Posts Tagged humour

slugs, and snails, and … facials? Alison Campbell Apr 26

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Today's Life/Style section in the Herald on Sunday brings us the latest 'beauty trend' to hit our shores: the snail facial.

Yes, you read that correctly. Apparently one can (if one has a sufficiency of funds) already purchase Snail Soap, which contains "snail slime, virgin olive oil, honey and extracts from medicinal plants". The slime component supposedly helps 'beat' wrinkles (what's wrong with a bit of character?) & reduces scarring. We're told that "No one has come back and said it is rubbish or doesn't work," but then, it might be a tad embarassing to have to 'fess up to spending $25/bar on soap that didn't meet one's expectations.

Apparently the next contribution gastropods have to make to our outer beauty is the snail facial: snails crawl about over your face, leaving their silvery mucus trails behind them. This probably does leave your face feeling a bit tighter, when the trails dry. But saying that "snail facials are believed to be very good" may well be an example of wishful thinking, especially in the absence of supporting data.

Snail slime does contain lectins, which are a class of glycoprotein; the amount & type of this substance vary with the species of snail. (Many years ago now, my Significant Other used to go out collecting them on dewy mornings, so that the lectin could be extracted and analysed.) It also contains other proteins such as collagen & elastin, which probably comes in helpful for the slug species that indulge in balletic aerial s*x at the end of a mucous bungee cord. But as far as I can see the claims that smearing one's face with this slimy mix will encourage skin cells to make more of these proteins lack support. And indeed, quite why putting protein molecules (which are highly unlikely to be absorbed through your skin) on the dead outer surface of your skin would encourage the cells beneath to spring into activity, is not immediately clear.

Lectins are 'sticky' molecules produced by plants (& algae), animals, fungi & prokaryotes, and are involved in communication between cells, defence against pathogens, fertiliation, metastasis of tumours, and appear to generate an inflammatory response (something that's picked up on by various '' sites such as Those from snail slime may have anti-microbial activity, but in absence of actual infection that would not be a burning reason to use it on one's face. And indeed, I think there's need for caution in their use, as it seems that bacteria such as E.coli can survive for quite some time in snail faeces: I'd certainly want to be sure that the snails had been kept long enough to evacuate their bowels prior to crawling over my skin!

NB It was good to see a skeptical comment from a dermatologist, at the end of the Herald article – but more as an afterthought than an an attempt at investigative journalism :(

PS And 'thank you!' to my friends in the Skeptics for riffing on this in the first place :)

EDIT: one Smut Clyde has since expanded on this very subject. He notes that one can search in vain for the chemical known as "Helix Asperia Muller" – and this is not surprising, as the phrase is actually a typo (?) for the old taxonomic name of the actual garden snail, Helix aspersa (Muller), Muller being the chap who first described it. The species has now apparently been reclassified as Cornu aspersum. I didn't know that.


