Solvay and the Catastrophe

Solvay Conference 1911

The 1911 Solvay conference attendees.
With an addition by our own Action Dan

1911 was an interesting time to be a physicist. At that time, as best as anyone could figure out, the foundations of our understanding of physics seemed to be cracking. Small, annoying little differences between what classical physics predicted and what actually happened began to get bigger and bigger, and could never be explained away. These little threads were unravelling the whole tapestry of physics that had been built up since Newton.

So maybe interesting isn’t a strong enough word.

Night of the Living Prions

Train Danger

Image from

Proteins are very useful things. They are the little helpers to your body’s Santa Claus. They do pretty much everything that needs doing in your cells. They are great little workers.

Right up until they go wrong.

And the thing is – we have no idea how they could possibly go wrong. How could the little helpers turn against Santa?

Dignified Kings

The answer to the question this magazine asks is: No.

So, the main character in the latest episode was working on a paper arguing that Triceratops was not a real species. This, to be very clear, is something we made up. Triceratops is fine. We can all breathe a sigh of relief, secure in the knowledge that we don’t have to learn a new name to answer that oft-repeated question “Which dinosaur is the best one?”

But another three-horned dinosaur might suffer another extinction, thanks to Triceratops.

Blood simple

You’re squared off against your foe. You’re usually a good shot, but the rain is coming down pretty heavily and besides, you need to do some long division in your head if you’re going to get that bomb defused in time. Not to mention you’re bleeding pretty bad from the gunshot wound your foe gave you moments before.

A shot rings out, and you both fall.

Luckily, you manage to drag yourself to the bomb and type in the code before you pass out from blood loss. You wake up in the hospital and the doc is about to give you a transfusion. You thank your lucky stars for Karl Landsteiner, because without him there was a good chance you wouldn’t survive the procedure.

Pythagoras has a posse

Let’s talk about Pythagoras for a moment, shall we? Everyone learns his theorem in school – the square of the hypotenuse is the sum of the squares of the other two sides. So if you take the length of one side of a right-angled triangle, and square it; then take the length of the next side, and square it; add up those two numbers and it will equal, as if by magic, the length of the hypotenuse (the long side of the triangle), squared.

Pythagorean Thorem

3 squared + 4 squared = 5 squared

It’s a beautiful thing.

And as any pulp novel will tell you, people kill for beautiful things all the time.