Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Holding your breath underwater...

According to the Guinness Word Records the longest anyone has ever held their breath underwater is 8 min 32.59 sec and was achieved by Karoline Mariechen Meyer (Brazil) at the Racer Academy swimming pool, Florianopolis, Brazil, on 10 July 2009.

Name: Karoline Mariechen Meyer (Brazil)
Time: 18 min 32.59 sec
Where: Racer Academy swimming pool, Florianopolis, Brazil
Date: 10 July 2009

(Source: Guinness World Records)

I also found this amazing short film showing "base jumping under water" - it would have taken a large amount of breath-holding despite presumably being shot in a number of different takes:

Monday, 14 June 2010

Colourblind Bulls...

Does the flag have to be red to anger a bull? No. Bulls are colourblind so it doesn't matter what colour the flag is - it just annoys them that you're waving a flag at them. It would probably annoy me too.

Other information: Since the seventeenth century fighting bulls have been bred on bull ranches and apparently they go through several selection processes during their first three years. Only those with the best physical appearance, stamina and courage are selected. They have no training so as to keep them "virginal" when it comes to fighting, and because of their excellent memory experienced bulls could start to use tricks that would be dangerous to the matadors.

Friday, 11 June 2010

How Dolphins Sleep...

Background: I had often wondered how air-breathing mammals were able to sleep without drowning. Today I decided to do some research...
Main Source: http://whale.wheelock.edu/whalenet-stuff/sleeppage/
Backup Source: http://www.ntra-net.com/2008/09/18/dolphins-sleep-with-half-of-the-brain-awake/
Topic: Animals/Biology

Details: Unlike humans, for dolphins breathing is a voluntary action, rather than being involuntary. Since they breath air and live in water they need to consciously head to the surface to fill their lungs. Dolphins, like any other mammal need to sleep, and rather than lying at the surface, which could leave them open to attack from all manner of predators - they have evolved a rather amazing way of sleeping. With one eye closed, they are able to disconnect one half of their brain from the other and sleep one half at a time.

In laboratories scientists have measured dramatically decreased activity in the sleeping half, whilst the opposite eye is closed. After about 20 minutes or so this is reversed. Dolphins apparently rest this way on and off throughout the day and during these periods, everything inside the dolphin slows down, and the mammal moves very little.

Someone once said to me that dolphins didn't seem very clever to him because all they did all day was play around in the sea. To me that seems VERY clever...

Thursday, 10 June 2010

The Last Ever Lecture...

How I Heard About This: A friend of mine sent me this. Very powerful.
Main Source: http://www.gurteen.com/gurteen/gurteen.nsf/id/X0022B066/
Topic: Lifestyle/Philosophy

Details: There is a tradition at Carnegie Mellon University that lecturers are asked to give a hypothetical "last ever lecture". They are requested to give a talk as if it were their last, and pick the topic accordingly. Prof. Randy Pausch (23rd October 23 1960 – 25th July 2008) gives his lecture on the Oprah show in the US, what's notable is that this really will be his last lecture as he is about to die of pancreatic cancer. In his 10 minute lecture he talks about life, love, parenthood and living your childhood dreams. Very uplifting.

Here is a link to the original full length Carnegie Mellon lecture (1hr16mins) and is worth a watch if you have the time: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji5_MqicxSo

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Expanding Water...

Is water is the only liquid that expands when it freezes? Yes.

Water is most dense at 4 degrees Celcius. That's why lakes freeze at the top and you would never find frozen pockets of ice at the bottom of the sea - the pressure would force it to be in the liquid state.

All substances expand when you heat them, as the particles vibrate more the average space between them increases. Water is no exception, but it's only when it freezes that the strange stuff happens:

Science bit: "The reason water expands when frozen is the crystalline structure that forms, and the strong O-H bonds. The hydrogen atoms have a very strong attraction for the unbonded electrons in the nearby molecules. In an ice crystal, each oxygen atom has it's own 2 electrons, and grabs hold of 2 more electrons from the water molecule next door. And so they crystallize into a big hexagon shape, which takes up more space than the same molecules do when the water is in liquid form. An ice crystal's form is called a 'network structure.' Same molecules, but takes up more space."

Source: http://en.allexperts.com/q/Science-Kids-3250/water-expand-freezer.htm

Thursday, 20 May 2010

We can never really be sure of anything...

