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When science backfires: Bizarre events, crazy setbacks, mishaps and pain

By: Simon Booth On: 13:35:00
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  • If there's one thing scientists keep discovering it's that there are some hilariously bizarre events surrounding some of their advances.

     

    Exploding trousers

      If there's one thing scientists keep discovering it's that there are some hilariously bizarre events surrounding some of their advances.

    Take the pesticide that burst on to the scene in 1931 - and went off like a bomb when it reacted with fibres in clothes.
    The amusing tale of Farmer Buckley's Exploding Trousers gives its name to a new book full of fascinating stories about how science is littered with crazy setbacks, mishaps and pain.
    Farmer Buckley's Exploding Trousers & other odd events on the way to scientific discovery, edited by Stephanie Pain, is published by Profile Books and is priced £10.99.

    THOSE EXPLODING TROUSERS
    The peace of the New Zealand countryside was shattered in 1931 when men's trousers suddenly began to explode.
    Pairs detonated on washing lines, others as they dried in front of the fire.Worse still, a few were occupied when they went up.
    Farmer Richard Buckley was lucky.When his trousers blew up he wasn't wearing them.As the local paper reported "although partially stunned he had sufficient presence of mind to seize the garment and hurl them from the house, where they smouldered with a series of minor detonations".
    The culprit was soon identified as a new weed killer containing sodium chlorate.It exploded when combined with organic material, such as cotton and wool.

    TWO MEN AND A WHEELBARROW
    In the summer of 1951, John Bolton and Bruce Slee were working at Australia's Dover heights radio-physics field station, near Sydney, monitoring solar radio emissions.
    Bored, they secretly began hunting for other celestial objects producing radio waves. But to find them they needed a very large dish - so they dug one and used unwanted tiles to line it.
    Despite its humble construction, it was the world's second-largest radio telescope.
    And it worked so well, it found the centre of the galaxy.

    TURN ON, TUNE IN, STAND BACK
    In the 1930s smelly, noisy and dirty gas lamps were still used to light many homes.The competition for gas companies came from mains electricity.One big attraction for installing it was the new electrical wireless and the programmes on it from the BBC.
    As far as the gas industry was concerned the answer was simple - a gas powered radio must be built.Mad as it sounds, that's just what happened - built by the Milnes Electrical Engineering Company, with a flash ignition that also worked as the volume control.
    Even though the gas radio helped warm the house while playing, it was a huge flop.

    KILL OR CURATE
    In front of scientists of the Royal Society, Oxford doctor Richard Lower performed an experiment on a young curate called Arthur Coga.
    He was too hot-tempered so the theory went, back then in 1667, that a little blood from a cool, docile animal like a sheep, would calm him down.Lower performed a blood transfusion directly from animal to man.Miraculously, given what we now know about blood types and clots, the curate survived, but transfusions were banned soon after.

    THE WRONG KIND OF X FACTOR
    When Wilhelm Roentgen discovered X-rays in 1895, doctors from around the world used their primitive machines on every ailment going.
    It proved to be a godsend for the hairier members of society after researchers discovered exposure to X-rays had a remarkable side effect - it made hair fall out.
    This was before it was also discovered X-Rays could be highly dangerous.
    But even then, many dodgy doctors were willing to offer it as a treatment to remove unsightly hair.

    THE GREAT TOOTH ROBBERY
    When the Battle of Waterloo came to an end, with Napoleon's French defeated, 50,000 men lay dead or wounded. As night drew in so did the battlefield scavengers, chief among them, the dentists. Skilfully they removed any intact front teeth.
    The flood of teeth onto the market - to make dentures - was so great they were called Waterloo Teeth.
    And the demand for them was even greater.
    Far better to have teeth from a fit -if dead young soldier, than the jaws of a disease-riddled corpse.

    THIS WON'T HURT A BIT...
    German surgeon august Bier invented spinal anaesthesia in 1898, but it wasn't a pain free process.
    Until then general anaesthesia was almost as likely to kill as help cure. Bier decided to try out his new idea - injecting cocaine into the spinal fluid - on himself. It almost immediately went wrong, so his assistant august Hildebrandt volunteered to take his place.
    Once the injection was done, Bier began testing how effective the numbness below the waist was.
    He jabbed his assistant in the thigh with a needle, stubbed out a cigar on his leg, and plucked out pubic hairs - all with no pain.
    He then smashed his shin bone with a hammer and squashed his testicle.Again his assistant felt no pain... until the next day.

    SECRET SERVICE
    By day the Cumberland Pencil Company manufactured...pencils and by night it produced pencils with a difference.
    At first sight it appeared the only difference was the green paint finish, while the other pencils during those austere wartime years were simple wood.
    But, under the direction of Charles Fraser-Smith, the gadget designing genius who was the model for Ian Fleming's Q, hidden inside were a compass and tissue paper map.
    The pencils were issued to British airmen in case they bailed out over enemy territory.

    Source: www.Mirror.co.uk

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