Fungus Fun Facts – Mushrooming Our Minds

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Surprising Facts

About Fungi

One of the most immediately surprising facts about fungi may be how to pronounce the word: fun-jai, not fun-guy. But the fun(gi) doesn’t stop there.

From fungal intelligence to saving the world, fungi are full of surprises.

10. They’re the Most Populous Kingdom on the Planet

We don’t know how many species (of any kind, fungal or not) there are on Earth, but recent estimates suggest as many as 8.7 million—6.5 million on the land and 2.2 million in the sea.

Of these, a staggering 5.1 million species—more than half the total—are thought to be fungi, outnumbering plant species by more than 6 to 1. And, according to one of the world’s leading mycologists, Paul Stamets, this ratio may actually be closer to 10:1; certainly around 30% of the soil mass beneath our feet is fungal in nature, both living and dead, representing the “biggest repository of carbon in the world.” In fact, for every meter of tree root, Stamets says, there’s a kilometer of mycelium—the sprawling underground network of branching tubular filaments, or hyphae, that underpin mushroom growth on the surface.

Even if, as some have speculated, the total number of species approaches 1 trillion (1,000,000,000,000), the majority of these are probably microbial fungi. And since many of them thrive on your body, there’s really no escaping. Fungi are everywhere.

9. They’re Ancient, Enormous, and Incredibly Resilient

We know fungi predate humans by millions, even billions, of years and not just by extrapolating to the past. We’ve actually found 90-million-year-old specimens of Cordyceps in amber and fossilized Prototaxites dating back 420 million years. We also know the fungal kingdom has long boasted some of the largest organisms on Earth. That prehistoric Prototaxites, for example, reached a towering, spire-like 24 feet in its day, a time when even the tallest trees were no more than a few feet high.

Even today, the largest living fungus dwarfs many major cities, and easily an adult blue whale. With its sprawling, 2,384-acre mycelium, the giant, 2,400-8,650-year-old Armillaria ostoyae of Oregon’s Blue Mountains covers an impressive four square miles—the equivalent of nearly 2,000 football fields.

Fungi are also surprisingly resilient. Certain species can survive at sub-zero temperatures by generating their own heat (hence the need to freeze meat to -10°F or below), as well as relatively high temperatures of up to 150°F.

Evidence even suggests that fungal spores could survive in interstellar space for hundreds of years—or perhaps even tens of millions of years given dark, molecular clouds to travel in. In theory, this could allow them to drift from one solar system to another for aeons, potentially seeding life across whole galaxies.

8. Fungi Are Medical Miracle Workers

For thousands of years, fungi have been used in medicine. The ancient Chinese used Ophiocordyceps sinensis (a fungus that grows on insects) as a general panacea, Hippocrates used Fomes fomentarius as an anti-inflammatory, and Native Americans used puffballs on wounds. More recently, of course, penicillin(from Penicillium fungi) has been used as an antibiotic.

And we can expect plenty more fungal remedies in the future. One of the most promising and potentially groundbreaking species is the agarikon wood conk (Laricifomes officinalis) that grows on Douglas fir trees in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. This lumpy fungus, which looks a little like a wasps’ nest on trees, is extremely resistant to a range of flu viruses—including (in combination with other mushrooms) the potentially devastating bird flu—and it’s completely non-toxic for us.

It could also be key to developing effective vaccines against smallpox, which is big news considering how few of us have been vaccinated and how little vaccine there is. Hence the Department of Health and Human Services set up Project BioShield to investigate the agarikon fungus, and Stamets has declared the conservation of its old-growth habitats a matter of national security.

7. Raw Mushrooms Are Inedible (Especially the Ones that You Eat)

Whether we like them or not, we all tend to think of edible mushrooms as a generally healthy food. And we’re not entirely wrong—particularly when it comes to medicinal mushrooms like reishi (lingzhi), shiitake, and lion’s mane. However, there’s an important caveat to keep in mind: All mushrooms need to be cooked.

Because of their tough cell walls composed mainly of chitin (the same protectively fibrous substance as the exoskeletons of arthropods), uncooked mushrooms are basically indigestible by humans. Worse, many species (or even individual specimens of otherwise “edible” species, because of their porousness) contain harmful pathogens and toxins that may lead to cell damage and digestive irritation, among other specific complaints.

Not only will thorough heating eliminate these toxins from mushrooms, but cooking or heat-treating is also necessary to release the proteins, vitamins, and minerals that we’re eating them for in the first place.

Surprisingly, this caveat especially applies to the everyday “salad mushrooms”—the white/button/portobello/brown/chestnut/cremini type—that so many of us like to eat raw. There’s a genuinely creepy part of Stamets’ interview with Joe Rogan where, having stated these mushrooms in particular need to be cooked at high temperatures, he refuses to explain exactly why. When pressed by Rogan on what some of their negative effects might be, Stamets just stares back at him and says, in all seriousness, “this is an explosive area of conversation and it puts my life in danger, so I reserve the right not to answer the question.”

It’s not entirely clear what he meant by that, but we do know that an “unfortunate group of compounds” in this type of mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) has carcinogenic properties. And while these agaritines, as they’re called, do break down when cooked, they need to be cooked pretty well—since even boiling these mushrooms for 2 hours straight won’t completely eliminate the compounds.

6. They Can Be Used to Make Paper and Clothing

Fungi have many uses besides the medicinal and gourmet. For example, the same chitin that makes them pretty much indigestible for humans can also be used to make paper. Scientists realized this in the 1970s while investigating chitin shrimp shells as a possible alternative to wood pulp. Moreover, some of the best fungi for papermaking—turkey tail and reishi—are both easy to mass produce. In fact, with only a few pieces of equipment, you could rapidly grow them at home, then pulp them in a blender to mold into sheets to dry.

Fungi can also be used to make textiles, as well as the dyes to color themRomanians have long extracted amadou from Fomes fomentarius fungi to make traditional felt-like hats, for example. But it turns out garments can actually be grown as fungi from scratch. Starting out in petri dishes, living mycelium “fabric swatches” are placed around 3D models and allowed to grow into individual, one-of-a-kind garments. Even shoes can be made in this way. And of course they’ll all be 100% biodegradable, as well as, in many cases, water-repellant, anti-microbial, and actually beneficial for the skin.

5. They Can Be Used to Light Up the Dark

Fomes fomentarius has a far more prehistoric, and far more functional, use than hatmaking. Also known as the tinder fungus, it has a remarkable ability to catch and hold the otherwise cold, inert sparks that come from striking flint—ideal for starting and carrying fires in the wild. This may have been why Ötzi the Iceman, the frozen 5,000-year-old mummy, carried a lump of it in a pouch.

But there’s another way fungi can light up the dark, and it doesn’t involve any flames. Bioluminescent fungus species produce a green glow or “foxfire” when luciferin (“light-bringer”) molecules react with oxygen—just as in fireflies, anglerfish, and other bioluminescent organisms. More than 80 species of fungus, including Neonothopanus gardneri (flor de coco), are known to glow in the dark and, interestingly enough, they onlyglow in the dark, attracting insects at night to scatter their spores.

Clearly this is of interest to us. For one thing, thanks to the compatibility of fungal luciferin with plant biochemistry, scientists believe it could one day be used to genetically engineer bioluminescent trees as a sustainable, in fact literally green, alternative to streetlights.

4. They’re Not Even Close to Being Plants

They might appear to grow like plants and in some cases even look like plants, but, genetically speaking, fungi have a lot more in common with animals. Just like us, they “breathe in” oxygen and give out CO2, they don’t need sunlight to reproduce, and they rely on other organisms for food. Also, the chitin that makes up their cell walls is found nowhere in the plant kingdom (which uses cellulose instead) but is plentiful among animals, including the shells of crabs and insects. As you’ve probably noticed, mushrooms can even feel a little like meat when you’re eating them, hence their (somewhat misguided) use in “vegetarian” meat substitutes.

Around 650 billion years ago, animals and fungi branched from a common ancestor, the super-kingdom known as opisthokonta. And it’s thought that our shared ancestral opisthokonts had both animal and fungal features. In other words, as Stamets puts it, animals came from fungi; humans are fungal bodies.

And while we’ve a lot less in common with a toadstool than a chimp, our shared genetic ancestry might explain why fungal diseases in humans can be tricky to target and treat without also harming the host.

