Weird science facts, November 7-November 23

I’ve been posting two weeks’ worth of #weirdscfacts every week to catch up with my rate of posting on twitter, and this week I finally did so!  The facts are below the fold; Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

239. Nov 7: The Bone Wars — c. 1870, paleontologists Cope and Marsh waged a “war” that ended up ruining both. There are quite a few scientific feuds that have achieved legendary status, and involved the ruining of one or more of the participants: Galileo and the Church, Newton and Leibniz, Cardano and Tartaglia.  A nice book that covers many of these is Great Feuds in Science.

240. Nov 8: Astronomers find Milky Way ‘could taste of raspberries‘! (hat-tip to @sc_k!)

241. Nov 9: Lippmann photography, an early 1890s form of color photography, made colors by interference effects. Color photography has a surprisingly long and, well, colorful history.

242. Nov 10: World’s smallest flowering plant: Wolffia augusta!

243. Nov 11: Photons generated in the Sun’s center may take several *hundred thousand* years to reach the surface and escape. The Sun is so dense that generate photons bounce around from atom to atom like a ball in a Pachinko machine; calculations indicate that can take a long, long time for them to eventually bounce free of the star.  An introduction to this bizarre fact can be read here; the scientific paper may be read freely here.

244. Nov 12: Physician Sir Henry Head (1861-1940) operated on his own arm to study nerve sensation. Even worse, he tested the nerves in his penis as well by dipping it into hot water.

245. Nov 13: The Mpemba effect: Under the right circumstances, warmer water will freeze faster than cold water!  The story of its discovery by secondary student Mpemba is fascinating in itself.  As I understand it, this is one of the only (if not the only) significant physical effect named after an African.

246. Nov 14: Physiologist Sanctorius of Padua (1561-1636) spent 30 years weighing himself & everything he ate, drank, and excreted. Sanctorius was comparing the weight of the things he consumed with the things he excreted.  He found that most of the weight of food he consumed was lost from the body through what he called “insensible perspiration”.

247. Nov 15: Physicist Chadwick (1891-1974), neutron discoverer, also observed the positron experimentally but didn’t realize its importance! This is one of the classic “I could kick myself” moments in science!  Chadwick saw anomalous trails in bubble chambers that he couldn’t quite explain.  Only after the positron was identified did he realize that he had been looking at it the whole time.

248. Nov 16: Been tweeted to death, but worth memorializing as a #weirdscifacts: Newly discovered all-female species of lizard! This species is also noteworthy for having been discovered in a Vietnamese restaurant!

249. Nov 17: CA ground squirrels protect vs. rattlesnakes by chewing their shed skins and licking the scent onto their fur! (This fact courtesy of @DrBondar‘s excellent book, The Nature of Human Nature!)

250. Nov 18: Lenna, the Playboy centerfold model whose photo became a standard image processing test image!

I had seen this picture in image processing texts for years, and didn’t realize the picture actually came from Playboy!

251. Nov 19: The 1919 Boston Molasses Disaster, in which a tank ruptured and flooded the streets, killing 21. Manmade disasters can often provide the starkest demonstration of the power of physical processes.

252. Nov 20:  Massive plagues of rats swarm India twice every fifty years!  (Hat-tip @a__muse!)

253. Nov 21: L’Arbre du Ténéré — until it was run over, was the most isolated tree on Earth – 200 km from nearest. A remarkable testament to the tenacity of life, and the simple-minded ability of humanity to destroy it.

254. Nov 22: In early 1970s, physicist Edward Teller was so hated that groups marched on his house and burned him in effigy. Teller, the “father of the hydrogen bomb”, was a very vocal advocate of nuclear power and the development of extreme nuclear weapons technology, including SDI.  This made him very unpopular with folks that were concerned about the U.S. and Soviet Union starting WWIII.

255. Nov 23: Max Planck and Albert Einstein often played chamber music together, Planck on piano on Einstein on the fiddle.

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