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Bananaman, fusion boy, an astronaut and more

By James Dacey

The Red Folder is bulging this week with some weird and wonderful physics stories from around the Web. Here is a round-up of some of the best we have stumbled across.

One of the more eye-catching articles this week included the surreal image of Stephen Hawking posing for a picture with a bunch of men all dressed as Bananaman. In case you’re not familiar with this brilliant character, Bananaman is a comedy super hero created in the 1980s by British cartoonists who valued the importance of nutrition. When Eric Wimp – an ordinary British schoolboy – eats a banana he turns into our hero, a fully grown man in a blue and yellow suit with special powers to rival both Batman and Superman. Anyway, I digress. According to the Telegraph, the 10 besuited chaps in question were on a stag do in Cambridge. They were lost (perhaps a few too many banana liqueurs?) when they turned a corner and spotted the world-famous cosmologist getting out of a car. The result was a group shot with far more a-peel than any of those self-indulgent Oscars selfies that have been doing the rounds this week. Please accept my apologies for that bad pun.

Another great story from England this week, involved a real-life 13-year-old school boy who may well be destined for his own superpowers. Jamie Edwards, a pupil at Penwortham Priory Academy in Lancashire, became the youngest person in the world to demonstrate nuclear fusion. Edwards created a “star in a jar” when he trapped a ball of plasma in a process known as inertial electrostatic confinement. According to this BBC report, Edwards achieved the unlikely feat by consulting an open-source website for amateur physicists. During his journey to scientific achievement, Edwards blew all his Christmas money on a Geiger counter to measure the release of neutrons, in order to prove that he had achieved fusion. Edwards also received help from a very open-minded head teacher who gave the boy £2000 to buy the required parts and equipment from Lithuania, the US and the UK.

Talking of DIY experiments, let me introduce you to the “bricycle”, which as the name suggests is a cross between a bicycle and a tricycle. It’s the invention of a team of researchers at Cornell University in the US, which wanted to explore some of the basic principles of vehicle motion. The outcome was a rather ungainly looking machine that could switch between bike and trike by adjusting a spring that controlled the two trailing wheels, as described in this news article in Science. In a video that accompanies the article (see above), the researchers demonstrate the different steering mechanisms of bikes and trikes, and how a machine that incorporates bike and trike steering principles becomes impossible for a rider to guide.

Finally this week, I thought I’d wrap things up by flagging this opportunity for you to get creative. Danish astronaut Andreas Mogensen will be venturing to the International Space Station next year and he is asking the general public to come up with a name for his 10-day mission, as explained in this article on the European Space Agency website. The trip will involve Mogensen testing and demonstrating new technologies including ESA’s Skinsuit designed to alleviate back pain among astronauts. I haven’t seen the final suit design yet, but surely all involved would benefit if it were yellow and blue with banana skin boots.

Have a good weekend.

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