The Universe Inside You, Brian Clegg, 2012


brian clegg

Loss of hair – it’s easier to sweat with less hair. Equally it could have been a response to the increase in parasites…but the explanation that works best for me is that the loss was accidental side effect.

IN the process of becoming more cooperative, and so more infantile, the pre-humans lost their hair. Our primate cousins’ inability to function in large groups only appears with maturity. The individuals likely to survive in the savannah, those with the immature ability to get on with their fellows rather than tear them to pieces, were also the least physically developed (lack of hair, large head, small mouth and upright stance – all features of the early part of the primate lifecycle.

In space, you would lose heat, but not very quickly. The thing that is going to kill you is the lack of air to breathe. According to NASA, the exact survival limit isn’t know, but would probably be one to two minutes.

It’s thought that the body louse was only able to develop once we started wearing clothes. Interestingly, this 50-100,000 year timescale corresponds well with the timing of the move of the humans out of Africa into colder climates, which could have been the spur that brought on the use of clothing.

A quantum leap is the jump between one rail and the next one. It’s the smallest possible change in the energy of an electron that there can be. So it is rather bizarre that in general usage it has come to mean a really significant transformation.

Antimatter is the most compact way to store energy we have. It packs 1000 times more energy than nuclear fuel.

There are five states of matter: solid, liquid, gas, plasma, Bose-Einstein condensate. Plasma is what happens if you continue to heat a gas past a certain point.  Plasma is a substance that has been heated so far that its atoms become ions (atoms that have lost electrons and end up positively charged). Condensate is what happens to matter when it gets close to the absolute zero: particles that make matter lose their individuality. This result in strange behaviors like superfluidity.  Bose-Einstein condensate interact with light in a strange way, slowing it to a crawl or even bringing it to a standstill.

By comparing the effects of swearing against using everyday words, it was discovered that yelling swear words increased the ability to tolerate pain and decreased the amount of pain that was felt.

Hemoglobin contains iron, and it is often thought that this is causes the red color – just as it produces the red tint of rust – but the coloring is a coincidence. The iron atoms are bound in a ring of atoms called porphyrin, and it is this organic structure that provided the coloration.

Hydrogen bonding is an attraction between the electric charge on a hydrogen atoms and that on another atoms like oxygen, nitrogen…In the case of water, positive hydrogen is attracted to negative oxygen: it is harder to separate the molecules, pushing up water’s boiling point and so making the earth habitable. Hydrogen bonding is responsible for another water unusual property: solid water has a higher volume than its liquid form. It’s not unique (acetic acid and silicon are less dense as solid than liquid) but it is unusual.

The DNA in human chromosome 1 is the largest molecule known, with around 10 billion atoms in it.

The appendix is very useful to your onboard bacteria. They use it to breed and help keep the gut’s inhabitant topped up.

Perhaps the most important finding was that when a surface was inoculated with E.coli bacteria, foodstuffs did pick up the bacteria in under five seconds.

All the evidence is that antioxidants you consume don’t join forces with your internally produced ones, so have no benefit.

Special relativity says that particles travelling faster than light won’t happen as a rule, but it is possible to get around the barrier. We have already well establish experiments in which particles travel faster than light : tunneling effect technique has been used to send particles faster than light. All the evidence is that a tunneling particles doesn’t travel through space in tunnels, instead it disappears at one side and instantly reappears at the other.

With a traditional convex lens, blue will be dent a little bit more and red a little bit less. The result is an image with rainbow fringes distorting it. Mirrors can also focus rays of ligh from different location to a point, but they don’t differentiate with colors.

Ordinary color vision works using the combination of the three primary colours. Night vision is quite different, registering only level of brightness.  There is a cross over zone (mesopic vision) when both type of vision occur. Sight at this in-between light level has strange qualities – this may well explain why so many ghosts and other visual phenomena are seen at dusk.

General relativity predict the existence of black holes and says that gravity is a warp in space and time. At the heart of the black hole time itself is twisted. Once you pass the event horizon, you are headed for a point in time, not a point in space.

Many of the photons that enter the atmosphere from the Sun just hurtle straight through, but a fair number will be absorbed by a gas molecule and re-emitted. When they are re-emitted in a new direction it is called scattering. This process is selective; the more blue the light, the more it gets scattered. This is why the sky is blue.  If sunlight contained equal amount of all colors, the sky would be violet, the most scattered of all the colors, but there is considerably more blue than violet present, so that dominates.

Caffeine can fit into locks intended for adenosine. Adenosine is inducing a feeling of sleepiness. So caffeine can help us feel more awake. The side effect of reduced activity of adenosine is an increase in dopamine, a neurotransmitter (transmitting signals from neurons to other cells). The result is that familiar little boost that caffeine gives us.  Caffeine side effect are accidental – Caffeine is a natural insecticide that turn up in plant to help kill off predatory insects.

A small dog can be killed by as little as 50 grams of strong dark chocolate (theobromine is poisonous). Cats are particularly sensitive to it but don’t have a problem as they don’t have sweet taste receptors, so don’t find chocolate particularly appealing. To get a dangerous dose an adult would have to eat over 5 kgs of milk chocolate.

Chilli peppers contain capsaicin and other substances which bind onto pain receptors in the mouth.