royal wedding bell blues

Bridezillajenluc You might not expect it, but Jen-Luc Piquant is all aflutter about the forthcoming nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Her former rather curmudgeonly attitude towards such things has mellowed, and she thinks a prince marrying a supposed commoner (albeit a wealthy commoner) is rather sweet. True, she wishes their story had a less conventional courtship — like those who find love in World of Warcraft or through their physics blogs, but you can't have everything. (Know who else loves World of Warcraft? Joi Ito, the hip new head of MIT's Media Lab, that's who!) Fear not, I have taken away her credit cards, lest she become too extravagant in her acquisition of Royal Wedding memorabilia. It's for her own good.

Oh, but there is science to be found in Royal Wedding Mania, too! Or so Cell magazine would have us believe, devoting an entire issue to "the more biological aspects of this historic union, including the neurocircuits that strengthen a marriage, the epigenetic changes that transform a 'commoner' into a queen, and the search process for finding a high-affinity partner in a sea of weak interactions." New Scientist also had a feature tied to the upcoming nuptials, and the Philadelphoa Inquirer's Faye Flam wrote about the royal couple and genetic diversity. Ivan Oransky took more of a "Bah! Humbug!" stance — particularly over the lame attempts to use the event to frame science stories — and we loved Ed Yong's tongue-in-cheek Posterous entry, Not Exactly Royal Wedding Science, finding a royal wedding link for the top science stories he'd been Tweeting about this past week.

We still managed to cull together some other interesting science stuff to prepare you for your weekend revels, even though Jen-Luc is preoccupied with knitting the ultimate Royal Wedding diorama, completely with adorable tiny knitted Corgis. At least she's not as obsessive as that guy who built a full-sized Royal Wedding Dalek (via The Mary Sue):


So You Think the LHC is a Long-Term Experiment? Via io9, we discovered at Atlas Obscura has dug up a list of the longest-running scientific experiments in history, including a clock that has been running since 1864, and the Oxford Electric Bell (or Clarendon Dry Pile) has been ringing quietly, but constantly, for over 170 years.

Electrify Your Socks Off! The folks at Improbable Research unearthed an amusing experiment conducted in 1759 by an amateur scientist named Robert Symmer, as detailed in his article, "New Experiments and Obſervations Concerning Electricity." Symmer wanted to know the relationship (if any) between the colour of socks and their ability to generate static electricity. His conclusion: more research was required. Spoken like a true scientist, sirrah!

Science Takes a Spin. Dr. Skyskull had an eventful week when his spiffy "spinthariscope” arrived in the mail: a self-contained radiation source and detector — a precursor to the Geiger counter, in fact — that makes it possible to watch individual radioactive decays happens with the naked eye. And it gave him the perfect opportunity to write an awesome blog post about the history and physics of radioactivity.

ScienceBlogs: They Know Drama. In case you missed the Twitter drama over NatGeo taking over ScienceBlogs, and Chris Mims' series of Tweets about the early history of the Blogging Network Once Known as The Borg, Martin Robbins has pulled everything together using Storify. This in turn gave rise to a satirical meme, FakeSBhistory. For this was Twitter created.

Of Tree I Sing. Yeah, it's a bad pun, but this Singing Ring Tree sound sculpture is nothing short of awesome in the way it interacts with its environment, namely, the wind. Per the edgy/artsy folks at Coilhouse: "Galvanized steel pipes of various sizes are bound together in a nine-foot-tall, spiraling configuration. Depending on where and how the wind strikes it, The Singing Ringing Tree creates discordant choral sounds over a range of several octaves. Tonkin Liu tuned the pipes “according to their length by adding holes to the underside of each.” The eerie music created as a result is capable of ringing out across great distances."

Honey, May I Cook With Danger? How did I miss this March 24 BBC story on exploding curry?? Okay, it's less about the curry exploding as fluorescing in the presence of explosives, thanks to one of the active ingredients in curry, curcumin — but only when dissolved in a liquid, which makes it more difficult to implement at the airport (liquids = BAD!). Meanwhile, Tom over at Swans on Tea alerted me to this awesome "recipe" by Evil Mad Scientist, wherein we are told how to cook hot dogs using electrocution. Tom quoted comedian Rita Rudner: "Men will cook if there's danger involved." It does add a certain frisson to the evening's festivities! Because the Evil Mad Scientist cares about your safety, the recipe comes with a major disclaimer:

"The simple truth is that this just isn't safe. If you are foolish enough to attempt this, you will have to deal with pointy things, raw electricity out of the wall, hot steam, and the possibility of fire. If that isn't enough, and you succeed, you are still faced with the possibility of having to eat a hot dog. In summary: do not, under any circumstances, cook hot dogs this way."

