Saturday, 31 January 2015


6 Supermaterials That Could Change Our World
By Sarah Zhang,
Gizmodo, 30 January 2015.

Graphene isn't the only game-changing material to come out of a lab. From aerogels nearly as light as air to metamaterials that manipulate light, here are six supermaterials that have the potential to transform the world of the future.

1. Self-healing Materials - Bioinspired Plastics

Self-healing plastic. Credit: UIUC.

The human body is very good at fixing itself. The built environment is not. Scott White at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champlain has been engineering bioinspired plastics that can self-heal. Last year, White's lab created a new polymer that oozes to repair a visible hole. The polymer is embedded with a vascular system of liquids that when broken and combined, clot just like blood. While other materials have been able to heal microscopic cracks, this new one repaired a hole 4 millimetre wide with cracks radiating all around it. Not big deal for a human skin, but a pretty big deal for plastic.

Engineers have also been envisioning concrete, asphalt, and metal that can heal themselves. (Imagine a city with no more potholes!) The rub, of course, lies in making them cheap enough to actually use, which is why the first applications for self-healing materials are most likely to be in space or in remote areas on Earth. [Science, New Scientist, CityLab]

2. Thermoelectric Materials - Heat Scavengers

Power blocks with thermoelectric material sued inside Alphabet Energy 's generator. Credit: Alphabet Energy.

If you've ever had a laptop burn up in your lap or touched the hot hood of car, then you've felt evidence of waste. Waste heat is the inevitable effect of running any that device that uses power. One estimate puts the amount of waste heat as two-thirds of all energy used. But what if there was a way to capture all that wasted energy? The answer to that "what if" is thermoelectric materials, which makes electricity from a temperature gradient.

Last year, California-based Alphabet Energy introduced a thermoelectric generator that plugs right into the exhaust pipe of ordinary generator, turning waste heat back into useful electricity. Alphabet Energy's generator uses a relatively cheap and naturally occurring thermoelectric material called tetrahedrite. Alphabet Energy says tetrahedrite can reach 5 to 10 percent efficiency.

Back in the lab, scientists have also been tinkering with another promising and possibly even more efficient thermoelectric material called skutterudite, which is a type of mineral that contains cobalt. Thermoelectric materials have already had niche applications - like on spacecraft - but skutterudite could get cheap and efficient enough to be wrapped around the exhaust pipes of cars or fridges or any other power-hogging machine you can think of. [Nature, MIT Technology Review, New Scientist]

3. Perovskites - Cheap Solar Cells

Solar cells made of perovskites. Credit: University of Oxford.

The biggest hurdle in moving toward renewable energy is, as these things always are, money. Solar power is getting ever cheaper, but making a plant's worth of solar cells from crystalline silicon is still an expensive, energy-intensive process. There's an alternative material that has the solar world buzzing though, and that's perovskites.

Perovskites were first discovered over a century ago, but scientists are only just realizing its potential. In 2009, solar cells made from perovskites had a solar energy conversion efficiency of a measly 3.8 percent. In 2014, the number had leapt to 19.3 percent. That may not seem like much compared to traditional crystalline silicon cells with efficiencies hovering around 20 percent, but there's two other crucial points to consider: (1) perovskites have made such leaps and bounds in efficiency in just a few years that scientist think it can get even better and (2) perovskites are much, much cheaper.

Perovskites are a class of materials defined by a particular crystalline structure. They can contain any number of elements, usually lead and tin for perovskites used in solar cells. These raw materials are cheap compared to crystalline silicon, and they can be sprayed onto glass rather than meticulously assembled in clean rooms. Oxford Photovoltaics is one of the leading companies trying to commercialize perovskites, which as wonderful as they have been in the lab, still do need to hold up in the real world. [WSJ, IEEE Spectrum, Chemical & Engineering News, Nature Materials]

4. Aerogels - Superlight and Strong

Credit: NASA

Aerogels look like they should not be real. Although ghostly and ethereal, they can easily withstand the heat of a blowtorch and the weight of a car. The material is almost what exactly the name implies: gels where the liquid has been replaced entirely by air. But you can see why it's also been called "frozen smoke" or "blue smoke." The actual matrix of an aerogel can be made of any number of substances, including silica, metal oxides, and, yes, also graphene. But the fact that aerogel is actually mostly made of air means that it's an excellent insulator (see: blowtorch). Its structure also makes it incredibly strong (see: car).

