From Alice’s whackadoo tea party host, to the phrase “mad as a hatter,” hatters and their sanity seem to be getting a bad rap. The imagery, however, is rooted in some truth. From the 1700s through the early 1900s, mercuric nitrate was a commonly used compound in hat making. The result after many years of hatting? Mercury poisoning. Symptoms included tremors and extreme irritability, which led to the “mad as a hatter” expression. Talk about an occupational hazard.
Despite the masculine mythological associations with Mars, when it comes to actually going there, it might make sense to send an all-female crew. Research dating back over 50 years suggests various reasons why women would be better suited for such long-distance voyages: they have generally stronger hearts, can better withstand vibrations and radiation exposure, and can cope better than men in prolonged isolation. But the best evidence comes from more recent terrestrial simulations of a Mars mission: women expend—and therefore need—far fewer calories than men. What’s so out-of-this-world about that? Simple: fewer calories needed for an all-female crew would mean less food in the payload, equaling huge savings in the mission budget. We’re talking a grocery budget reduction of millions of dollars. So an all-female mission to the red planet may be a hard sell, but it’s really just hard science and savings.
It seems hard to believe that +, = and all the other symbols of the mathematical world haven’t always simply existed like they do now. But in fact, the plus sign didn’t come around until the 15th century. A symbolic contraction of the Latin word et, meaning “and,” it took another hundred years or so for it to be widely adopted. Maybe it was that handy “and” sign that inspired Robert Recorde, in 1557, to use two parallel lines to represent “is equal to.” But if we know when these math symbols were invented, it brings up the question of what mathematicians were using before that. The horrifying answer? Story problems. Here is an actual question from a 9th century, Persian text about algebra: “I have divided ten into two parts, and multiplying one of these by the other, the result was twenty-one.” Shiver.
Love may make the world around, but it also appears that love gets a little lost in translation. People from the U.S., Lithuania and Russia were surveyed on their understanding and expectations of romance, revealing some surprising differences. The Eastern Europeans, for example, reported falling in love faster than their American counterparts. 90% of the surveyed Lithuanians, for example, reported falling in love in less than a month. 58% of Americans claims it takes two months to a year before they know they’re in love. According to the journal Cross-Cultural Research, the Russians and Lithuanians also described romantic love as being “temporary and inconsequential.” On the other hand, Americans tended to see romance as something to be pursued in long-term relationships, and used descriptors like “friendship” and “comfort” when describing romance, which their counterparts rarely did. It is possible that Western European opinions on the topic fall somewhere between the two, but the French respondents couldn’t stop kissing long enough to be bothered with a survey.
In spite of what you have been told by countless novels and romantic movies, no one falls in love instantly. It takes time. Specifically, it takes about one fifth of a second. So… not very much time, but that’s a moment, anyway. And it’s an important moment, because according to a Syracuse University study, that fifth of a second is all the preparation your brain needs to start pumping out dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline and vasopressin—chemicals whose function ranges from creating pleasure to enhancing social behavior. In fact, scientists compare this flood of neurotransmitters to the euphoric experience induced by cocaine. This study from 2010 is seen by some as a long-awaited validation of Dr. Robert Palmer’s 1986 thesis that, “you might as well face it, you’re addicted to love.”