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May 9, 2011 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

How Science Can Help The Average Alex: Five Things We’ve Learned as Science Majors

Do you remember that guy back in your high school science class who used to ask questions every five minutes?

Yeah, you know the guy I’m talking about—the guy who used to ask “Why are we learning this, miss?” You might even agree with him. Well, I’mma let you finish, but science is one of the most practical courses of all time! That’s right—among all the boring lecturers, massive textbooks and never-ending labs, there’s wisdom that can benefit even the average Alex.

So, in no particular order, here are our top five things we’ve learned as science majors:

1. Why chopping raw onion makes you cry, whereas chopping cooked onion does not.

The greatest obstacle between a hungry student and dinner: chopping an onion. Not only does it create a horrible burning sensation in your eyes, but the subsequent tears make the whole world think you’re an emotional wreck. Of course, you could always wear a pair of sunglasses (Kirkcaldie and Stains’ kitchen department even stock specialist ‘onion goggles’), but we wouldn’t recommend it.

Science provides an answer. When you cut an onion, you break cells, releasing their contents. Sulfenic acids in the cell are now able to mix with enzymes to make a volitile sulfur compound which mixes with the tears in your eyes to make sulfuric acid. If you were paying attention in Level 2 Chemistry, you’d know that sulfuric acid can burn like hell.

Consequently, the best way to stop onion burning your eyes is to freeze it or cut it over a flame. This will cause the enzymes in the cell to lose their function, as enzymes don’t usually function at extreme temperatures, meaning that the sulfuric acid won’t form. Another trick is to use a very sharp knife, as it causes fewer cells to burst.

2. You get drunk faster in an unfamiliar environment.

This one comes from the Psychology department. Being in an unfamiliar environment affects your brain, therefore lowering your tolerance to drugs.
This has been known to cause heroin overdoses. A drug addict builds up an extreme level of tolerance to heroin over time, but a major study found that a number of heroin overdoses were from a similar or lower amount to their tolerance level. So, what gives? The biggest similarity between all these cases was that the heroin was taken at a place different to their usual drug-taking spot. The result? A lowered tolerance level, and thus an overdose.
The same applies to any drug, including alcohol.

3. How to turn lead into gold, but still be poor.

Alchemy is the process of trying to turn elements of the periodic table (e.g. oxygen, calcium, lead, gold, etc.) into other elements by adding or removing protons. Protons, if you weren’t listening in Year 10 and 11 Science, are mini-particles that reside in atoms, which make up all matter—even the page you are currently holding. In the past, alchemists attempted to find a compound that could add or eliminate protons to turn substances into gold. They nicknamed this substance ‘the Philosopher’s Stone’, which would also give eternal life. Yes, the real world can be a bit like Harry Potter. However, unlike in Harry Potter, no one was able to find the philosopher’s stone.

Fortunately, Physics came to the rescue. Using modern physics techniques, scientists were able to convert one element into another by way of ‘Nuclear Transmutation’. This means that you, dear reader, can create gold at home! All you need to do is:

1. Steal a particle accelerator or a nuclear reactor. Easy enough, right?
2. Fire it up
3. Don’t die, or cause Armageddon
4. Chuck in an element such as lead
5. See what happens
6. Presto—you have gold!

Unfortunately, you’d only get out the amount of gold particles that you put in, which wouldn’t be much at all. Furthermore, the cost of running a particle accelerator or a nuclear reactor is huge. Thus, the cost of turning lead into gold would totally outweigh the costs of getting the equipment to do it, and you’d actually be left poorer than before. In fact, noted Victoria University physics scholar F Barber described the idea as “completely retarded”.

4. If movies were actually based on real science, we’d be creeped out.

Take Finding Nemo. Touching movie. Disney classic. Made some of you readers cry. Yet, if you knew the real science behind the movie, it would make you sick.

You see, clown fish show sequential hermaphro-ditism. A sequential hermaphrodite is an organism with both male and female sex organs that mature at different times—thus an animal can be born male and change into a female, and vice versa.

Therefore, this means that if real science were applied to Finding Nemo, when Nemo’s family was killed, his dad would have changed into a female, then mated with Nemo.

Horrifying stuff.

There’s even a Facebook group entitled ‘I Cried When My Professor Told Me That Nemo Was A Sequential Hermaphrodite’. If the fundamentalist conservatives found this out, Finding Nemo would probably be banned. So, shh.

The final thing we learned as science majors is an important truth. One that has served us the whole of our science degrees. One that our professors have used to further their distinguished careers. One that could change your life:

5. It’s really easy to make it seem like you know what you’re doing if you use complex words.

This one is us science majors’ secret weapon. Have you ever asked a science student a question and heard them answer back in another language? Yeah, chances are that they actually didn’t know the right answer; they were just bluffing. It’s a chief tactic of science professors: ask a question that they don’t have any idea about, and bingo, they’ll start using big words. People assume it’s too complex for them to understand and move on.

Science has even used this to pull a few pranks. The best example of this was the ‘Dihydrogen Monoxide’ hoax, where mass campaigns were held to ‘educate’ the public about the ‘negative’ effects DHMO had on humans. This lead to widespread fear and calls for DHMO to be banned. That is, until people realised that DHMO was actually water.

Scientists: 1, General Public: 0

Another psychology experiment proved what is now known as the ‘Dr. Fox effect’. Actor Michael Fox (no relation to Michael J Fox) pretended to be a ‘Dr Myron L. Fox’ and delivered a lecture to various professional experts and professionals, including medical scientists and psychologists. The lecture was impressively titled ‘Mathematical Game Theory as Applied to Physician Education’, but it had no real substance. He used lots of big words, and everyone bought it: the ‘experts’ praised his excellent research, even though even Mr Fox didn’t know what Game Theory was.

So, next time one of your science major friends is rambling on and using big words, just tell them to tell you straight. That’ll shut ’em up.

If you want to find out more about these topics, or get involved with the Science Society, email!


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  1. Nick says:

    Another trick with onions: drink a mouthful of water, hold it in your mouth, then cut up an onion. No more tears. Explain that one, scientists.

  2. Science-man says:

    Never heard of that one before, Nick! Would be interesting to see if it works though! There’s probably no reason why it works, except it’s likely to be a Placebo. Search ‘the Placebo effect’ on Google. It’s very powerful, ala ‘faith’ healings.

  3. Alphonso says:

    haha, psychology in the science section, lol. Whats next, anth in the science section

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