3. They Invented the Internet (A Billion+ Years Before We Did)

Evolutionary cousins or not, it’s tempting to think of fungi as somewhat behind animals, and certainly humans, in the so-called “march of progress.” They don’t move, they don’t speak, they have no discernible culture (except in the purely biological sense of the term), and they’re not even self-aware. On the surface, they’re more “stupid” than jellyfish.

But are any of these traits really necessary, or even desirable, as a measure of practical intelligence?

According to researchers in 2010, even slime mold is smarter than some of our brightest and best. Arranging oat flakes in the pattern of cities around Tokyo, scientists observed a specimen of yellow slime mold (Physarum polycephalum) establish, reinforce, and refine nutrient-carrying links between them. And by the end of the experiment, not only did this mycelial network bear a striking resemblance to the existing Tokyo metro system, it was also more efficient. Unlike the human effort, the fungal equivalent continually strengthened the busiest tubes—the tubes carrying the most nutrients—and pruned any that became redundant.

And this is just how mycelium works in nature, relaying not only food but also crucial information about the environment, including the precise whereabouts of food sources (e.g. fallen branches) and predators (e.g. footsteps), across huge distances. It even forms mutually beneficial alliances, or “guilds,” with other organisms.

Hence mycologists think of mycelium as a kind of natural internet, with individual tips branching out to explore and the entire network benefiting from their discoveries. Stamets calls it “the neurological network of nature,” and even believes we might one day be able to communicate with it. With “a level of complexity that exceeds the computational powers of our most advanced supercomputers,” mycelia could tell us all sorts about the environment, as well as the organisms within it, and this could be vital for our survival on this planet—or indeed any other. Given the staggering efficiency of fungi, there may well be similarly networked organisms throughout the entire universe.

2. Eating Some Fungi Makes Us Smarter—Much Smarter, Immediately

According to ethnobotanist Terence McKenna, human evolution from Homo erectus to the much smarter Homo sapiens was made possible by eating certain species of mushrooms, the revolutionary psychoactive effects of which we encountered upon descending from the trees. And while McKenna’s hypothesis is controversial, it’s not nearly as far-fetched as it sounds—nor even as exciting as the facts.

Increasingly, scientists are discovering that psilocybin—the psychoactive alkaloid found in Psilocybe semilanceatacubensisazurescens, and cyanescens, among others—is like Miracle-Gro for the brain. More specifically, the compound promotes the growth of new neurons (a process known as neurogenesis) and optimizes the connections between them (neuroplasticity), liberating us from established patterns of thought and behavior, and dramatically enhancing cognition. And this can happen within hours even on tiny amounts—hence the allure of “microdosing” psilocybin for a competitive edge in the workplace.

Many have also reported near-miraculous recoveries from depression, anxiety, addiction, PTSD, aggression, and other negative mind states. Paul Stamets himself, following an especially profound experience with “magic mushrooms,” was immediately and permanently cured of a lifelong stuttering habit.

Although scandalously illegal in most countries (though some are making progress), not only is psilocybin safe for human consumption, it actually works with the brain in a way that suggests it’s supposed to.

1. Fungi Could Save the Planet

Actually, fungi already save the planet every day, since without them dead plants wouldn’t be turned back into soil and life on Earth would soon disappear beneath mountains of lifeless debris. However, there’s another, arguably more pressing way that fungi could save the world—and it’s from ourselves.

It’s already well known that many species of fungus are excellent for bio remediation work—the removal of toxic substances like pesticides from otherwise healthy soil. These chemicals are in widespread use around the world and are massively detrimental to the environment, as well as to global bee populations crucial for natural pollination. But, as Stamets has found (and patented, much to Monsanto’s dismay), not only could fungi help to eliminate these toxins, they could also effectively replace them. That is, we could breed certain insect-destroying species of fungus to attract and eliminate pests, parasitizing them and even their colonies without polluting the environment—and, importantly, without killing bees. And this Myco Pesticide could soon be in widespread use around the world instead of toxic sprays; indeed even the chemical pesticide industry calls it “the most disruptive technology we have ever witnessed.”

Furthermore, MycoHoney, another of Stamets’ products, promises to halt colony collapse among bees—a major threat to our food supply. Made from polypore mycelium, which bees are naturally attracted to, MycoHoney keeps bees from dying too early. And this means that younger, stay-at-home “nurse” bees aren’t forced to replace older, foraging “worker” bees prematurely killed by, say, chemical pesticides, and can instead focus on protecting and maintaining the hive. Given that 30% of our crops and 90% of wild plants rely on pollination, this is very good news indeed.


Fungus Fun Facts –

Mushrooming Our Minds

The NULL Solution = Episode 129

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The NULL Solution = Episode 129

…Who says a watched pot doesn’t boil…

“You look like you’re having fun.”

“While you were out scoping out the Olympus Mons, I noticed something going on with the seismic sensor. I think it one of its peaks may be ready to pop.”

“That may explain the ambient temperature rise I recorded, Gus. Gravitational increases may be causing the core to heat up again.”

“The last volcanic activity here petered out while the dinosaurs were still kicking on Earth. I think we should keep a closer eye on that sector.”

“Why risk being too close to the Tharsis area? The ash will surely be red and probably bust through the stratosphere… which is at a lower altitude than Earth’s.”

“Precisely. When she blows, you will drive the drone out of the newly created hole in that pesky force-field.”

“You are hoping it will cause a rift, no guarantee when that will happen.”

“I’m betting it will. I’m also betting that the power-that-is, did not anticipate this event – shoot, the mountain is nearly scraping sub-space as it stands now. We can ride right out with the rest of the debris. It will be perfect cover!”

“It is sheer craziness, but it’s worth a try.”

“My daughter is growing up without me and you have that peanut farm to go home to.”

A Gus can hope, can’t he?Image result for pot boiling gif

“Pistachios.” Rick has not lost hope either, “What if we use the laser drill to stir up the magma?”

Who says a watched pot doesn’t boil!”

It will be so written in the bylaws of Cryptomaniacs Anonymous {Milky Way Chapter}:

No member shall be bound to a riddle, if there is a logical way around said riddle; which may result in temporary loss of membership. Reinstatement is not guaranteed.

… It is so recorded on Stardate 2056.64 from the planet Mars of the Terran system in the Milky Way Galaxy.


The NULL Solution =

Episode 129


page 127 (end Ch. 11)

The NULL Solution = Episode 124

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The NULL Solution = Episode 124

…Once again, a member of the Space Family McKinney is stranded somewhere where he/she/they do not necessarily want to be…

“Let’s blow this juke joint!”

Rick understands the unusual Texan dialect used by his cohort. He also supports the sentiment by plying his skill to raising them up and out, “We will be taking leave of Mars’ gravitation in 2.5 minutes.”

“I think I’m going to tap into that NY Times Bestseller collection I brought along,” Gus proclaims. “Two books a week. I bet I can knock off 20 books before we get back.”

2 minutes later, it turns out Gus will be able to read a library’s worth of fiction. The Martian Mule comes to full stop, stranded on the threshold of space, like an ornament on a Christmas tree, sans a string or explainable cause.

Once again, a member of the Space Family McKinney is stranded somewhere where he/she/they do not necessarily want to be.

“Step on it Rick, what’s the deal?”

“If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say the Harmonia shield has now extended planet-wide.”

Roy Crippen and Fletcher Fitch, who have been on pins & needles, are currently faced with the ultimate conundrum.  Every single monitor at Galveston Launch reads the same bothersome image:

“I regret to inform you that the “Harmonia Query” is hereby & now a swinging door, boys.”

“We were afraid of that Crip. Shit and two equals eight!”

“No, 2 plus 1 equals 6. I know it’s a pain, but until we can solve the riddle, you have no choice but continue cataloguing the Mars environment.”

Fitch has estimated that they have enough food for a year. It appears that H2O will not be an issue, “The good news is that you can shut down the urine re-processor.”

“I suggest you work on that ^%@#&*g quiz as well. Maybe you can see some mathematical association we haven’t. It seems Watson III cannot get past the arithmetic.”

“I can’t get past the fact that we fell into some sort of trap!”

“We’re all in this together. We all made the same mistake.”

“But y’all aren’t castaways.”

