Science is weird and wonderful. Sometimes 'weird' takes centre stage. From hugging octupi on ecstasy to the truth behind "Yanny" vs "Laurel" these were the weirdest science stories of 2018.
The following list comes courtesy of The Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC). Described as the quirkiest story that makes staff giggle, their picks are an entertaining reminder of science's mad-hatter side.
#1 Octopuses get touchy-feely on ecstasy - just like humans
In September, US scientists injected a species of solitary, asocial octopus - Octopus bimaculoides - with MDMA, better known as the party drug 'ecstasy'. As AusSMC describes:
"The loved-up cephalopods spent more time socialising and even went in for an eight-armed hug, which is very unusual in sober octopuses. This endearing behaviour was caused by serotonin, the neurotransmitter that floods our own brains when we take ecstasy."
The point of the study was to determine if octopuses and humans have the same system that allows serotonin to control social behaviour due to similarities in our genes.
#2 Elon Musk fires Tesla Roadster into space
"The launch of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket went off without a hitch in February. It made the news partly because of the successful launch, but mainly because the rocket company's owner, eccentric billionaire Elon Musk, had strapped his US$100,000 Tesla Roadster car to the rocket’s second stage. The sports car, manned by a dummy driver in a spacesuit dubbed ‘Starman’, was equipped with a stereo blaring David Bowie, a friendly reminder “Don’t panic!” stamped on the dashboard, cameras to capture its initial trip through space, and a label stating the car was “made on Earth by humans”. SpaceX aimed the car at Mars, niftily proving its rockets are capable of delivering payloads to the red planet."
#3 Man rips hole in his throat by suppressing a sneeze
"In January we learned you should definitely never suppress a sneeze, when it was reported that a British man had managed to rip a hole in his throat while attempting to hold one in by pinching his nose and clamping his mouth shut. The unfortunate sneeze suppressor ruptured the soft tissue at the back of his throat, leaving him barely able to speak or swallow, and in considerable pain. He reported hearing pops and crackles as he breathed and air passed through the puncture. Happily, after a spell in hospital, he made a full recovery. While the condition is extremely rare, the message is clear – sneeze loud and proud!"
Why wombats poo is cube-shaped
"The iconic Aussie animals hit the headlines in November, when US scientists attempted to answer one of nature's greatest enduring mysteries – how do wombats poop cubes? The researchers said wombats have especially stretchy insides, allowing neat cubes to form just before exiting their wombasses. And as for why they do it, cubic poo stays put, rather than rolling away, allowing the short-sighted marsupials to stack their business high as a signal to other wombats."
'Yanny' or 'Laurel'?
"Remember the dress that split us into ‘gold and white’ or ‘blue and black’ camps back in 2016? Well May 2018 brought its own equivalent when an audio clip of a single word which sounded like ‘Yanny’ to some web users, but like ‘Laurel’ to many others, started doing the rounds on social media, and splitting the internet. Experts explained that whether we heard ‘Yanny’ or ‘Laurel’ came down to how our hearing degrades as we age, which makes it harder for older people to pick up high frequency sounds. Younger people with intact high frequency hearing were more likely to hear ‘Yanny’, while older people were more likely to hear ‘Laurel’, because the recorded clip, which was a simulated rather than a real voice, was made up of both high and low frequency sound."
Every now and then, someone comes up with a question or problem so divisive that it starts an online debate that rages for days, or even weeks. Some even last centuries like the "is it a duck or a rabbit" image. Here are five puzzles that teach us a lot about how our brains work and how we interpret the world.
Celebratory soccer fans cause mini earthquake
"Forget 'Mexican jumping beans', this year was all about 'Mexican jumping beings' as boisterous, bouncing Mexican soccer fans caused enough ruckus to trigger sensitive earthquake detectors at two locations in Mexico City during their team’s World Cup match against reigning champions Germany. In a move that surely rivals the more conventional Mexican wave and should have had the Germans quaking in their boots, the triumphant tremors, labelled ‘artificial’ quakes by Mexico’s Institute of Geological and Atmospheric Investigations, were picked up in the game’s 35th minute, when winger Hirving Lozano scored a goal. Mexico went on to beat Germany 1-0, but don't jump to the conclusion that they won the cup - that honour went to France."
It's International Science Week. To "celebrate", we thought we'd revisit this timely article about science literacy in Australia.