Wild and Wacky (and Weird) Science
Wild & wacky science is all around us. One of the best examples I’ve ever personally encountered is the Titan arum, or corpse flower, that went full bloom last summer at the university where I work. Beautiful in its perfect weirdness. And, if you’ve never had the pleasure of a blooming corpse flower experience, its smell is just as wonderfully horrific as the name suggests. Think one hundred dead mice in a 90°F humidity chamber and you’re getting really close…
Sometimes in the STEM world, great discoveries are made through observations that, at first glance, are considered “wild” and/or “wacky”. And for argument’s sake, I’m going to add “weird” as the third “W”. Science is basically built on things which appear odd at first glance. Imagine the first person who ever looked at the four-legged ruminant chewing cud in the meadow next to the village and said, “Hey, I bet whatever’s inside that hangy-down, bag thing would go great with my PB&J sandwich.”
The wild, weird and wacky often leads to open doors in both thought and discovery. One notices a little thing like how annoying it is to pick the cockleburrs off the dog after every single trip to the field. And while struggling to pull the little !@#$s out of the dog’s fur as she sits so, so patiently, you notice the weird design details of the burr. The hooked barbs jutting out at the perfect angles to cover the maximum surface area. You notice how those hooks grab and hold tight. You also notice that for the umpteenth time today your preschool-aged offspring asks you to tie his or her shoes. BINGO! The observation of the weird natural design of the burr serves as a template for the invention of something awesome like Velcro; one of the greatest and most practical inventions of the 20th-century.
Odd triggers inquiry in our brain. We, as humans, are innately curious. We see something wild, weird, and/or wacky and, after our initial shock, begin to ask, “Why?”. “Why?” is the switch which fires the STEM mind. Once switched on, these STEM neural connections in the brain process the input observations and begin formulating the next question, “How?”.
The wild, the wacky, and the weird can lead to the WONDERFUL. Answering the “why” and the “how” questions unlocks the door to discovery. And this is the same in the laboratory as it is in the classroom, the library, or in the writing bunker. Wild and wacky things we observe in our universe spark inquiry. Inquiry leads to discovery. Discovery leads to more discovery and more creativity
An interest in certain wild and wacky and wonderful aspects of our universe also lends itself to social connection. People with like interests can bond over these seemingly off-the-wall interests.
What halfway reputable STEM wild & wacky science blog post would omit a list of random wild and wacky science facts? Not this halfway reputable STEM blogger! So, for your STEM entertainment, here’s an eye-opening list of wild, wacky, weird, and wonderful science facts.
- The human brain processes around 11 million bits of information every second but is aware of only 40.
- 42 minutes and 12 seconds? That’s how long it would take to jump to the other side of the earth through a hole drilled straight through the center of our wonderful planet.
- A light particle, called a photon takes only 8 minutes to travel from the Sun’s surface to Earth.
- But it takes 40,000 years for that same light particle to travel from its origins in the Sun’s core to its surface.
- A mid-sized, run-of-the-mill cumulus cloud weighs as much as 80 elephants.
- A single bolt of lightning contains enough energy to cook 100,000 pieces of toast.
- After removing all the empty spaces in all the atoms in every person on Planet Earth, the entire human race would fit into an apple.
- Over the course of an average human lifespan, the skin completely replaces itself 900 times.
- The air in an average-sized room weighs about 100 pounds.
- In 20 seconds, a red blood cell can make a complete circuit through the body.
- Tyrannosaurus rex lived closer in time to us than to Stegosaurus.
Dear student, teacher, writer, and/or librarian readers, your STEM Tuesday Wild and Wacky Mission for the week is to observe and record something odd in your everyday world. Be it animal, vegetable, mineral, or mechanical, write it down and then think about it.
- The size.
- The shape.
- The function or niche.
Whatever you see, document it. Use the information to formulate the “why” and then the “how” questions. Finally, let your imagination and logic run loose in the spirit of discovery and invention to formulate an alternate use, function, or future for your odd observation. Repeat daily for one week to find out how much fun, and how functional, the wild, the wacky, and the weird science in your world can be.
I bet it’s wonderful!
Have a wild and wacky month!
THE O.O.L.F. FILES
My biggest question for this month was whether we even need the O.O.L.F. files in the month of Wild and Wacky Science since The O.O.L.F. File section is basically wild, wacky, and weird by design. After much deep thought and soul-searching, the issue was decided. Of course, we need an O.O.L.F. Files! One can never have too much wild, wacky, and weird STEM information, am I right?
- Titan arum, the corpse flower, blooms!
- Mitochondria run hot!
- Our cellular power plants can operate at what temp? Is that even possible? I honestly can’t feel a thing in any of my 37 trillion cells. Can you?
- What Baby Poop Says About Brain Development.
- Can the composition of an infant’s intestinal microbiota have an effect on future cognitive abilities?
- A Virus With Black Widow DNA
- In order to find a new host Wolbachia bacterial cell, the WO bacteriophage must punch its way back into another insect cell and another Wolbachia. Viruses are masters of escape and infiltration, but WO can uniquely get through two sets of barriers—one bacterial, and one animal—by using genes picked up from the black widow venom’s toxin. Think that’s freaky? So do I!
- Keeping Cool With Drool
- By drooling and then slurping up the drop of saliva, a blowfly keeps a cool head despite not having the ability to sweat. (This makes my inner middle school boy smile with joy.)
Mike Hays, O.O.L.F. Master