“Tom Hanks made it back, so will you.”


The NULL Solution =

Episode 124


page 123

Great Minds Think Alike – WIF Genius Handbook

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Great Minds

From

Throughout History

Since the first modern homo sapiens emerged some 50,000 years ago, it’s estimated that 107 billion human beings have at one time or another lived on planet Earth. The overwhelmingly vast majority of these people have been forgotten by history, but there are a very few individuals whose names and achievements will echo through the ages.

From ancient Greece through to the modern world, these are 10 of history’s greatest minds.

10. Plato (Circa 428 BC – 348 BC)

The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once wrote that European philosophy is best characterized as a series of footnotes to Plato. While this might perhaps be something of a stretch, it gives an indication of the esteem in which the ancient Greek philosopher is held even to this day.

Plato’s efforts to understand the world around him covered metaphysics, ethics, politics, aesthetics, perception, and the nature of knowledge itself. Despite having been written more than two-thousand years ago, his work remains eminently readable today. Plato didn’t deal in dry, tedious treatise. He preferred to bring his work to life, teasing out thoughts and ideas in the form of a dialogue between characters. This in itself was a remarkably innovative approach. Plato blurred the lines between philosophy and entertainment and challenged the reader to scrutinize their own beliefs.

Having been born into one of the wealthiest families in Athens, Plato would have been well-schooled by the city’s finest philosophers. There’s no question it was his mentor Socrates who made the greatest impression, appearing again and again as chief protagonist in Plato’s dialogues. Socrates’ resurrection in immortal literary form would no doubt have been particularly galling to certain influential Athenians who had only recently killed him off. Ancient Greece was similar to the modern world in at least one respect: not everybody reacted kindly to having their beliefs challenged.

9. Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519)

Born out of wedlock, and with no formal education, the young da Vinci seemed destined for a life of anonymous drudgery. In Renaissance Italy there was little social mobility. The right family name and connections were invaluable. Da Vinci had neither, but he was not a man who would blend into the background to be forgotten by history.

Flamboyantly dressed, a strict vegetarian, enormously physically strong, and rumored to be gay in an age when homosexuality could be punished by death, it was nonetheless the workings of da Vinci’s remarkable mind that truly set him apart.

In an age renowned for producing an abundance of great artists, da Vinci is regarded as one of the greatest of them all. Yet painting was by no means his only talent, nor perhaps even his greatest talent. He studied geometry, mathematics, anatomy, botany, architecture, sculpture, and designed weapons of war for the kings, princes, and barons who struggled for wealth and power in Italy’s warring city states.

It was as a visionary that da Vinci was arguably at his most brilliant. In an age when Europe lacked basics such as indoor plumbing, he sketched out designs for magnificent flying machines and armored vehicles powered by hand-turned crankshafts, ideas that were centuries ahead of their time.

In 2002, almost 500 years after his death, one of Leonardo’s visions was lifted from the pages of his notebooks to become a reality. A recreation of a glider based on his sketches, albeit with a few modifications deemed necessary to reduce the risk of killing the pilot, was successfully flown by World Hang Gliding and Paragliding Champion Robbie Whittall.

8. William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)

The famous bard has become such an integral part of Western culture that it’s tempting to assume we must know a great deal about his life, but the reality is quite the opposite. He was certainly born in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, but the exact date is a matter of some conjecture. There are huge swathes of time where he disappears from the records; we have no idea where he was or what he was doing. It’s not even entirely certain what he looked like. The popular image of Shakespeare is based on three main portraits. Two of these were produced years after his death and the other probably isn’t a depiction of Shakespeare at all.

While history leaves us largely in the dark as to Shakespeare the man, almost his entire body of work (so far as we know) has been preserved. The best of his offerings are widely regarded to be amongst the finest, if not the finest, works of literature in the English language. He was equally adept at comedy or tragedy, had a gift for writing strong female characters, and possessed an intimate understanding of the human condition that imbued his work with a timeless, eminently quotable quality.

Shakespeare was by no means the only famous playwright of his era, but his work has stood the test of time in a way that others have not. Few people are now familiar with the plays of Ben Johnson or Christopher Marlowe; fewer still have seen them performed. While his rivals are now little more than historical footnotes, Shakespeare is even more famous and celebrated in death than he was in life. With an estimated 4 billion copies of his work having been sold, he ranks as the best-selling fiction author of all time.

7. Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727)

In December 2016, a first edition copy of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica sold at auction for $3.7 million. This was an extraordinary amount of money, but then Principia was an extraordinary book.

First published in 1687, Principia laid out the mathematical principles underpinning motion and gravity. It revolutionized science and was hailed as a work of near unparalleled genius, at least by the very few individuals capable of understanding it. Newton didn’t enjoy being questioned by lesser minds (which included just about everybody), so he wilfully set out to make Principiaas difficult to follow as possible. To make it less accessible still, he wrote it in Latin.

If Principia had been Newton’s only achievement, then that would have been more than enough to earn him the title of scientific genius. But Newton did a great deal else besides. With a ferocious work ethic that drove him to at least two nervous breakdowns, he scarcely slept, never married, and often became so absorbed in his work that he simply forgot to eat or teach his classes.

In an astonishingly productive 30-year period Newton invented calculus (but didn’t bother to tell anybody), conducted groundbreaking work on optics, invented the most effective telescope the world had ever seen, and discovered generalized binomial theorem.

When Newton died in 1727, his collection of notes amounted to some 10 million words. This window to the mind of one of history’s greatest geniuses proved less useful than might be imagined. Newton was obsessed with alchemy, and the latter part of his career was consumed in a futile attempt to transmute base metals into gold.

6. Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790)

At the age of 12, Benjamin Franklin was made apprentice to his elder brother James at his printing business in Boston. What he lacked in formal education, the younger Franklin more than made up for in curiosity and intelligence. He soon surpassed his brother as both a writer and a printer, a fact that didn’t escape James, who regularly expressed his displeasure with his fists.

The terms of Franklin’s apprenticeship meant that he couldn’t expect to receive wages until he turned 21. Backing himself to do rather better on his own, at 17 he ran away to find his own fortune. He succeeded in spectacular fashion and would go on to become one of the wealthiest men in America.

While Franklin’s genius for business earned him a huge amount of money, this was never his overriding goal. Convinced that an individual’s entrance to heaven would depend on what they had done rather than what they believed, he was passionate about improving the lot of his fellow man. Amongst his many achievements he set up America’s first lending library, founded a college that would go on to become the University of Pennsylvania, and created a volunteer fire fighting organization.

Franklin’s talents as a businessman were matched by his brilliance as a writer, a mathematician, an inventor, a scientist, and a good deal else besides. Perhaps his most significant discovery was that lightning bolts could be understood as a natural phenomenon rather than as an expression of the wrath of an angry God. By understanding lightning Franklin was able to tame it. The principles of the lightning rod he developed to protect buildings, ships, and other structures from lightning strikes are largely unchanged to this day. In true Franklin form he preferred to freely share his invention rather than apply for a patent that would have been worth an untold fortune.

5. Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)

Johan Van Beethoven was a man with a singular mission in life: to transform his son from a talented amateur into a musical genius to rival even the great Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He would pursue this goal with ruthless, single-minded determination.

As a result, the young Ludwig van Beethoven’s childhood was rather a miserable affair. Forced to practice for hours on end, his father would loom over him ready to administer a beating for the slightest mistake. This punishing regime left no time to spare for fun or playing with friends. Witnesses reported seeing Beethoven perched on a piano stool at all hours of day and night. Even his education was cut short; at the age of 11 he was withdrawn from school to concentrate on music to the exclusion of all else.

It’s sometimes said that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a craft, and Beethoven would have exceeded this total from a very young age. His lopsided education meant that he struggled with simple mathematical principles throughout his life, but he became a truly phenomenal musician.

Beethoven ranks as arguably the greatest composer who ever lived, a feat which is all-the-more impressive since by the age of 26 he had developed a ringing in his ears. Over the next 20 years his hearing deteriorated to the point where he was totally deaf. Despite this considerable handicap, Beethoven’s intricate knowledge of music allowed him to produce some of his greatest works at a time when he couldn’t hear the notes he hit on his piano.

4. Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943)

In 1884 a Serb by the name of Nikola Tesla set foot on American soil for the first time. He arrived in New York with little more than the clothes on his back, the design for an electric motor, and a letter of introduction addressed to Thomas Edison.

Tesla and Edison were both geniuses, both brilliant inventors, and between them they knew more about electricity than anyone else alive. However, there was one major problem. Tesla’s electrical motor was designed to run on alternating current. Meanwhile, a good deal of Edison’s income was derived from the Edison Electric Light Company, which relied on direct current.

In an attempt to protect his investments, Edison set out to discredit Tesla and convince the public of the dangers of alternating current. One particularly gruesome film, shot by the Edison Manufacturing Company, shows an unfortunate elephant by the name of Topsy being enveloped by smoke and keeling over after being blasted with 6,600 volts of electricity.

Despite these dirty tricks, Tesla’s system had one very significant advantage: alternating current could be transmitted over long distances, while direct current could not. Tesla won the war of the currents.

Tesla’s inventions, from hydroelectric power plants to remote control vehicles, helped to usher in the modern age, but he had no spark for business. In 1916, with his mental health deteriorating alarmingly, he was declared bankrupt. Afraid of human hair, round objects, and preferring the company of pigeons over people, he seemed to have become the embodiment of the idea of a mad scientist. This impression was only strengthened by Tesla’s obsession with developing a “death ray” capable of shooting bolts of lightning. Tesla believed his death ray would bring about an end to warfare, but he never succeeded in completing it. He died alone in a hotel room at the age of 86.

3. Marie Curie (1867 – 1934)

In 1896 the physicist Henri Becquerel made the serendipitous discovery that uranium salts emitted rays of some kind. While this struck him as rather curious, he wasn’t convinced that further research into the phenomenon represented the best use of his time. He instead tasked his most talented student, Marie Curie, with discovering just what was going on.

It wasn’t often that such opportunities fell so easily into Curie’s lap. In her native Poland there had been no official higher education available for females, so Curie had enrolled in a clandestine “Flying University.” On emigrating to France she had graduated at the top of her class, despite having arrived armed with only a rudimentary grasp of the French language.

Curie, working alongside her husband Pierre, identified two new elements, polonium and radium, and proved that certain types of rocks gave off vast quantities of energy without changing in any discernible way. This remarkable discovery earned Curie the first of her two Nobel Prizes, and it could have made her very rich indeed had she chosen to patent her work rather than make the fruits of her research freely available. It was widely assumed that something as seemingly miraculous as radiation must be hugely beneficial to human health, and radium found its way into all manner of consumer products from toothpaste to paint.

Even Curie had no idea that radiation might be dangerous, and years of handling radium very likely led to the leukemia that claimed her life in 1934. Her notebooks are still so infused with radiation that they will remain potentially deadly for another 1,500 years; anybody willing to run the risk of reading them is required to don protective gear and sign a liability waiver.

2. Hugh Everett (1930 – 1982)

By the age of just 12, Hugh Everett was already brilliant enough to be regularly exchanging letters with Albert Einstein. The American excelled at chemistry and mathematics, but it was in physics, and more specifically quantum mechanics, that he made his mark with one of the strangest scientific theories of the Twentieth Century.

Nils Bohr once famously wrote that anybody who isn’t shocked by quantum mechanics hasn’t understood it. The behavior of protons and electrons on a quantum level is downright weird, but Everett suggested it all made sense if there were an infinite number of universes.

Everett’s multiverse theory proved popular amongst science fiction writers, but it was derided by the scientific community. Disappointed, Everett largely gave up on quantum mechanics. He instead undertook research for the US military, attempting to minimize American casualties in the event of a nuclear war.

A heavy-drinker and a chain-smoker, Everett died in 1982 at the age of 51. Since then his ideas have begun to edge towards the scientific mainstream, and they do resolve a number of thorny problems. The universe operates to the laws of a set of numbers known as fundamental constants, and every one of these has to be precisely tuned in order for the universe to function as it does.

It seems that either humanity has been fantastically lucky, on the level of one individual winning the lottery every week for several months, or the universe has been intelligently designed. Everett’s multiverse theory suggests another possibility. If there are an infinite number of universes, then an infinite number of possibilities are played out. In such circumstances it comes as no surprise that we find ourselves in a universe that appears to be tuned to perfection.

1. Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)

Contrary to popular belief Einstein didn’t fail math at school. He excelled at the subject, having mastered differential and integral calculus by the age of 15. However, while the spark of genius was already present, it would be quite some time until anybody recognized it. It’s fair to say that the academic world wasn’t beating a path to Einstein’s door. Having been rejected for a university teaching position, and then having been turned down by a high school, in 1902 the German-born physicist began work in the Patents Office in Bern, Switzerland.

The idea that a lowly patents clerk would go on to become arguably the most influential scientist of all-time would have appeared absurd, but in 1905, in what must rank as the most extraordinarily productive 12 months of individual intellectual endeavor in history, he produced four papers that would revolutionize the way the universe is understood.

In just one year he proved the existence of atoms, described the photoelectric effect, demonstrated that an object’s mass is an expression of the energy it contains (E = mc2), and published his Special Theory of Relativity. He would eventually expand the latter into his famous General Theory of Relativity, which suggested that space and time were one and the same thing.

Einstein’s theory of relativity was still just a theory, and one that was considered little short of heresy by a significant portion of the scientific community (Nikola Tesla included). It wasn’t until 1919, when his predictions on the behavior of starlight during a solar eclipse were demonstrated to be accurate, thereby proving his theory to be correct, that he was catapulted to international fame.


Great Minds Think Alike

– WIF Genius Handbook

Mad Science HOF – WIF Hall of Fame

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Mad Scientists Who

Went Too Far

A staple trope of popular culture, the mad scientist is epitomized by a white robe wearing, frazzle haired harbinger of technology misused and calculations gone awry. But the reality is all too true, and scientists mad or otherwise ill-informed or ill-intentioned have certainly caused chaos in the annals of research. In this account, we look at 10 must-know mad scientists who took their research a little too far, including the Russian serial dog head transplanter, a Spanish researcher who remote controlled a live bull, and the German doctor who probed his own heart.

10. Trofim Lysenko

We may all know about the so-called “Mad Monk of Russia” Rasputin and his exploits, but a mad scientist who touted bizarre theories of agro-science and applied botany led to strange experiments and research implementations on the nation’s food supply. Born in Ukraine in and educated at the Kiev Agricultural Institute, Soviet agricultural pseudo-scientist Trofim Lysenko held a strong position as a trusted agricultural adviser to the brutal dictator Joseph Stalin despite the outrageously unscientific founding principles of his work. Pioneering a technique he called “jarovization,” subsequently renamed as “vernalization,” Lysenko declared that exposing plants to harsh conditions could not only “train” them to withstand a Russian winter and that the adaptations would be passed on to the next generation.

Expert analysts later described such claims as the botanical equivalent to docking the tail of a dog and expecting tailless puppies to be born. While individual plants could become hardier through acclimatization, the claims that crops would inherit the traits and curb famine of course never came to fruition. Lysenko’s beliefs that such traits could be inherited flew in the face of everything scientific and were sharply countered by scientific reality when crops failed to respond. In the ill-founded mix of science and politics, Lysenko was the darling of Joseph Stalin for his pursuit of “socialist genetics” and crusade against believe in Mendelian genetics, a movement which was termed “Lysenkoism.” Even worse, biologists who supported traditional biological truth were censored, suppressed and in numerous cases executed under the Stalin regime in what amount to a brutal pogrom against legitimate biologists at the hands of lethally enforced pseudoscience.

9. William Buckland

The ultimate eccentric, William Buckland presents a textbook case of the mad scientist. Born in Devonshire, England in 1784, Buckland became the inaugural student of geology at Oxford in 1801 following his receipt of a scholarship. But it was in the world of biology that his greatest and most bizarre ambition resided. This British scientist had a very unusual and obsessive way of expressing his dedication to life sciences: his plan was to attempt to sample (by eating) every type of animal on Earth.