How I Heard About This: I heard this quote from Einstein many years ago at university - I was reminded of it the other day by a friend.
Main Source: http://www.rockportinstitute.com/resources_transform.php
Topic: Philosophy/Science

Details: Part of the my physics degree was the study of the Philosophy of Science. One thing that did upset a few members of our class was the idea that whatever equations or theories we come up with, they are just one possibility, and can never really be proven "right". Even Newton's laws of motion, although amazingly accurate at predicting the motions of the planets, break down when you look at very small subatomic particles.

According to Prof. Steven Hawking, often when well respected theories are called into doubt by experimental findings - the accuracy of these readings (or indeed sometimes the characters of the scientists) are called in question before the theory is re-assessed. People put a lot of their faith in Science and in some ways it has become very much like a religion, the only thing that makes this religion so powerful is that it can often make very accurate predictions about the future. In our degree we were discouraged from thinking that this is the only answer, and one scientist I met some time ago said to me "the more I learn about science, the more I know there has to be a god."

Regardless as to whether there is a god, we should understand that we cannot ever really know what is going on, and anything we do "know" already is just one interpretation of many possible truths.

Here is what I consider to be Einstein's greatest contribution to science:

"In our endeavor to understand reality we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He sees the face and the moving hands, even hears its ticking, but he has no way of opening the case. If he is ingenious he may form some picture of a mechanism which could be responsible for all the things he observes, but he may never be quite sure his picture is the only one which could explain his observations. He will never be able to compare his picture with the real mechanism and he cannot even imagine the possibility of the meaning of such a comparison."


Monday, 5 April 2010

Blood is three times thicker than water...

Background: there is an expression that says "blood is thicker than water" - I wondered if it was true in a literal sense.
Main Source: http://www.madsci.org/posts/archives/1999-03/921961618.Me.r.html
Topic: Biology/Sayings

Details: It's pretty obvious that blood is indeed thicker than water...but by how much? One thing to look at is the density of blood. This can be done by taking a sample, of known volume, and weighing it. I don't have any I can spare so I looked it up.


"Blood is a liquid tissue composed of roughly 55% fluid plasma and 45% cells. The three main types of cells in blood are red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. 92% of blood plasma is composed of water and the other 8% is composed of proteins, metabolites and ions. The density of blood plasma is approximately 1025 kg/m3 and the density of blood cells circulating in the blood is approximately 1125 kg/m3. Blood plasma and its contents is known as whole blood. The average density of whole blood for a human is about 1060 kg per cubic meter."

So a density of 1.06 g/cubic centimeter, compared with water's 1 g/cubic centimeter, means it's only a little denser.

But to get an idea of it's thickness, I think we should also look at its viscosity...how runny/sticky it is.

According to Nicole Davis, a grad student (Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School) it is about 3 times greater than that of water:


So blood really is thicker than water, about 3 times in fact.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Sand can also be pink...

How I Heard About This: I was lucky enough to visit this island
Main Source: http://www.harbourislandguide.com/
Topic: Travel/Geography

Details: Habour Island in the Bahamas is well known for its pink sand beaches that run more than three miles and are between 50 to 100 feet wide. Sand is a composition of bits of coral, tiny rocks, broken up shells and calcium carbonate from minute marine invertebrates. The sand is pink due to tiny microscopic shelled animals called Foraminifera, which has a bright pinky-red shell full of holes (that allow it to extend grip onto things and feed).

One 5-star hotel on the island is called "Pink Sands" and is situated right by the beach.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Why our stomaches growl when we're hungry...

How I Heard About This: I once went to see almost completely silent art-house film whilst studying directing at university. Halfway through I had to leave as my stomach was being so noisy, and almost everyone in the cinema couldn't stop laughing (including me). I ate something and was able to sneak back to watch the end. A friend of mine reminded me of this story today and I decided to try and find out how it happened.
Main Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borborygmus
Backup Source: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20081202151229AA5HGx8
Topic: Biology

This is actually called "borborygmi". This is the process where by the walls of your intestines squeeze together to mix and digest food as well as move food down the digestive tubes. The brain switches on and off the digestive processes throughout the day, so you may hear these sounds even when you're not hungry. We hear these sounds more clearly when we are hungry as there is no food in there to muffle the sounds.

Borborygmi - great word!

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Spaghetti Tree Hoax

How I Heard About This: Since today is April Fools Day, I thought I would look up some high profile hoaxes.
Main Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spaghetti_tree
Topic: Hoaxes/Tricks

Details: In 1957 the BBC aired an episode of their well known Panorama program which documented the Swiss spaghetti harvest beside Lake Lugano.

