Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Science/2009 October 30

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October 30[edit]

Collar-size of the woolly mammoth[edit]

Ok, I want to put a 16th century ruff about the neck of a woolly mammoth. How large would it have to be? Here's the dimensions from the WP article: they were not noticably taller than present-day Asian elephants, though they were heavier. Fully grown mammoth bulls reached heights between 2.8 m (9.2 ft) and 4.0 m (13 ft); the dwarf varieties reached between 1.8 m (5.9 ft) and 2.3 m (7.5 ft). They could weigh up to 8 tonnes.

Thanks Adambrowne666 (talk) 00:57, 30 October 2009 (UTC)

Is there some wooly mammoth neck diameter-mass-height ratio algorithm you know exists, but just don't know what it might be? Maybe figure one out based on the present day Asian elephant and fudge it -- ruff oglers will never know! DRosenbach (Talk | Contribs) 01:49, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
If you have access to a woolly mammoth for the dressing in a ruff, why can't you just use that access to also go in ahead of time to take a measurement? Dismas|(talk) 04:53, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
What? And spoil the surprise? Bielle (talk) 05:13, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
I was cheered up no end by thinking about woolly mammoths wearing ruffs! Readro (talk) 10:22, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
You will need Photoshop. Cuddlyable3 (talk) 17:37, 30 October 2009 (UTC)

The mammoth can be any size. The collar will have to be tailored to fit anyway.Cuddlyable3 (talk) 14:45, 31 October 2009 (UTC)

There are some museums which have life-size reconstructions of mammoths. Since there are real mammoths recovered in various states of decomposition from glaciers, these are likely to be fairly accurate, if recently constructed. I seem to recall a couple of such reconstructions outside the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History in early 1990, but the museum moved to new premises later that year, possibly discarding the mammoths, and these reconstructions are probably too old to be of use anyway.

Knee injury test[edit]

I was watching a documentary on football injuries. When testing for knee injuries, they did all the tests that I am used to seeing. Then, they did one that I don't understand. The person being tested took about one step forward with one foot. Keeping the back leg straight and bending the front leg, the person would apparently just shift his weight forward. Is this a standard test for a specific type of knee injury? If so, what is being tested? -- kainaw 03:19, 30 October 2009 (UTC)

Don't know specifically what the test is for, but that was a common exercise during physical therapy after my knee surgery. I know I did a lot of stuff related to the patella and making sure its accessory tendons and such were working to keep it properly centered, but I'm not sure if that specific exercise was related. — Lomn 12:29, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
It may very well be rehab and not a test. I don't know why I didn't think of that. Thanks. -- kainaw 12:41, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
I'm not aware of this as a specific test. However the manoeuvre causes tension on the quadriceps muscle and the quadriceps tendon (and to a lesser degree on the posterior cruciate ligament). It could be used as a test of quad muscle/tendon integrity. Axl ¤ [Talk] 19:47, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
This is ringing a very faint bell for me. Slap a "citation needed" tag on this, but ISTR that they're looking at whether the patella shifts (left-right) as the leg moves. I've been looking through this rather impressive list of knee tests, but don't see what you're describing or what I'm remembering. Could be a place to look through, though. Matt Deres (talk) 23:58, 31 October 2009 (UTC)

Jumping on concrete versus sand[edit]

When we jump on concrete we get more hurt then when we jump on sand!can we explain this by third law of motion? My sir told me 2answer according 2the seceond law of motion but i answered it according 2the third law saying that since the particles of sand r very fine compared to that of concrete they r not able 2offer enough resultant force as concrete does.....so we feel more hurt?

Is it correct? —Preceding unsigned comment added by 86.96.128.10 (talk) 10:06, 30 October 2009 (UTC)

Would it be the fineness of the sand particles, or the fact that they absorb more energy in the form of being displaced rather than posing a resilient barrier to the force and returning an equal an opposite force. It's like punching balloon (filled with air) or a punching bag. It's not that the air particles are smaller than whatever particle size composes the contents of a punching bag -- it's that the air moves away much more readily, allowing for greater dissipation of the imposed punching force. Unfortunately, though, I' well unaware of laws -- perhaps you can figure out to which law such a common sense approach would apply or be applied under. DRosenbach (Talk | Contribs) 12:21, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
You don't need any of Newton's laws of motion to explain this, although the second is the most applicable. The pain you feel is a result of the acceleration you're subject to when you land. Concrete doesn't give on impact, thus, your acceleration to a stop is very high (because the time for the change in velocity is very short). Per Newton's second law, that's a large force. However, if you jump onto loose sand (note the qualifier), it will shift around impact. That distributes your acceleration over a longer period of time, thus lowering its magnitude and the resultant force you feel. Note that jumping onto hard packed sand would be little different from hitting concrete. In any event, the difference is in how much whatever you impact moves. Newton's laws explain the peripheral factors (why time matters, why you hitting an object is like an object hitting you) but the core reason has nothing to do with them. — Lomn 12:24, 30 October 2009 (UTC)