The mad scientist held a passion for learning and teaching in odd ways, becoming a most non-sequitur lecturer who yelled while brandishing a hyena skull in close proximity to students’ faces. As a member of the dubious Society for the Acclimatization of Animals, which sought to promote colonial efforts to populate Britain with beasts and birds from distant lands, Buckland did what might be normal for a member of such a society in bringing a laundry list of alien biodiversity to British shores and keeping reptiles, birds of prey, primates, and a hyena under his personal care. Curious, unafraid, and with bizarre taste, Buckland tasted as many animals as he could in his lifetime,ranging from the disgusting and potentially pathogen riddled, such as a bluebottle fly, to the bizarre, including moles and sea slugs, and the downright cruel, reportedly eating puppy flesh.

He became fond of mouse flesh on toast, trying it on repeated occasions. While focusing on tasting animals, it is rumored that Buckland got hold of the 140-year-old preserved heart of King Louis XIV of France and tasted the walls of an Italian cathedral before stating that the so-called blood of martyrs onsite was actually bat urine. Even worse, Buckland taught his son the “joys” of zoological sampling, and Buckland junior indeed went on to follow in his father’s footsteps… or, shall we say, bite marks.

8. Werner Theodor Otto Forssmann

An insanely bold medical scientist from Germany, Berlin-born Werner Forssmann(August 29, 1904-June 1, 1979) is probably the only person who can truly be said to have put their whole heart into their work… literally. Or rather, he put his work into his heart when he pioneered heart catheterization, placing a catheter that extended just over 25 inches through his antecubital vein. Being smooth and slender, the device was able to be pushed along the inside of the vein once the initial incision had been made. Performing such a pioneering procedure on his own body was clearly a high risk choice given the awkwardness of self-operation and chance of suffering a medical emergency in the process, and being unable to get help.

Nonetheless, Forssmann proceeded and then went to the X-ray department, where he obtained a picture of the catheter in his own heart, located within the right auricle. While dangerous, the result of his work was effective and led to great recognition. His efforts were interrupted by World War II when he became a prisoner of war while serving as a Surgeon-Major, held in captivity until 1945. Having survived both his extreme self-experiment and WWII, Dr. Forssmann obtained the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1956. He was previously awarded the Leibniz Medal of the German Academy of Sciences in 1954 and received honorary Professorship at the National University of Cordoba, Argentina in 1961.

7. Vladimir Demikhov

It might seem that there is a correlation between madness on the part of scientists and unfettered accomplishments in certain areas. A researcher of dubious ethics and bizarre intent, Vladimir Demikhov was born in 1916 in Russia, nevertheless becoming known as a paradigm-changing heart transplant pioneer as well as a truly obsessive “mad” scientist who made short-lived two-headed dogs. Demikhov invented the first cardiac assist device at age 21 in the year 1937, going on to complete the first coronary bypass, auxiliary heart transplant and heart and lung transplant. Yet, his reputation for live-saving innovation in medicine was sullied by bizarre experiments centering on transplanting dog’s heads onto other dogs, creating two headed dogs.

Obsessive about this specific experiment, Demikhov did this procedure a shocking 20 times. While his work was deemed unethical by a Soviet Ministry of Health review committee, who ordered him to cease the head transplants, he continued on with his brutal experiments. Miraculously and grotesquely, the doubled-headed canines lived for some time, but all died within less than one month following the transplants. While some people are known for being cruel to humans but kind to animals, the reverse is true in the case of Demikhov, who not only contributed to innovation that would save human lives through great innovation, but protected those who would otherwise be condemned to execution at great personal risk. In the course of WWII, he told superiors that self-inflicted wounds were legitimate battle injuries, sparing Soviet soldiers the death penaltyfor desertion.

6. Jose Delgado

Possibly the most Spanish way to become known as a mad scientist would be to conduct mind control experiments on a fighting bull. Spanish “mad scientist” Jose Delgado (August 8, 1915-September 15, 2011) did exactly that in 1963 when he carried out bizarre experiments including one involving the animal central in the controversial tradition of Spanish bullfighting. A graduate of the University of Madrid, Delgado worked at Yale University with electrode implants that were intended to modify animal behavior through radio frequencies. Implanting the device in a bull, he was able to halt a charge by the angry beast with his device. Not limited to experiments with primates and the“remote controlled bull,” Delgado sought to develop mind control methods that would work on human subjects.

Being less limited by ethical restrictions in Spain compared to the United States, Delgado’s work progressed to include a broad range of experiments, ranging from electrical implants and stimulation to outright mind control. By implanting “brain chips”Delgado was able to trigger, manipulate, direct, and stop a variety of human and animal behaviors. Delgado pursued work on mind control methods as a way to reduce aggression and saw ways to fight tyranny through limitation of conflict. In one case, a female monkey in a compound of his research subjects learned to press a lever, delivering aggression-supressing shocks to a monkey known as a bully. While much of Delgado’s work matches or surpasses modern work, the degree to which much of it was published only in Spanish has limited the use and understanding of his work in the scientific community.

5. Stubbins Ffirth

While a mad scientist who attempts to test and prove the efficacy of cures on themselves is understandable, one researcher took being a guinea pig to a whole new level of crazy. Stubbins Ffirth (1784-1820) was an American doctor in training at the University of Pennsylvania with a dedication to investigating Yellow Fever, which had killed around 10 percent of Philadelphia’s population. Observing a wintertime reduction in Yellow Fever deaths, Ffirth developed a theory that Yellow Fever was not a disease which could be caught through infection, but was an affliction stemming from heat and stress.

Not content with uncertainty and unwilling to wait, he decided to test his beloved hypothesis that Yellow Fever could not be caught by infection. And to do so, he went to shockingly extreme lengths to show that he could not be infected by exposure to Yellow Fever, firmly establishing his work as mad and himself as a crazy scientist. After a series of animal experiments, it was time to expose himself to Yellow Fever. Firstly, he cut himself on the arms and dribbled contaminated vomit from Yellow Fever patients onto the wounds. He placed vomit in his eyes, cooked the vomit and ate it as a pill. After failing to get sick, Ffirth tried other contaminated bodily byproducts and still did not fall ill. Eventually, further research showed that Yellow Fever is contagious; it just requires direct blood transmission through a mosquito bite to be passed on. With that fact being true, Ffirth did not die of Yellow Fever despite the rigors of his research.

4. Robert G. Heath

Pleasure and pain may be closely related, and the desire to measure both factors in human experience has led to some disturbing and bizarre experiments in this tempting area of investigation for the mad scientist. American psychiatrist Robert G. Heath was a blatantly unethical “mad scientist” who engaged in experiments that controlled peoples’ experience of pleasure and pain through receptor stimulation by electrode. His qualifications were impressive, having degrees in psychology and neurology and being the founder of the Tulane University department of psychiatry and neurology at New Orleans.

Seeking to study mental function, Dr. Heath implanted electrodes into subjects’ brains, sometimes leaving them in for months at a time. His most disturbing and ill-founded human experiments included giving a woman a 30-minute orgasm through electrical stimulation and attempting in 1970 to change the orientation of a gay man who had been arrested for marijuana possession through exposure to a female prostitute. In this especially notorious work that undoubtedly contributed to his being seen as a “Strangelovian” person, Dr. Heath combined pleasure center-triggering through electrode implants with arranged sexual activity with a “lady of the evening” who was hired for the experiment and paid $50 for her part in the “research.” Given the nature of his activities and receipt of US government funding, Dr. Heath has been suspected of having been involved in the illegal CIA MK-ULTRA research program on mind control.

3. Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov

We all know the tired movie cliché of the ape-man, but one out-on-a-limb researcher from the Soviet Union was willing to go to great lengths to try and make the concept a reality. Soviet mad scientist Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov was a fan of conservation, captive breeding, and zoology, pursuing a wide range of activities relating to biological diversity investigation. He was also an unethical and highly determined researcher who held the express goal of crossing a human being with a Chimpanzee. Unbounded by ethical considerations, Ivanov was originally willing to try to inseminate an unknowing human female with Chimpanzee sperm.

However, Ivanov realized that he would need consenting volunteers. He sought government backing for work to create the hybrid. Once he actually got to work on trying to make the hybrid, Ivanov began by first trying to inseminate female chimpanzees with human sperm in the hopes of getting them pregnant with the hybrid baby. When these attempts did not pan out, he then attempted to organize experiments to do the reverse, impregnating human women with Chimpanzee semen. However, before he could arrange participants and plan the project, the obsessed researcher was arrested and exiled to what has now become Kazakhstan. Apart from Ivanov’s ill-fated and unethical human hybridization efforts, he succeeded in creating other animal hybrids. These inter-special creations included a horse-zebra cross, mixed species rodent offspring, and a bison-cow cross.

