Lesson #421: Find Out the Temperature From A Cricket

This week’s lesson I learned from one of my nine-year-old students, who learned it on a field trip he was very excited to tell me about: if you count the seconds between a cricket’s chirps, you can tell the temperature.*

Crickets are cold-blooded. Because they’re insects. And, as the temperature increases, it allows for more frequent initiation of the chirp mechanism. Think of it as operating the same way heartbeats do in cold-blooded creatures. Because science knows by how much each degree of temperature increases the cricket’s ability to chirp, it also knows how to gauge temperature from the rate at which the cricket chirps.

The actual figuring takes some effort, but here’s how to do it with degrees Fahrenheit.

Step one: Find a cricket.

Step two: Count the number of chirps the cricket makes over a 14-second span.

Step three: Repeat the second step twice more and average the numbers.

Step four: Add 40. This is the temperature.

To ascertain the temperature in degrees Celsius because you live in a sane country that uses the metric system, follow these steps:

Step one: Find a cricket.

Step two: Count the number of chirps the cricket makes over a 25-second span.

Step three: Repeat the second step twice more and average the numbers.

Step four: Divide by three, and add four. This is the temperature.

Disclaimer: this information is accurate only between 55-100 degrees Fahrenheit/12-38 degrees Celsius.

More here and here.

*In this situation, you have been separated from your phone. Or are hiking with no reception. But you have a stopwatch on you.


Lesson #407: The Boiling Point of Saliva

I read a weird little tidbit the other day that suggested that the boiling point of saliva is three times higher than that of water.


If your immediate thought was, “that cannot possibly be true; saliva is mostly water”, congratulations on not being a moron!

What’s hilarious is that my research kept turning up sites that said, “it is assumed that the boiling point of saliva is three times higher than that of water”. By whom? Who are the people making this assumption? And why? Are they kindergarteners?  Five-year-olds don’t have a stellar grasp of abstracts like temperature. The assumption *I’m* going to make here is that they’re kindergarteners.

According to the science people,* the boiling point of saliva is, in fact, higher than that of water. But barely.

The boiling point of water: 100 degrees Celsius/212 degrees Fahrenheit.

The boiling point of saliva: 100.16 degrees Celsius/212.29 degrees Fahrenheit.

Read more (but not really, sources are sparse) here.

*Maybe. I can’t find any reputable source for the science of this.




Lesson #392: Cosmic String

Every now and again I learn about something that makes me say something along the lines of, “holy f**k, that’s cool!” out loud. Today, I learned about cosmic string.

A cosmic string is a one-dimensional — they have length, but a height and width smaller than a proton — fault line in the universe that’s made up entirely of energy. Which means it has no mass. Which means that a string even a mile long would be much, much heavier than the earth. Astrophysicists theorize that cosmic strings, of which they believe there are billions, are flaws created during the Big Bang’s cooling period (which was literally nanoseconds after the Big Bang). So basically, cosmic strings are the cracks that form in asphalt after too many freeze-thaw cycles,* but way more awesome.

Serio, you guys, do you have any idea how effing cool that is?!? My head nearly exploded from the excitement of learning that.**

As of yet, there has been no direct evidence of cosmic strings, though researchers at the University of Buffalo found indirect evidence while studying quasars a few years back.

Okay, here’s the super ultra cool part — in case the rest of that was too real science for you: because of the structure of cosmic strings, anything that found itself within one would travel backwards through time because the gravitational pull is such that anything within a cosmic string would benefit from (fall victim to?) time dilation.

Cosmic string is science fiction come to life. On a very, very, very, very small scale. If it exists at all.***

If you’re interested (and you should be), you can read more here, here, here, and here.

*A thing that will make no sense to those of you who didn’t grow up in cold climates.

**True story: when you’re interested in something you’re hearing/reading, your pupils dilate. When I’m really interested in something, my head actually tingles.

***Which it probably does.

Lesson #379: Quantum Foam

Most of the universe is empty space. Even you, no matter how big or small, are mostly empty space. But the universe get a bit self-conscious about all its unused space and creates what physicists call quantum foam. The empty space is, at the Planck scale, actually made up of particles that appear and disappear in a span of time that’s long enough to be measurable — though this is quantum physics, so it’s nanoseconds — but short enough to have absolutely no bearing on the existence of the universe.

