Answer: Scientists are trying to develop a sign for a salt mine in Carlsbad, New Mexico to say, "Don't dig here, we buried nuclear waste," reports Sally Palmer in "New Scientist" magazine. Computer models predict the mine will collapse within 1,000 years, sealing the chemical sludge and toxic contaminants, and should be intact for the 250,000 years until the waste becomes safe.
But government legislation mandates a 10,000-year explicit safeguarding, so the message will be carved onto 8 meter-tall monoliths. The next consideration is the language to use since the world will doubtless be vastly different 100 centuries from now.
Anthropologist David Givens says that while there's no universal symbol for danger, universal facial expressions such as fear or revulsion just might work. "There will also be a description of the site in seven languages, plus the word DANGER and today's symbols for biohazards and radioactivity," says Palmer.
Answer: It's not the classic amusement or pleasure smile, which crinkles the skin around the eyes, says Christine R. Harris in "American Scientist." Embarrassment smilers not only dodge eye contact but also look away faster, before the smile's apex, and may cover the mouth with a hand.
Research suggests two or three embarrassment types: faux-pas (skirt hiked up in the back after visiting a restroom), center of attention (being guest of honor at a surprise party), and sticky situation (having to remind a friend of an unpaid debt). Yet not all of us find all three equally embarrassing.
Answer: He just coughed and sneezed loudly. Ah well, maybe the high-speed air coughed out through his trachea and upper bronchi will be just what he needs to unloose any excess mucous, says Jearl Walker in "The Flying Circus of Physics."
This is accomplished by breathing in a lot of air, trapping it behind a closed glottis (narrowed opening in the larynx), and increasing the pressure by contracting the lungs, partially collapsing the trachea and upper bronchi to narrow the pathway. Then the air is expelled by suddenly reopening the glottis. The airflow quickly becomes turbulent, sending sound waves into the air and the lung tissue.
Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at email@example.com, co-authors of "Can a Guy Get Pregnant? Scientific Answers to Everyday (and Not-So- Everyday) Questions," from Pi Press.