Aerogels do have one fatal flaw though: brittleness, especially when made from silica. But NASA scientists have been experimenting with flexible aerogels made of polymers to use insulators for spacecraft burning through the atmosphere. Mixing other compounds into even silica-based aerogels could make them more flexible. Add that to aerogel's lightness, strength, and insulating qualities, and that's one incredible material. [New Scientist, Gizmodo]

5. Metamaterials - Light Manipulators

Metamaterial antenna. Credit: C. Holloway/NIST/Wikimedia Commons.

If you've heard of metamaterials, you likely heard about it in a sentence that also mentioned "Harry Potter" and "invisibility cloak." And indeed, metamaterials, whose nanostructures are design to scatter light in specific ways, could possibly one day be used to render objects invisible - though it still probably wouldn't be as magical as Harry Potter's invisibility cloak.

What's more interesting about metamaterials is that they don't just redirect visible light. Depending on how and what a particular metamaterial is made of, it can also scatter microwaves, radio waves, or the little-known T-rays, which are between microwaves and infrared light on the electromagnetic spectrum. Any piece of electromagnetic spectrum could be manipulated by metamaterials.

That could be, for example, new T-ray scanners in medicine or security or a compact radio antennae made of metamaterials whose properties change on the fly. Metamaterials are at the promising but frustrating cusp where the theoretical possibilities are endless, but commercialization is still a long, hard road. [Nature, Discover Magazine]

6. Stanene - 100 percent efficient conductor

The molecular structure of stanene. Credit: SLAC.

Like the much better known graphene, stanene is also made of a single layer of atoms. But instead of carbon, stanene is made of tin, and this makes all the difference in allowing stanene to possibly do what even wonder material extraordinaire graphene cannot: conduct electricity with 100 percent efficiency.

Stanene was first theorized in 2013 by Stanford professor Shoucheng Zhang, whose lab specializes in, along other things, predicting the electronic properties of materials like stanene. According to their models, stanene is a topological insulator, which means its edges are a conductor and its inside is an insulator. (Think of a chocolate-covered ice cream bar. Chocolate conductor, ice cream insulator.)

This means stanene could conduct electricity with zero resistance even, crucially, at room temperature. Stanene's properties have yet to been tested experimentally - making a single-atom sheet tin is no easy task - but several of Zhang's predictions about other topological insulators have proven correct.

If the predictions about stanene bear out, it could revolutionize the microchips inside all your devices. Namely, the chips could get a lot more powerful. Silicon chips are limited by the heat created by electrons zipping around - work 'em too fast and they'll simply get too hot. Stanene, which conducts electricity 100 percent efficiency, would have no such problem. [SLAC, Physical Review Letters, Scientific American]

Top image: Aerogel. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

[Source: Gizmodo. Edited.]


10 Inspiring Vertical Gardens Growing in Offices
By Julian,
Business Pundit, 26 January 2015.

Forward-thinking companies like Google and Red Bull seem to do everything they can to break the mould and enhance the working environment for their many employees. Indeed, now offices can be fun, inspiring and, in the following cases, revitalizing spaces in which to spend the business day.

The addition of a lush vertical garden, or living wall, can literally help employees breathe easier while also improving their emotional state and possibly offsetting “sick building syndrome.” French botanist Patrick Blanc has perfected the concept, which uses a metal framework, PVC sheets, felt and an irrigation network to water the plants and provide them with essential nutrients.

These workspace vertical gardens are growing in popularity, transforming everyday structures into beautiful, natural-looking sites; here are ten of the most impressive installed in or on offices around the globe.

10. Six Battery Road - Central Business District, Singapore


Dubbed “Rainforest Rhapsody,” the lush vertical garden-cum-jungle that adorns the walls of Six Battery Road’s lobby is an installation in Singapore’s rapidly greening Central Business District. The 2,000-square-foot wonder was designed by French vertical garden guru Patrick Blanc and was the area’s biggest indoor living wall when completed in 2011. The impressive plot uses Blanc’s innovative vertical garden technique, which utilizes a precise irrigation system to replicate the natural way in which plants grow on tropical branches and in upright environments without soil. Featuring around 120 plant varieties, the garden was one of the first stages of an astounding US$73.6 million asset enhancement scheme announced in 2010 by CapitaLand, owners of Six Battery Road. The plan saw the building become the inaugural local and occupied office block to win a Green Mark Platinum Award.