(ec)I think that's going into way more detail than is justified. Here is a simple explanation:
  • -- Newton's second law says that the force you feel (which is what hurts!) is the mass times the acceleration. The mass is your body mass - but what is the acceleration?
  • -- Equations of motion says that the final velocity squared (which is zero because you end up stationary) equals initial velocity squared (the speed you hit the ground squared) plus twice the acceleration you're going to feel - times (s-si)...which is the distance over which you slowed down.
So, we can simplify that second equation to:
where d is the distance over which you slowed down to a stop.
In other words - the force you feel when you hit the ground is your body mass times the square of the speed you hit the ground at divided by twice the stopping distance...and that's the key here. We all know that it hurts more to hit the ground while wearing a heavy backpack (because your mass is larger) and it hurts a lot more the faster you are falling - but what about that stopping distance? A large stopping distance reduces your acceleration compared to a short one. Since landing on solid, immovable concrete forces your feet to slow down in just the distance that the soles of your shoes & feet can be compressed - you only get (let's say) 5 millimeters of stopping distance. But if you land in soft sand, you slow down as the sand gets pushed out of the way. If you leave a 10cm deep footprint - then your stopping distance was 100mm - plus the 5mm for the compression of the soles of your feet and your shoes. That's 21 times more stopping distance in the soft sand. And that means 21 times less force applied to your feet - and considerably less pain!
Of course in reality, it's not just your feet. Hopefully you didn't land with your legs straight and knees locked! Presuming your knees were bent a little then the upper part of your body can slow down over the distance that your knees bend on impact. That softens the blow to your vital organs and brain considerably more than the soft sand does.
This same principle explains why cars are designed with 'crumple zones'. A totally stiff, rigid car would stop in almost zero distance if you drove it into a brick wall. But a well-designed car is designed to crush and crumple selected bits of metal - which allows the car to slow down over a greater distance - hence less acceleration and less force on the poor passengers. The airbag fulfills a similar purpose in giving your head more distance to slow down over than if it hit the steering wheel.
You can explain this in other ways - such as how the energy of the impact is absorbed - but this explanation actually boils down to more or less the same thing - and it's much easier to understand than trying to predict the cohesion of sand grains in loose sand versus sand locked within a matrix of cement.
SteveBaker (talk) 12:25, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
See also Jerk (physics). While your force and acceleration are the same in the two systems, the Jerk is the relevent value that changes, and that changes how damaging the force is. --Jayron32 12:29, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
I beg to differ. The momentum lost is the same in both systems but the acc(dec)elerations are different. Cuddlyable3 (talk) 15:32, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
But it's not the loss of momentum that hurts! You lose the same amount of momentum falling into a big soft pile of feathers as you do smacking into a block of concrete - but the results are most certainly not equivalent. SteveBaker (talk) 16:20, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
Very true. That is why airbags are made for cars, and cute little mini airbags are made for mini cars. Cuddlyable3 (talk) 17:32, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
This question is of great interest to people designing things likes sports and dance floors and playgrounds and there are various standards e.g. EN 14904 for sports floors. Basically we have evolved to have the equivalent of shock absorbers like in a car in our feet and joints. Ours seem to be tuned to running on grass or sand and not to jumping on rocks like goats. This is bad for us as modern streets and buildings typically have concrete pavements and concrete floors with a sheet of vinyl on top. Doing anything except walking on these is dangerous and they can be lethal for the elderly if they fall over. Dmcq (talk) 14:09, 30 October 2009 (UTC)

