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30 Things We Learnt In October, 2022

Posted on 31 October 2022

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Here at Gowing Life, we have decided to keep a fun record of everything we learn in 2022, be it longevity-related or something else entirely. Here is a selection of our newly acquired neural connections for the month of October!

1: This is Mt. Taranaki in New Zealand. The circle is formed by the forests of Egmont National Park, which by law extends in a 9.6 km radius from the volcano’s summit. Mt. Taranaki is due for a major eruption some time within the next 100 years or so.

2: Research has estimated that there is a roughly 10% chance that someone will be killed by falling space junk in the next 10 years.

3: The planet dubbed PSR J1719-1438b is 3000 times larger than its host star – a neutron star that is only about 20km in diameter. The planet is believed to have once been a star itself, before its outer layers were stripped away by a nearby neutron star. Its orbit is so tight that the entire planetary system could fit within the diameter of our Sun.

4: The ‘Demon Core’: A sphere of plutonium that was originally intended to be used in an atomic bomb, the ‘Demon Core’ was used in experiments to investigate whether near-critical reaction could be induced without a critical mass, by using dense materials to reflect neutrons back towards the core. Within a 7-month period, these experiments killed two American scientists on two separate occasions when they accidentally made the plutonium go critical. This was not through any kind of miscalculation, but via sheer clumsiness and a lack of failsafes. 

Louis Slotin lowers a beryllium dome onto the Demon Core with the aid of a screwdriver.
By Los Alamos National Laboratory – Taken from “A Review of Criticality Accidents”, Public Domain

5: SpongeBob SquarePants and nuclear weapons: According to some, SpongeBob’s home town of Bikini Bottom is named after Bikini Atoll, site of the infamous Castle Bravo nuclear test. It has also been remarked that the show features many mushroom cloud-shaped explosions. Some have even suggested that the characters are mutants produced by radiation.

6: The Anatoli Bugorski accident: In 1978, Anatoli Bugorski was a Russian particle physicist working with the U-70 synchrotron particle accelerator. Due to a combination of bad luck and negligence on behalf of other researchers, Bugorski entered the detector room while the particle beam was still on. A proton beam travelling close to the speed of light and carrying 70 billion electron Volts of energy passed through his brain. Doctors estimated he received 300,000 roentgens of radiation – about 300 times the lethal dose. However, Bugorski survived. Why? Protons deposit most of their energy just before they are brought to a stop. The proton beam was so powerful that Bugorski’s brain did not have enough stopping power to bring the protons to a stop, so he received only a small fraction of the damage the beam was capable of delivering.

7: Many are aware of the photographs taken by Soviet probes sent to Venus. Fewer know that these probes also made audio recordings.

8: The Jericho Trumpet: The iconic sound made by the German dive bombers during World War II comes from wing-mounted sirens called ‘Jericho trumpets’. These propeller-driven sirens were spun up by air resistance, causing them to change in pitch and volume as the plane gathered speed during a dive. This not only gave the pilot a way to gauge their altitude without diverting their attention away from the target, but also served as a powerful psychological weapon. The psychological effects of the trumpet were so great that the Germans eventually started adding smaller versions to the bombs themselves.

9: One of the things that gave the Spitfire an edge over its German counterpart (the BF 109) was its superior engine cooling, allowing it to squeeze more power out of its engine without requiring large radiators that would slow the plane down. The British had developed these coolant systems for high speed racing engines to compete in races like the Schneider Trophy. The Germans were prohibited from participating in such races due to the Treaty of Versailles.

10: The Veluwemeer Aqueduct: The bridge is one of humanity’s oldest inventions. Yet large bridges can be ugly and expensive, especially drawbridges capable of allowing large boats to pass under them, and so Dutch planners used an ingenious alternative. Instead of building a bridge to allow cars to cross Veluwemeer lake, they built an aqueduct to allow boats to cross over the road.

Veluwemeer Aqueduct
Duyet Tran van/Googlemaps

11: Fish Fraud: A 2018 review using DNA testing suggests that as much as 30% of fish sold in shops and restaurants worldwide are not the same species as claimed on the packaging. Some of this is accidental mislabelling, which sometimes happens during trading. Many fish that share identical names in different countries are actually different species. Reasons for intentional mislabelling include selling cheaper fish as more expensive ones, and passing off endangered fish as common fish.

12: The Temple of Debod is an Ancient Egyptian temple that came under threat of destruction due to the construction of the Aswant High Dam in the 1960s. As a sign of gratitude for previous help saving temples, the Egyptian government gifted the Temple of Debod to Spain. The temple was deconstructed and rebuilt in Madrid and opened to the public in 1972.

The Temple of Debod in Madrid

13: In 1943, it briefly became illegal to sell sliced bread in the US. As sliced bread was slightly more expensive to produce and preserve, the government thought that this measure would offset an increase in the cost of bread caused by a rise in flour price. The measure was aborted after just 47 days following a public outcry. In the words of one housewife writing to the New York Times: ‘I should like to let you know how important sliced bread is to the morale and saneness of a household.’

14: Giraffes fight by swinging their necks at each other.