9. MSF Head Office, Natura Towers - Lisbon, Portugal


Divided by water cascading down dark slate and jam-packed with verdant vegetation, the vertical garden that fills the lobby of MSF’s Lisbon head office gives the sense of a vibrant tropical rain forest. The garden was designed by Sweden’s Vertical Garden Design - which also has offices in Lisbon and Barcelona - and was completed in 2009. It features Araceae Scindapsus and Philodendron, ferns Pteris and Davallia, and leafy Peperomia, which is mostly found in South America. By 2011 the plants had grown significantly, particularly the Giant Philodendron, further enhancing the garden’s untamed jungle feel. Vertical Garden Design also added a multi-layered living wall to the exterior of the building, creating a “woodland character with a tropical touch.”

8. Pasona Urban Farm - Tokyo, Japan


Seeming to feature plants where windows should be, the Pasona Urban Farm in downtown Tokyo is quite a sight. Pasona Group, a Japanese recruitment firm, employed New York-based Kono Designs to overhaul the design of the nine-story building, with work completed in 2010. The restored half-century-old structure features greenery spread over 43,000 square feet, including the lush double-layered exterior. Fascinatingly, the design incorporates edible plants - and moreover these are sustained and harvested by employees and a farming expert and served at the company’s on-site eateries in what is said to be the country’s biggest farm-to-plate office initiative. Kono Designs founder Yoshimi Kono explained that Pasona Group “has a larger vision to help create new farmers in urban areas of Japan and a renewed interest in that lifestyle.”

7. Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry - Amiens, France


The vertical gardens adorning the walls of Picardy’s Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI) building in Amiens, France were designed by Parisian agency Chartier-Corbasson Architectes. The living wall-clad facility was completed in 2009 and is a six-story extension to a pre-existing 20th-century Art Nouveau mansion. RCCI Picardy was reportedly so taken with the space that its original intention of inhabiting both buildings was scrapped in favour of relocating into the extension, meaning that the old structure could be repurposed as a reception area. The green walls link and blend the two strikingly different buildings and were inspired by a Japanese garden that already surrounded the site, with the architect describing them as a “continuation of the existing landscape.” The new facility features offices, meeting rooms, and a theatre seating 189.

6. Elche Corporate Offices - Alicante, Spain


Completed in 2010, this three-story, 32-foot-tall living wall in Alicante, Spain - set in a corporate warehouse in Elche - is regarded as the country’s biggest indoor vertical garden. Its 70 plant types were chosen in order to offset carbon dioxide levels and negate the effects of pollutants produced by office equipment, thus reducing employees’ chances of developing “sick building syndrome.” Alicante-based companies Paisajismo Urbano and Urbanarbolismo created the garden, which features 4,000 individual plants in total. What’s more, the garden is bathed in light thanks to an overhead skylight and artificial lighting, with its splendid greenery visible through the building’s glass-walled offices and transparent elevator. According to VitaWall, the feature is “a true luxury for employees and their clients.”

5. Desjardins Group Headquarters - Quebec, Canada


In 2014 Vancouver-based firm Green Over Grey built the world’s loftiest indoor upright garden - for North American financial services giant Desjardins Group. The massive living wall is 213 feet tall and covers a 2,139-square-foot space inside Desjardins’ LĂ©vis, Quebec headquarters. Green Over Grey spent almost half a year designing the garden, which incorporates 42 flora species and 11,000 distinct plants, among them Philodendron, Sansevieria trifasciata, fig trees, Clusia, banana trees and ginger. Meanwhile, hydroponic technology has been brought into play using reprocessed materials, plus panels constructed from recycled bags and bottles. “We wanted to find a tangible way to show our commitment to sustainable development and enrich our employees’ work environment,” explained Monique F. Leroux, Desjardins’ president, CEO and chair.

4. Patrick Blanc’s Home Office - Paris, France


Leading vertical garden designer Patrick Blanc clearly has no problem taking his work home with him. The avant-garde botanist has installed more than 140 vertical gardens for various clients, and his own home - designed in conjunction with architect Gilles Ebersolt in 2009 - includes living walls and greenery in his office and, indeed, other rooms. Blanc’s perfected technique mimics naturally growing cliff vegetation and involves a metal framework, PVC plates, decay-resistant polyamide felt and an automated irrigation network that feeds the garden water and nutrients. In addition to being known for its green wall, Blanc’s home office is notable for the fact that it is situated above a 20,000-litre tropical fish tank that doubles as under-floor heating. The “welcome oasis” no doubt also provides Blanc with an inspiring place in which to realize his incredible designs.

