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30 Things We Learnt In April, 2023

Posted on 30 April 2023

Here at Gowing Life, we are keeping our fun record of everything we learn in 2023, be it longevity-related or something else entirely. Here is a selection of our newly acquired neural connections for the month of April!

1: A wooden model car with a working transmission, differential and clutch.

2: In 1977, Nippon Animation Company released a cartoon adaptation of a hit book called Rascal. It was written by American author Sterling North, and told the story of his childhood adventures with his pet racoon, Rascal. This created a high demand for racoons among Japanese children, with thousands being imported. Unfortunately, Rascal’s story ends with Rascal being released back into the wild, which is exactly what happened to many of the imported racoons. With no native predators on the islands, Japan’s plague of rascals has continued to this day.

3: Ötzi, also called the Iceman, is the frozen mummy of a man who lived between 3350 and 3105 BC. He was discovered in the Ötztal Alps in 1991, and represents Europe’s oldest known natural human mummy. It was initially believed that he had died of exposure, but an arrowhead was later found embedded in his left shoulder, suggesting that Ötzi was murdered. The exact circumstances of his death are a matter of much speculation.

4: A CT scan reveals the electroreceptor system of a 400 million year-old lungfish. Electroreceptors allow some fish such as sharks to sense very small electric fields.

5: The electrome: the name for the ensemble of electrical charges and currents within the body. Almost all cells, even those outside the central nervous system, have an electrical charge. This charge is involved in cell-to-cell communication, wound healing, cancer, and perhaps other systems and diseases we aren’t aware of.

6: It might be possible to power brain implants using sugar from the cerebrospinal fluid, removing the need for external batteries. A catalyst would strip electrons from glucose to generate a small electrical current, which would be enough to power many devices.

7: Blood turbines: Another bizarre approach to powering implants is by placing tiny turbines inside an artery. The heart produces about 1-1.5 watts of hydraulic power, while a pacemaker needs just 10 microwatts. Such turbines would need to produce minimal turbulence to minimise risk of blood clots. Some proof-of-concept designs have already been tested in model arteries.

8: Plutonium pacemakers: Various power sources have been used in pacemakers over the years, including radioactive plutonium. The heat from the decaying plutonium is used to generate electricity. The yearly whole body dose from such a device is around 0.1 rem (for reference, the dose limit for radiation workers is about 5 rem/year).

9: The United States have lost 6 atomic bombs since 1950. Of those, 5 have ended up in the sea, while the sixth landed in a field somewhere in Wayne County, North Carolina. It was one of two atomic bombs thrown from a B-52 that had sustained a fuel leak, forcing the crew to bail out. One bomb had a parachute and was recovered, but the second was never found. Fortunately, none of these bombs would be in any condition to allow their detonation today.

10: Who killed the King of Sweden? King Charles XII was King of Sweden, which then included present day Finland, from 1697 to 1718. He was shot in the head and killed while inspecting trenches during the siege of a Norwegian fortress. As he was hated by many Swedes for impoverishing the country and sacrificing many lives in war, it is commonly thought that his own men probably shot him, though recent evidence seems to suggest otherwise.

11: Sułoszowa, Poland has a population of 6000, the entirety of which lives on one street. It is around 9km long.

12: Synsepalum dulcificum: A plant whose berry can cause subsequently consumed sour foods to taste sweet. This effect is due to miraculin, a glycoprotein that binds to sweet receptors and activates them under conditions of low pH.

13: Our earliest mammalian ancestors are named after elements of Tolkien mythology, such as the genus Mimatuta. According to Otherlands by palaeontologist Thomas Halliday, Mimatuta has Sindarin elvish etymology, meaning ‘jewel of the dawn’ in reference to the dawn of mammalian life.

14: Star Wars almost caused a real war. Well, ‘almost’ may be a bit of an overstatement, but according to The Making of Star Wars, the construction of the sand crawler in the Tunisian desert did provoke some genuine concern from neighbouring governments. There seems to be some confusion about whether the Algerian or Libyan government was the subject of this story. It does however appear that the sand crawler was inspected at some point to verify that it was not, in fact, a military weapon.

Construction of the lower half of the sand crawler during the filming of Star Wars Episode 4

15: Congenital insensitivity to pain (CIP): A rare condition in which affected individuals are unable to feel pain, but experience other sensation normally. It is usually caused by a mutation in a sodium channel present in pain-sensing neurons. While the condition may not seem so bad on first reflection, it is a very dangerous condition as severe injuries can easily go completely unnoticed, sometimes resulting in death during childhood.

16: AI voice generation has been used to fake a kidnapping and demand ransom.

