10 Weird Facts About Cats

As with dogs, the domestication of cats was based on mutual benefit. In the earliest days of agriculture, man was forced to deal with an unforeseen consequence: rodents devouring his crop and spoiling his grain. Following voraciously in their footsteps were predators like snakes and owls—and cats. The cats with the friendliest dispositions were eventually welcomed into human settlements, highly valued for their ability to destroy vermin. The house cat was domesticated from the African wildcat approximately 10,000 years ago in the Middle East and has rarely strayed from our side since, worshiped in some cultures as gods and reviled in others as manifestations of the devil himself.


10. Mousers


Cats were first domesticated for their appetite for mice and rats. Today, the average pet owner is content to have kitty do little more than nap, but the cat still possesses a fierce hunting instinct. Those who allow their cats to roam outside will often attest to receiving “gifts” on the welcome mat, the corpses of birds and rodents their pet has hunted down. Even today, cats are employed to kill off rats and mice at such places as Disneyland and the State Hermitage Museum in Moscow, Russia.

Although history has likely graced us with even more voracious hunters, The Guinness Book of World Records recognizes Towser, the Glenturret cat, as the world mousing champion. A female long-haired tortoiseshell, Towser (who lived nearly to her 24th birthday), was stationed in a distillery in Crieff, Scotland, the home of Famous Grouse whisky. During her reign, she killed some 28,899 mice (per Guinness record). Towser’s successor at Glenturret was a cat named Amber, who, despite a nearly 20-year career of her own, was not known to have caught a single mouse.


9. Mating


Anyone who has ever owned a female cat that wasn’t fixed can probably attest to the absolute misery of her heat cycles. She will yowl and constantly attempt to escape the house to meet up with suitors. Male cats who can sense her eagerness will gather around, waiting for their opportunity. The actual mating process is a lurid exchange, as far removed from romance as imaginable. The female looses dreadful screams during the encounter, and for good reason: a male cat’s penis is less an instrument of pleasure than a object of medieval torture. It sports backward-facing barbs like fish hooks made of keratin that rake the inside of the female’s vaginal canal. This agonizing part of the courtship is thought to bring on ovulation.


8. Roadkill


It is probably inevitable that at some point in your life, you will run over an animal while driving. For most, it is a sickening feeling, and we will pull over to do anything we can to help, especially if the animal is obviously a pet. Unfortunately, there are a shocking number of people who will continue on their way even after hitting people, let alone a pet. In the UK, it is illegal not to report a car accident involving a dog, or even a farm animal, but strangely enough, there is no legal obligation to stop if one strikes a cat.


7. Milk


Although your average cat will lap up a saucer of milk like it’s sweet ambrosia, the fact is, they are lactose-intolerant. Like some humans, as they grow, cats stop making the enzyme lactase, which breaks down their mother’s milk. What your friend leaves behind in the litter box after this treat will likely convince you to never give her this treat again. Strangely enough, your cat (and his mortal nemesis, the rat), has kidneys efficient enough to allow it to drink seawater to rehydrate, unlike most species.


6. Heroes


Dogs are well known for tales of lifesaving heroism, but most people think cats seem generally too self-involved for valor. In practice, this is hardly the case. In 2012, a cat that had only been rescued from the Humane Society hours before managed to save its new owner’s life when she had a diabetic seizure. The cat leaped onto her chest as she lost consciousness, nudging and biting at her face until she awoke. The cat then darted into the woman’s son’s room and pestered him until he woke up to call for help.

An even more unbelievable story emerged from Argentina in 2008, when a one-year-old boy was found by police in the city of Misiones, being kept alive by a band of feral cats. The boy, who’d been separated from his homeless father, would likely have died without the intervention of the cats. They snuggled up to him at night to keep him warm and brought him scraps of food. When police approached, the baby’s guardians hissed and spat ferociously at them.


5. Savannah Cat


The tradition of mating domestic cats with their wild ancestors goes back over a hundred years, when the first Bengal cats (domestic felines crossed with Asian leopard cats) were produced. However, despite their exotic appearance, Bengals are for the most part many generations removed from the jungles of their forebears, and possess a devoted, genial nature.

The serval is a small, leopard-spotted African cat between 20 and 40 pounds, perhaps best known for its extremely long legs. Unlike many wild cats, servals can make good pets. In 1986, the first domestic cat was crossed with a serval, producing the Savannah cat. Since becoming available to the public in the ’90s, the Savannah has enjoyed a growing popularity.

