Issue 28: Weird and Wonderful

A selection of the wackiest research in the world of science

A Novel Marriage Proposal

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Coming up with an original way to propose to your partner can be pretty hard. However, an Australian physicist has come up with a novel solution by proposing to his girlfriend through a scientific paper. The paper, inspired by the classic physics problem involving the gravitational forces of two independent objects, was posted to the website Reddit and entitled ‘Two body interactions: a longitudinal study’. It describes the investigation of a two body interaction over a period of time in a variety of locations, starting at a ‘SciSoc BBQ in March 2005’. The author then explains that the second phase of the study involved the two ‘bodies’ being based in a number of ‘local, interstate and international’ locations. The paper also describes how they were subjected to a two-week separation and discusses the effects of martial arts training. In addition, a graph of ‘happiness versus time’ is included, showing an upward trend and even a future prediction of continued happiness. Concluding, the author ‘proposes to Christie the indefinite continuation of the study’. Luckily it appears that Christie (full names were redacted) is also a physicist and appreciated the creative nature of the proposal… she accepted! Laura Pearce

 

Think of All the Opossumbilities!

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Nature has a variety of animals that can be described as ‘badass’: lions, crocodiles, and honey badgers to name but a few. The list is broad and varies from person to person, though even the most optimistic people are unlikely to include the opossum. These western marsupials, most famous for playing dead, are often considered the butt of nature’s jokes. However, revisited research initiated 15 years ago shows that opossums are immune to a wide range of toxins and venoms due to a unique protein found within their blood. This protein—labelled rather inventively as Lethal Toxin Neutralising Factor (LTNF)—gives resistance to toxins produced by organisms ranging from snakes to bacteria and from plants to sea cucumbers. When mice were treated with LTNF 30 minutes before or after administration of a normally lethal dose of various toxins, there was a 100 per cent survival rate. LTNF provides the possibility of a universal antitoxin/anti- venom with greater range and fewer side effects than the horse protein based anti-venoms currently in use. Nathan Smith

 

Boy or Girl?

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It may be expected that there is an equal chance of either gender being born, but on average a slight majority of babies are male. The sex ratio, defined as the number of males per female in the population, is 1.05 at birth for the UK and America. However the lower life expectancy of males means that the ratio in the overall population is 0.99 in the UK and 0.93 in America. The trend is not universal —factors such as selective abortion in places like India and China or deaths during labour mean that worldwide we see a very slight majority of males. Interestingly, we see a decrease in the number of boys born during stressful conditions like famine, mass unemployment and earthquakes. An explanation for this may be that more male foetuses die before birth when the mother is stressed; despite being more likely to be conceived, male foetuses are often frailer. The males which are born (the stronger ones) tend to live a little longer than average males. However, during a major war we see a slight increase in the number of boys born. This is odd, as wars generally involve high-stress conditions. Why male foetuses are generally frailer and why wars should cause more to be born is still debated. Robin Lamboll

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