17: This folding bed was recovered from King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. It is thought to be a camping bed, and King Tut appears to be the only Pharaoh to have had one.

Image: Griffith Institute/University of Oxford

18: Despite their apparent advantages as a host organism, bedbugs do not appear to be capable of spreading human diseases. According to research, bedbugs may contain ‘neutralising factors’ that prevent pathogens from being transmitted.

19: Scientists have discovered a cyanobacterium that consumes CO2 more rapidly than any previously discovered cyanobacterium. They could be used to suck CO2 from the atmosphere, which many scientists now believe will be necessary, alongside ending fossil fuel use, in order to stop the progression of climate change.

20: The Amazon rainforest still holds many undiscovered secrets and remnants of previous civilisations. Pyramids and canals were discovered beneath the trees last year using laser technology, and there are likely to be many more.

21: If a plane is placed on a treadmill that always matches its speed in the opposite direction, can the plane take off? The question isn’t as simple as it may first appear, and the answer depends heavily on how the question is phrased. In order to take off, the plane needs lift from its wings, which means it needs to reach a certain airspeed. So, if the treadmill is able to keep the plane stationary relative to the ground, the plane cannot take off. However, an aircraft is propelled by its propeller or jet engines, not its wheels. If an aircraft accelerated to a speed of 100km/h, while the treadmill moved at 100km/h in the opposite direction, then the wheels would simply spin at around 200km/h and the craft would continue to move forwards and take off. In practice, friction between the wheels and the aircraft might slow the aircraft a little.

22: Rudolph Hess’ peace mission: In May 1941, Deputy Führer Rudolph Hess flew solo from Bavaria to Scotland, ran out of fuel, and crashed in a field. He did this because he was mistakenly informed that King George was opposed to Churchill and would be willing to dismiss him, allowing Germany to negotiate peace with Britain. His plan was to contact the King via fellow aviator the Duke of Hamilton (whom he had never met). After being captured by a farmer, Hess did end up speaking privately to the Duke and revealing his identity. Unfortunately for Hess, though he spoke English, he couldn’t understand the Duke’s accent. To make matters worse, Hitler was furious with Hess and he was disowned by the Nazis, removing what little negotiating power he may have had.

23: Circular runways: One idea that has been hanging around almost since the dawn of aviation is to build endless, circular, banked runways rather than the straight runways we all know. Such a runway would support more planes relative to its size than a conventional runway. Aircraft could approach the runway from any angle and still land, saving fuel in calm weather and allowing pilots to avoid crosswinds in the case of poor weather. Unfortunately, replacing our existing runways would not only be monumentally expensive, but would also require aviation software (and in some cases entire planes) to be replaced, while pilots would have to be trained to land at an angle.

24: Peto’s paradox: The observation that large animals are not necessarily at greater risk of cancer, despite containing more cells (which in theory would allow more opportunities for cancerous mutations to occur). The most extreme example of this is the blue whale, which has a very low cancer incidence despite being the largest animal on Earth.

25: Social contagion: When behaviours, emotions or beliefs spread through social interaction. Since non-communicable diseases are affected by many lifestyle factors, it has been argued that such conditions are also socially contagious. One study, for example, suggested that people were 57% more likely to become obese if a friend became obese over the same period.

26: Mount Thor in Canada is considered the world’s steepest cliff, with an approximate 1.2 km drop on its Western edge, which overhangs at an average angle of 15 degrees from vertical.

27: When the Apollo 11 mission landed on the Moon, the temperature in the sunlit areas was over 100 degrees Celsius, while the shadowed areas would have been about -40 degrees. One of the reasons that Armstrong and Aldrin didn’t walk very far from the lander is that they did not know exactly how long the coolant in their suits would protect them, as the exact conditions of the surface (high temperature, low gravity and near vacuum) couldn’t be replicated on Earth.

28: The coldest place recorded in the solar system is on the Moon at the bottom of the Hermite Crater, where the temperature was recorded at around -250 degrees Celsius, a good 25 degrees colder than Uranus.

29: American geologist Eugene Merle Shoemaker is the only person to have had his remains placed on a celestial body other than Earth. He is best known for co-discovering comet Shoemaker–Levy 9, which hit Jupiter in 1994. Some of his ashes were taken to the moon in 1999.

30: Limnic eruption: Also known as a lake overturn, a limnic eruption is a rare and terrifying natural disaster in which large quantities of CO2 erupt from deep lake waters. Scientists believe this is caused by volcanic and tectonic activity. Since CO2 is more dense than air, it displaces it and hangs low to the ground. The quantity of CO2 produced in a limnic eruption can be enough to cause suffocation in a large area around the affected lake. The eruption of CO2 can also cause a tsunami.

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