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10 Mind-Blowing Discoveries This Week

Some good news: cows get to drink wine and we're close to eradicating some horrific diseases.

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And neither the report from Stirling nor Alasdair Wilkins’s io9 story  told us what we all want to know: what are the gestures for sex? Do they eat bananas really slowly while staring one another in the eye?


Interestingly, a couple of years ago NatGeo reported that mandrills in a British zoo developed a gesture that looks like it means “Everybody, piss off,” but which NatGeo politely describes as a “Do not disturb” sign. After you see it you won’t be able to help counting how many times you do it in a day. 

10. You and the oobleck

There are some days when we all feel like those mandrills, when we just want to get away from everybody, and if we had too, we would walk across water to do it. And actually, it wouldn’t be that hard if the water had a little corn starch in it. 

This week, Bioscholar reports , researchers at the University of Chicago have figured out the problem of why it is that water with cornstarch, known as oobleck, behaves the way it does, including allowing adult humans to walk across without sinking if they do so quickly. 

If oobleck sounds familiar it’s because of the Dr. Seuss book Bartholemew and the Oobleck in which mystic magicians make a new, gooey substance fall from the sky. And oobleck is pretty gooey because it’s a non-Newtonian liquid that sometimes acts like a solid and can become either more resistant and tougher (like cream, when you whip it into whipped cream) or more liquid-y (like ketchup, when you bang the bottle to get it out) as pressure is applied to it. In the case of oobleck -- and the researchers suspected in other suspensions (“liquids laden with micron-sized particles") -- it becomes resistant enough that it holds people up, but for a long time no one knew why.

The Chicago researchers found that as pressure is applied to the suspension it builds up a mass in the suspension -- Scott Waitukaitis says it works like a snow plow: push a shovel into loose snow and a mass of snow “grows out in front of the shovel which makes it harder for me to push.” D riving a rod into the corn starch “ initiated a shock-like, moving front that starts directly beneath the impacting object and then grows downward, transforming the initially liquid suspension into a temporarily jammed state.

“As the front of this jammed region moves forward, it transforms the liquid region directly ahead of it.”

So it “grows its own solid as it propagates,” researcher Heinrich Jaegger said.

And I’m thrilled to report that once again the only reason I knew jack about non-Newtonian liquids is because QI took the time to explain why Jesus could, indeed, have walked on custard . British TV. Is there nothing it can’t do?

BONUS: Last month we talked about Paul Gaylord, who contracted the black plague after getting bitten by a stray cat who was choking on a mouse Gaylord tried to take away, as the AP via Newser reports . Gaylord is out of intensive care and if you click the link you can see a picture (warning: it’s pretty gruesome): “One look at Paul Gaylord's hands shows why the plague is referred to as Black Death," the AP says. Doctors hope to be able to save part of his fingers. 

So in addition to guinea worms, you probably don’t have the plague. Go now and think of how bad things aren’t. 

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