Enter e-mail address to receive popsci weekly updates to your inbox.
The Breakdown: Chugging Water at Record Speed
Talk about thirsty. The water-gulping feat in the trick shown here doesn't quite demonstrate Kobayashi-level skill, but it's still a shock to watch. In a tremendously un-scientific test, we determined that it would normally take about 12 seconds for the water to empty out of a similarly-sized bottle held upside down. This drinking champion does it in under five.
The plastic bottle is critical. If he were just holding it upside down, gravity would be doing most of the work, and that's just not fast enough. Instead, he squeezes the plastic bottle, forcing half the water out. Next, he wisely pauses for a moment there in the middle of his chug, allowing air to creep up through the water and into the space between the new, lower water level and the interior bottom of the bottle. Without that, the pressure exerted would be too great - he wouldn't have been able to overcome it and suck down that last bit of water. So he lets the air flow up, lets the bottle expand and regain its normal, uncompressed state, and then crushes it again, forcing that final enormous gulp down his throat. A champion indeed.—Gregory Mone
Please, please, please don't try this at home. In this clip, a Lithuanian brother-sister team, both illusionists, goes for a few breath-holding records—the significant one appears to be thirteen minutes and 42 seconds at the start. To hold your breath for a long time, you need to slow your heartbeat significantly. If your heart's not working as hard, then it's not going to burn up the limited supply of oxygen in your blood as quickly. In the same way, the less you do while holding your breath, the better. Eventually, when things start getting ugly, the heart stops sending as much oxygen to the extremities, and focuses on keeping the vital organs stocked with blood. Obviously this pair is keeping these points in mind: You can see that the twins are completely relaxed, their faces not even moving, throughout most of the video.
And the chains? Sorry, can't make sense of those. In the end, the brother appears to hold his breath for more than 15 minutes, and the sister stays under for just a few minutes less. Apparently the pair inhaled pure oxygen before the start, which disqualifies them from the official free-diving record, but surely someone's got to recognize the feat. Then again, who knows what really went on. They are, after all, illusionists.—Gregory Mone
Classic Newsreel: 20,000 Pounds of Sodium Exploding in a Lake
This video combines two fantastic things: the old reliable chem-lab trick of throwing sodium into water to watch it explode, and American newsreels from the 1940s and '50s. Here, though, we're not just talking about your standard vial-sized nugget, but 20,000 pounds of war-surplus sodium in massive 3,500-pound barrels.
Although the "let's just throw it into the lake" disposal method is usually cause for environmental alarm (as the end of the video illustrates), here, the resulting NaOH (lye) from the reaction probably wouldn't phase the pH of the already-fishless alkali lake to any significant degree. So sit back, free of disgust, and enjoy the action as, and I quote the old-timey newsreel announcer, "a once-lethal war chemical becomes a peacetime pyrotechnic display." —John Mahoney
Look, I'll be honest. Sitting down with a hyper-intelligent scientist and discussing his or her work for a few hours isn't always the most socially comfortable situation. Fascinating? Absolutely. But there can be quite a few awkward silences as well.
Astrophysicist Gaspar Bakos, one of this year's Brilliant Ten, eased my pre-interview jitters right away when he suggested we leave his tiny office in Harvard's Center for Astrophysics and head up to the roof. Up there, standing around the corner from what was one of the world's great observatories a century ago, he proceeded to clearly and comfortably explain the intricacies of his technique for hunting down extrasolar planets. So I went back with a camcorder, to capture him using his water bottle as a stand-in for a planet, a star and even a telephoto lens. Enjoy. —Gregory Mone
The physicist Richard Feynman turned out some fantastic and inspiring popular writing. (Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman is a personal favorite.) But there's nothing like watching and listening to the great scientist as he thinks out loud.
YouTube has a great collection of Feynman clips, including this one on uncertainty. An excerpt: "I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I'm not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here . . . I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell, possibly. It doesn't frighten me."
