Weird science facts, June 20-July 03

The Twitter #weirdscifacts from June 20 – July 03 are below the fold!

99. June 20: Evariste Galois worked furiously to record his mathematical ideas the night before the duel that killed him, age 20, in 1832. There is a lot of mystery behind this story: his opponent in the duel is not known with certainty, nor is the reason for the duel, which may have been over a love affair or related to Galois’ political activism.  The amount of detail Galois put into his final mathematical notes has been exaggerated, but Galois was certainly convinced of his impending death and was desperately trying to leave some sort of legacy behind.

100. June 21: Banach-Tarski paradox: Mathematically, a solid ball can be broken into pieces and reassembled into two copies of original! This theorem depends on the axiom of choice in set theory, which itself is unprovable and was originally controversial.  Henry Kuttner made this paradox a very clever centerpiece for his novel The Time Axis, as I’ve discussed on the blog before.

101. June 22: The Arowana fish will jump up to 3 ft out of the water to eat insects on low tree branches.

102. June 23: Mathematician & fundamentalist Pascal was almost murdered in his sleep by irate relatives of one of his wealthy converts. I’ve noted previously that Pascal became an extremely fundamentalist Christian upon his conversion, and a part of his sect’s beliefs involved the donating of money to the church.  The family of one of Pascal’s own converts was pretty ticked off at this, and conspired to have him killed, though the plan was never accomplished.

103. June 24: Later in life, one of physicist A.A. Michelson’s funding sources was none other than Alexander Graham Bell.

104. June 25: The archer fish, which uses a “water pistol” to hunt insects. (In honor of seeing them live at Ripley’s Aquarium, Myrtle Beach.)

105. June 26: In 1552, physician & polymath Cardano predicted a long life for king Edward VI by horoscope (Edward died the next year). The book from which I got this fact notes that Edward in fact died before Cardano had even completed his trip home!

106. June 27: A 7 m deep, 1 km wide canyon was formed in Texas in 2002 in six weeks! (discussed by @clasticdetritus here.)

107. June 28: Leonhard Euler (1707-1783) delayed publication of a result to let the younger Lagrange publish first and get credit. Euler was a great man in more than just his mathematical skill!  Even though he was well within his rights to publish his results, he evidently decided he had enough accolades already and let Lagrange get his independently-found results to publication first.

108. June 29: Welwitschia mirabilis: a plant that only grows 2 leaves over its up-to-2000 year lifespan! I first saw this remarkable plant at the Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam; I lived right around the corner from the gardens for a year.

109. June 30: The bizarre and horrifying Lake Nyos tragedy: 1700 people and countless animals killed.

110. July 01: Physicist Clausius (1822-1888) did his PhD on the origin of the blue sky — and had the wrong explanation! My Ph.D. advisor Emil Wolf worked with Max Born when Born was at the end of his career.  Born once showed Wolf his (Born’s) very first scientific publication and said, with a smile, “Not a single equation in this paper is right!”

111. July 02: The Golden Gate bridge changes height by up to 16 feet from temperature, like a thermometer!

112. July 03: Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prizes, earlier invented dynamite and created the prizes as a better legacy. What better fact to post the day before July 4, the most explosive holiday in the U.S.?

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