the sonorous war cry of a very angry frog Alison Campbell Mar 23

No Comments’ve always liked frogs. I remember, when I was probably around 4 years old, being fascinated by the tadpoles that Dad brought home in a big jar from a farm pond. Mum explained about how they’d gradually metamorphose (thought I doubt she used that word!) & we watched their legs slowly grow & their tails disappear as they swam around in an old tub, until the point where they became frogs. Frogs are amphibians, along with newts & mud-puppies & axolotls and the legless caecilians (which look like a cross between an eel and an earthworm). As a group, frogs are much younger – in geological terms – than the others: most fossil frogs date back only about 50 million years, although the earliest-known frog-like creature, Triadobatrachus, lived about 250 mya in the early Triassic. Like almost all terrestrial amphibians, adult frogs use not only lungs for gas exchange, but also their skin and the membranous lining of their mouths. (Lungless salamanders are an exception – as the name suggests, they must rely on their skin alone, which is very convenient for those researching amphibian gas exchange.) This reliance on transcutaneous respiration has meant that amphibians are very susceptible to harm due to to chytrid fungus infection, which severely damages the skin and markedly reduces the animals’ ability to exchange O2 & CO2 with the atmosphere. In addition, using your skin as a gas exchange surface means that you have to keep it moist. This means that we’d expect to find frogs only in environments that are humid and damp year-round, & in general that’s the case. But there are always exceptions. and the desert rain frog is one of them. Breviceps macrops lives in one of the most inhospitable environments there is, a dry coastal strip of land in Namibia & South Africa. Hardly a place for a frog! It spends most of its time in burrows dug deep enough to reach into moist sand, but comes out at night when the air is cooler & more humid. While there’s very little actual rain, moisture-bearing sea fogs roll in from the ocean on at least 100 nights each year, bringing some water to the habitat as the fogs condense onto dunes & vegetation – enough to allow these little amphibians to survive. (There’s no actual tadpole stage in their life cycle; little froglets develop directly from eggs in the burrows.) And like other amphibians, they vocalise to advertise their presence. I hesitate to say the sound is a croak. In fact, it drove my dog to distraction when I played the following clip. I give you – ‘the sonorous war cry of a very angry frog‘.

music to learn by Alison Campbell Mar 19

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This was first posted over on Talking Teaching.

I’m always looking for interesting ideas that might spark student engagement. A couple of days ago this rap video popped up on the ScienceAlert FB page:

As you can see, it’s a fun post with a serious message & – I think – an excellent piece of science communication.

Anyway, then this happened:

BIOL102 chat re rap on FB

I’m really hoping that we can make this happen. It would be an excellent way to enhance interactions between undergraduate and grad students, and also with academics if they would like to be involved (& I’d hope at least some would!) It would give the grad students (& staff) an opportunity to communicate with a wider audience about the nature & significance of their work, and the undergrads who take part would gain some of the capabilities that they need in the world beyond university.

Here’s hoping!

it’s amazing what you find in the spam folder Alison Campbell Mar 11

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I’ve just spent an entertaining 10 minutes or so clearing out my spam folder. I don’t go there often, but a student had asked why I hadn’t answered their email & since I hadn’t actually received one in the in-box, I thought I’d best check spam. (And there it was. General hint to students: really idiosyncratic email addresses will land you in spam, from time to time. Also, they can look a bit unprofessional on a CV.)

Apart from the amazing offers of money (if I’d only send a little money – a 419 scam – or alternatively my bank account details, plus PIN, I could be a millionaire! And retire to travel the world!!!), and people trying to sell me pipes and ball bearings, there seem to be an awful lot of people who are starved of social interactions and, dare I say it, romance? How else to explain the pitiful cries of Olga and Anna, who are ‘nice girls’ from Russia, just wanting a little companionship? They seem (from the subject lines of their emails) to be quite hurt that I haven’t responded to their earlier pleas for the chance to get to know me better.

But it’s slightly creepy to see so many people with such an interest in the quality of my love life!

And to those who asked (so many of you!) if I am the caring, tender gentleman of their dreams – ladies (if ladies you are), how wrong you are!

But more seriously, the sad thing is that someone, somewhere, will be responding to these scammers, and probably losing money – and equally worrying, potentially becoming subject to identity theft as well. A good rule of thumb here is, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! The next time you get one of these emails, check what has to say on the subject, or visit the 419Eater archive.

But don’t send money, your bank details, your photo. Because you won’t find love, or money. You’ll just make some nasty unscrupulous people even better off than they already are.

true facts about owls Alison Campbell Feb 18


A lot of my friends seem to like owls, if their tendency to post photos of adorable fluffy feathered faces on Facebook is anything to go by. I rather like them too; we live close to a gully & it’s lovely hearing the moreporks calling at night. Once or twice one has sat in a tree just outside our window – very special!