That's one of the most original minds of the 20th century talking.—Gregory Mone
Robots are very good at doing the same thing over and over again, with ridiculous precision. They don't get bored and, as long as you keep the power on, they don't get tired, either. Still, it's pretty startling to watch the industrial arm in this clip toss in mid-range jump shots with such ease.
The arm, manufactured by a company called ABB and normally used on auto assembly lines, has been touring the country's science museums for more than ten years. Modified and programmed by a group at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, PA, the robotic arm scoops up each basketball with two long metal rods, or tines. Then it executes one of a few pre-programmed motions—a scoop shot, a hook and a standard jumper—rolling the ball off those artificial fingers and tossing it skillfully through the rim.
But Tom Flaherty, the Director of Exhibits, Facilities and Operations at the Carnegie Center, spearheaded the development, says the robot isn't 100 percent accurate. Not because of a mechanical or software glitch. The robot runs through the same steps with each shot, but the ball itself can change. The robot is programmed to sink shots using a ball with certain specifications. If one of the balls is deflated slightly, its flight pattern might be different, and it might not slip through the net. Which really doesn't seem all that different than those NBA players complaining about the league's new basketballs at the start of last season.
Apparently all good shooters, men or machines, are picky.—Gregory Mone
Who hasn't looked for the silver lining of this whole climate change fiasco? (Spring-like Januarys! Lucrative shipping passages! More cod in Greenland!) And now that always-optimistic bunch, surfers, are turning Alaska's crumbling glaciers from a frightening harbinger into the setting for perhaps the greatest extreme sport ever invented. Last week champion surfers Garrett McNamara and Kealii Mamala made history by being the first people to ride a glacial wave. After camping for weeks (and spending hours at a time bobbing in the frigid water), they caught the wave made by a 400-feet chunk of Child's Glacier crashing down and rode it for about a minute.
Garrett's conclusion? "I wouldn't recommend it for anyone. I won't be going back. This is not a new sport." Fun!—Abby Seiff
Back in July of 2003 we published "The Flight of the Bird Men," a story with the tag line "For Jari Kuosma and Robert Pecnik, skydiving wasn't enough—they wanted to strap on wings and fly. So what if 96 percent of their predecessors had died in the attempt?" After seeing this video, I can't believe it's only 96 percent:
On Friday, we dispatched our crack team of videographers to witness the iPhone madness at the Manhattan Apple flagship store on 5th Avenue, the Soho Apple store, and several AT&T stores. They made a little documentary so we could relive the launch of the decade's most overhyped gadget again and again, forever. And it's funny stuff: Don't miss the slow-mo jog to glory as the first iPhone recipient enters the hallowed glass cube... and the receiving line of congratulatory Apple employees on his way out is also a sight to behold.
We've got three iPhones circulating around the office today, and, well, frankly everyone's a little bored with them. Has anyone started working on a hack to make these things run third party software? Tell us in the comments: PPX traders are dying to know. —Megan Miller
This month, a new kind of "zoo" debuts in Alverca, Portugal: the world's first robot habitat. The Robotarium X, designed by robotics artist Leonel Moura, is a steel-and-glass structure that houses 45 robots representing 14 different "species" with unique behaviors and body types. Some, like the Araneax and Zoid 'bots, are insect-like and creepy. Some resemble snails or land-dwelling coral and others are fanciful moving pods that, well, don't look like anything on earth. The experience of visiting the zoo is meant to be a commentary on the human act of capturing and watching other life forms, and on the way living creatures interact with one another. For instance, if you put 14 different species in one enclosure at the Bronx Zoo, you'd probably have an interesting show, indeed (King of the Cage, anyone?). But as Moura charmingly says on his Web site, at the Robotarium, "there are no fights or aggression... the only competition is to assure a place under the sunlight." Not going to be in Portugal anytime soon? Watch the video below. —Megan Miller