2009.10.07 If I only had a pulse

Written by David Green.

If I only had a pulse


By DAVID GREEN

The plan sounded really good to me. When Mailman Mark or Mailwoman Nellie walked into the office in the morning, I would be laid out on the Observer’s front counter with a drinking straw attached to my neck.

The straw would twitch with every beat of my heart.

Somewhere I ran across a link to a website called Surfing Science. Within a section called Science Tricks were the directions for making a Straw Heart Monitor.

Very simple. Get a drinking straw and a wad of poster-hanging putty. Poke the straw into the putty, lie on your back and find your pulse in your neck. Set the putty on this spot so the tip of the straw is just above your eye.

“Now watch what happens...it’s a little freaky.”

I certainly wanted to look a little freaky when Mark came in. It would be odd enough to find me spread across the counter, but add to that a twitching straw at my neck...freaky. Just what Mark deserves in the morning as he starts his route through town.

There was only one problem when I tried this out at home. I found a straw and some putty, but couldn’t find any pulse in my neck.

The website says “This cheap little gizmo will open your eyes to the amazing muscle that keeps you alive and kicking.” I felt plenty alive, but I had no kick.

That trick isn’t the only thing that the Science Surfer has to offer. Mark would be equally impressed if I put on an inside-out latex bathing cap in this magical way:

Fill it with water and have someone hold it above your head with both hands. Let it drop (accelerating to 9.8 meters a second).

“Thanks to its incredible surface tension and low viscosity, the water flows around the side of my head and turns the cap inside out.”

Surfing Scientist says there’s a stack of science involved here, most of which still can’t be explained by physicists.

Or maybe I should go with the Freaky Ice Hand. Instructions are provided for creating a hand of ice using a kitchen glove. I would love to have Mark shake hands with one of those.

What happens to youngsters who are taught by Surfing Scientist types of teachers? They probably develop a love for science, but some of them go bad and end up at the Ig Noble Awards.

The 2009 winners were honored Thursday night at Harvard University and, as always, there’s an impressive array of work highlighted.

One study found that full bottles of beer break at a lower impact rate than empty bottles, but both are capable of fracturing the human skull.

Cows that have names give more milk than nameless cows. An analysis determined why pregnant women don’t tip over.

Some Mexican researchers created diamonds in tequila. Japanese scientists demonstrated that kitchen waste can be reduced more than 90 percent in mass by using bacteria extracted from the feces of giant pandas.

In California, a man decided to determine once and for all if knuckle cracking leads to arthritis of the fingers, like your mother always warned you.

He diligently cracked the knuckles of his left hand twice a day for 60 years, but never cracked the knuckles of his right hand.

“I’m looking at my fingers, and there is not the slightest sign of arthritis in either hand,” the researcher said.

Donald Unger, now 83, worked as an allergist over his long career and published many papers, but nothing brought him as much fame as the knuckle work.

“I’ve gotten a lot of awards and degrees, and all of a sudden I get my 15 minutes of fame out of this stupidity,” he said. “But I’m happy to get any award—I've got a blank space on my wall.”

Oh, and one more. A woman invented a brassiere that can be converted into a protective face mask. Actually, into a pair of masks—one for the wearer and one for a bystander in need.

All this good science sent me back to the lab. This time I ran around the house for a bit and watched the straw twitch a little on my wrist. I quickly laid down and got it in place on my neck.

Whoa! Isn’t that freaky!

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