2. Harry Harlow

Skirting the ethical bounds of science in a bid to advance research is something that a researcher might do secretively. But one mad scientist who ruined the lives of many monkeys through questionable and cruel research was oddly cold and unabashed in his description of his work. American psychologist Harry Harlow was known for bizarre experiments on monkeys that combined less than scientific research questions with brutal and ethically fraught methods of investigation. A researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Harlow placed juvenile monkeys in isolation chambers for 1-to-2 years at a time away from their mothers. Harlow compared the psychology and behavior of those raised with a real mother with those having only a cloth doll.

Widely criticized for his brutal experiments, he was also criticized for the theoretical basis of his work in seeking to study the importance of “love” in primate development due to the unscientific nature of the term “love.” Bold in his cruel terminology, his way of talking had a sadistic ring to it. After all, he was known to openly refer to his device for artificial primate insemination as a “rape rack” and the isolation chamber in which baby monkeys were placed as the “Pit of Despair,” terms which did not seem to bother him. Not surprisingly, Harlow’s work caused significant psychological and physical distress,leading monkeys to engage in self-mutilating behaviors even after removal from the “pit.”

1. Giovanni Aldini

Many Italian superstitions involve fears of the dead coming back to Earth and have led to the creation of elaborate rituals to prevent such occurrences. And those intent on preventing the return of the dead or otherwise un-dead would not have been too happy to meet a man who appeared to do just that, albeit by “scientific” means. Italian mad scientist Giovanni Aldini was a notorious yet officially awarded and decorated Bologna-born physicist known for his bizarre and gruesome electrical experiments on corpses. Working not only with dead animals but human remains in ghastly tests with an electrical probe, Aldini “activated” corpses and caused them to appear to return to life, being animated in different parts depending on where shocks were applied.

The experiments where he electrified human bodies were often carried out in public view, being something of a showman. Among his exploits were his public 1803 tests on the body of an Englishman, who had been executed on charges of murder, at the Royal College of Surgeons in London. Although his work was gruesome, there were many serious efforts inherent in his work. He strongly believed in the benefits of electrical shock therapy, from which he reported many improvements in patient condition. He was made a Knight of the Iron Crown by the Austrian Emperor for his pioneering research efforts and achievements. In the modern era, the legacy from his efforts is represented by practices and achievements in the form of deep brain stimulation, used to address certain motor function and behavior-based disorders.


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Game Changing Archaeology – WABAC Discoveries

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Archaeological Discoveries

That Change Our

View of History

History is far more complicated that we would like to believe. Even in our schools today, different versions of events are being taught to students, depending on the country they’re in and how those events in history affected that country. “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past,” right? Nevertheless, we also have archaeology, which sometimes helps us to better understand what happened regardless of what was written down in centuries past. And sometimes, some such discoveries turn the way we saw history right on its head.

 10. Ancient Fast Food

We generally tend to think that fast food came about fairly recently, right? And it does make sense, after all, given the faster pace the world is moving nowadays as opposed to the slower ancient times. In fact, the first such shops, which were serving fish and chips, opened in Britain during the 1860s. Then, in the 1950s in the US, the drive-through restaurants became popular, and… well, you know the rest.

But taking a quick snack for lunch and then hurrying on your way is not something new and has been going on since ancient times. This place was the so-called thermopolium, or “place where (something) hot is sold,” and it was a common sight all throughout the Greco-Roman world; particularly in larger towns and cities. These thermopoliaare, in fact, the forerunners of all present-day restaurants. They usually consisted of a small room that opened onto the street and specialized in two or three items such as spiced wine, meats, cheese, or lentils. These establishments were quite tiny and almost never had tables for people to sit at. There was only a counter with several embedded earthenware jars called doliawhere the food was stored.

These places were frequented mostly by slaves or people who did not have the means or facilities to cook for themselves. And as it so happens, these thermopolia were also frequent hangouts for all sorts of shady characters. These places were even abolished on several occasions for this exact reason, since they harbored all sorts of effeminate Greeks and thieving slaves,” as Plautus, a Roman playwright from the 3rd century BC, once said. There were, however, some fancier establishments too, with some tables inside and even some frescoes painted on the walls. One such ornate restaurant called the “Thermopolium of Asellina” was discovered in Pompeii and is one of the best preserved in the world.

9. War is Older Than We Thought

War was commonly believed to have originated alongside the advent of civilization. This, of course, doesn’t mean that people weren’t killing each other even before that. After all, the reptilian part of the brain, which we all have and which pushes us towards things like hate, envy, aggression, dominance, and territoriality among others, was also found in people more than 10,000 years ago. This means that before the discovery of agriculture and animal husbandry, people were only able to kill each other through the occasional murder or small family skirmishes. But after people began settling down and growing in number, more organized and coordinated forms of battle were invented; things like raids or wars, for instance. The fact that structured hierarchies and slavery also appeared during this time also helped wars along.

Nevertheless, an archaeological discovery made in 2012 in Kenya seems to indicate that small scale wars were also taking place even before agriculture appeared there. On the banks of the Lake Turkana, archaeologists came across 27 skeletons dating back to somewhere in between 9,500 to 10,500 years ago. These skeletons once belonged to men, women, and children which archeologists believe were members of a semi-nomadic tribe that settled close to the lake. All of the skeletons showed signs of blunt force trauma or wounds from projectile weapons.One of the women had both of her knees shattered and showed signs that her hands were bound when she died. Who attacked them, or what really happened is not known, but no other massacre on this scale has ever been discovered from so long ago.

8. Europeans and America

Christopher Columbus and his men are no longer believed to be the first Europeans to discover the American continent. Today it is fairly common knowledge that Leif Ericsson, an Icelandic Viking explorer, was the first European to come across to North America when he was blown off course on his way to Greenland from Norway almost 500 years before Columbus. In the Saga of the Greenlanders which talks about Leif Ericsson and his travels to Vinland, present-day Newfoundland, there is mention of a Bjarni Herjólfsson, who also made it to a land west of Greenland when he too was blown off course by the wind, even before Leif Ericsson himself. But whatever the case may be here, some newer archaeological evidence points to the fact that the Europeans made it to North America even before Europe had a name, or at least the name of “Europe.”

Several dozen stone tools have been found along the East Coast in six distinct locations. One in Pennsylvania, three from the Delmarva Peninsula in Maryland, one in Virginia, and another one was discovered by a scallop trawler some 60 miles off the Virginian coast. All of these tools bear a striking resemblance to the stone tools used by the prehistoric Solutrean tribes from present-day western France and northern Spain. What’s more, all of them were dated somewhere in between 19,000 to 26,000 years ago. Because of this time period, most archaeologists have rejected the idea of being just a simple case of coincidence based on the too-similar design. Furthermore, one of the stone knives discovered in Virginia revealed under chemical analysis that it actually originated in France.

The reason for the relatively small number of tools found on the East Coast dating from that period also explains how those Stone Age Europeans got to America in the first place. Back in those times, the planet was going through an Ice Age, and like the Native Americans who crossed into America from Asia over the Bering land bridge, so did these Solutreans cross over what is now the north Atlantic, Iceland, and Greenland. As shown by that knife found by the scallop trawler 60 miles off the coast of Virginia, the sea level was far lower than it is today. And since these people stayed mostly around the coast, many of their tools are also underwater. Another archaeological discovery that places Europeans in North America longer ago than previously believed is an 8,000-year-old skeleton found in Florida. When subjected to a genetic marker test, this man’s remains revealed high levels of European markers, not found in Asians.

7. Australians and America

Another archaeological discovery, this time from Brazil, points to the fact that Australians also made it to the Americas long ago. Several human skulls discovered there match the characteristics of those from places like Australia and Melanesia. Similarly, some 33 skulls found on the Baja California peninsula in Mexico also point to this theory. And according to the stone tools and charcoal discovered at the site in Brazil, these people could have inhabited the area for nearly 50,000 years. The theory is that they arrived in the Americas by boat across the Pacific. Though seemingly impossible for people from 50,000 years ago, cave paintings in Australia have shown some boats that were actually built to withstand the ocean. Moreover, in 1947 Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl and a few others made it across on a balsa wood raft.