Of course, behind the beauty lies a fierce, predatory nature, and that is well captured (in a most humorous way) in this video from the wonderful ‘True Facts’ series:

I do not remember reading any fairy tales involving the ripping off of small persons’ faces by an owl. I’m sure he just made that bit up!

cows and physics and urban myths Alison Campbell Dec 15

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In which we encounter – cow-tipping!

This is apparently the focus of both myth & mirth in the US: the idea that cows, asleep on their feet, are regularly tipped over by tipsy youths. Now, apart from the inconvenient little fact that cows tend to sleep lying down & thus are supremely untippable at that point in their daily rhythm, our bovine friends are large and solid and (with a leg at each corner) well-balanced. Nor do I imagine that Daisy would take kindly to a shoulder charge from an inebriated young man.

And indeed, at ModernFarmer, Jake Swearingen dissects this myth & imparts a little physics with along with the humour & the facts. It turns out that back in 2005 a couple of researchers ran the numbers & decided it would be impossible for a single person to overturn poor Daisy, but that two or more tippers could – theoretically – knock her off her feet. Provided that she did not see them coming, or negate their efforts by shifting her weight, that is.

And I loved one of the comments on the Atlantic’s coverage of this story:

Lillie and Boechler are clearly unfamiliar with the conventions of this sort of work. As every mathematician or physicist ought to know, thought-experiment cows are universally spherical. And spherical cows are easily tipped, it’s just that nobody can tell the difference. Now, if you’ve got enough drunken frat boys for a full-on game of Sleeping Cow Billiards…

Spoilsports may object that real cows aren’t spherical. Neither are they rigid bodies, as is implicitly required by the Lillie-Boechler analysis. Each leg is hinged in two places, and depending on the resistance and range of motion of the joints, cow tipping could on purely physical grounds range from trivially easy to nigh impossible. If someone wants to instrument a live, sleeping cow and measure the muscular response to lateral disturbances, I’ll wait. Someplace far away.

I’m sure you could factor this into a physics class somewhere, Marcus!

some seasonal fun (with the spice of science) Alison Campbell Dec 03

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When I was a kid – & we’re talking a looong time ago now! – we had a gorgeous Advent calendar that was designed to look like a renaissance-era painting. At least, that’s how I remember it. And there was certainly none of this new-fangled stuff involving chocolate behind the little doors!

But Advent calendars have come a long way since then, & now you can view them on-line. And thus it was that, after an enjoyable sojourn on the animated happiness of the Wellington city version, behold! I came at last to the 2014 Chemistry Advent Calendar. And I found it to be good, and learned about carotoxin (&, by trotting off down one of the internet’s distracting sidepaths, about liquorice rot. Which affects carrots, not liquorice). However, unlike the traditonal version, you can’t cheat by secretly prying open a ‘future’ door to see what’s concealed within – you’ll just have to go back every day :)

zombies & lego – great combination! Alison Campbell Dec 02

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Actually, that’s a bit of a fib as the zombies & the lego don’t actually meet in these videos :) But both have a science focus.

Lego is the focus of a clip called ‘Building Curiosity’, which is something of an ode to science; I rather enjoyed it.

And the zombies? Well, you’re likely to encounter the animated undead on a place like the Discworld, where they tend to have an issue with bits falling off at inopportune moments. But the flesh-eating urge? Just might be possible…


the amazingness of lyrebird vocalisations Alison Campbell Nov 12

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This is one impressive lyrebird – laser guns and kookaburras! (Not quite at the same time.) I found him on a ScienceAlert page, which has more info and also links to other videos of these vocally talented birds.

quirky science demonstrations Alison Campbell Oct 20

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A very brief post before I dive back into marking!

My friend Cathy pointed me at this short, fascinating video that shows some quirky chemistry & physics demonstrations (afficionados of Facebook will find it here). I had a couple of ‘wow!’ moments while watching it; science teachers will probably get the same response when sharing it with their classes.

Thanks, cathy :)

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