World’s Strangest

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Fabric Made from Milk

During World War II, when real wool was scarce, the synthetic fabric Aralac became popular as a substitute. It was made from cheese! Maggie Koerth-Baker at Boing Boing tells us how Aralac is made, and although you don’t see it much anymore, an improved fabric using the technique is still produced by a German company. [...]

The Sad Story of Alfred Nobel

Despite being one of the richest people in Europe, Alfred Nobel was not a happy man. The Swedish industrialist made his fortune by inventing (and later producing) dynamite. But his work made him a recluse. He spent most of his life traveling to oversee his vast multinational business, and he filled the rest of his [...]

The Sperm Bank for Nobel Prize Winners

The Repository for Germinal Choice, better known as the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank, was founded in 1980 by multimillionaire Robert Graham, inventor of shatterproof eyeglass lenses. His goal was to combine the sperm and eggs of superior men and women—ideally Nobel laureates—to produce superior babies. If all this sounds an awful lot like eugenics, well, [...]

Marie Curie’s Sex Scandal and the Duel It Inspired

Getty Images Marie Curie is well known as the first genius to have snagged two Nobel Prizes. The first came in 1903, when she and her husband, Pierre, were awarded a Nobel Prize in physics for their radiation research. Then, in 1911, she nabbed a Nobel in chemistry for her discovery of radium and polonium. But [...]

Debate Prep: A Brief History of American Political Debates

by Maggie Koerth-Baker Getty Images From the Revolution up to the turn of the 20th century, America preferred that its presidential candidates be seen and not heard. The presidency was regarded as so solemn an office that it was considered indecent and prideful to aspire to. Instead, candidates were to approach nomination as if it were something [...]

What Does “Organic” Mean?

By Maggie Koerth-Baker According to the Organic Trade Association, organic foods have become a $20 billion industry. And a quick scan of the grocery store aisles seems to confirm that. But the more people buy into it, the bigger the question becomes: What exactly does “organic” mean? © Erich Schlegel/Corbis What’s in a Name? You’ve probably noticed by now [...]

The 411 on 911: A Brief and Incomplete Timeline

Pre-1869 A HEARSE WITH NO NAME Long before ambulances hit the scene, hearses served as the first responders to emergencies. The people who decide if a critically-injured patient goes to the hospital or the morgue are, for the most part, funeral directors and morticians. 1869 DOCTORS GET ON BOARD New York City’s Bellevue Hospital becomes the first hospital [...]

Mighty Microbes: 4 Little Creatures that Pack a Big Scientific Punch

By Maggie Koerth-Baker Economists do it with spreadsheets and charts. Architects favor balsa wood. But when a biologist needs a model, it’s gotta be alive. Here’s to the tiny critters that have inched our world forward, one microscopic step at a time. Big Name: Shewanella oneidensis Why It Deserves a TV Special: Shewanella can go without air longer [...]

Ultimate Slacker Business Strategies

It’s time to stay on that couch and make something of your life! Just follow these step-by-step instructions, and you’ll be slacking your way to financial freedom in no time. Get a Boss’ Salary for an Intern’s Work, like Edward McSweegan 1. GET A PLUM JOB After earning a PhD and working his way up the corporate ladder, [...]

The Origin of Traffic Lights

Editor’s Note: Reader Andrea recently asked if we could cover the history of traffic lights. Here’s what we had in the archives. –Jason We’re still stumped on that whole chicken vs. egg question, but there’s one thing we do know for sure—traffic congestion predates the automobile. Long before the invention of the internal combustion engine, horses [...]