It’s called quantum foam because all of this exists in a similar structure to the way carbonation works in a pint of beer. A bubble exists for a time and then disappears and another one forms and vanishes somewhere else. It doesn’t affect the beer in any way,* but it can be observed. The particles in empty space exist and then don’t just as the carbonation bubbles exist and then don’t.  Except they do it on a very, very, very small scale. In a Planck scale of space and time (10^-35 metres and 10^-44 seconds).

And you — well, physicists — can actually see how quantum foam works in experiments using metal plates separated by a distance. Because the amount of foam between them is less than the amount surrounding them, the plates will eventually close the gap and come together.

For more, read here, here, and here.

*Well, technically speaking, it does in exactly the same way that quantum foam affects the universe, but we’re not going into higher concepts of beer and physics here today.

Lesson #371: Blue-eyed People Are All Related

It turns out that if you look far enough back in time, you find that every single person with blue eyes who has ever lived in the history of ever is related to every single other person with blue eyes, however distantly, because of a single common ancestor from as far back as 10,000 years ago. Science is kind of awesome. So Tom Hiddleston and Michael Ealy (who are freaking beautiful*) are related to Franck Ribery and Alice Cooper (who are not) if you look far enough into it. Logistically, this means that half of Hollywood actors are related one to another.

Anyway, you can read all about it here.

*My deep love of Tom Hiddleston is well-documented. He’s pretty much the awesomest at life.

Lesson #350: The Science of Introversion

I am an introvert. It’s something that I struggled with a lot in college; I spent four years pretending to be an extrovert with quite a lot of success. To this day, I’m not sure how I pulled off that long con without driving myself absolutely mental. And though I’d argue that I’m an extroverted introvert, in that I love meeting new people and will talk to anyone — something I inherited from my father and grandfather — I’m still an introvert. Which brings us to how we got here.

Yesterday, some friends and I went and watched our local MLS team. And it was brilliant! I had a great time and made friends with the ultras* and made even more friends at the bar afterwards. But it was all aboard the struggle bus this morning for the Spurs match. Two straight days of intense socialization without any time (I got in at 2 and was at the pub at 10:30) to decompress is bad news björnar. I know I’m in trouble when watching my football club with my friends is a struggle. And an offhand comment by one of my friends about thriving on all of that socialization made me wonder about the science of it. After all, there has to be a reason for why, having done exactly the same thing as I did from 2pm yesterday until 2pm today (assuming he slept and showered between the time I dropped him off last night and the time he got to the pub), he was reveling and I desperately wanted quiet.

The answer is actually pretty simple. The reason my friend was basking in the crush and noise and I just wanted to punch another member of the club who I normally like in the mouth so he’d stop cheering so loudly for our team comes down to the way our brains take in, filter, and process what’s going on around us. Science says that introverts’ brains process external stimuli more quickly than extroverts’, which leads us to become overwhelmed well before our extroverted friends.

io9 has a pretty good breakdown of other scientific studies that you can read here.

This is my favourite ever explanation of how to deal with my fellow introverts.

*who didn’t set anything on fire. I have absolutely no idea how to deal with ultras when they’re not setting things on fire.

Lesson #346: Tree Lobsters

We got here by way of an infographic I was reading that talked about islands around the world where specific animals live en masse. Among the animals listed was the tree lobster. I legitimately said, out loud, “what the hell is a tree lobster?” Because seriously? Tree lobster?

It turns out that tree lobsters are not the awesome thing I had created in my imagination; they’re a species of stick insect that live on Lord Howe Island in Australia.

The tree lobster had once been used as fishing bait, but were thought to have been eaten into extinction by the early 1920s by black rats introduced to the island when the S. S. Makambo ran aground in 1918. But it turns out they didn’t actually go extinct; they just went into hiding for a couple generations before being rediscovered in 2001.*

An adult can grow to 15cm (roughly 6″) in length — which is terrifyingly large for a stick insect, thank you — and looks like it’s got a lobster’s exoskeleton.

For more, you can read this, this, or this.

*This is called the Lazarus Effect.