The science of Rudolf’s glowing nose!

By Siouxsie Wiles 24/12/2014 1


Rudolf by Latharion
Rudolf by Latharion

This festive season AUT University Prof’s Steve Pointing and Allan Blackman released a marvelous little video explaining the science behind some of the unanswered mysteries of Christmas. How does Santa get to all those houses unseen in one night? And how does he get down the chimney? I’ve been sent the video so many times as they also cover the science that could explain Rudolf’s red nose. Bioluminescence of course!

Except…. they get it a little bit wrong. So I talked to the fantastic Rebecca Watson from Skepchick and explained the real science behind Rudolf’s red nose. Enjoy!

PS Slight correction… while we are being pedantic, in the video I say that GFP is excited by UV light. This is true for wild-type GFP but there are also lots of variants now so it’s probably the case that the GFP-expressing animals are made with a modified GFP that is excited by blue light rather than UV.

PPS If you like Rebecca’s video, you can support her to make more on Patreon, and if you can think of other science stories you would like explaining like this then let us know!


One Response to “The science of Rudolf’s glowing nose!”

  • Hi Sioxsee, We liked your in depth explanation for bioluminescence with Skepchick, but we are concerned that you may have been suffering from insufficient Christmas Spirit – it was a bit strong to say that Allan and I were “wrong” in our video explanation for Rudolph’s glowing red nose, rather we presented a simplified explanation that at no point contained any factual inaccuracy. Our target audience was the non-scientist and so we explained in general terms how a reindeer’s nose might glow. Whilst we suggested this was due to bioluminescence we did not state other accessory mechanisms such as fluorescence were not involved. You incorrectly stated we identify the reindeer nose would have a green bioluminescence that was turned red by blood, but we merely identified that moss glows green and reindeer noses glow red in the region where Santa lives. We postulate that horizontal gene transfer, mutation and magical Christmas chemistry are quite plausible mechanisms that would allow a white or red light emitting bioluminescence to have evolved in the reindeer nose to make it appear red to observers. Your theory is a welcome addition to research in this field and we acknowledge that we may have to share our future Nobel Prize for reindeer nose research with you!