Technology is a wonder, forever refining effective, purpose-built devices for every occasion. But hey, never underestimate the power of inane crap lying around your house. Many everyday objects hold strange secrets that give them abilities far beyond what you'd expect. Just look at how ...
Superglue, along with its unfortunate troubled sibling Krazy Glue, is a wonderful invention, used for everything from gluing your fingers together to gluing all of your fingers together. Speaking of fingers, you may have heard how superglue has occasionally been used by enterprising criminals to obscure their fingerprints. It's not the smartest way to accomplish that, seeing as how gloves exist, but it's an option. And yet superglue can also be used the exact opposite way, helping forensic experts find prints that crooks leave behind.
The process is called cyanoacrylate fuming. That sounds like a grumpy blue cyborg who can't let his resentments go, but it's actually referring to the way fumes from superglue adhere to the moisture in fingerprints, making all the whorls and ridges show up like magic. It's standard operational procedure in crime labs everywhere, because it's both a handy piece of chemical engineering and an overwrought metaphor for how your crimes always stick to you.
There are drawbacks to the technique, and it's not the most effective in every circumstance (which is why there are even stranger protocols involving metallic manipulation and electricity-based light shows). But it's by far the most effective process ... for technicians who also enjoy watching their co-workers futilely try to pry pennies off the forensics lab floor.
Old car tires are an environmental blight. They're made up of rubber, oil, chemicals, and the spirit of human tragedy, so you can't really toss them in a landfill and wait for nature to take its course. While scientists have been trying to create greener tires and/or flying cars, Ethiopians awash in spare tires came up with a good solution for the meantime: Make shoes. They've been recycling tire rubber into footwear for decades. And before you say, "Screw that, I'm not wearing hobo tire shoes!" know that this is what they look like:
Vlad Karavaev/Adobe Stock
Looks aside, they're cheap, durable, and easy to make. And as Ethiopia's economy grows, entrepreneurs are taking the concept to more fashionable places. Bethlehem Alemu and her 45-employee company soleRebels added recycled cotton and fabric to the old style for a touch of high fashion ... on tire shoes. They sell online and have physical stores everywhere from Addis Ababa to Silicon Valley, because there's no great idea that California won't eventually make insufferable. Grab a pair for yourself before they become unhip!
In the 1940s, detectives weren't exactly crack investigators. Half the episodes of CSI: 1941 would have ended with two confused guys in fedoras and one murderer free to kill again. Improvements came with time, but how were the police supposed to train new and better investigators? Wait for a murder, then shove a bunch of rookies into an active crime scene? That's where Frances Lee, who's been dubbed the mother of forensic science (for her innovative contributions to the field, not her bitchin' cookies and tuck-ins), came into the picture.
Lee grew up with dreams of becoming a nurse or doctor, but her wealthy parents forbid her from going to college because, well, she was a girl. Born in 1878. As a somewhat bitter adult, Lee became interested in forensics, and a detective friend told her about his issues with crime scene contamination and poor police training. Rather than seizing the opportunity to commit the perfect crime, she used her sizable inheritance to establish the first professorship in legal medicine at Harvard University, as well as a library of legal medicine and the country's first forensic pathology program. Lee was well-regarded as an expert in the field she helped formalize, and even went a step further by creating dollhouses for students to train with, since most weren't allowed to take field trips to the local triple homicide.
Lee chose 20 of the most puzzling crimes she could find, then recreated them as obsessively detailed dollhouses. Spending $3,000-$4,500 of her own money per "Nutshell," she visited crime scenes and autopsies to ensure that everything was accurate, from blood splatter to corpse bloat to doors that could actually be locked with tiny adorable keys. She even built functional mousetraps the size of fingernails. It was then up to students to analyze the scene, consult experts, and solve the crime ... or determine if there really had been one at all.
In 1945, Lee began lecturing at Harvard, and her work helped turn forensic analysis into a far more effective science. Today her "Nutshells" live in Baltimore in a permanent archive, still active as teaching tools espousing the importance of observation, and almost certainly haunted by wee ghosts.
Generally speaking, giant hunks of metal dumped into the ocean are bad things. And yet everything from decommissioned ships to subway cars, old trucks, and even tanks are being sunk to the bottom of the sea -- not out of callous indifference or spite for Neptune and his pompous ways, but to give them a useful place to spend eternity. See, these metal shells provide hard, reliable surfaces for algae, coral, and invertebrate life to cling to. Then the fish that feed on those invertebrates are attracted to the area, and before you know it, you've got a whole thriving ecosystem based around a light rail car that drunk college students used to pee in.
What makes vehicles ideal are all the nooks and crannies they offer to shelter fish that would otherwise be hunted down and devoured in open waters. You've seen Finding Nemo, you know of this tragedy. Artificial reefs can therefore help restore the populations of struggling species. They're durable and offer great backgrounds for movies about the dramatic reunions of fish parents with their fish children.
These reefs are being created all along the Atlantic coast, although they are carefully planned and monitored, so don't get any ideas about helping the planet by driving your old Ford Fiesta into the ocean. No matter how badly you need the insurance money.
Alex Perry is a freelancer trying to get her novel about a time-traveling stalker and a heartwarming kid's tale about a boy and his genetically modified pig/organ donor published. Sometimes she tweets.
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