David Bruce: Boredom is Anti-Life — Science and Scientists

Scientists and Science

• At the South Pole, the temperature has been measured as low as minus 117 degrees Fahrenheit. How cold is that? If you were to take a glass of water and throw the water into the air, it would turn to ice before it hit the ground. Living in very cold environments requires adjustments: 1) Batteries don’t work at very low temperatures, so scientists at the South Pole use solar energy to power their Walkmans when they can, but during the long Antarctic night, they use a frying pan to carefully heat up batteries so they will work. 2) At the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, located at the South Pole, food is kept in a walk-in refrigerator. Unlike ordinary refrigerators, however, the South Pole refrigerator is kept heated so that the food doesn’t freeze. 3) Researchers and animals at Antarctica eat high-calorie, high-fat diets — simply keeping one’s body warm requires a huge number of calories. The milk that Weddell seal pups drink contains about 20 times the fat of the milk that comes from cows. (Weddell seals are interesting animals — because they can store huge amounts of oxygen in their blood and muscles, they can swim under the Antarctic ice for close to an hour without taking a breath.) 4) Life can be tenacious. At Antarctica, where the environment is brutal, lichens live just underneath the surface of rocks. By the way, on Antarctica is an aquarium used for the purpose of studying Antarctic cod. A sign by the aquarium says, “Experiment in Progress. Do Not Feed, Pinch, Fondle, or Kiss the Fish.” This is good advice, as the mouth of the Antarctic cod is so large that it could easily bite someone’s hand off.

• Anton Mesmer invented mesmerism, based on the idea that people had animal magnetism, and that people could pass this animal magnetism from one person to another person. People who thought they had been magnetized did odd things, and some people who were ill claimed to feel better after being magnetized. In 1784, Antoine Lavoisier, the founder of modern chemistry, and some other scientists investigated animal magnetism. In one experiment, the scientists blindfolded people and told them that Mr. Mesmer was present and was magnetizing them. The people, who did not know that Mr. Mesmer was not present and was not trying to magnetize them, acted oddly. In another experiment, Mr. Mesmer hid behind a screen and tried to magnetize people. The people, who did not know that Mr. Mesmer was behind the screen and was trying to magnetize them, acted normally. As a result of their investigation, Mr. Lavoisier and the other scientists concluded that animal magnetism did not exist.

• As a young man, Charles Darwin was a collector of zoological specimens, including beetles. Once he found three rare specimens of beetles at the same time. Not wanting to lose any of the specimens, he carried a beetle in each of his hands, and he put the third beetle in his mouth. Unfortunately, the beetle sprayed a liquid that burned his mouth so badly that he spit the beetle out. Of course, during his voyage on the HMS Beagle, Mr. Darwin spent a great deal of time on land, where he collected zoological and botanical specimens. Each time he saw a new species of animal, he shot it and shipped it back to England to be studied by specialists. In a single day, Mr. Darwin once collected 68 new beetle species, and during a single morning walk, he once shot 80 different bird species. Sailors on the Beagle called him “the Flycatcher” and joked that he wanted to collect all of South American animal and plant life and send it to England in specimen jars.

• As a mathematics professor at Princeton, John von Neumann acquired a reputation among his students for writing numbers on the board and then erasing them before the students were able to copy them. He was also known for driving poorly. In fact, he had so many auto accidents at one particular corner that it became informally known as the “Von Neumann Corner.” Mr. von Neumann worked on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, New Mexico, and helped develop the atomic bomb. Later, he worked for the Atomic Energy Commission. When he was dying of cancer, he had to take heavy dosages of medicine. The government made sure that the people taking care of him all had security clearances just in case he accidentally let secrets slip while under the medication.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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