Weird science facts, March 30 — April 5

Whoops — forgot to post the week’s Twitter #weirdscifacts yesterday!  Here they are, in all their odd glory:

382. Mar 30: Ergotism — when eating grain can drive you insane! (and kill you!) The fungus Claviceps purpurea can infect the grain of rye, and it was so common historically that people didn’t distinguish between the fungus and the real grain.  Ingesting it can cause seizures, convulsions and even hallucinations, as well as gangrene leading to loss of limbs. An outbreak of ergotism in 1039 led to a hospital being built in the name of St. Anthony in order to treat the victims, and this led to ergotism being named “St. Anthony’s Fire”.

383. Mar 31: Lineus longissimus — the bootlace worm — 5 to 10 mm in width, can grow at least 98 ft long!

384. Apr 01: One of earliest videogames, Tennis for Two, created on oscilloscope in 1958 to entertain bored visitors to Brookhaven Lab. Tennis for Two was created by physicist William Higinbotham.  Though it was wildly popular during its short run, Higinbotham never patented the idea, apparently because the lab would have owned the intellectual property. And no, it’s not an April Fool’s joke.

385. Apr 02:  In 1798, physicist E-G. Robert made an optical ghost show (phantasmagoria) that convinced the audience they were real ghosts! Robert was, like myself, a physicist specializing in optics.  He apparently saw an early “magic lantern” show and improved the process to the point that he was able to shock and frighten the first audiences of his own shows.

386. Apr 03: In 1650, chemist Robert Boyle paid a man to be repeatedly bitten by snakes to test whether a hot iron rod could cure him. (Fact comes from @history_geek‘s excellent book, Blood Work!)

387. Apr 04: Oersted made the only major sci discovery in front of a lecture audience! Via my own recent blog post on the subject.  Oersted was essentially teaching a class, and decided to test his theory that electricity and magnetism were related.  He had no time to test the apparatus before the lecture, so his classroom became the first place that the link between electricity and magnetism was shown!

388. Apr 05: The Mobius gear!  (h/t @patrickneville & @ktraphagen ) A Möbius strip is a one-sided surface; I discuss them in the context of optics in this earlier blog post.  The idea that such an odd shape could be made into a functioning gear system is simply bizarre.

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