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SF & science oddities, gossip, exotica and whimsy from the past year to Easter 2023
The 2022 IgNobels have been presented. The Ig Nobel Prizes honour achievements that make people laugh, and then think. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honour the imaginative -- and spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology. Each winning team was given a cash prize — of a 10 trillion dollar bill from Zimbabwe.
The Lord of the Bins refuse disposal firm challenged by Middle-Earth Enterprises! Middle-Earth Enterprises, which owns the worldwide rights to The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The small, two man run firm based in Brighton, Britain. They wereissued with a cease and desist notice after it was claimed they were in breach of the franchise’s trademarks. They have also been forced to ditch their company slogan – “One ring to remove it all”.
Green peas discovered by the James Webb Space Telescope in the early Universe! Green peas are, of course known in the present day. Though perhaps Gaia should make it clear that here we are talking about green pea galaxies. These odd little critters were discovered by a citizen-science project, Galaxy Zoo, in 2009. They are just 5% of
the size of our Milky Way galaxy, 1% of its mass and green in colour: small (astronomically) and green, just like peas. They are also young galaxies with few heavy elements and they give birth to stars at 100 times the expected rate given their mass. The reason they are green is that though they have comparatively fewer heavier elements they do have a fair bit of interstellar carbon and oxygen than most galaxies and it is the ionisation of this oxygen that gives them their green colour. They are formed when intersteller hydrogen begins to collapse.
Monty Python's silly walk has health benefits! Three US-based clinicians got 13 people to go around five-minute walking trials both normally and using the walk in the the legendary Monty Python Ministry of Silly Walks sketch. The researchers measured ventilation and gas exchange throughout to determine oxygen uptake and energy expenditure. They found that both these were 2.5 times higher when using the Silly walk compared to normal walking. This is the first time the silly walks inefficiency has been physiologically measured. They concluded that substituting usual style steps with a Silly walkfor about 12-19 minutes a day would increase daily energy expenditure by approximately 100 kcal. Half a century ago, the Ministry of Silly Walks sketch might have unwittingly touched on a powerful way to enhance cardiovascular fitness in adults. Increasing the inefficiency of physical activity and movement that we already perform (thereby requiring no further time commitment) might complement other public health efforts to promote regular physical activity in a joyful way.(See Gaesser, G. A., et al (2022) Quantifying the benefits of inefficient walking: Monty Python inspired laboratory based experimental study. British Medical Journal, vol. 379, e072833.)
Can you actually see a neutrino? The answer is, in theory, 'yes'! But, alas, it is a rare event. There is a very slim chance that a neutrino entering your eye will react with the water in it producing muons which release Cheenkov radiation which is light (albeit produced in a special way) and this you will see as a flash. (The Apollo astronauts away from the Earth's protective magenetic field were similarly able to 'see' cosmic rays and also flashes seen by radiation therapy patients.) But how slim a chance of you actually seeing a neutrino? Here PBS Space Time on YouTube has crunched the numbers in their episode 'Using neutrinos to see a black hole?'. Fortunately we start with an optimistic number -- there are 100 trillion passing through your body every second. The chances are that one neutrino will be stopped by your body every 100 years. Two human eyeballs have a volume about 1/5,000 of your body. So it will take 100 years times 5,000 for one of your eyes to catch a neutrino. That's around half a million years. But, assuming you are asleep for roughly half that time and so will not 'see' anything (also many don't live to be a hundred) the chances are you'll need to live a million years to see a neutrino. So that's the bad news. The good news is that there are eight billion people alive today and so eight thousand people a year will on average see a neutrino. In turn, that is a score or so each day! (Having said that, if you are seeing flashes then see your doctor as these are far more likely to be a sign of partial retina detatchment...)