3. 158 Cecil Street - Central Business District, Singapore


The vertical garden that lives and breathes inside 158 Cecil Street in Singapore’s Central Business District makes the once-unpopular space resemble a revitalized jungle paradise. Realized by local firm Tierra Design in 2012, the project was based around the idea of a hanging garden. The result is a stunning seven-story, 11,571-square-foot vertical garden that incorporates 13,000 potted plants into a number of green walls. What’s more, Tierra enhanced existing planters with complementary drooping greenery that ties the whole design together, creating a vibrant workspace. In 2012 the project won a World Best Vertical Garden Design Gold Award from the World Green Roof Congress, while it also made the shortlist for “Landscape of the Year” at the same year’s World Architecture Festival.

2. Green Office - Meudon, France


This incredible office block in Meudon, France has been described as “the world’s largest positive-energy building.” It was developed as French property company Bouygues Immobilier’s inaugural Green Office and was designed by Ion Enescu from Paris-based agency ATELIERS 115. Ultimately, it was sold to French global investment company Scor, which leased it to Steria France. The project was finished in 2011, and by 2012 it had already realized its goal of turning out more energy, generated through renewable sources, than it expended. And arguably no eco-minded office would be complete without a Patrick Blanc vertical garden. Indeed, the latter’s lush greenery perhaps helped the building - which produces almost no carbon emissions - secure its “Excellent” BREEAM and HQE certification.

1. Ocean Financial Centre - Central Business District, Singapore


The sprawling vertical garden installed to cover the Ocean Financial Centre’s otherwise incongruous parking garage lends the downtown Singapore office building a beautiful natural feel. Around 65 feet high and 360 feet wide, the impressive living wall cleverly uses 51,000 potted plants to display maps of areas around the globe. Local firm Tierra Design further intended the garden to decrease the surface temperature and carbon footprint of the garage. This may have contributed to the whole building - currently owned by K-Reit Asia Management - being awarded LEED Platinum status in 2012, the same year that the garden was completed. In 2013 the lush facade won a National Parks Board Skyrise Greenery Award and set a - since eclipsed - Guinness World Record for the “Largest Vertical Garden.”

Top image: Ocean Financial Centre, Singapore. Credit: Tierra Design.

[Source: Business Pundit. Edited. Links added.]


Week's Best Space Pictures: Mars Blasts Puff, Bubble Blows Rough, and Rockets Sound Off
By Jane J. Lee, National Geographic News, 30 January 2015.

Northern lights gleam, stellar debris blows into a bubble, and gassy explosions leave behind pits in this week's best space pictures.

1. Star Bubbles


They were the talk of the amateur space community - yellow balls (above) that kept bubbling up when citizen scientists eyed the skies for the Milky Way Project. And so researchers investigated the stellar mystery.

The suspects in the case revealed a new way of detecting the formation of massive stars.

Not actually yellow, but assigned that colour in infrared images, the balls turned out to be hidden links between nascent stars, still hidden in the dark, and more mature ones in a later stage of star formation characterized by green gas bubbles. (See "Glowing, Green Space Blob Forming New Stars, Hubble Shows.")

2. Launch Interrupted


Alas, obtaining soil observations from space must wait one more day. A rocket launch planned for January 29 ended up delayed for 24 hours due to wind shear running wild in the upper atmosphere.

The Delta II rocket - cocooned above in its protective scaffolding - is supposed to deliver NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite to measure Earth's soil moisture with never-before-seen accuracy and resolution.

The mission isn't just for kicks though. Better soil moisture readings mean more accurate weather forecasts, better flood predictions, and help in monitoring droughts.

3. Rocky Mountain High


This is what a hundred-year-old national park looks like from space. Rocky Mountain National Park turned one hundred years old on January 26. In celebration, International Space Station crewmember Terry Virts snapped a photo of the famed mountain range.

Happy birthday, Rocky Mountain National Park!

4. Glowing Globule


Cometary globule CG4 glows a menacing orange-red in an image released on January 28.

