Archive Leonie Schittenhelm

Pooing Penguins and Bearded Biscuit-Dunkers

By Leonie Schittenhelm

Science is serious business. Why else would people toil over experiments until deep into the night, read papers until their eyes go red and devote their lives to researching the specifics a single protein?  And it can’t be denied that scientists have been given some really hard nuts to crack, from the specific health challenges of an ageing population to emerging viruses such as ebola. But sometimes it is nice to remember that science – in its very heart – is still about being curious about our everyday surroundings and trying to understand them to the best of our abilities. I here present to you five published papers that ask the real questions and finally give us the – sometimes surprising – answers.

  • An analysis of the forces required to drag sheep over various surfaces (Harvey et al., 2002)
    You might laugh now, but did you ever try to get a very unwilling sheep to get its yearly haircut? The trick seems to be a slightly sloped surface…

  • The nature of navel fluff (Steinhauser 2009)
    What the nature of navel fluff? This study brings us a bit closer to understanding this phenomenon and shows that old shirts produce more naval fluff than new ones. It actually hypothesises that naval fluff has a cleaning function? Pretty neat.

  • Pressures produced when penguins pooh – calculations on avian defecation (Meyer-Rochow et al., 2003)
    I’m sure these penguins from the coronation islands in the south Orkneys would love some information how to being covered in poo. Not sure how you might ever need this information, but make sure to check out the original paper – the figures are amazingly informative…

  • Microbiological Laboratory Hazard of bearded men (Barbeito et al., 1967)
    Apparently beards are able to harbour a variety of microorganisms you can pick up in microbiological lab – even washing merely reduces chances of unwittingly infecting others.

  • Physics take the biscuit (Fisher, 1999)
    Finally, the physical formula on achieving biscuit-in-tea-dunking perfection! Not always quite applicable maybe, the author advises that best results could be achieved when always having a thermometer on you for taking the exact temperature of the tea into account before dunking your digestive.

Reference List:

Harvey, J. T., Culvenor, J., Payne, W., Cowley, S., Lawrance, M., Stuart, D., & Williams, R. (2002). An analysis of the forces required to drag sheep over various surfaces. Applied ergonomics, 33(6), 523-531.

Steinhauser, G. (2009). The nature of navel fluff. Medical hypotheses, 72(6), 623-625.

Meyer-Rochow, V. B., & Gal, J. (2003). Pressures produced when penguins pooh—calculations on avian defaecation. Polar Biology, 27(1), 56-58.

Barbeito, M. S., Mathews, C. T., & Taylor, L. A. (1967). Microbiological laboratory hazard of bearded men. Applied microbiology, 15(4), 899-906.

Fisher, L. (1999). Physics takes the biscuit. Nature, 397(6719), 469-469.

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