Weird science facts, April 11-April 24

Aug 11 2010 Published by under [PhysicalScience], Weirdscifacts

The Twitter #weirdscifacts from April 11 - April 24 are below the fold!

29. Apr 11: Physicist R.A. Millikan (1868-1953) wrote a short passage in 1938 to be placed into the first Westinghouse time capsule.

30. Apr 12: Albert Abraham Michelson (1852-1931) was given his middle name in honor of the assassinated U.S. President. This one is not well-sourced, and may be a myth.  Michelson's daughter describes it in her biography of her father, however, so it seems that either Michelson himself believed it -- or liked to use it as a story!

31. Apr 13: Some landslides are apparently induced by changes in atmospheric pressure (atmospheric tides).

32. Apr 14: The Nobel medals of von Laue & Franck were dissolved in acid before WWII to keep them from the Nazis, and recast after. This is one of those wonderful stories of scientific ingenuity!  The medals had already been spirited into Denmark, but when the Nazis invaded, there was a fear of their discovery.  Chemist George de Hevesy melted them down, which was a much safer option than trying to smuggle them out of the country.  The metal was delivered back to the Nobel organization for recasting after the war.  The whole tale can be read near the bottom of this page.

33. Apr 15: Physicist Ernest Fox Nichols (1869-1924) dropped dead in the middle of a presentation to the National Academy of Sciences. If I feel myself dying in the midst of a lecture, I'll make my final words, "I now present a complete, unified theory of physics..."

34. Apr 16: A 1958 landslide in Lituya Bay, Alaska, produced a megatsunami initially 1720 feet in height. That height estimate is not a typo -- megatsunamis can reach frightening and mind-boggling heights, far greater than ordinary tsunamis.  The mechanism of formation is different, as well -- from what I understand, megatsunamis are formed when landslides displace a huge volume of water faster than the water can flow back into the void formed.  The most amazing thing, however, is that two people were in a boat on the bay when the megatsunami occurred -- and rode it out!

35. Apr 17: Johann Bernoulli's 1739 book Hydraulica plagarized key ideas from his son Daniel's 1738 Hydrodynamica -- and backdated it.

36. Apr 18: Lord Kelvin (1824-1907) said in 1902 of aeronautics: "No balloon and no aeroplane will ever be practically successful." A number of really bad predictions are attributed to Lord Kelvin, including the statement, "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now," prior to relativity and quantum mechanics!  The latter statement is of uncertain validity, however.

37. Apr 19: Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1958) got psychotherapy from famed therapist Carl Jung -- and critiqued Jung's theories scientifically. One of the other fascinating things about the history of science is how often great people from completely different fields of endeavor end up crossing paths, and usually not in a professional setting.

38. Apr 20: Enrico Fermi made an estimate of the size of the Trinity nuclear blast by watching how far pieces of paper were blown. Problems of estimation in which a large number of educated guesses lead to a reasonably accurate final estimate are now known as "Fermi problems".  The technique seems to work because the errors of a large number of guesses tend to average and cancel out.

39. Apr 21: In 1931, physicist H. Bethe and coauthors published a parody paper mocking a colleague's "numerology". Who says physicists don't have a sense of humor?

40. Apr 22: The four-color theorem of mathematics was proven with the aid of a computer. The four-color theorem states that a map can be colored with four distinct colors without neighboring regions having the same color.  The idea is simple, but the proof requires testing a large number of special cases, and these cases were analyzed by computer.

41. Apr 23: Nobel Prizes in the family: J.J. & G.P. Thomson (father/son), W.H. and W.L Bragg (f/s), H. & G.L. Hertz (uncle/nephew), N. & A. Bohr (f/s), M. Sklodowska-Curie and I. Joliot-Curie (mother/daughter)!

42. Apr 24: Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695) wrote a book, Cosmotheoros (1698), speculating about the nature of life on other planets. It is fascinating to see that people have imagined life on other planets long, long before the sci-fi era!

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