Sometimes called "God's Hand," CG4 looks like a comet, with a dark "head" and a faint tail. But the head of the comet stretches across 1.5 light-years, and astronomers aren't sure what it is. Some astronomers suggest the globule is a puff of gas given off by a dying red star that has been sculpted by blasts from other exploding stars.

Despite its relative proximity to Earth - it's only 1,300 light-years away - it took a while to find CG4 because it's such a faint object.

5. All "Hale" Mars


Mars isn't the most pristine place in the solar system, as the pits (above) surrounding Hale Crater demonstrate.

When meteorites crash into the red planet, they throw up debris, called ejecta, from the resultant craters. That ejecta can explode and produce pits and shower dust more widely.

6. Sounding Off


What happens when you mix scientists, the northern lights, and sounding rockets? Four launches straight into the heart of the ethereal skies.

The rockets measure the solar radiation that produces auroras in Earth's upper atmosphere.

7. Let There Be Lights


A bubble of stellar debris, dubbed SNR 0519-69.0, is all that remains of a massive star that exploded in the Large Magellanic Cloud. The superheated gas throws off x-rays (blue), while the leading edge of the explosion (red) and the surrounding stars gleam in visible light.

Photo gallery by Nicole Werbeck.

[Source: National Geographic News. Edited. Some links added.]


10 Pseudoscientists And Their Bizarre Theories
By Debra Kelly,
Listverse, 30 January 2015.

Science is something inexact science. Throughout history, there have been countless explanations of natural phenomena that we’ve considered true, only to discover decades later that we were really off the mark. There are some scientists, though, whose theories seem so far out in left field that they’re not even playing the same game.

10. Wilhelm Reich: Orgone


Born in 1897, Wilhelm Reich was a psychiatrist enamoured of the works of Sigmund Freud. He briefly worked with Freud and later started his own practice in 1922. By 1940, he had moved to the United States and fully developed his theories.

According to Reich, he had scientifically proven the existence of a compound that he described as a form of energy in the body that was the physical manifestation of the libido, building up in the body until it was successfully discharged through an orgasm. Reich built a machine that would allow him to study this energy, crossing the threshold between not only psychology and biology, but also between Eastern ideas and Western methods. He named the energy “orgone,” as he had first discovered it while researching the mechanics of the orgasm, but he soon was looking at orgone in areas outside of human biology. It formed a crucial part in his theories about everything from gravity to the weather.

Reich and his supporters have done a massive amount of research and experimentation on the properties of orgone. In 1947, he wrote a book called The Cancer Biopathy based on his experiments injecting cancerous cells in mice with what he called “bions,” or the most basic element of the energy of life. According to Reich’s theories, cancer was largely the result of the breakdown of these elements, and he claimed to have been able to extend the lives of his mice by weeks - and even longer when he used the energy collected from his orgone accumulator.

Today, there are still organizations (like the American College of Orgonomy) that formally study Reich’s work and offer Medical Orgone Therapy as an option for the treatment of disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, anorexia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

9. Frederic Petit: Another Moon


According to astronomer Frederic Petit, Earth has a second moon. Working in 1846 from an observatory in Toulouse, France, Petit claimed that the presence of the second moon explained away all the astronomical irregularities that other astronomers were having difficulty with. He claimed this second moon had an orbital time of only 2 hours, 44 minutes, and 59 seconds. At its farthest point from Earth, Petit’s second moon was about 3,570 kilometres (2,218 mi) away.

No one took his findings seriously when he made them public, but he continued to release new findings about his moon and its effects on the real Moon and the Earth for 15 years after his initial discovery. Petit’s theory might have gone completely unnoticed by the scientific community if it hadn’t been picked up by Jules Verne in From the Earth to the Moon.

The reference is a brief one, but Verne comments about this second moon and names Petit as the man who discovered it. Instead of fading into scientific obscurity, amateur astronomers started searching the skies for evidence of this second moon, which has caused many other discoveries about the celestial bodies in the Earth’s orbit. In 1989, a man named Georg Waltemath claimed to have discovered that the planet was orbited by not only a couple of moons, but a whole network of mini moons. Some of these moons illuminated the sky with the same strength as the Sun, he claimed. Waltemath also released a series of dates and times at which people would supposedly be able to see these mini moons passing in front of the Sun. A lot of people spent several days in February 1898 staring at the Sun, but no one saw anything out of the ordinary.