I'm amazed at the different ways responders formulate a "simple" answer, but not that SteveBaker works a car into the answer. It would only be Wikisensation if he treated a mechanical question without a car. Below is my explanation.
When you jump on concrete it is like the problem of what happens when an irresistable force meets an immovable object? The answer is that at the moment of contact one of them has to give way. Either the concrete has to shatter or (more likely) the foot meeting the concrete has to decelerate to a stop very quickly. Newton's 2nd Law Force = mass x acceleration shows that when acceleration has a large value (deceleration is just a negative acceleration) and mass is the mass of your foot, Force will be large enough to hurt your foot. The rest of your body also decelerates but if you were sensible and kept your knees bent a little, its deceleration is less and continues after the feet have stopped.
When you jump on sand the difference is not just that the sand has small particles, it is also that there is space or water between the particles, allowing them relative movement. Your foot hits the uppermost grains of sand but they cannot resist with as much force as the concrete. The grains are pushed downwards, impacting and rubbing against the layer of grains below. The top layer of grains is now effectively part of your foot and the friction below them is a small Force that gives a small deceleration. So your foot plus sand layer continues downwards a little slower. That impacts the next sand layer layer and so on, and your foot comes to a full stop only after having pushed some distance into the sand. That is a big difference from the near-instantaneous deceleration on concrete. Although the momentum (mass x velocity) that you lose is the same in both falls, in the fall on sand the Force of deceleration has been spread in time so its maximum value is less hurtful. Jump down on to a mattress and the deceleration is even less and the experience not hurtful at all. Cuddlyable3 (talk) 15:28, 30 October 2009 (UTC)

I have always wondered, since the law of conservation of energy is true, once your foot hits the concrete, where does the energy form acceleration go?Accdude92 (talk to me!) (sign) 15:31, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
Heat, sound (which soon dissipates into more heat) and breaking stuff (pulling apart the bonds between the atoms of the material). SteveBaker (talk) 16:17, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
To the OP, your Sir was right. In fact all 3 of Newton's Laws can be seen at work during the jumps. Energy is conserved but there is good work-producing energy and lazy good-for-nothing workshy energy. Before you jump down on anything, consider that your potential energy is a Non-renewable resource whose expenditure causes by the Second law of thermodynamics an increase in Entropy thereby hastening the Heat death of the universe.Cuddlyable3 (talk) 17:20, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
Interestingly enough the 5mm that SteveBaker used as a minimum is actually about the very minimum deformation a floor should have to avoid the main danger of an old person breaking their hip if they fall over. It's quite small. a full centimeter is much better but I think it shows the way our ancestors evolved to just about be safe on the plains in Africa without spending too much resource on over protection. Dmcq (talk) 23:09, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
Yeah, the Savannah Hypothesis is pretty much disproved these days, as much as such a thing can be. It's tempting to make up just-so stories to explain observations about humans, but we should be cautious: what's the minimum deformation a floor should have to avoid the main danger of an old chimp breaking their hip if they fall over? What about a cat? What about a kangaroo? Is there any reason to believe these are significantly different? 86.139.237.128 (talk) 00:13, 31 October 2009 (UTC)
We have evolved to run and walk whatever about what hypothesis or collection of them that is under. If we needed to jump around rocks like goats we'd have evolved much better shock absorbers in our legs and joints. Chimps don't have as much problem as us on the ground because they aren't as tall and their bones are far stronger than needed just for support. Humans however are built more for lightness and endurance than strength. Dmcq (talk) 16:26, 31 October 2009 (UTC)

The Verity Incident[edit]

What was the Verity incident? Theallwordslinkedtalkman (talk) 16:27, 30 October 2009 (UTC)

Googling the exact phrase "Verity incident" only turns up 10 hits, and they aren't all for the same event. And verity can mean a lot of different things. So it'd be hard to answer this question without the context in which the phrase was used. Red Act (talk) 16:49, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
It was an incident where a fugitive was arrested at gunpoint at a school, reported here and here. Cuddlyable3 (talk) 17:28, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
Do you by chance mean the Vela Incident? Googlemeister (talk) 18:22, 30 October 2009 (UTC)

If I were small enough could I observe an atom?[edit]

If I were as small as an atom could I watch its operation? Presuming there is a reality down there, would the atom be observable by a hypothetical supertiny person? Such a person could obviously not exist so this is a thought experiment. What would we see given the extreme speeds of the particles, their being point-like and I believe the particle’s speeds and position are undetermined until measured. Thanks for any thoughts (I suspect the question has no answer!) - Adrian Pingstone (talk) 18:47, 30 October 2009 (UTC)

The biggest problem is that the wavelength of light is larger than the atom, so you couldn't see anything, including yourself, if you were that small. Otherwise, it would be possible to observe the movement of nuclei, and probably observe how the electron "clouds" behave in bonds, individual atoms, ions, etc. but due to the speed of the electrons' movements, you would be unable to observe individual electrons. The Seeker 4 Talk 19:13, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
Indeed, the problem is not that you are too big. The problem is that the resolution of light is inadequate. See "Microscopy", "Optical microscope" and "Electron microscope". The limit of resolution with light is about 200 nanometres. Axl ¤ [Talk] 20:00, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
These arguments are somewhat vague, as there exists near-field optics; also see the pages on near and far field, near-field scanning optical microscope and Near Field Communication (unfortunately, most of the articles are not very good, but you can check from journals that the idea works). The usual diffraction limits are calculated using the wave optics approximation to the Maxwell theory, an approximation that breaks up in the near-field case. Now on the original question: what should the hypothetical person consist of? Seeing means interaction between photons and the person's eyes, and the eyes' sensitivity depends on their composition.  Pt (T) 20:31, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
One thing you could do is feel individual atoms, using the principles used by the atomic force microscope and the scanning tunneling microscope. Note that individual atoms are visible in the images in those articles. Red Act (talk) 20:45, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
Not only that but if you were really that small, brownian motion would beat the heck out of you! You'd better hope it's really cold! SteveBaker (talk) 22:16, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
I think it's actually the Heisenberg uncertainty principle more than anything else that limits the ability to observe an atom on a fine scale -- it says that the more precisely you know the position of an object, the less precisely you can know its velocity. This basically means that regardless of your size you can't know the fine details of an atom's motion. Looie496 (talk) 23:03, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
You can see as precisely as you want, but you have to choose beforehand, what exactly you are going to look at. You can measure the position of a photon exactly, but then you cannot know the momentum (p) of the same photon and, as E==pc, you neither know its frequency (its colour). Thus you have to choose at least one of bad spatial resolution and colorblindness. The same applies for any other pair of observables corresponding to noncommuting operators in quantum mechanics. However, if you decided to measure only colours, it would definitely be an interesting picture. At another time you may as well watch the spatial dynamics of the photons reaching your eyes. Quantum mechanics does not make everything blurry, it just bites when you want to learn too much at a time!  Pt (T) 23:33, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
Actually, for such a small observer the whole concept of measurement changes as there the usual macroscopical decoherence does not happen anymore. The observer herself is a quantum object and we have no idea what a quantum consciousness in a notable superposition would sense. Note that the quantum mind is a different concept applied to try to explain the usual, macroscopical consciousness. It is all speculative indeed.  Pt (T) 00:46, 31 October 2009 (UTC)
You could not "see" things if you were a human as small as an atom, because you would be far smaller than a single rod or cone light receptor in the retina, and you would be far smaller than a single nerve cell in the human visual cortex. For the scheme to work, you would have to hypothesize that you and all your organs were made of atoms many orders of magnitude smaller than the atoms you were observing. The converse would be, "If an atom were as big as a bus, could I watch its operation?" In that case you might have to hypothesize the giant atom having physical constants such as Planck's constant and the strong and weak nuclear forces and electrical constants many orders of magnitude different than in our universe. Edison (talk) 01:16, 31 October 2009 (UTC)
You need little teeny eyes/for reading little teeny print/like you need little teeny license plates for bees. --Trovatore (talk) 01:18, 31 October 2009 (UTC)

As the question is phrased, you obviously meant for us to take it in a COMPLETELY non-literal fashion. Being so small, nothing in your body would work -- what would you consist of if you were small enough to see an atom? The lumen of your digestive system would be microscopic, as would the lumina of your ureters and your blood vessels. Even cells would be too large to traverse your circulatory system -- I mean, the ramifications are so many, it's somewhat ridiculous to even begin listing them here. I therefore take your question to mean, "Should an atom be able to be visualized in real time, would the observer be able to perceive the various motions ascribed to, for example, the orbiting motion of the electrons." For my purposes here, and hopefully for your purposes as well, just as I am ignoring all the infinite problems associated with the viewing organism being too small to possibly be able to exist, so too am I ignoring all integral problems related to light microscopy and the possibility of viewing items less than the diameter of a wavelength of light -- for certainly, you would not be interested in a similar response pertaining to adjunct obstacles in the vieweing of an atom, such as, "well, you wouldn't be able to view an atom because, if you were so small, you'd be in the circus and wouldn't have time to look at atoms. Thus said, perhaps the editors involved above can focus on such a question -- if you're still interested and my assumptions were correct. DRosenbach (Talk | Contribs) 17:27, 1 November 2009 (UTC)

This is the OP writing: DRosenbach is exactly correct, I was indeed imagining that I was actually down there at the atomic level with eyes and other senses that can still function. I would love to receive any more ideas - Adrian Pingstone (talk) 22:23, 1 November 2009 (UTC)