Wikipedia says this: The report was first produced as an April Fools' Day joke in 1957, reporting on the bumper spaghetti harvest in Switzerland, resulting from the mild winter and "virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil." Footage of the traditional "Harvest Festival" was aired as well as discussion of the breeding necessary for the development of a strain that produced the perfect length.

The report was given additional plausibility by the voiceover by respected broadcaster Richard Dimbleby. Pasta was not an everyday food in 1950s Britain, and was known mainly from tinned spaghetti in tomato sauce. It was considered by many to be an exotic delicacy. Parts of the documentary were filmed at the (now closed) Pasta Foods factory on London Road, St Albans in Hertfordshire, and other parts at a hotel in Castiglione, Switzerland.

Panorama cameraman Charles de Jaeger dreamed up the report after remembering how teachers at his school in Austria used to tease his classmates for being so stupid that they would believe it if they were told spaghetti grew on trees.

An estimated 8 million people watched the programme on April 1, and hundreds phoned in the following day to question the authenticity of the story, or ask for more information about spaghetti cultivation and how they could grow their own spaghetti trees. The BBC reportedly told them to "place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best".

At the time of the broadcast there were 7 million homes in Britain with television sets, out of a total of 15.8 million homes.
The story has been labeled by CNN "undoubtedly the biggest hoax that any reputable news establishment ever pulled".

In the obituary for de Jaeger, who died in London on 19 May 2000, which was published in The Independent Newspaper, Ian Jacob, the then-Director-General of the BBC, is quoted as having said to Leonard Miall, Head of Television Talks 1954-61:
"When I saw that item, I said to my wife, 'I don't think spaghetti grows on trees', so we'd looked it up in Encyclopædia Britannica. Do you know, Miall, Encyclopædia Britannica doesn't even mention spaghetti."

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Definition of a Successful Life

How I Heard About This: My friend Marina sent it to me
Main Source: http://www.gurteen.com/gurteen/gurteen.nsf/id/X0022B066/
Topic: Lifestyle/Philosophy

Details: Definition of a Successful Life:

To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better,
whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch or redeemed social condition;
to know even one life has breathed easier
because you have lived.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson (American Essayist & Poet)

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Having Children...

"Having children makes you no more a parent than having a piano makes you a pianist."
- Michael Levine

"As a parent: you do your best and try not to screw up too much..."
- My mum

I was told recently by a psychologist friend of mine "The only way to be the perfect parent is to have no emotional investment in your child whatsoever, but the flip-side to that is you produce a child that's a sociopath." So the answer it seems is just screw up, and just as long as you love them it'll work out ok.

Makes the idea of being a parent a little less scary if you know you are going to mess up whatever you do.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Postumous Oscar Wins...

I set out to see if Heath Ledger was the first person to win an Oscar after death. Many websites claim that he was the second, so I wanted to find out who the first was...

The answer wasn't easy to find but it turns out that the first person to win an Oscar posthumously was Sydney Howard, for the screenplay of Gone With the Wind (1939). Peter Finch was the first performer to win an Oscar posthumously for Network (1976). This makes Ledger the third posthumous Oscar winner for The Dark Knight (2008).

Friday, 12 March 2010

Breast Feeding is Best...

This is the scientific reason why breast milk is better for babies than artificial formula:

"Arachidonic acid is a type of fatty acid that is necessary for the development of the human brain; it's normally supplied to a baby through its mother's milk. Once an infant develops the proper enzymes, the baby can manufacture arachidonic acid from linoleic acid, which is found in many food sources, including animal fats, peanuts, and sunflower oil. Premature infants, however, must have direct supplementation of arachidonic acid, and there is as increasing body of research that suggests adding it to regular infant formula would be a good idea as well. Arachidonic acid is only one of many very important nutrients that infants are supposed to get from breast milk. Feeding a child with artificial formula deprives children of some of these nutrients."

Source: http://www.mrflint.com/bear2.html

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Colours in Fireworks...

Do you remember the various colours that were generated by burning different chemicals in the science lab at school? The Chinese have been making fireworks for thousands of years and they applied the same principal to their firework displays.

The bright white sparks come from the burning of metallic dusts such as magnesium, iron, and aluminum. The other colours come from other chemicals like:

* reds - strontium compounds
* yellow - sodium
* orange - calcium chloride
* green - barium
* blue - copper

"All of these compounds are extremely chemically reactive, so they cannot simply be stuffed into a rocket and left sitting around waiting to be lit. Instead, various proprietary compositions are formed into pellets that react when heated to form the compounds needed for the various colors."

Source: http://www.mrflint.com/bear2.html