One of my favourite diagrams of all time comes from a paper in Historical Biology: An International Journal of Paleobiology. The title of the paper does little to warn of the horrors within:
Remains of Holocene giant pandas from Jiangdong Mountain (Yunnan, China) and their relevance to the evolution of quaternary environments in south-western China
Peek into the abstract however and you may begin to see where this is going:
Two subfossil partial skeletons of male giant pandas were recovered, along with remains of 16 other mammalian species, from a natural sinkhole on Jiangdong Mountain… The bones represent a natural accumulation of mostly large mammals (>30 kg), which had fallen accidentally into the sinkhole.
The authors illustrate this accidental falling through the medium of cartoon, providing 7 beautifully illustrated panels. I reproduce the panels separately below; the full diagram is a lot to take in all at once.
The diagram starts out by setting the scene for you. Note the depth gauge.
Panel 1 depicts this lovely Panda having the time of its life in some yummy, dense bamboo. But oh no! Look out Mr. Panda!
Panels 2 and 3 show our poor Panda falling to its untimely death. I can’t help but wonder, what was it thinking as it fell?
In panel 4, nature takes its gruesome course…
…and in panels 5 & 6 our cute, cuddly, and very much dead panda reaches its final resting place.
Let’s just let that sink in for a moment…
Speaking not at all from personal experience, I can picture the following study being conceived in a smokey lounge in the shoddy digs of some second year physics students. “Like, dude, imagine if there was a bit less gravity on Earth, and we could walk on water, and stuff”… Also this. And so it is that a group of Italian researchers, set up a study to figure out how much gravity needs to be relaxed before humans can walk on water, a feat ordinarily “precluded by body size and proportions, lack of appropriate appendages, and limited muscle power.” These researchers had access to some serious kit, because not only did they “use a hydrodynamic model to predict the gravity levels at which humans should be able to run on water”, they also tested the model using a reduced gravity simulator, like so.
they used had been expounded to explain how the rather awesome Basilik Lizard runs on water:
The results showed that a hydrodynamic model of lizards running on water can also be applied to humans, despite the enormous difference in body size and morphology.
Good to know.
A great number of published papers seems to evidence boredom and/or illicit substance use in the academe. This should come as no surprise. Academia can be tedious: hours spent in front of a computer screen/in the lab, endless bureaucracy, and a never-ending teaching schedule could all contribute to a general sense of boredom and/or a drive to beat it with mind-altering chemicals beyond the standard caffeine and alcohol. Indeed, the famous Penguin diagrams in physics resulted from a combination of beer, bravado and recreational drugs.
So, are these academics bored or high? You decide!
#1: String theory
No no, not the string theory, but a theory, about string. Actual string. A couple of academics put some string in a box and shook it up to see how it knots. Why, exactly? Well, because while
it is well known that a jostled string tends to become knotted… the factors governing the “spontaneous” formation of various knots are unclear.
They found that “complex knots often form within seconds”. Like this:
String, getting knotted
The researchers then analyzed the knots using mathematical knot theory.
Mathematical Knot Theory
The full paper, ‘Spontaneous knotting of an agitated string’ can be downloaded here.