Twitter Weird Science Facts, Volume 4

Time for another summary of Twitter #weirdscifacts! Click below the fold to see how similar Steve Buscemi’s character in “Con Air” is to a particular species of caterpillar.


54. (February 24). Mathematics of infinity can appear in optical systems!  This one is, obviously, based on my own recent work that I also recently blogged about.

55. (February 25). Pykrete — a combination of ice & woodpulp that is crazy strong & once proposed to build ships.  In World War II, Project Habakkuk was a plan to build an aircraft carrier out of pykrete.

56. (February 26). Bagheera kiplingi, the only spider known to be (mostly) vegetarian!  The spider is named after Bagheera, the panther in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.

57. (February 27). These days, almost everything has been made into a laser… even a living cell!  Organic chemicals have been used to build lasers, but this is the only research that I know of that has lasing within a living cell.

58. (February 28). Soldiers can collapse a bridge simply by marching across it: ex. Angers Bridge, 1850.  Even before the Angers disaster, soldiers knew not to march in step across a bridge, thanks to the Broughton Suspension Bridge collapse of 1831.  The swaying of the bridge in the wind, however, caused the soldiers to compensate synchronously, leading to the same effect.

59. (February 29). Anniversary of Venera 13 on March 1st, 1982, which landed on — and took pictures of — the surface of Venus!  I find this simply amazing, considering the surface of Venus is 855 °F and has a pressure 89 times that of Earth’s surface.  It survived for 127 minutes in such devastating conditions.

Photo of the surface of Venus taken by Venera 13.

Photo of the surface of Venus taken by Venera 13.

60. (March 1). Paris syndrome: some visitors to Paris experience hallucinations, feelings of persecution, etc. 

61. (March 2). Paricutin, the volcano that grew out of a Mexican cornfield in 1943.  I’ve known of this story since I was a kid, and it’s always captured my imagination. To quote wikipedia, “On that first day, the volcano had begun strombolian pyroclastic activity and within 24 hours, there was a scorian cone fifty meters high, created by the ejection of lapilli fragments up to the size of a walnut and larger, semi molten volcanic bombs. By the end of the week, reports had the cone between 100 and 150 meters high.”  An amazing testament to the power of the forces within the Earth.

62. (March 3). Why a man’s soda habit landed him in the ER. Story by my friend Dr. Rubidium!  Soda can be harmful to you for reasons other than excessive amounts of sugar.

63. (March 4). Atolla wyvillei, the deep-sea jelly that use bioluminescence to “scream” for help when attacked!  In short: by drawing attention to itself when attacked, the jelly increases the chance that something else will come along to eat its attacker!

64. (March 5). Abraham Lincoln: savior of the Union, and attempted circle-squarer.  Before becoming President, Lincoln had great interest in classic problems in mathematics.  Read to the end of the linked post for another surprising link between Presidents and mathematics.

65. (March 6). Islamic biologist al-Jahiz (781-869) allegedly died when books in his library fell & crushed him. This one is a legend, albeit at least a plausible one, and a fate that may well happen to me, based on the state of my office.

66. (March 7). How big do black holes get? Largest known is 40 *billion* times mass of the Sun.  This falls into the category of “things so big than one’s mind cannot truly comprehend it.”

67. (March 8). The caterpillar that makes itself a hat from old heads.  I couldn’t help picture Steve Buscemi’s character from “Con Air” when reading the description of this caterpillar.

68. (March 9). “This Animal Tears Its Face Off to Open Its Mouth.”  Like the previous fact, this story is by the talented Ed Yong, who seemed to be on a macabre kick this particular week!

69. (March 10). In 1898, August Bier tested success of spinal anesthesia on assistant by beating crap out of him.  Stories of really nasty bit of self-experimentation, and experimentation on others, are common in the history of science and medicine.

70. (March 11). There exist magnetic bacteria that can “swim” on magnetic field lines.  I first learned about these magnetotactic bacteria from an introductory book on electronics, of all things.

71. (March 12). That time that a hacker took over a tech genius’ press conference to embarrass him… in 1903.  I love this story! The first electronic hacking took place via telegraph, about 80 years before the internet as we know it was even close to existing.

72. (March 13). Oldest nervous system found in 520-million-year-old fossil. It is quite astonishing how much information we are able to extract from fossil remnants these days: it is much more than bones!

Tune in again in a couple of weeks for more #weirdscifacts!

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