Archaeologists also believe that these people died out with the appearance of the Asian peoples coming in from the north via the Bering land bridge. This is because the shape of the skulls changes from those with an Australian appearance to those with a Mongoloid appearance between 9,000 to 7,000 years ago. The only survivors could be tribes of people who lived in the Terra del Fuego region of South America. This is the southernmost tip of the continent, and the people who still live there show hybrid skull features of both mongoloid and negroid ancestry. If proven true then Native Australians could be the first Americans ever.

6. How Old is Our Friendship with Dogs?

There is no debating that wolves were the first animals ever to be domesticated by humans. Even before animal husbandry became a thing, man and wolves (which then turned into dogs) were hunting together in a sort of synergy that benefited both species. But how old is this interspecies collaboration, really? Common theories place the beginning of this relationship somewhere around 15,000 to 18,000 years ago and it happened separately in both China and the Middle East. This is without a doubt far older than any other domesticated animal in the world. Dogs were well established as part of human society around 10,000 years ago, and in Germany for instance, humans and dogs were sometimes buried together as long as 14,000 years ago.

But the discovery of a canine skull in the Altai Mountains in Siberia pushes this timeline by at least another 15,000 years. Radiocarbon dating has placed the skull somewhere around 33,000 years old, and its genetic markers indicate that it more closely resembled modern-day dogs than actual wolves. The similarity between modern dogs and this particular skull was also evident thanks to its shape and size. Another old canine fossil dates back to around 31,000 years ago and was discovered in Goyet Cave in Belgium. And even though its mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) indicates that it does not share its matriline with any extant wolves or dogs, its skull morphology is more similar to a dog than an actual wolf.

5. The Oldest Writing in the World

Three inscribed tablets that were found in what is now present day Romania may contain the oldest writing system in the world. Each of them is about two and a half inches wide, each has markings on it, and all of them are dated back to around 5300 BC. They were found in 1961 in a ritual pit, alongside other clay and stone offerings and the bones of an elderly woman, probably a sort of priestess. The Tartaria Tablets, as they are known, are thought to have belonged to theTurdas-Vinca culture that inhabited the area during that period. But despite the importance of the discovery and what they stand to represent if proven to be the real deal, the tablets are still shrouded in some controversy. For instance, Mesopotamian experts disregard the Tartaria Tablets by saying that the symbols on them are not actually writing, but only decorations. Other experts believe that these tablets actually contain an early form of Sumerian script since some of the symbols found here are identical to pictograms found in Jemdet Nasr in Iraq.

A German linguist and Mesopotamian script specialist by the name of Harald Haarmann strongly believes that the symbols on the tablets are an early form of writing. He bases his assumptions on the many other symbols that are part of the so-called Danube script found throughout the region on various other ceramic objects and which number roughly the same as the Egyptian hieroglyphs. A more recent discovery from 2009 has brought to light a Neolithic workshop that was once manufacturing clay tablets. Another 120 similar tablets were found at the site, some containing symbols similar to the ones at Tartaria. If these symbols are ever proven to be authentic and part of an actual ancient script, then the cradle of civilization could be moved from the Middle East to Eastern Europe.

4. The City of the Sun in North America

Native Americans usually lived in tepees, right? Well, yes… at least, some of them did. But in fact, many Native North Americans lived in large cities before the arrival of the Europeans to the continent. One notable example is Cahokia, or the City of the Sun. It is located in in the state of Illinois, close where the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers merge. This area is one of the most fertile on the continent and here one Native American culture, the Mississippians, made it their home. But they didn’t just live in tepees, but rather in grand cities of some 20,000 people strong. Cahokia was at its peak between 1050 and 1200 AD, and during this time, it was bigger than any other European counterpart.

And here is where this tepee misconception comes into play. It was so ingrained into white people’s imaginations that when they came across some earthen mounds in the region, they initially attributed them to retreating glaciers. When they did eventually realize that these were actually man-made, they attributed their construction to Phoenicians, Vikings, and even a lost tribe of Israel. Pretty much anyone other than the Native Americans themselves. And Cahokia is big. It spans over an area of about six square miles and had a total of 120 earth mounds. The city was carefully planned and organized, with plazas, residential areas, and elite compounds. The largest of the earth mounds found here is about 100 feet tall and contains more than 25 million cubic feet of earth, carried here in willow baskets 50 pounds at a time. Known as the Monks Mound, this is the largest earthen structure in the Western Hemisphere.

Fairly little is known about the civilization that built it, however. We do know that their trade network was vast, reaching from the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians and from the Great Lakes to Florida. They practiced human sacrifice and relied heavily on corn for nourishment. Today, however, only 70 of the original 120 earth mounds have survived and there is a four lane highway running right through the historic site.

3. Cambodia’s Medieval Cities

The Khmer Empire was one of the most powerful in Southeast Asia, and probably in the world at the time. It existed in between 802 AD to 1431 AD and extended over what are now Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. They ruled over the region including where the temple complex of Angkor Wat is located. The temple complex itself is one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia and consists of many architectural marvels besides the obvious temples found there. Back in 2012, a team of archaeologists made use of state of the art laser technology called LiDAR. This technology has the ability to see through dense vegetation and map the topography under the jungle canopy. What they discovered was amazing, to say the least. They used LiDAR again in 2015, in a project that became the most extensive airborne survey used for archaeological purposes ever. Some 734 square miles of terrain was scanned and it revealed an unimaginable network of roads, water ways, and densely populated cities, unrivaled anywhere in the world at the time.

Lead archaeologist on the project Damian Evans had this to say about the discovery: “We have entire cities discovered beneath the forest that no one knew were there – at Preah Khan of Kompong Svay and, it turns out, we uncovered only a part of Mahendraparvata on Phnom Kulen [in the 2012 survey] … this time we got the whole deal and it’s big, the size of Phnom Penh big.”

Phnom Penh is the current capital city of Cambodia. This survey has shown that the Khmer Empire was able to design and implement an elaborate water system on a grand scale, centuries before archaeologists believed the technology even existed. This new discovery also disproves the theory on how the Khmer Empire eventually collapsed. Up until 2015, it was believed that they were invaded from the north and people fled south. But the lack of any cities in that direction disproves this theory. In any case, Angkor is now, without a shadow of a doubt, the most extensive urban settlement in the world prior to the Industrial Revolution. This is, of course, if LiDAR technology doesn’t discover any others.

2. The Gold Crucifix of Denmark

One beautiful afternoon in 2016, an amateur metal detector in Denmark came across a gold crucifix in a field near the town of Aunslev, Østfyn. After he posted his discovery on social media, some people advised him to take it to a local museum, which he did. Here, the curator dated the Birka crucifix to somewhere in the first half of the 10th century AD. It is made out of finely articulated goldthreads and small filigree pellets, and has a loop through which a chain once went. What is really interesting about this find is that it’s dated between 900 and 950 AD, leading historians to believe that the Danes were converted to Christianity earlier than previously believed.

Prior to this discovery, the earliest representation of Jesus on a cross in Denmark came in the form of the Jelling Stones – two large rune stones dated to 965 AD, and which are located in Jutland. These stones commemorate Harald Blåtand, or Harald Bluetooth, for his role in converting the Danes to Christianity. What this tiny cross does is push back the period when these Vikings became Christians by several decades, at a minimum.

1. The Appearance of Agriculture

It’s a common belief that agriculture started off in what are now Armenia, eastern Turkey, Syria, Palestine, Israel, Jordan, and Iran around 11,000 years ago. Then it spread to the rest of the Old World. And while this is still true, new archaeological evidence shows that agriculture actually developed in two distinct parts of this particular region, known as the Fertile Crescent, and each then spread to different parts of the world independently. Genetic evidence has proven that there are stark differences between people living in the southern Levant, like Israel and Jordan, and those from across the Zagros Mountains in western Iran. Each of these groups of people developed their own style of agriculture and animal husbandry, favoring different plants and animals for domestication. They lived in complete isolation from each other for centuries or even millennia before they actually met.

And it is believed that they only came in contact in eastern Turkey when both groups were in search of obsidian needed for all sorts of tools. It’s also believed that these people met, intermingled, exchanged agricultural techniques and ideas, and then migrated westward into Europe. Those who remained behind, however, went their own separate ways, spreading their distinct forms of agriculture to other parts of the world. Those living in the southern Levant eventually traveled to East Africa, going through present-day Egypt and down the Nile and the Red Sea coast, while those living in western Iran made their way north into the Eurasian steppe and then eastward into present day India and Pakistan. While this discovery doesn’t seem like much given that both of these populations emerged from the Fertile Crescent region, it does change our perspective of how history and the start of civilization actually played out.


Game Changing Archaeology

“Where is the WABAC Machine going to take us this time, Mr. Peabody?

– WABAC Discoveries

At-Home Experiments – WIF Mad Science

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– Mad Scientist –

Experiments

You Can Do at Home

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For any of you who grew up watching the Back to the Future series, Dexter’s Lab, or anything that showcased zany inventions, then you probably love the idea of mad science. Experiments and projects that look really cool, and provide a lot of fun and awe factor, but may not necessarily be something with a lot of practical value. Below are several cool projects that will make you feel like Doc Brown himself.

While these types of projects can be a lot of fun, and a great way to learn new things, some of them can still pose some small dangers. Always exercise caution, especially when working with electricity or tools of any kind.

10. Make Your Own Miniature Tesla Coil

Tesla himself has basically become an internet celebrity, partly because of a Tesla revival movement, but also because the internet tends to appreciate a good showman. The inventor of the Tesla coil knew what he had created, and used it constantly to wow crowds to help increase his funding.

You can make your own smaller version to wow your friends and wow yourself. Using a capacitor, a small lightbulb, some wire and a few other parts, you will be showing everyone what a science genius you are in no time. You can check out the video above for a full tutorial.

9. Make A Sweet Potato Gun For Cheap

Potato guns are a somewhat controversial project — for those who aren’t aware, a potato gun doesn’t shoot whole potatoes, just little chunks from them. They are hardly truly dangerous for the most part, but some people have abused this childhood “weapon,” and gotten it banned in certain localities. However, the truth is that both when building them or trying to use them, the dangers generally come when trying to build an incredibly large pneumatic potato gun.

This is unnecessarily dangerous, especially for what should just be a fun project. In the video above, there is a tutorial from youtube for how to build a small potato gun using an empty spray bottle and a few other fairly common items.

8. Hack A Nerf Gun To Make It Way More Awesome

Most of us remember Nerf guns from our childhoods. They were incredibly cool, decked out in bright colors that excited the children of the time period, and often had all kinds of cool features. Some could shoot in multiple directions, some had secret hidden attachments and so on — they were the epitome of cool. However, the one thing we all wished was that they shot a bit farther and a bit harder.

It’s not like they would have hurt if they hit harder. They were soft foam and rubber, designed to be absurdly safe. However, the manufacturers made sure that the guns would be incredibly lawsuit and fun safe, and kept the pressure on them quite low. Some have found with some tinkering though, that the pressure can actually be increased. In the video a modder takes a nerf gun apart, and shows how to remove the installed inhibitor device that keeps it from shooting as far as it truly has the potential to. With just a little work, you can unleash the true power of the Nerf.

7. Build Your Own Drone For Whatever Fun Purposes You Wish

When most people think of drones, they think of gigantic remote controlled airplanes with bombs that shoot enemies in the Middle East. However, drones are becoming increasingly common, both commercially and as a hobby, and most of them are quite small. The average hobby drone involves a small body with some parts salvaged from old fans, enough electronic equipment to control it remotely, and usually a mounted camera as well.

In the video above, you can see a full tutorial that many hobbyists have found useful. While it takes a little bit of work, the parts are fairly easy to acquire, and the build is within reach for someone without much experience. Alternatively, if you are feeling really cheap, perhaps you could try strapping a GoPro to an RC helicopter.

6. Construct Your Own Theremin At Home

The Theremin is pretty much the musical instrument for mad scientists, and a must have if you want to have both the coolest and nerdiest way to make music possible. For those who aren’t familiar with them, a theremin is an instrument where you essentially move your hands through a magnetic field to make very otherworldly sounding notes. There are not many people who can play a Theremin well, but those who do provide some amazingly haunting sounding melodies.

And now, you can too, without paying huge amounts to buy a large sized Theremin you may never fully take advantage of. With the help of the YouTube tutorial above, you will be well on your way to making your own theremin. An amplifier, and a power supply are going to be some of the biggest ticket supplies you will need, and even those can be acquired for fairly cheap if you aren’t trying to be picky about sound quality.

5. Make Your Remote Controlled Robot Out Of Cheap Materials

Pretty much everyone wants their own robot. Especially those who want to impress their friends, or their enemies, with their knowledge of insane science. While a truly autonomous robot isn’t that practical and requires extremely complex programming, a remote controlled minion can still be very impressive and requires much less effort.

In the video above, you can see a tutorial on how to build a remote controlled robot that can even walk on uneven paths, and looks quite cool doing so. This robot was built with incredibly cheap and easy to use parts, such as styrofoam, glue, small pieces of crafting wood, and a small motor and battery. Most of it is incredibly easy to acquire and safe to work with. Using the same basic principles, you could easily modify the look a bit to make it feel more like your own personal robot minion.

4. Make Your Own Plasma At Home And Impress Your Friends

If you have ever seen a plasma globe, you have probably wanted to own one at least as a passing thought, and many of you probably have splurged on one at one point or another. Plasma globes are extremely cool, especially the way you can move your fingers across the globe to make it dance around inside. For those of you love science projects, making your own plasma globe is actually quite easy — although it won’t be quite as big or impressive as the commercial ones.

In the video above, you can see the full tutorial, but the parts you need will be minimal. A spark coil, a spring, an incandescent lightbulb and a capacitor. You will also need electrical tape, and you will want to read up first on safety precautions for working on electricity if you aren’t already familiar, to ensure that you stay properly grounded, just in case.

3. Make Your Own Solar Powered Radio Using Recycled Materials

For those of you who have ever went camping for a while, you may have brought along a solar powered radio. They can also be incredibly useful if the power goes out, and they often have lights built into them so you can see in an emergency as well. However, if you like to tinker, you can also take your own old radio, then salvage a solar panel from something else and put together your own solar powered radio.

In the video above, you can see an example of how the project can be completed. However, keep in mind that you really don’t need to buy your own solar panel from a manufacturer, as than can be expensive. There are many different, easy to acquire objects, that you could salvage solar panels from. And, if you are feeling really adventurous, you could always make your own solar panels.

2. You Can Build A Segway At Home For A Fraction Of The Price

Many people are familiar with the Segway, a device that was incredibly popular about a decade ago, and was more recently feature in the movie Paul Blart: Mall Cop. For those of the latest generation, a Segway is sort of like those recent hoverboards — the ones that don’t hover — except it has a giant handle on it to make standing long term easier. The segway goes for an asking price of several thousand dollars, and while the recent “hoverboards” are fairly cheap, they have been known to be fire hazards, and generally made as toys for smaller people, and aren’t high quality.

Using the video tutorial below, which also has a link to the original instructable, you can build your own full Segway, with all the power of a real one, for a fraction of the price — just a few hundred dollars. You can learn and get practice in several new skills, and the project is designed to be approachable even if you don’t have prior experience in any of them. If you want a hoverboard, you can just leave off the handle, and feel safer knowing yours is probably less likely to catch on fire abruptly.

1. You Can Do All Kinds Of Fun Experiments With Non-Newtonian Fluids

Making a non-newtonian fluid is really easy to do at home, perfectly safe, and incredibly fun to play with. Non-newtonian fluids are fluids that act differently under stress, and not just due to changes in temperature. One example of this is ketchup, which acts like a solid in the bottle when upside down, until you apply force to change its viscosity. For those who want to experiment with the properties, the best way is to use a mixture of two parts cornstarch to one part water.

Experimenting with it will show very strange results. When hit, it will act like a solid in that particular spot, even while the rest will ripple. If you pick it up and apply force you can form it into a ball, but if you release the force it will turn back into a liquid and drip through your fingers. With a large enough pool of it, you can basically walk across it and when it is put on top of speakers, it moves around like a strange alien being dancing to the music.


At-Home Experiments

WIF Space-001

– WIF Mad Science