(WARNING: May contain Nobel Prize spoilers)
Everybody loves a scientist. They create stuff we depend on, they generally pose no threat of stealing your girlfriend, and those form-follows-function corduroy pants they wear make funny noises when they walk.
Scientists are a unique breed, with peculiar habits:
– They love to sort stuff. (I once dated somebody who sorted my books by height. I forget her name now…in fact, I forgot her name then — immediately, somewhere between C and D)
– They insist on measuring things, and then they insist on measuring them again. (no, I will not be discussing that girlfriend)
– Not only can scientists pronounce 47-syllable chemical compounds, but they seem to genuinely enjoy doing it. (this makes scientists excellent “expert witnesses” in product liability lawsuits, which in and of itself can be a lucrative career option)
The best-known scientists, of course, become best-known by focusing on a specific scientific discipline, or by irritating the Spanish Inquisition. For example, we remember Galileo as the “father of modern astronomy” and the “father of physics.” (back home, he was also known as the “father of three illegitimate kids,” but let’s not drag the Inquisition back into it)
Other famous scientific specialists who’ve made their mark on mankind include:
– Thales of Miletus, top sage among the original Seven Sages of Athens, who invented the hypothesis, which is why we now know him as the “father of ridiculously overpaid corporate consultants”
– Aristotle, the 2,300-year-old Greek thinker whose seminal hip-hop rocker, Aristotelian Epistemology, was the first album to be reviewed by Dick Clark
– Leonardo da Vinci, who, in an effort to get rid of a clinging groupie named Mona Lisa, invented the helicopter
– Gregor Mendel, the co-inventor of jeans (along with Levi Strauss, who gave us the waltz)
More recently, we can point to Max Planck, who created quantum theory in order to calculate the probability that he could get the “c” removed from his last name. For his efforts, Max initially received the 1918 Nobel Prize in Physics, but it was recalled and given to Barack Obama, who also took credit for winning the 1918 World Series and curing the Great Flu Pandemic. And let’s not forget Albert Einstein, who invented gravitas, the universal constant defining “dignity in leadership,” except in Congress.
Throughout history, scientists have thought long and hard before selecting the field of scientific study to which they will dedicate their corduroyed lives. Some have chosen to chase the cure for a disease; others have dedicated their lives to agriculture, or horticulture, or to chasing a cure for the Culture Club. To be sure, a few have simply sold out for easy buckets of government grant money, and then spent their professional lives putting shrimp on treadmills, and measuring the shrimp’s stress, and I am not good enough to make this stuff up.
But now we hear from a scientist, holed up in the University of Alberta, who has hitched his claim-to-fame wagon to a seriously narrow niche: his goal is to unlock an age-old scientific enigma, one that has plagued humanity since the dawn of time: When you crack your knuckles, what’s that popping noise?
Yes, the bold, trail-blazing pioneers at U of A are careening toward Nobel history with their ground-breaking look inside…finger joints. To collect their measurements, they nominated one member of the team (probably by secret ballot), laid him face-down on a table, and then inserted his fingers, one at a time, into a tube connected to a cable that was slowly pulled until the knuckle popped.
I can hear the speaker in Stockholm now…
“For their innovative work in the crowded but crucial field of ‘Pull My Finger’ jokes, this year’s Nobel Prize goes to…”
Their conclusion? That popping noise when you crack your knuckles is due to the rapid creation of a gas-filled cavity, which, coincidentally, is how members of Congress are made.
Of course, since I was on the internet, the online knuckle story led me to an article about men who film shrimp in slow-motion, a fight between liquid mercury and corn syrup, and an 11-minute video of the World’s Roundest Objects.
But let’s not drag Congress back into it.