Twitter Weird Science Facts, Volume 17

Time for another round of #weirdscifacts from Twitter! I’m closing in quickly on a full year of facts, and I don’t think I’ll continue this past a year, so enjoy them while you can!

Read below to find out what the deal is with this image.

spongebathsquid

308. (November 4). Put a hamster wheel in the wild, and mice, frogs and… snails? will enjoy it.  Go watch the video at the link! This seems, at the very least, like a strange choice of research topic.

309. (November 5). Horror author H.P. Lovecraft wrote two (unpublished and lost) science textbooks — on astronomy and organic chemistry.  This tidbit came from my research for my recent “Phantom Planet” post.  Lovecraft was an amateur astronomer, which is why he wrote the astronomy book.  He wrote the organic chemistry book because he had struggled with the subject in school and wanted to understand it better.

310. (November 6). Wasps airlift competitor ants away from food sources.  Another surprising animal adaptation: why fight with ants for food when you can simply carry them away?

311. (November 7). Kifuka, Africa: world record holder of lightning intensity, at 158 strikes/km^2 per year!  The area around Kifuka represents a “perfect storm” for lightning strikes.

312. (November 8). Amorphous metals and the “atomic trampoline”! See the video below. I am DYING to get a hold of one of these, but no company apparently makes them at the moment.  Ordinary metals, with a crystalline structure, are very good at absorbing the energy of an impact and dispersing it.  Amorphous metals — with a glass-like atomic structure — cannot easily absorb such kinetic energy, which instead stays with the ball bearing, which continues to bounce… and bounce… and bounce…

313. (November 9). Another video from Grand Illusions: the “true mirror” illusion.  This is actually a pair of mirrors forming a right angle behind glass, with the seam between them cleverly hidden.  This is basically what is known in optics as a retroreflector, and a several retroreflectors were installed on the moon for laser ranging tests.

314. (November 10). The pistol shrimp hunts with a sonic weapon that creates temperatures comparable to the sun!  I’ll just link to the video for this one, instead of embedding another!  The pistol shrimp’s claw acts very much like the hammer of a pistol, which is cocked and then fired to stun prey.

315. (November 11). Over the right surface, a square-wheeled tricycle will give you a smooth ride!  One more short video!  A square-wheeled vehicle might seem like it would give a bumpy ride, but with the right mathematically-constructed surface, it will be quite smooth!

You're not a misfit toy if you can find the right surface!

You’re not a misfit toy if you can find the right surface!

316. (November 12). The development of the CT scanner may have been aided by The Beatles?  One of those odd little anecdotes that shows how culture can influence science in truly unexpected ways.

Abbey Road and X-rays make an odd combination. Excellent image via Spiral Bound Studios.

Abbey Road and X-rays make an odd combination. Excellent image by Mike Swiniarski, via Spiral Bound Studios.

317. (November 13). Two Nobel Prize medals were dissolved in acid in WWII to hide from nazis, and recast afterward.  A truly amazing and inspiring story.  As noted in the link, gold is not very easy to dissolve.

318. (November 14). Cymothoa exigua, the parasite that replaces a fish’s tongue.  Go to the link if you want to see this tongue-eating fish in an actual fish’s mouth. Remarkably, this behavior isn’t entirely parasitic: the fish can use the parasite as a replacement tongue.  There was a film made in 2012, The Bay, based on this creepy behavior.

319. (November 15). No biggie: just a fish walking around underwater.  This armored sea robin has modified fins that allow it to “walk” on the ocean bottom, presumably quite useful in looking for food.

320. (November 16). Crab hitchhikers???  Yet one more crazy animal behavior: juvenile king crabs can hide out underneath wandering sea cucumbers for protection and to get around.

321. (November 17). The amazing story of how the giant squid was discovered by science, in 1874.  I wrote and researched this blog post years ago, and it is still one of my favorite. An apparent life-and-death struggle between a squid and a fisherman resulted in the first giant squid tentacle studied on land.  Not long after, though, a wave of giant squid beachings led to a wealth of specimens, one of which was draped over a man’s bathtub to study (as the image at the beginning of the post indicates).

322. (November 18). Astronomers are still entertaining the possibility that there are more planets in solar system.  It is really, really hard to spot planets far away from our sun; however, unusual motions and orbits of known planets can give hints at other massive objects out beyond the range of Pluto.  “Planet Nine” may very well be out there; if so, we might find it soon.

323. (November 19). Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695) attempted to build an internal combustion engine using gunpowder.  Internal combustion engines basically use little explosions to propel them; it would seem at first glance that gunpowder would work as well as gasoline.  However, gunpowder combusts much faster, which makes it hard to make a functioning engine.  Huygens, who is most famous for his groundbreaking work on the wave properties of light, made one of many attempts to construct such an engine.  The Mythbusters attempted to make a functioning engine based on the old designs but were unsuccessful.

324. (November 20). Of 30k people in the City of St. Pierre, only 2 survived 1902 volcanic eruption of Mt. Pelee.  This eruption killed those 30,000 people almost instantly; the devastation was a complete surprise to science and is often regarded as the start of modern volcanology. Ludger Sylbaris, one of the two to survive, only did so because he was in a very small bunker-like prison cell.  He would later tour with Barnum and Bailey’s Circus.

ludgersylbaris

325. (November 21). Only 4 people were present the first time Christian Doppler (1803-1853) read his famous paper to a scientific society.  This anecdote was researched by my PhD advisor, Professor Emil Wolf, who used it in a history of optics talk that he frequently gave! When students like me gave presentations that were poorly attended, Wolf would use this story as consolation.

That’s all for this edition! Tune in soon for more weirdscifacts!

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2 Responses to Twitter Weird Science Facts, Volume 17

  1. Mark says:

    I wonder how long a ball bearing made of the ‘atomic-trampoline’ alloy would bounce for when dropped on that stuff?

  2. JimM says:

    Somewhat surprising we haven’t already seen golf clubs/balls surfaced (or layered) with amorphous metals.

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