Small populations sizes and genetic mutations[edit]

When a tribe is discovered in the jungle or a new group of people are found on a remote island, I assume they have a greater amount of genetic drift which presumably results in more frequent mutations. Are there any recorded cases of a small population being discovered and all the individuals involved having some kind of beneficial mutation? I'm no scientist so please try and answer in a way I can understand.Popcorn II (talk) 19:33, 30 October 2009 (UTC)

There won't be more mutations; a mutation happens in an individual, so it doesn't matter what's happening in the rest of the population. Genetic drift will result in them having different allele proportions from the population they split off from. In a small population it, combined with the founder effect, will result in reduced genetic diversity. That means it is quite likely that a small isolated population will have every individual having a particular allele, and that allele could easily be a beneficial one. (Few alleles that aren't shared among all humans are beneficial to everyone, otherwise they would become shared among all individuals, but a certain allele may be beneficial in their environment - that is now evolution works.) --Tango (talk) 20:00, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
There are clear examples of adaptive characteristics found in isolated populations (though I'm not sure that any have been mapped to a single causative mutation). One potential example is the Moken, whose children have remarkable underwater vision. Its not known whether their superior underwater vision is a genetic or learned trait since one can learn to accommodate one's visual focus underwater, but rarely to the extent commonly seen in Moken children. But its certainly beneficial, given they spend much of their time diving for food. Rockpocket 20:24, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
The Moken's underwater visual abilities are probably learned [1]--Gilisa (talk) 22:54, 31 October 2009 (UTC)
Ah yes, it turns out their follow up study showed that other children can adapt just as well with the correct training (PMID 16806388). What a shame, when I first read their paper back in 2003, it hinted at a beautiful example of an adaptive genetic characteristic. Rockpocket 00:53, 1 November 2009 (UTC)

Flu vs. other diseases[edit]

How deadly is influenza compared to other infectious diseases? In particular, what other parasites cause similar numbers of deaths in, say, the U.S.? Thanks. 66.65.140.116 (talk) —Preceding undated comment added 20:05, 30 October 2009 (UTC).

According to the article Influenza vaccine, a report in 2008 cited that influenza accounted for about 41,000 deaths annually in the U.S. Worldwide figures can be found at Infectious disease#Mortality from infectious diseases, and influenza is counted there as part of a class called "lower respiratory infections", mixed in with things like pneumonia and stuff. So "flu-like" diseases are the largest cause of death from infectious agents worldwide, but I am not sure how this compares once you strip out the numbers for Influenza directly. Doing so would likely be impossible, since there are many non-influenza agents which cause nearly identical symptoms as influenza, and worldwide there is probably not the testing availible to seperate these. Diagnoses of "death from the flu" is probably made on a symptomatic basis, and as such, the best we can get on hard numbers would be "lower respiratory diseases". --Jayron32 20:18, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
If you're talking about mortality rate, flu is not terribly high on the list; it does get a high number of total deaths, though, in part because you can keep right on getting influenzas until one of them finally punches your ticket. Diseases with a very high rate of mortality include (in no particular order): HIV, Ebola, and untreated rabies (which, I think, was essentially at 100% until a small handful of people managed to pull through. Also, although their affects in humans may sometimes be quite similar, viruses and bacteria and generally not called parasites; that term is usually reserved for multicellular lifeforms. You may be interested in our article on List of causes of death by rate. Matt Deres (talk) 04:56, 1 November 2009 (UTC)

Tramadol expiry dates[edit]

Why do painkillers like tramadol carry an expiry date after which the instructions say you should not take them? Do they stop working? Or become dangerous? Or something else? Why? 86.166.155.90 (talk) 20:55, 30 October 2009 (UTC)

Generally the chemicals are not 100% stable and eventually break down, giving rise to byproducts which may or may not be harmful. Looie496 (talk) 21:04, 30 October 2009 (UTC)
Usually drugs just lose their effectiveness, but it is possible that the active ingredients, or one of the non-active ingredients that they use to make the bulk of the pill, will become potentially harmful. --Tango (talk) 09:32, 31 October 2009 (UTC)
About 2 yrs ago, I read an article on one of the common household NSAIDs and it mentioned that independent testing of the drug showed it was stable more than 2 years after the expiration date. The article suggested that expiration dates are as near as they are merely because the drug companies have only done testing for that long (e.g. 5 years). DRosenbach (Talk | Contribs) 00:02, 1 November 2009 (UTC)
A cynic might point out that keeping the period short sells more Advil. --Sean 13:41, 2 November 2009 (UTC)