Tevatron and the Cycle of Life. Joseph Castro at Scienceline doesn't want you to feel too upset about the pending shutdown of Fermilab's signature accelerator. The Tevatron has had a long, fruitful life. It's earned this retirement. "It seems the shutdown of the Tevatron is just part of the cycle of life for particle colliders. Like all technology, particle colliders are born, they are useful for a time, and then they die when something better comes along. Sometimes their organs are salvaged for other experiments, and other times their bones support new colliders. Recycle and repeat. Recycle and repeat."

I wonder if he feels the same way about the shutting down of SETI's radio telescope array? You just know those aliens are gonna make like a UPS delivery man and wait until we turn it off to finally call. Bonus link: How the LHC accelerates particles. It takes a bit more than magnets!

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Chemicals. I had a genuine "head desk" moment when I saw this advertisement for a kid's chemistry set that proudly declared the product to be "chemical free." As The Daily What put it, "Because if there’s one thing kids hate about chemistry sets, it’s the chemistry." And then Steve Silberman alerted me to a feature he wrote for Wired a few years ago tackling just this issue — go, Steve! And boo to those who are trying to take all the fun out of chemistry. I mean, where would the Mythbusters be without chemicals?

Offered (mostly) without comment: Existential Star Wars, with French subtitles ("Life is hell, and then you become one with The Force"):

Space Man Fashionistas. Over at BldgBlg, Geoff Manaugh features a fascinating Q&A with Nicholas de Monchaux is an architect, historian, and educator based in Berkeley, California, and author of a new book, Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo. "Bridging the line between clothing and architecture, the spacesuit is a portable environment: a continuation of habitable space, safe for human beings, capable of radical detachment from the Earth. That a 'soft' and pliable suit designed by Playtex—manufacturer of women's underwear—would beat the 'hard,' armor-like suit design of military contractors is the surprising core story of de Monchaux's research."

Is Science a Faustian Bargain? Ann Finkbeiner grapples with this question over at The Last Word on Nothing, in a moving account of her grandfather's fascination with the Faust legend, and her own argument that this approach is needlessly dualistic, using the example of the military's funding development of a Laser Guide Star, which produced amazing research completely apart from its intended military applications. Her conclusion: "I think we should hang up Faust:  he’s too easy, too much a legend, too useless in the real world.  But my grandfather was a high-minded and realistic man who got off the farm for a reason, who became a preacher and a professor, who would have no truck with easy or useless legends.  So I’m arguing with him; but I still don’t know what he saw in Faust and I still wish I knew."

Time Is Terrifying. The Time Lord loves all things sciency that relate to time, so it's not surprising he loves the work of neuroscientist David Eaglemen, who was the subject of an excellent New Yorker profile recently.

You might be familiar with the feeling that “time slows down” when you are frightened or in some extreme environment. The problem is, how to test this hypothesis? It’s hard to come up with experimental protocols that frighten the crap out of human subjects while remaining consistent with all sorts of bothersome regulations. So Eagleman and collaborators did the obvious thing: they tied subjects very carefully into harnesses, and threw them from a very tall platform. The non-obvious thing is that they invented a gizmo that flashed numbers as they fell, so that they could determine whether the brain really did speed up (perceiving a larger number of subjective moments per objective second) during this period of fear.

Here a Higgs, There a Higgs. There was yet another flurry of excitement over a leaked memo indicating possible evidence for the Higgs boson at the LHC. Sigh. It's another three-sigma event, people, not to mention the fact that there are some potential ethical issues over that leaked memo. For more level-headed analysis, check out this piece at Discovery News, this post at io9, and Ethan Siegel's analysis over at Starts With a Bang. Scientists, beware: cry "Wolf!" one too many times, and by the time you really do discover the Higgs, everyone will be too jaded by all the false alarms to care. Just sayin'.

Finally, for your weekend listening pleasure, we give you Gogol Bordello's "Super Theory of Supereverything." Sing along! "Ay-yi-yi-yi-yi, accelerate the protons…."

1 thought on “royal wedding bell blues”

  1. George Martin

    Re: We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Chemicals
    I followed the link you gave to and then followed their link to At that latter link there seems to be no assertion of “60 fun activities with no chemicals.” Perhaps someone at that company had a head desk moment also?
    It is remotely possible, if they didn’t charge too much for it, it was a kit to do chemistry with things found under the kitchen sink; something that could be dangerous.

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