooms" along the way, all while determining the fucking age of the earth! GEOLOGISTS SAVING THE WORLD, Y'ALL.

*On the self-test theme, Midgley inhaled the lead additive at a press conference to prove it was safe after the chemical plant producing it had 5 deaths; he then suffered lead poisoning (again). He also inhaled freon and used it to blow out a candle at a demonstration. There's bold scientists and there's old scientists. . . .
posted by barchan at 10:09 AM on April 27 [25 favorites]




Damn, forgot to mention: As my undergrad o-chem teacher put it, "Midgley's greatest scientific achievement was proving the existence of karma."
posted by Etrigan at 10:33 AM on April 27 [5 favorites]


"There's a few other "lick tests" out there."

If you rub real pearls on your teeth, it's a horrifying, gritty scratchy feeling. (Try it, it's really unsettling the first time.) Glass "pearls" are smooth on your tooth. Catch a counterfeiter today!
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 11:06 AM on April 27 [1 favorite]


My kid just showed me this video last night about why XX chromosomed people and animals (they say women in the video but the world is more complicated than that!) are "stripey". It's pretty cool. XX Chromosome pairings gives us calico cats.
posted by latkes at 11:15 AM on April 27 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: a finer squirrel version of humanity
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 4:06 PM on April 27 [2 favorites]


barchan: I'll give the rock a lick because I'm too lazy to pour water on it

You must watch Due South. You and Constable Fraser are kindred spirits.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 4:14 PM on April 27 [3 favorites]


If you lick a real calico cat, you get hair stuck on your tongue. It's not unsettling, per se, but I don't recommend it.
posted by maryr at 8:35 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]


My name is barchan-
In the field
When down upon
The earth I've kneeled
I know how to
Make gravel talk
I pick it up
I lick the rock

posted by moonmilk at 11:04 AM on April 28 [15 favorites]


I'm a little late on this, but wanted to mention my favorite sciencey fact: a nanolightsecond is fairly close to a foot. So I'm a little under 6 nanolightseconds tall. I can't decide if this is more of a comment on how fast light moves or on how short a nanosecond is.

Anyhow, the fun bit is this means I can't respond to any requests to do things right this nanosecond. My feet simply won't get the message that fast, no matter what I do. (Nerve messages actually travel much more slowly, but even if I had radio-controlled feet it wouldn't help. There's simply no way to tell my feet to move any faster.)
posted by nat at 9:05 PM on April 28 [2 favorites]


Light comes at you pretty fast, nat. If you blink, you might miss it.
posted by maryr at 9:15 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]


And I just learned how slow blinks are. 1/3 second? Woah. (I can't come up with a good joke in response, I'm too busy trying to make my eyelids move faster.)
posted by nat at 9:33 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]


Currently sitting in a pub in rural England, waiting for maypole dancing in the centre of the village to commence. Hopefully more detail in the next MetaTalk.
posted by Wordshore at 4:35 AM on April 29 [2 favorites]


Talking of maypoles, I work in an engineering department where one of the specialisations is designing tethers for wave energy devices. (These are much more complex to design than boat tethers since boats just have to stay in one place while wave energy devices have to stay in one place but also be able to move dynamically to take energy out of the waves.) Anyway, our tether designers apparently had a problem recently where they couldn't get a design to work in simulation so we ended up with 12 of us standing in a circle, 6 facing each way and each with a thick string, which we then had to walk through a complex series of under and over manoeuvres in order to get the tether as a physical artefact.

I'm not an engineer myself so they could have been taking the piss, but they seemed serious.
posted by biffa at 3:28 PM on May 1 [3 favorites]


I'm sorry I missed this Metatalktail hour, but I was in the Grand Canyon without WiFi. I have about a billion science stories, but my favorite science myth is that dead bodies create a public health risk and therefore must be buried quickly. This is false! Micro-organisms responsible for the decomposition of bodies are not capable of causing disease in living people, and most infectious agents of public health concern that may be present at the time of death will themselves die within hours of the person dying.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:03 AM on May 3 [1 favorite]


They smell pretty bad though, yeah?
posted by maryr at 8:34 AM on May 3


You never really miss Metatalktail hour because the Metatalktails were inside of you all along.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 1:22 PM on May 3


Ebola sticks around longer, doesn't it? I thought part of what was helping it spread were local burial-preparation practices.
posted by lazuli at 5:20 PM on May 3


Ebola is an unusual outlier - but it's not the deadness that makes it infectious. People think the very existence of a dead body is likely to spread disease, but that's not the case.
posted by latkes at 5:39 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]


My dissertation is all defended! I am DrDr. ChuraChura now!
posted by ChuraChura at 4:44 AM on May 4 [41 favorites]


Doctor Doctor / gimme the news / i got a knowledge base / of monkey poos
posted by Greg Nog at 5:42 AM on May 4 [11 favorites]


Congratulations, DrDr!
posted by lazuli at 6:42 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]


Yay DDCC!
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:56 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


Congratulations; woooooooooo!
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:26 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


Huzzah! Best news I've heard today. Congrats, MeFi's Own™ DrDr ChuraChura! So happy for you.
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 2:39 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]


Plants and fungi are each classified into separate kingdoms.
posted by aniola at 6:46 AM on May 7


It's hard to get etalons to work at cryogenic temperatures.
posted by Rob Rockets at 10:59 AM on May 7


« Older Metatalktail Hour: Wrongness in the Kitchen   |   Real Life Impact Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments