Advent facts II

Santa’s sack of scientific surprises


This post was part of the Chalkdust 2016 Advent Calendar.

Welcome to the fourteenth day of the 2016 Chalkdust Advent Calendar.  Today, we bring you some more fascinatingT&Cs apply facts, randomly generated by Santa’s elves.  Remember to send us your favourite scientific curiosities either on Facebook, Twitter or email and we’ll feature the best in a blog next year.

Osiris was ripped into 14 pieces by his brother Set.

The number 14

The numbers fourteen and forty sound very similar. They often get confused when speaking on the telephone. This is a common affliction caused by all teens and I’m sure the reader can think of many more.


Pesky bumblebees defying nature

Bumblebees. Obviously capable of flying.

According to an engineer (obviously) a long time ago (probably also obviously), bumblebees can’t fly. This is based on the assumption that the air remains attached as it goes over a bee’s wings and that the same aerodynamics takes place as occurs for flow over aeroplane wings. This leads to the result that a bumblebee would not be able to generate enough lift to stay in the air. Unfortunately, however, they can. This was all quite mysterious until someone had the bright idea to stick some bees in a wind tunnel and see what is going on. It turns out that bumblebees don’t flap their wings just up and down, but forwards and backwards too; and a vortex evolves on the upper side of the wing, allowing the bee to generate more lift. The moral of the story is to never listen to engineers. You can find a cool video of bumblebees in a wind tunnel here.

The computer of the Ancient Greeks

Our forefathers’ computer.

The Antikythera mechanism is the first (analogue) computer, built by the ancient Greeks prior to 100BC. Either that, or it was left behind by alien visitors who decided that our civilisation 2,000 years ago wasn’t worth bothering about. Incorporating much of the mathematical and astronomical knowledge of the Greeks, interlocking gearwheels turned a minimum of seven dials that told celestial time (whatever that means). Presumably we then got bored of making scientific magic and went back to waging war on each other, which meant that we didn’t come up with anything that mind-blowingly intricate until at least the invention of the pocket watch.

The perpetually surprising trapezium rule

The trapezium rule is often used for numerical integration and involves summing up the areas of many many trapeziums. The more trapeziums you use, the more accurate your answer will be. Bizarrely, despite it being just a simple sum, it turns out that in some cases adding more trapeziums allows you to converge exponentially to the right answer. My brain has just exploded.

I’ll be back on the 21st when I’ve picked up all the pieces.

[Pictures: Osiris, public domain; Bumblebees, CC0 license; Antikythera mechanism, CCA-SA 3.0, Marsyas]

Pietro is interested in history and sport. He also happens to be doing a PhD in fluid dynamics at UCL. If he can combine any two of the three it makes him a happy man.

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