8. Marcel Vogel: Plants With Feelings And Quartz Storage


Marcel Vogel began his life’s research after discovering that plants have feelings, too. Sort of. A technician for IBM, Vogel researched plant responses to stimuli - cutting, tearing, and damaging the plants that elicited a response that could be read and understood in terms of released energy. According to Vogel, he discovered that the plants were responding but only in conjunction with his own emotions and energy. He determined that they were storing his mental energies and releasing them at the moment he interacted with them.

That was in the 1960s. In 1974, Vogel was introduced to quartz crystals and spent the rest of the 1970s investigating their tendency to also act as a vessel for storing, magnifying, and converting mental energies. In 1984, he founded Psychic Research, Inc., with some pretty lofty goals. He wanted to purify water by rearranging its energy and speed up the aging process of wines by the same methods.

Originally unimpressed with the idea of crystals, Vogel’s mind was changed after he claimed to have meditated on the face of the Virgin Mary while focusing on a crystal. After an hour of focus, the crystal in question had clearly taken on the shape of his mental image.

From there, he developed a particular cut of crystal that was supposed to make focusing energies easier. The Vogel-cut crystals - which are still available for a pretty hefty sum - are advertised as having no energy themselves. Instead, they amplify the energies given off by a person’s body. Vogel reported that the most powerful force is love, and that his crystals are capable of capturing, storing, magnifying love.

7. Ignatz Von Peczely: Iridology


The human eye has long been considered a window into the soul. For centuries, medical professionals have studied their patients’ eyes to assess their wellbeing. While our eyes can certainly reflect our health - or lack thereof - Hungarian doctor Ignatz von Peczely took the idea to a new level.

It began when he reportedly noticed a black mark in the eye of an owl whose leg he’d broken. Although the incident happened when he was young, it stayed with him throughout his medical training at Vienna Medical College. By the time he graduated in 1867, he had studied the eyes of countless patients and created a chart of what part of the iris was related to what part of the body.

According to von Peczely and a contemporary named Nils Liljequist, any disorder in the body could be diagnosed by looking for changes in the colour of the iris. They firmly believed that it was absolutely unnecessary to conduct a physical examination of a patient. Instead, looking at the portion of the iris that corresponded with the body part in question would reveal exactly what was wrong.

Today, there are still guilds of practicing iridologists who are trained to detect illness and genetic flaws through the eyes. People are sorted into three “constitutional types” that are defined by eye colour. Blue-eyed people belong to the Lymphatic Constitutional Type, and are predisposed to skin problems like acne, dandruff, arthritis, bronchitis, and eye irritations. Brown-eyed people are defined as belonging to the Hematogenic Constitutional Type, and they’re prone to developing anaemia, diseases of the digestive system, chronic and degenerative illnesses, diabetes, and gas. The third constitutional type is a mix of the two, called Biliary Constitutional Type. If your eye colour is a mix of brown and blue, that means you’re susceptible to the illnesses associated with both types, and specifically gas and diseases of the blood.

6. Judge Edward Jones: Personology


According to a book written by the founder of the International Centre for Personology, the science started in the 1930s with a judge in the Los Angeles court system. After seeing defendant after defendant, Judge Edward Jones began correlating the facial appearances of those who found themselves in his court with the crimes that they committed.

After the judge laid the groundwork for this so-called science, more research was done by a newspaper editor named Robert Whiteside. According to his findings, a person’s face could be a clear indicator of what kind of personality they had; both were genetically determined, it was stated, so therefore they must be connected.

We’ve talked about the early theories of criminology and how it was proposed that a person’s tendency toward a criminal lifestyle was written pretty clearly on his physical form. Personology is a similar idea. There are still institutes that teach people how to read into the structure of faces and bodies, claiming to increase your customer service skills, interpersonal relationships, and teaching skills.

5. Alfred William Lawson: Lawsonomy


Cy Q. Faunce was a pseudonym taken by a man named Alfred William Lawson and used to spread the word about how wonderful and brilliant Lawson thought he was without raising any suspicion. One of Faunce’s writings claims that, “The birth of Lawson was the most momentous occurrence since the birth of mankind.”

Lawson spent 20 years as a professional baseball pitcher. When he grew tired of that profession, he turned to aviation with mixed success. He’s credited with coming up with the idea for an airliner, but his own attempts to form a company - and build a fleet of airliners - failed miserably.

