What we learned from sci-fi movies: Don’t take your helmet off in outer space. Eyeballs freeze. Blood boils. Gore spurts into the vacuum like pizza sauce splattering around a Papa John’s kitchen.
As it turns out, this is a Hollywood exaggeration. (We’re shocked.) In real life, exposure to a vacuum would be a painful fate but much less gooey. In a recent video post, Discover magazine blogger Phil Plait explains what would really happen. First, the good news: Your blood won’t boil. On Earth, liquids boil at a lower temperature when there’s less atmospheric pressure; outer space is a vacuum, with no pressure at all; hence the blood boiling idea. But your blood is locked up in a closed circulatory system, so it’s protected from the elements (or lack thereof). Your body’s open circuits are a different matter. “You will erupt out all of the air in your lungs, it will come out of your mouth. All of the air in your intestines will find a different escape route,” Plait says.
Most surprisingly, even though temperatures in space can approach absolute zero — that’s minus-460 degrees Fahrenheit — he says you wouldn’t freeze. Well, not right away. On Earth, air helps to conduct heat away from your body. In space there’s no air to facilitate that process, so it takes longer to frost over. “You will eventually freeze solid, but it will take hours,” Plait says. And by the way: “You probably wouldn’t turn into a big popsicle. You would probably freeze-dry.”
There are art school nerds and there are serious-minded science geeks, and never the twain shall meet. Or so you might think. Roald Hoffman, a Nobel Prize-winning chemist, essayist, poet and playwright, would disagree. This new book, edited by Jeffrey Kovac and Michael Weisberg, includes 28 of Hoffman’s philosophical essays, works that reflect on his field from an interdisciplinary perspective, illuminating the overlap between chemistry and the humanities. Included among these works is a series of articles where Hoffman stumps for science’s artistic merit.
Can molecules be beautiful? Is chemistry a craft? In the essay “Art and Science,” Hoffman ponders the aesthetic merit of molecular model illustrations. These are not the molecules as they appear in nature, but distillations of a complex form intentionally designed to communicate specific ideas. “My claim is that these chemical structures are art — not great art, but art nevertheless,” he writes. “The creators of these drawings try as hard as they can to abstract the essence. Then they attempt to communicate the essence to others using a certain visual vocabulary.” Hoffman argues that scientists are creative types, too, and that they shouldn’t be ashamed to perceive themselves as such. “Deep down [science] is driven by the same complex mix of psychic motives that drive any creation,” he writes.