Weird science facts, May 23-June 05

The Twitter #weirdscifacts from May 23 – June 05 are below the fold!

71. May 23: When Buffon claimed that New World animals were weaker than Old World ones, Thomas Jefferson sent him a bull moose! (c. 1786). Buffon was one of the preeminent naturalists of his time, and his argument had more than scientific consequences: an image of “weak American animals” could lead to a perception of the barely-minted United States as being weak itself!  (When I posted this fact on Twitter, Texas’ school board was removing Jefferson from their school curriculum. This fact alone shows that their decision is idiocy!)

72. May 24: Physicist J.W. Gibbs (1839-1903) worked at Yale for 9 years w/o pay, being at that time unpublished.

73. May 25: In the wake of Three Mile Island accident, physicist Edward Teller blamed his heart attack on anti-nuke activist Jane Fonda. It’s not much of a surprise that Teller wasn’t liked by much of the scientific community; in addition to testifying against his colleague Oppenheimer and getting his security clearance revoked, he was a bit of a whiner.

74. May 26: In 1958, physicist Edward Teller suggested (and the government considered) using hydrogen bombs to “dig” a new Alaska harbor! It was called “Operation Chariot”. Teller was the ultimate “If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail” guy.  One gets the feeling that the military was desperate to demonstrate that their exorbitant nuclear expenditures could be used for something other than making Soviets nervous.

75. May 27: #1 Make a matchstick rocket! Wrap a matchhead with aluminum foil, slide a pin underneath to make an exhaust shaft to head… #2 … use a bent paperclip as a launch pad, & heat matchhead with another match. (Stand back.)

76. May 28: You can learn some coherence theory from ducks entering a pond! I later did a post to elaborate on this subject; you can read it here.

77. May 29: In 1843, W.R. Hamilton reasoned an important math equation while walking — and carved it into a bridge to not forget it.

78. May 30: In 18th century, the last stuffed museum specimen of the extinct dodo bird was discarded (and possibly burned) by the museum.

79. May 31:  The spotted skunk will actually do a handstand to warn off predators before using its spray! I’ve actually read that they will even spray while doing the handstand, but have been unable to confirm this.

80. June 01: Clarence Dally (1865-1904), an assistant to Thomas Edison, died of radiation poisoning while experimenting with X-rays. Edison consequently gave up on his X-ray research. He said, “Don’t talk to me about X-rays, I am afraid of them.”  Dally was probably the first person to die of radiation poisoning due to radiation experiments.

81. June 02: Mayas mastered rubber long before Goodyear. Hat-tip for this fact goes to @BoraZ!

82. June 03: In Ancient Egypt, fractions of unity were represented by parts of the eye of Horus (In their mythos, Horus was dismembered). How is this for ghastly?  Actually, I got the mythos wrong — Horus’ father Osiris was dismembered by Set, and his penis fed to a crocodile!  Isis put Osiris back together, complete with magical golden phallus, which was put to use in conceiving Horus.  It is interesting to note that the eye of Horus is supposed to represent the whole, namely “1”, but the fractions in fact do not add to unity — Egyptians did not have the mathematical sophistication to understand that an infinite series of powers of 1/2 are required.

83. June 04: Joseph Fourier wrapped himself a blanket to improve his health. In 1830, fell down stairs to his death after tripping on it. This is another fact that is hard to confirm, but I have seen at least two independent sources mention it.

84. June 05: Leo Szilard developed the idea of the nuclear chain reaction after being annoyed by Rutherford declaring its impossibility. I actually once wrote a paper for a similar reason — a colleague told me my idea was impossible, so I worked out the theory to prove him wrong!  Irritation can be a powerful scientific motivator…

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