He then founded the University of Lawsonomy, where his “knowlegians” would teach only one thing: the science of Lawsonomy. All other books and studies were absolutely banned.

So, what were the teachings and beliefs of Lawsonomy? There is no such thing as energy, just a constant push-pull battle between things with high density and low density. Earth is actually made of something called “lesether,” and it’s swimming in ether. Because of the difference in densities between the Earth and the material it’s surrounded by, everything that exists on Earth is sucked into the planet through a big hole near the North Pole and distributed around the globe through its internal arteries. It’s the same way humans work, too. When this process of pressure and suction stops, so does life.

While we’re alive, we’re at the mercy of the Menorgs and the Disorgs that live in our brains. These tiny creatures run around in our heads, the former organizing things and making sure everything’s all neat and tidy, the latter creating chaos, havoc, and quite a bit of mess.

Food and nutrition are complicated concepts in Lawsonomy. Plants are the Earth’s parasites, and it’s likely that they’re communicating with each other in a way we can’t understand. When early mankind lived on plants, we were a healthy, robust species. We became weaker and more prone to disease when we started cooking our food, as cooking sucks all the life and nutrients out of food. Lawson came to this conclusion because of what happens to a person when thrown onto a fire. It stands to reason that the same thing happens to everything else that lives.

The University of Lawsonomy came to an end after an investigation by the Senate Small Business Committee, who began inquiry by questioning what the non-profit university was doing with its funds and ended the inquiry by questioning literally everything about Lawsonomy.

4. Hanns Horbiger: Cosmic Ice Theory


In the 1920s, Austrian Hanns Horbiger added a new theory to the scientific world, and people around the globe loved it. Its popularity was in no small part due to the fact that it didn’t have much in the way of scientific jargon tacked to it, and it was extremely easy for the everyman to understand.

Simply put, everything was made of ice.

Ice was the material of everything in the universe, from the stars in the sky, to the Earth, to the development of life on it. Horbiger touted the theory as a revolutionary one that provided that singular string needed to tie everything in the known universe together with a neat little bow, and that was an attractive idea.

His explanation for the development of his theory was pretty ambitious. Horbiger experienced a vision in 1894. It was revealed to him that ice was the basis of everything. The facts that he was building his theories around were based on, as he put it, “creative intuition” and “artificial experiments.” Rather than starting with the scientific community, Horbiger introduced his theories to the public first, hoping that popular opinion would be able to sway the scientific community to back him. Surprisingly, it kind of worked.

Hot on the heels of the penning of cosmic ice novels, books, and radio programs was the adoption of the Cosmic Ice Theory by the National Socialists in Germany. Research in the field became one of the personal pet projects of Heinrich Himmler, even though more mainstream German scientists were still wholeheartedly denying that it had any merit whatsoever. After the war, Himmler’s support of the project helped put the final nails in its coffin - it was condemned as just another bit of pseudoscience and propaganda.

3. John Keely: Perpetual Motion Engine


The idea of a perpetual motion machine is intriguing. People have been trying to make such a device since the Middle Ages. The generally accepted definition of the perpetual motion machine is one that produces an amount of power greater than the fuel it consumes - which is, of course, impossible.

That didn’t stop John Keely from saying that he’d made one.

Born in 1837, Keely held a handful of different jobs - painter, carnival barker, theatrical orchestra member - before he went public with the announcement that he had discovered a completely new form of physical energy that could produce an amazing amount of power. Using the energy of water molecules, Keely could sync the molecular vibrations with his machine and create endless power.

It seems pretty preposterous, but Keely was convincing. He soon had investors and US$5 million in capital to start Keely Motor Company. He was able to demonstrate his full-scale engine in 1874. His descriptions included a lot of words like “ether-etheric” and “metallic impulses,” and turning the machine on was often done with the aid of the vibrations of a musical instrument. He kept investors interested with the help of a few cheerleaders, but at the same time he refused to apply for any patents for fear that someone would steal his idea.

His company went public in 1890, and it was then that organizations like Scientific American began to blow some pretty big holes in his theory. He kept the company - and the money - going for another eight years until he died in 1898. By then, the Keely Motor Company had been in business for 25 years without a product and without paying a single investor a single dividend. When investors checked out his mysterious, off-limits lab, they found his engine, a false floor, and a container of compressed air that would give the illusion of power, just like researchers from Scientific American had predicted.

