austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

But I thought you might like to know

Now researchers have done it again. By ``it'' I mean ``research'', so there shouldn't be any stigma attached to that particular it done again. We'd be suspicious if they weren't doing it again, unless they were just starting the job. Here the researchers are Jack Houston and others at Sandia National Laboratories and the University of Pittsburgh, and they were doing research. More specifically: they were researching salt, a common mineral found in cylindrical boxes in the corner lazy susan of the kitchen even though you don't remember ever buying any. How it gets there is a mystery. Most authorities suspect it's what Santa does the rest of the year.

The research was about what happens when things get very small, or when you look at just small parts of them at the same size. When small things get weird: water, for example, gets quite viscous, starting rumors about other materials, editing plausible yet false statements into Wikipedia entries just after [citation needed] notes, or messing with the heads of Soviet surface-physics scientists. And werewolves are almost unrecognizable at a scale of a hundredth the width of their own fur; you have to tell what you're looking at by the biting, and at that size it takes them months to even slightly maul you.

At the ``macroscopic'' or just plain ``scopic'' scales salt has familiar properties. For example it sticks to French fries exactly long enough to pick up the fries, and then falls off messing up the table or sticks to your hands. This forces you to rapidly yet awkwardly choose to lick your fingers or try wiping them on the napkin. And the result is greasy salt all over your pants. Yet on the microscopic scale nothing of the sort happens, because the werewolves have already eaten the mini-fries.

The discovery is if you put some salt on the tip of an atomic microscope while nobody is around so you other people don't complain this is why we can't have nice atomic microscopes, and then pull on the salt, it stretches out. ``It's kind of like Silly Putty'', said Dr Houston. This finally explains why microscopic quantities of salt have been used to make hilarious copies of the funny pages in microscopic newspapers from the Fifties, before they changed the ink to that new kind that doesn't quite look inky enough. That mystery had been nagging people for years and it's good to have progress again.

The researchers said they didn't know of any immediate practical uses for ``nanostretchy salt'', a clear failure of imagination. After al, nanostretchy salt gives all kinds of applications in nanostretching. The applications to salt would be gravy, if you take salt in your gravy. Nanostretching must surely be important considering how fun it is to say; for example, it provides a practical way to manufacture teeny tiny little resistance bands. In this way amoebas and werewolves can have decent exercise equipment. Obesity is on the rise these days, after all, and if people are getting fatter it follows the microorganisms in them are getting fatter to, and therefore if they get in shape then we all might get in shape too, though perhaps not the same one.

And nanostretching gives the chance for microorganisms to augment their own stretching abilities. Amoebas don't have toes worth talking about so they can't stretch up on tippy-toes to reach over the top of nanorefrigerators or the top shelf of their microclosets; with the right stretchy molecules hanging around they can pick up whatever they were looking for. But since lots of microorganisms can change shape already maybe there's a stigma attached to using outside stretchy molecules. I wouldn't want to encourage a steroid scandal-like set of revelations at the tip of your atomic microscope. I know kinds of trouble I don't need anymore.

I don't know if anyone's figured out what Silly Putty is like at that size. It'd be nicely balanced of the universe if it acted like salt and appeared without explanation in cylindrical cartons in the lazy susans of miniature werewolves, but the universe doesn't always work like that. Maybe they get it in rectangular boxes.

Trivia: Indian resentment of the British-imposed salt taxes were mentioned as a major grievance of the subcontinent in Mary Eaton's The Cook And Housekeepers Complete And Universal Dictionary, an 1822 cookbook. Source: Salt: A World History, Mark Kurlansky.

Currently Reading: Amelia Earhart: A Biography, Doris L Rich.


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