A Neutron Walks Into A Bar

Following a brilliant launch in the Science Gallery last month, here is my piece on the lovely A Neutron Walks into a Bar (published last month in Trinity News).

You can read the full article here (p.21, Trinity News ).

Did you know that the mantis shrimp has the most advanced eyesight in the world? Or that if the DNA in your body was put end to end it would reach to the sun and back over 600 times? These and thousands more scientific facts form the body of A Neutron Walks into a Bar, a new kind of science book born in Twitter.

It all started from a tweet explaining how glow sticks work, written by Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin, TV and radio presenter and postgraduate student in Trinity.

This inspired a discussion between Aoibhinn, Humphrey Jones, Irish science teacher and blogger, and Paul O’Dwyer, Irish dentist and science communicator. Together, they came up with a crowdsourcing project, called Science140, seeking to collect science definitions and explanations in 140 characters or less, the length of a tweet. The project ran from April to June 2012 and was coordinated online by Maria Delaney, former Trinity student and science blogger, and Humphrey Jones. “We had a different theme every day for a number of months,” explained Maria Delaney. People from all over the world became engaged and tweeted their favourite science facts, hoping to be included in the final product.

“The final tally was staggering with thousands of tweets (over 60,000 words worth!) written by hundreds of contributors. The team spent many hours intensely reading tweet after tweet trying to pick the best for the book. This was a difficult job considering the high quality of the submissions we received. Everyone certainly rose to the challenge of condensing complicated topics into bite-size science! I think it’s the first book to be written on Twitter,” she said.

This quirky and informative book is the result of their labour and Prof Aoife McLysaght officially launched it in the Science Gallery last week. “It’s great because on Twitter a lot of people talk, discuss, complain, but not a lot of people do things,” she commented.

All proceeds from book sales are going to the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland. “One of the tweets stated Ireland has the highest rate of Cystic Fibrosis in the world, with approximately 1 in every 19 Irish people carrying the CF gene” explained Aoibhinn while speaking at the launch. “That’s why we decided that all the proceeds should go to cystic fibrosis research.”

The next best thing to come out of science tweeps, this book incorporates thousands of science facts, ranging from more serious explanations of how the Universe works to light-hearted quips and pub-suited banter.

“It’s suitable for all ages and all levels of knowledge. It has something for everyone. We’re all delighted with how it looks. It’s hardback and has a lovely feel to it. I think it’s a good toilet book!” said Aoibhinn. Not only does it aid charity, but it’s the kind of entertaining book you can pick up and flick through anytime. You’re sure to find out something new every time you open it. What started off as a unique social media project has turned into the ideal Christmas stocking filler.


A Neutron Walks into a Bar is available online and in bookshops around Ireland.

To find out more, visit http://www.science140.org



Some of my favourite extracts from the book:

-What do you call a one-eyed dinosaur? Doyathinkhesaurus?

-The fastest winds in the solar system are found on Neptune, they reach 2,100 kilometres per hour!

-Aeroplanes go in curved lines, not straight, to reach their destinations, because of geodeisics- it’s shorter over a sphere.

-Two goldfish in a tank. One turns to the other and says, “Can you drive this thing?”

-Frogs don’t drink water using their mouths- they absorb it using their skin.

-Your fingernails grow at roughly the same speed as the Earth’s tectonic plates move. It wouldn’t be a very exciting race.

-Schrödinger’s cat has surgery. Nervously, Erwin asks the doc how it went. “Well,” says the doctor, “I’ve got good news and bad news.”


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