Clear bottles ruin white wine research shows. Silvia Carlin and Fulvio Mattivi of the Edmund Mach Foundation (Italy) looked at 1,052 bottles of white wine -- some clear-glass, some coloured -- stored under supermarket shelf conditions. They then analysed the wine's aromatic compounds. These molecules give the wine its fruity aromas. What they found was that that wine stored in clear-glass had 70 molecules degraded by light by 70% in 7 days. Converesley, those stored in green glass were protected from change even after 50 days. (See Carlin, S. et al (2022) Flint glass bottles cause white wine aroma identity degradation. Proceedings of the National Acadamy of Sciences, vol. 119, e2121940119.)
Dennis the Menace finally loses his online innocence. The icon British comics character, Dennis the Menace, at last gets a mobile (cell) smartphone and is soon uploading a video of his rival/friend, Minnie the Minx, without her consent and uploading apps not suited to his age. But with the hellp of his mum and Minnie he learns that he could have been heading for danger. The story was written following a poll revealled that six out of ten parents feared that their children were vulnerable on line. Who said comics aren't edutational.
Superheroes encourage blood donation! The festive season sees many weekly science journals have a Christmas/New Year double issue and some also have a bit of festive fun. This year the British Medical Journal had a number of interesting offerings including one that looked at the biomedical aspects of super-heroes giving blood transfusions.
What is jazz swing? It could be minute mis-timings! Louis Armstrong famously asked: “What is this thing called swing?” A century on we still do not know. However a small team of German physicists and psychologists have an idea that it is due to deliberate, small, mistimings by musicians. They manipulated the timing of original piano recordings to carry out an experiment with professional and semiprofessional jazz musicians, measuring the swing of different timing conditions. They prove that slightly delayed downbeats and synchronized offbeats of a soloist with respect to a rhythm section enhance swing. Analyzing a set of 456 jazz improvisations we find that many jazz musicians do use minute downbeat delays. (See Nelias, C. et al (2022) Downbeat delays are a key component of swing in jazz. Communications Physics, vol. 5 237.)
The old addage, 'It's not what you know but who you know' that counts may well be true two analysese find. A researcher collaboration primarily from Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, have published two papers in Nature. They analysed data on the social networks of 72.2 million users of Facebook aged between 25 and 44 years. They looked at 21 billion friendships from Facebook of 72.2 million users in the USA. They then constructed measures of social capital nationally, and at county and zip-code (postal code) level. They showed that this was compatable with another nationally representative demographic survey called the American Community Survey. They then explored various indicators of social capital, including network cohesiveness (a measure of the degree to which a person’s friends are friends with one another) and civic engagement (a measure of a person’s participation in community groups). They also introduced a new measure of social capital, economic connectedness, which captures the extent to which individuals of high socioeconomic status (SES) are friends with people of low SES (with SES being predicted by an algorithm that combines various proxies for SES). They found that Facebook friendships tend to be among people of similar socio-economic status. Further, if low income users have some high-income friends then their income is higher than other low-income users. For example, the research showed that if low-SES children were to grow up in counties with similar economi connectedness to that experienced by the average high-SES child, their future incomes would increase by 20% on average. This has relevance to social policy. For example, bussing high-potential school children to schools in higher-income areas could improve their life prospects. (See the review piece Angrist, N. & Sacerdote, B. (2022) The social links that shape economic prospects. Nature, vol. 608, p37-8, and the research Chetty, R., Jackson, M. O, Kuchler, T., et al (2022) Social capital I: measurement and associations with economic mobility. Nature, vol. 608, p108 - 121 and Chetty, R., Jackson, M. O, Kuchler, T., et al (2022) Social capital II: determinants of economic connectedness. Nature, vol. 608, p122 - 134.)Which brings us neatly on to our never-changing end-of-Gaia column regular…
The 2022 Diagram Prize for the oddest book title of the year shortlist and winner have been announced.
The shortlist for 2022 works included:-
And the winner… RuPedagogies of Realness: Essays on Teaching and Learning With RuPaul’s Drag Race by Lindsay Bryde & Tommy Mayberry.
You can check out Gaia's previous Diagram Prize news reported in earlier Gaia columns includes that from: Gaia 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2006.
See you in 2023 with more sciencey whimsicality and SF frivolity.