Weird science facts, October 24-November 6

I’m still spending my evenings furiously writing for National Novel Writing Month, but here’s the Twitter #weirdscifacts for October 24 through November 6!

225. Oct 24: Anthropologist Lewis H. Morgan (1818-1881) founded an “Iroquois club”, which dressed up and performed Iroquois rituals. When I visited Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester recently, I learned about all sorts of curious folks buried there, including Morgan!  The “Grand Order of the Iroquois” was founded by a group with an interest in the Iroquois culture.  Their interest was not just a game; it inspired Morgan to study the ethnography of the Iroquois and the group later worked to protect Native American lands.

226. Oct 25: (for the 25th) Henry A. Ward, geologist and museum pioneer, died in 1906 as Buffalo, NY’s first auto fatality *ever*. Ward is another who is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery.  His death is an odd curiosity, but his life is also quite fascinating: he founded Ward’s Natural Sciences, which still provides classroom and educational science supplies to this day!

227. Oct 26: Despite proposing a painless way of execution, physician Guillotin (1738-1814) did not invent it and was anti-death penalty. In a debate in 1789 on capital punishment, Guillotin proposed that criminals should be executed painlessly via beheading.  This proposal was made as an “equalizer” of the treatment of the wealthy and poor criminals, and Guillotin hoped that his argument would lead to less executions altogether.  Instead, his name became attached to the device that was eventually built.

228. Oct 27: Years after proving light has wavelike properties, Thomas Young (1773-1829) worked as a life insurance actuary. It is fascinating that Young went into this business even though he was highly successful as a scientist!  It is perhaps not surprising, however, considering that throughout his life he engaged in many unusual pursuits, including attempts to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics.

229. Oct 28: The assassin bug, which injects acid into its prey and sucks out the liquefied insides.  I have to give credit for my awareness of this nastiness to horror author Laird Barron, who wrote a short story inspired by the assassin bug; I’ll be reviewing Barron’s excellent horror collection soon!

230. Oct 29: Naturalist Joseph Priestley had his house burned by mob in 1791 due to his religious & political views. We’ve noted many times in these weird science posts that scientists have always been subject to political pressures.

230a.  Peter the Great believed that mammoth skeletons were the remains of war elephants left by Alexander the Great’s armies.  (bonus fact via @archymck!)

231. Oct 30: Computer scientist Alan Turing invented round-the-houses chess, in which an 800-yard sprint was taken between moves! Turing was an avid runner, so perhaps it is no surprise that he designed a game where he could use his skills to his advantage!

232. Oct 31: The Lady of the Lake — a murder mystery solved by saponification!

233. Nov 1: Gut bacteria can shape sexual preferences!  (Another “can’t beat that today” fact!)

234. Nov 2: J.J. Bausch (1830-1926) developed a new line of eyeglass frames from a piece of Vulcanized rubber he found in the street. The piece of rubber was fashioned into an inexpensive and durable pair of frames, in a time when most frames were of metal or wood.

235. Nov 3:  C.T.R. Wilson invented the cloud chamber thanks to a glory he saw while visiting a mountaintop weather station. (via @blakestacey)

236. Nov 4: In Medieval Europe, church bells would be rung during thunderstorms in an attempt to disperse the lightning. This is a great example of how flawed scientific thinking can be fatal: in one 33-year period, lightning struck 386 steeples and killed 103 bell ringers performing their duty! Fact comes from Martin A. Uman’s book, The Lightning Discharge.

237. Nov 5: Hottest temperature ever produced on Earth: 3.6 billion degrees F! This experiment was done at the Sandia Z machine, and the temperature is orders of magnitude hotter than the interior of the Sun and nuclear bombs.  Hotter temperatures have in principle been achieved in particle collider experiments, but on a much smaller scale.

238. Nov 6: Physicist A.A. Michelson’s family ended up in the western U.S. as part of the 1848-1855 California gold rush. I found this interesting because “science” and “gold rush” were about as far apart from each other in my mind as I could have imagined!

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2 Responses to Weird science facts, October 24-November 6

  1. Joerg says:

    Bah, Turing just lost Geek Idol status 😛

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