3M&M's Solved a 400-Year-Old Physics Problem
Princeton professor Paul Chaikin has solved a problem that troubled physicists for hundreds of years, and he did it in the most delicious way possible. It all started when his students, either huge fans of the guy or really, really terrible at pranks, sneaked a 55-gallon drum of M&M's into his office.
Years passed, and the drum of candy stayed mostly intact, because it takes a truly epic amount of weed to cash 55 gallons of chocolate. Then one day Chaikin decided to use the M&M's as a class prop to talk about packing density. Let's say you want to fill a suitcase with as many eight balls of cocaine as possible. Assuming the balls are perfectly spherical (we ... don't know much about hard drugs. Can you tell?), science says that the absolute maximum you'll be able to fill is 74.048 percent of the suitcase. However, that's only if you take the time to arrange them in a perfect pattern -- if you randomly throw the drug-balls in there because the cops are coming and you don't have time to juggle(?) them up your nose, the maximum density is always 64 percent. This has been determined through centuries of careful mathematical study by awesomely bearded people.
"Now let's figure out how to fit the other 36 percent into your anus."
It's always been assumed that perfectly spherical balls are the most effective shape for packing stuff. However, when Chaikin asked a student to measure the density of some M&M's randomly packed into a jar, he was shocked to find out that it was 68 percent -- way more than the 64 percent maximum thought possible in that situation. This means that not only is there a more effective shape for random packing than balls, but that shape ("oblate spheroids") happens to be the exact one of regular M&M's.
Amy Loves Yah CC-BY-2.0
Melts in your pre-existing understanding of physics, not in your hand.
But this discovery was only the thin sugary crust leading to an even more delicious scientific breakthrough. When Chaikin did tests with the ellipsoid -- a different M&M's-inspired shape -- it resulted in a randomly packed density of over 74 percent. Nobody had ever achieved that before, nor even really considered it possible.
This discovery could help us create better aerospace materials made out of tiny super-packed particles, make further advances in nanotechnology, or simply ship stuff at lower costs. Meanwhile, the Mars Company just nodded along, pretended to understand what this was about, and sent Chaikin a further 125 pounds of M&M's. Maybe he'll use them to create a warp drive or something.
2Velveteen from a Fabric Store Led to Today's DNA Technology
Esther Lederberg, a gifted macrobiologist, was married to a fellow genetics researcher by the name of Joshua Lederberg. The partnership worked out great: She did the work and he got the credit, because of her lack of cock and his lack of balls. One day during a car ride, the two got into a discussion about that classic marriage hot-button issue: whether bacteria gains antibiotic resistance through genetic mutation. To even start to prove it, they'd need to make exact copies of entire bacterial populations, but unfortunately bacteria aren't something you can just Xerox at the office.
It's a fight as old as marriage itself.
Luckily, Esther thought she had a pretty clever solution. Just how did this amazing female pioneer of genetics, a rare bun in the sausage party that was 1950s-era science, prove once and for all that women were more than home-ec-taking, sewing machine-bound fashionistas? Why, she went to a store and bought some fabric, of course.
Esther bought velveteen, not to make a snuggly throw pillow, but because she realized that the simple act of pressing velveteen on a plate with bacteria turned the fabric into a bacteria-inoculating printing press. Then it's just a matter of pressing the velveteen on more plates to create replicas, and experiment away. Here's a tutorial on YouTube, because scientists are still doing this 60 years later.
Meaning by this point Joann's Fabrics has probably been cited in more academic journals than Stephen Hawking.
Replica plating transformed and even enabled multiple fields of science, like molecular biology, microbiology, and genetic engineering. So, Esther Lederberg of course got a Nobel Prize for this amazing science-transforming discovery, right? Nope. But don't worry: Her husband did. Oh, but still don't worry! He shared it.
With two other dudes.
Esther wasn't even mentioned. Believe it or not, they got divorced a few years later.