Why aren’t there that many people into science? Personally, I believe it has something to do with how it’s being communicated and, not least, how it’s being taught in school. Raw science and data do not drive people – fun, emotional and persuasive narratives do. We live in a world where we need people like Bill Nye to get up and be scientific, but also silly and fun. Is this so wrong? It’s debatable, but honestly I can understand why some hardcore scientists cringe at the idea of ‘popular science’. Nevertheless, what some of these top scientists might forget is that they got into their fields because of some popular science movement in the first place, be it the Apollo missions, a computer science program on PBS or one inspiring afternoon working out back when your neighbor explained how a car works
With this in mind, here are just ten amazing things that I’ve come to learn thanks to the progress of science. It’s this sort of knowledge that’s inspired me to learn more every day and it’s my deepest hope that something similar might happen to you as well. This list is much too short though, so I’m counting on you to keep it growing by adding your own in the comments section.
1. There is enough DNA in an average person’s body to stretch from the sun to Pluto and back. 17 times
The human genome, the genetic code in each human cell, contains 23 DNA molecules each containing from 500 thousand to 2.5 million nucleotide pairs. DNA molecules of this size are 1.7 to 8.5 cm long when uncoiled, or about 5 cm on average. There are about 37 trillion cells in the human body and if you’d uncoil all of the DNA encased in each cell and put them end to end, then these would sum to a total length of 2×1014 meters or enough for 17 Pluto roundtrips (1.2×1013 meters/Pluto roundtrip).
2. The average human body carries ten times more bacterial cells than human cells
It’s funny how we compulsively wash our hands, spray our countertops and grimace when someone sneezes near us—in fact, we do everything we can to avoid unnecessary encounters with the germ world. The truth of the matter is that each and every one of us is a walking petri dish! All the bacteria living inside you would fill a half-gallon jug or 10 times more bacterial cells in your body than human cells, according to Carolyn Bohach, a microbiologist at the University of Idaho. Don’t worry, though. Most of these bacteria are helpful; in fact, we couldn’t survive without them.
For one thing, bacteria produce chemicals that help us harness energy and nutrients from our food. Germ-free rodents have to consume nearly a third more calories than normal rodents to maintain their body weight, and when the same animals were later given a dose of bacteria, their body fat levels spiked, even if they didn’t eat any more than they had before. The gut bacteria is also very important to maintaining immunity.
3. It can take a photon 40,000 years to travel from the core of the sun to its surface, but only 8 minutes to travel the rest of the way to Earth
A photon travels, on average, a particular distance, d, before being briefly absorbed and released by an atom, which scatters it in a new random direction.From the core to the sun’s surface (696,000 kilometers) where it can escape into space, a photon needs to make a huge number of drunken jumps. The calculation is a little tricky, but the conclusion is that a photon takes between many thousands and many millions of years to drunkenly wander to the surface of the Sun. In a way, the light that reaches us today is energy produced maybe millions of years ago. Amazing!