2. Rene Blondlot: N-Rays


In 1903, the scientific community was still all sorts of excited about the concepts of radiation and X-rays. French scientist Rene Blondlot was experimenting with X-rays when he claimed to have stumbled on something incredible: more waves. He called them N-rays after his town, Nancy, and his experiments were met with a combination of overwhelming excitement and scepticism. The scepticism was due in part to the fact that the N-ray theory had one of the biggest hallmarks of pseudoscience - an inability to easily repeat results.

Blondlot first detected his mysterious N-rays when he saw a small spark out of the corner of his eye. His instructions on how to detect N-rays were pretty questionable. They included locking oneself in a dark room for a while before conducting the experiments to make sure the eyes were appropriately adjusted. He also noted that while some people would be able to see them right away, others would have to try again and again...and maybe once more.

Still, Blondlot and his fellow French scientists came up with a list of the properties of N-rays, partially spurred by the fact that German competition had discovered X-rays. N-rays could reportedly pass through anything that would block light and would be stopped by transparent materials. They were given off by the Sun, but only on cloudy days. Another French scientist, Augustin Charpentier, backed Blondlot and took the theory farther by saying that he’d proven that the human body also gives off N-rays. So in tune were we with N-rays that repeated exposure had a supercharging effect on our senses.

If only.

Researchers in England and Germany couldn’t see what all the fuss was about, so a physicist from Johns Hopkins University went to Blondlot to find the truth once and for all. With a bit of sleight of hand, the American physicist was able to prove quite quickly that it was all absolute nonsense. A year after Blondlot’s ground-breaking discovery, he was ruined.

1. Albert Abrams: Radionics


In the early 1900s, a doctor named Albert Abrams claimed to have discovered the secret to diagnosing and curing almost any ailment of the human body. He claimed that the answer was in the vibrations that came from each cell. These vibrations, which he called the Electrical Reactions of Abrams, could be read by examining something associated with the patient and then adjusted through the use of one of his many, many devices.

The practice was called radionics, and those that practiced it proclaimed they could diagnose the patient by looking at a bodily sample - blood, saliva, fingernail clipping - or even by examining a personal effect belonging to the afflicted. Some used dowsing rods and mysterious, electronic black boxes in their diagnosis, but some practitioners deemed sensitive enough to the vibrations could read tissues and items without the help of devices.

Not surprisingly, there were quite a lot of people who called the science fraudulent. Scientific American got involved with this, too, along with the United States Food and Drug Administration. The FDA sent a couple blood samples for radionic studies to investigate whether the results were at all accurate. The first sample was diagnosed with colitis, although the person it was taken from was actually dead. An amputee was diagnosed as having arthritis in the leg he’d lost, and a chicken was diagnosed with a sinus infection.

Amazingly, there are still organizations that practice radionics, which they describe as an intuitive science used to diagnose problems with a person’s energy fields.

+ Franz Mesmer: Animal Magnetism


If you guessed that Franz Mesmser is where we get the word “mesmerism,” you’d be correct. But there was much, much more to his theories than just hypnosis, and they were popular enough to last for decades.

Mesmer’s theories got off to a hairy start when he wrote his dissertation on the impact of the movement of the planets on the human body in 1766. We say wrote, but we really mean he lifted it almost completely from an earlier work by a well-known English physician. At any rate, he later credited the earlier work, but his career path was already set.

After marrying a wealthy widow and opening his own practice, he was introduced to a new method of treating patients who rejected conventional treatments. When he was rewarded with success in curing a woman with the application of magnets, he continued experimenting with what he called “animal magnetism.”

His contemporaries viewed the practice with quite a bit of scepticism, even when he claimed to have restored sight to a woman who had been blind since the age of three. His appearances in front of the Royal Academy of Sciences didn’t go well, and he was equally frowned upon by the Royal Society of Medicine. The laypeople, though, couldn’t get enough of it. Spurred by the support of people he cured, animal magnetism finally gained the attention of various European governments.

Further experimentation determined that there was little difference between the actual effects of magnetism administered to the human body and the mere suggestion of the presence of magnets. While some continued to believe in the good doctor after the release of the official scientific findings on Mesmer’s work, it largely died off as a serious practice.

[Source: Listverse. Edited.]