Category Archives: True story

The best slimming aid?

Probably the most effective slimming pills ever sold contained the eggs of tapeworms. They were very good at making people lose weight but had some nasty side effects (including death).

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The Laws of Thermodynamics

A decade or so ago, there was an Australian minister for science whos education was not exactly science-based (as with too many politicians).

One day while visiting a laboratory, he was shown a machine with a dial showing energy in and energy out. The dial showed a lower wattage coming in than coming out. Not only did this machine appear to be a perpetual motion machine, it seemed to be able to create energy.

Thrilled with the obvious commercial applications (creating electricity out of air) he chatted with another politician about possible funding. On having it pointed out that this machine effectively violated the laws of thermodynamics, the minister spat out:

“Well, we’ll repeal them then!”

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The moon is made of cheese?

Infrared spectroscopy involves shining light through a known substance and looking at the patterns (spectra) made by absorption of light at different wavelengths.

Take an unknown source (say a cloud deep in space) and it may be possible to identify the ingredients by looking at the spectrum of light coming through it and comparing it to that of known compounds.

In the early days of infrared astronomy, people were testing just about anything for fun. Looking at the spectra of the moon, they decided to see if (according to infrared) it was made of cheese. Sadly, the spetctra did not match.

However, a bit more experimentation found the closest match for the moon spectrum. Aerated chocolate – that’s right, your lowly “Aero” bar. This must be the real reason NASA guards the moon rocks so closely.

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Star-gazing striptease

As an astronomer’s daughter, I spent considerable time near Coonabarabran at the site of the Southern hemisphere’s largest optical telescope – the Siding Springs Observatory. Being an optical telescope, the area is under strict black-out conditions at night with no street lights, house lights or other light pollution.

A couple of decades ago….

In those days, astronomy (and most science) was mainly a male domain. Thus some scientists felt they could relax a little more than in a mixed environment. One visiting Polish astronomer found the Australian conditions a little warm, so over the course of any late night shift in summer would steadily lose articles of clothing until he was observing in the nude.

One moonlit night, long after midnight and the removal of his clothing, he realised he had forgotten something back at the lodge. So he set out on the 3 minute walk to retrieve it. Coming towards him he saw a bobbing torchlight and became aware that it was the only female PhD student in residence. While the moonlight meant he had no torch to identify him, it also meant that she would notice his attire – or lack of it. Not sure how to avoid the embarassment and in a bit of a panic, he bolted off the path and hid behind a tree.

She continued on her way and he thought he had saved his dignity until the following morning at breakfast. In the communal dining room he was walking past her table when he overheard her saying to a friend “You’ll never guess what I saw last night”.

Barely daring to breathe, he tried to slink back out of the room wondering how soon this would get back to his colleagues in Europe.

Then she continued – “an albino kangaroo!”.

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