Owners claim that Savannah cats have a temperament akin to dogs; they tend to follow their masters and can even be taught to walk on a leash and play fetch. They have incredible leaping ability and many seem to love water. Depending on your locality, it may be illegal to keep one of these cats. Australia in particular, which already has a terrible problem with feral cats decimating native fauna, has banned the importation of Savannah cats. And even if regulations allow you to have one of these beautiful exotic pets, you’d better have deep pockets if you want one—depending on the amount of serval in the bloodline, they can sell for well over $10,000 each.


4. The Godfather


The Godfather is recognized as one of the greatest films in history, ranked at No. 2 behind Citizen Kane by the American Film Institute. The winner of three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay, every aspect of the movie has been exhaustively studied, especially the marble-mouthed patriarch, Vito Corleone. When we are introduced to the ruthless mob boss, he is decked out in a tuxedo, celebrating his daughter’s wedding, absently stroking his cat. It is a powerful moment, the dichotomy of the Don’s ruthless power and his tenderness toward his pet. It was, however, entirely accidental. The cat did not feature in the screenplay at all—it was a stray that had wandered onto the set. Marlon Brando picked it up to play with it, and the rest is cinematic history.


3. The Black Death


Gregory IX was Pope from 1227 until his death in 1241, his reign characterized by provoking crusades and brutal inquisitions against those deemed heretical. He also seemed to be convinced that the people were worshiping black cats as manifestations of the devil. His influence led to large-scale massacres of cats throughout Europe, a campaign which would go on to have horrible, unforeseen consequences 100 years later. In the late 1340s, when rats infected with the Black Plague swept out of Asia, they found Europe to be a veritable utopia, unprotected by the cats that would have thinned their ranks (and likely saved millions of lives). Thankfully, recent popes have been more tolerant of cats. Pope Benedict was known to have a particular affinity for felines, who would follow him around the Vatican grounds.


2. Declawing


Like the cropping of ears and the docking of tails in dogs, declawing cats is a hot-button issue in the pet community.  While many owners who have come home to find a shredded couch might believe that declawing is a reasonable solution to their problem, the surgery required to remove the claws is quite brutal.  Because the nail grows out of the bone, the veterinarian is required to cut off the end of the cat’s toe, something akin to snipping your fingers off at the first knuckle.   Declawing is a relatively common process in the US, with only a few localized areas outlawing it (such as the city of San Francisco), but it is seen as animal cruelty and is illegal in several countries throughout the world, including most of Europe, Israel, Brazil, and Japan.


1. Nine Lives


The phrase “cats have nine lives” has become such a common part of the vernacular that few pause to consider its implications. The cat, with its speed and uncanny agility, would seem to defy death at every turn. The animal’s greatest accomplishment would seem to be its ability to regularly survive falls from any height. Human beings, for want of comparison, are terrible at falling. Although there are cases of people surviving insane tumbles (in 1972, stewardess Vesna Vulovic lived after falling over 9,000 meters—30,000 feet—from a damaged plane), a human is generally in big trouble after about three stories.

A falling cat has several mechanisms for survival. Perhaps most importantly, its sense of balance acts as a sort of internal gyroscope called “aerial righting reflex.” After dropping a few feet, it is all but guaranteed to land on all fours. The cat’s loose, muscular legs act as springs upon landing, distributing the sudden impact. Being relatively lightweight, the cat has a much lower terminal velocity (the maximum speed at which it can fall) than a human: cats reach about 60 mph; humans easily double that.

This is more than mere conjecture; there are dozens of reports of cats falling from enormous heights and walking away with little more than bruises. In 2011, an elderly cat named “Gloucester” fell 20 stories from an Upper West Side, Manhattan apartment with minor injuries. The following year, a cat in Boston (named “Sugar”) tumbled 19 floors. In 2009, another Manhattan cat fell an astonishing 26 floors, this time with photo evidence taken by nearby window washers. This fortunate feline’s name? “Lucky.”

10 Real-Life Hidden Treasures You Could Still Find

Everyone wants to find a hidden treasure. Just imagine walking around in the woods and stumbling across a treasure chest of money. Pirates hid them all the time, sunken ships hold endless amounts of wealth under the sea, and some people are giving away their life savings just for the fun of it. Treasures are hidden all around us, and all we have to do is search for them.


