Here Are 15 Heavy Metal Moments Brought to You by Science

When the scientific method gets\m/.

Flickr.com/Benjamin Lehman

The scientific process is a method; a way to describe everything as it is; a hungry maw and an enveloping black hole at the bottom of a microscope. And if it can swallow everything, that means it has digested some truly metal shit. In that spirit, here are 15 times science gave into its inner Tony Iommi and shredded, you know, metaphorically.

1. Drumming robot cyborg arm

In 2014, roboticists at Georgia Tech created a prosthetic arm that terminates in a pair of computer-controlled drumsticks. The wearer operates one of the sticks thanks to electronic sensors that read the drummer’s muscles; the second stick autonomously improvises in time with the beat, making the musician become, in Georgia Tech professor Gil Weinberg’s words, a full-blown cyborg.

2. Loud war cries turn beetles into killers

Looking for new ways to combat invasive bark beetles, in 2010 researchers at Northern Arizona University blasted loud music and cacophonous noise at captive bugs. Though the beetles eventually learned to ignore Guns N’ Roses like the rest of us, cranking up amplified “aggression calls” overwhelmed their little cognitive centers. The insects stopped mating and burrowing, and the males became homicidal. Reflecting on the experiment, biologist Richard Hofstetter told Discovery News that he and his colleagues watched “in horror as the male beetle would tear the female apart.”

3. Burning diamonds in liquid oxygen

Whoever said “diamonds are forever” never dunked one in liquid oxygen, or at least watched a chemist do it (like in the video below). Diamonds are just carbon — incredibly strong carbon, but carbon nonetheless. Under high concentrations of oxygen and heat, diamonds burn like anything else made of organic matter.

4. The science of head-banging

In December 2008, a pair of University of New South Wales researchers investigated the biomechanics of head-banging in the British Medical Journal. (Every Christmas season, the BMJ puts on its Monty Python cap and publishes “funny” science.) If you want to keep on head-banging but minimize the odds of neurological injury (which, frankly, don’t seem to be that high to begin with), keep your head within 75 degrees of motion and don’t try to keep up with songs faster than 146 beats a minute. At 45 degree angles and Queen’s 138 beats per minute, the kids — Garth and Wayne anyway — are all right.


5. Paint it blacker

University of California, San Diego, materials scientists created paint so dark it is the most sun-soakiest thing known to humanity this side of Sheryl Crow. The researchers plan to make next-generation solar panels coated in the stuff, saying that panels covered in the paint convert 90 percent of captured light into energy.

6. 6,000 years of pyrotechnics

When deposits of coal catch on fire and are exposed to enough oxygen and fuel, they can burn for a very long time. If the fire in Australia’s Burning Mountain coal seam is as old as scientists think — 6,000 years — that coal has been flaming a thousand years before the first Egyptian laid down the first block for the pyramids at Giza.

7. Biologists discover bats are sex fiends

Oral sex rarely comes up in nature. Fruit bats are a notable exception: A team of Chinese and British scientists in 2009 discovered that fruit bats engaged in fellatio have longer periods of sex, writing in the journal PLOS One that, “female bats often lick their mate’s penis during dorsoventral copulation.” Previously only Ozzy Osbourne had gotten this familiar with bat head.

8. DARPA’s all-consuming robots

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which never met a robot it didn’t like, funded a project known as the Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot in the aughts. EATR runs on a system called the Cyclone engine. Like a living organism, this robot would forage on biomass to produce energy. In response to rumors that EATR could feast on the flesh of the deceased, Harry Schoell, Cyclone’s CEO, released the following statement: “We completely understand the public’s concern about futuristic robots feeding on the human population, but that is not our mission.” Glad we cleared that one up.

9. Certain volcanoes scream before they explode

Some volcanoes make the earth itself sing before they explode. Called “harmonic tremors,” these frequencies are too low for our puny ears to register — but not for geoscientific equipment. University of Washington researchers analyzed the vibrations preceding a 2009 eruption of Alaska’s Redoubt Volcano and found a series of mini earthquakes increasing in frequency from about 1 Hz to 30 Hz (human hearing starts at about 20 Hz, so perhaps if you were sitting right above the magma you could hear this volcanic tune a few moments before it turned you to slag). They believe magma punching its way through successively higher rock shafts could be the source, though no one knows for sure.


10. Sand gobies devour their kids

The male sand goby, a small coastal European fish, cares for its young. It also eats them. When University of Helsinki biologists took a closer look at this kinder form of cannibalism, they found the goby doesn’t just eat the young at random — it mates with two females, then eats the biggest eggs from the second female.

11. Sword-swallowers sometimes “brush” their hearts

Another BMJ holiday special, this time in 2006, surveyed the on-the-job hazards of 46 sword-swallowers. The ailments reported in the study reads like a laundry list of what can go bad when you shove a metal blade down the ol’ gullet. Naturally there were a lot of sore throats, but the worst injuries were:

“Three others also had probable perforations, one of whom was told that a sword had ‘brushed’ the heart, and one had pleurisy and another pericarditis after injury, suggesting extraoesophageal trauma. No one underwent thoracotomy, although one had a breadknife removed transabdominally.”

12. Emory psychologist makes undergrads listen to screaming Russian women

Emory University psychologist Harold Gouzoules, likely the world’s foremost expert on screams, makes his students catalogue scream recordings posted to YouTube. These include real ones, like Russian women terrified of overhead meteorites, and fake ones, like old B-movie scream queens. From his preliminary research, Gouzoules says his subjects are poor judges at distinguishing Jamie Lee Curtis’ cries of horror from the genuine deal.

13. Bug has super-loud schlong

An aquatic beetle called the water boatman rubs its penis against its belly to make a 99.2 decibel mating call, European researchers discovered in 2011. For human penises to generate the equivalent sound, we’d have tie them to the “on” switch of a jackhammer (assuming jackhammers have switches) and back away quickly.

14. History’s earliest massacre was brütal

Anthropologists recently announced they’ve stumbled on what they believe to be one of the earliest battle scenes in humanity. Twenty-seven skeletons, about 10,000 years old, were found near Kenya’s Lake Turkana. The University of Cambridge, in a press release filled with more gory details than usual, said:

“One adult male skeleton had an obsidian ‘bladelet’ still embedded in his skull. It didn’t perforate the bone, but another lesion suggests a second weapon did, crushing the entire right-front part of the head and face.”

15. Astronomers watch a black hole eat a star

It turns out that as a supermassive black hole devours a sun it also spits out flaming star chunks. The International Center for Radio Astronomy Research caught this event at just the right time. No one had ever before witnessed the expulsion of solar guts into the void, but the research team’s observations corroborated theories of a black hole’s matter-sucking habits.