15: The ‘cobra effect’: The cobra effect is the most direct form of a perverse incentive – an incentive that unintentionally produces an effect that is opposite to the desired outcome. Its name comes from an anecdotal story from India during British rule. Concerned about the number of venomous cobras in Delhi, the British government began offering a bounty for dead cobras. People soon began to breed cobras and kill them in order to make money. When the government caught on and scrapped the bounty, the breeders released all of their now-worthless cobras into the wild. Other examples include when the US congress agreed to pay Union Pacific Railroad per mile of track laid, and when palaeontologist G. H. R. von Koenigswald offered to pay Javanese locals per skull fragment they brought him. I’ll leave you to guess what the outcomes were in each case.

16: Prisencolinensinainciusol is a song composed by the Italian singer Adriano Celentano. The song is intended to sound to its Italian audience as if it is sung in American English, but with gibberish lyrics. Celentano’s intention was to demonstrate how English sounds to non English-speakers and to explore communication barriers.

17: The bizarre story of El Fausto, the Spanish fishing boat that disappeared three times.

18: Nearly a third of US adults regularly get news from Facebook, according to a recent survey. Around half of US adults get news from social media on a regular basis.

19: Garlic can turn green or even blue in acid. This happens because acid damages the garlic’s cells, allowing an enzyme called alliinase to break down sulphur-containing compounds from which it is usually kept separate. The products of this reaction continue to react with amino acids and with each other to create coloured carbon ring molecules.

20: Some nestling birds produce faecal sacks, which are exactly what they sound like: small pouches filled with the bird’s poop. These help the parent birds to more easily remove the excrement of their young and keep the nest clean.

21: For the first time, the Madagascan primates known as aye-ayes have been recorded picking their noses and eating the boogers. They join a club of 12 primate nose-pickers, which includes chimpanzees, gorillas and, of course, humans.

22: The Sand Cave Disaster: A story of tragedy and irony that occurred when, in 1925, American cave explorer Floyd Collins became trapped in a cave in what is today the Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. Collins became trapped while attempting to widen a tunnel, in the hope of making the cave into a tourist attraction. The story of the subsequent rescue efforts became a national sensation, even drawing many people to visit the cave and camp outside in a circus-like atmosphere replete with music, food and souvenir stalls. The heat generated by all these people and their fires melted the ice in the cave walls, destabilising them and causing a cave-in before Collins could be rescued. In a further twist of irony, Collins’ body was eventually acquired with questionable legality, and was placed in a glass coffin within the cave to attract visitors. In his efforts to turn the cave into a tourist attraction, Collins became the tourist attraction.

23: On the 16th of October, solar power was able to meet the equivalent of all of South Australia’s electricity demand for more than six hours around noon, with over 90% of this coming from roof-mounted solar panels.

24: With nearly 3000 skyscrapers (defined as a building over 150m tall and with over 40 floors), China has more skyscrapers than the next 13 countries combined.

Photo by Henry Chen on Unsplash

25: The commonly held belief that sugar makes children hyperactive is based on a 1970s study in which a doctor removed sugar from one child’s diet and saw their behaviour improve. Since then, no study has been able to find a link between sugar and child behaviour. One study found that parents are more likely to rate their child as hyperactive if the child was given a sugar free drink, but told it contained sugar.

26: ‘Tooth-in-eye surgery’: Osteo-odonto keratoprosthesis, aka tooth-in-eye surgery, is a prosthetic procedure for patients with severe corneal disease pioneered in the 1960s and still practised to this day. One of the patient’s teeth is removed, fitted with optics, and implanted into their cheek for a few months. It is then removed and implanted into the eye. The tooth acts as structural support for the plastic lens without the risk of rejection that comes with transplanted corneas.

27: The heliopause: The heliopause is the boundary between matter originating from the Sun and matter originating from the rest of the galaxy.

By NASA/JPL-Caltech, Public Domain

28: Study of DNA from survivors of 14th century bubonic plague have revealed that people with a variant of a particular gene, known as ERAP2, survived at much higher rates. Possessing two copies of this gene variant allowed the immune system to be more effective at fighting infection. Yet today, this same gene variant also appears to increase the likelihood of autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s disease. It’s another example of how changes in our environment, brought about by modern technology and medicine, have reduced the evolutionary value of certain traits. Infectious diseases are no longer a leading cause of death throughout much of the World, and so the trade-offs of a more active immune system are less advantageous.

29: Metal Whiskering: A phenomenon in which tiny metallic hairs or ‘whiskers’ grow spontaneously from the surface of a metal, sometimes causing short-circuits in electronic devices. Whiskering was first observed in high-purity tin, but has also been seen in other metals including zinc and cadmium. How these whiskers grow isn’t well understood, but it seems to be encouraged by compressive forces.

Zinc whiskers grow from a piece of zinc-coated steel.
By Schtone – Own work

30: Aquatic biomonitoring: The science of discerning the quality of a body of water by examining the species living within it. In addition to conventional water monitoring methods, some cities even deliberately expose aquatic organisms to their water supply to help determine if it is safe. The city of Warsaw in Poland does this using eight clams obtained from a freshwater lake, housed in an aquarium at the water treatment centre for 3 months before being returned. If the clams close their shells for an extended period, this is an indication that the water may be contaminated. Minneapolis in Minnesota employs a similar method using 12 mussels.

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