Friday, April 29, 2016

Small Mammals Undermine Research

Back when Public Television aired Michael Wood's series In Search of the Trojan War, I was particularly struck by an archeologist explaining how gerbils were interfering with efforts to sort out the layers of the remains of the different generations of the city of Troy. Following the same principle used by sedimentary geologists, the general rule of thumb is that the deeper you go the earlier things get. Unfortunately, the gerbils are expert tunnelers, meaning that an artifact not yet discovered might descend to a lower depth than would serve to provide it with an accurate date by falling through a "modern" gerbil tunnel.

This morning the BBC News Web site provided another story about another small mammal impeding the progress of research. This one concerned the latest glitch in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Fortunately, the workings of the LHC itself were not involved. The problem was only one of loss of power, because a weasel managed to get itself (weasel into?) the high-voltage transformer at the heart of the power supply. The transformer is some distance from the LHC itself, but the power failure meant that the device went into a blackout period. (This is more than can be said for the weasel, which did not survive the encounter with the transformer.) Mother Nature guards her secrets in mysterious ways!