10. Forrest Fenn Hidden Treasure


Forrest Fenn wants you to have all of his money when he dies.

When Fenn was only nine years old, he found an arrowhead near his home in Texas—an arrowhead that would shape the rest of his life. Fenn fell in love with ancient artifacts. After becoming a pilot in the air force in the 1960s, Fenn regularly flew his plane to Pompeii to look for artifacts, of which he found plenty.

When the 1980s hit, Fenn was diagnosed with kidney cancer and told he would only have a few years to live. With his mortality looking him right in the face, Fenn decided to hide his most beloved artifacts and give everyone the clues to find his treasure, which he estimates to hold $1–3 million worth of gold, jewelry, and other valuable artifacts.


9. Treasure At Little Bighorn


For many Americans in the late 1800s, traveling west and striking it rich by finding gold didn’t seem like an absurd idea. Some didn’t even make it all the way to the Pacific. A few men struck it rich when they found gold in Montana. When fewer and fewer men found gold in Middle America, more and more of them continued west. But they probably should have kept looking.

According to some experts, Captain Grant Marsh was in charge of the Far West, a steamboat making its way up the Bighorn River to resupply General George Custer in his fight against the Indians. When Captain Marsh heard of General Custer’s defeat and found out he would have to take injured men away from the battlefield, the only thing he could do to keep the ship from sinking under the weight of so many injured men was to bury the $375,000 worth of gold bars on the shores of the Bighorn River. Some say that Marsh had collected the gold bars from worried gold miners who didn’t want to be attacked by the Sioux.


8. Treasure In The Mojave Dessert


It may sound crazy that an oceangoing ship sunk 160 kilometers (100 mi) inland of the Pacific Ocean—in the Mojave Dessert no less—but if it is true, there are millions of dollars’ worth of pearls in the Salton Sea.

Experts believe a large tide from the Gulf of California collided with runoff from the Colorado River. Enough water runoff developed that the ship (presumed to be Spanish) was carried into the Salton Sea. The ship would have been forgotten forever if it weren’t for the abundance of pearls on board.

Surprisingly, there is a twist to the story. In 1870, the Los Angeles Star produced a story about a man named Charley Clusker who went out in search of the ship and actually found the treasure. But since the date the story ran, no other mention of Clusker or the ship he “found” has been dug up, leading many people to believe the ship and its pearls are still out there.


7. Mosby’s Treasure In Virginia


Confederate Commander Colonel John Singleton Mosby was one sneaky fighter during the Civil War. He and his men were known as Mosby’s Raiders for their lightning-quick raids of Union camps and their ability to elude the Union Army by blending in with the local townspeople. He was essentially like Mel Gibson’s character in The Patriot, but without all of the drama.

After one of his many raids, which took place about 75 kilometers (46 mi) south of the Confederate line at Culpeper, Virginia, Mosby took Union General Edwin Stoughton prisoner, as well as a burlap sack containing $350,000 worth of gold, silver, and family heirlooms. The problem was, Mosby had also captured 42 other men during the raid and had to take them back through Union territory and across the Confederate line.

Following a route that parallels today’s US 211, Mosby’s Raiders traveled south until they ran into a large contingency of Union soldiers. Unwilling to part with his treasure, Mosby instructed his men to bury the treasure between two large pine trees in case of a battle. Mosby marked the trees with his knife, and the Raiders headed back along their route and across the Confederate line without any trouble from the Union.

Unfortunately for Mosby, when he sent back seven of his most trusted men, they were all caught and hanged. Mosby never returned to look for the treasure.


6. $63 Million Hidden In Bedford County, Virginia


Thomas Beale must have been a strange man. Legend has it that in 1816, Beale and a few men he was traveling with came into a large sum of gold and silver while mining somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. With such a large fortune, estimated to be around $63 million in today’s money, all of the men wanted to make sure their next of kin would get the money should they perish. So Beale wrote three ciphers. One described the exact location of the treasure, the second described the contents of the treasure, and the third was a list of the men’s names and their next of kin. Beale then entrusted Robert Morriss, a Lynchburg, Virginia innkeeper, with the safekeeping of a box containing the ciphers.

Morriss was supposed to wait 10 years before opening it. At this point, if Beale did not return for the box, a key to the cipher was supposed to be mailed to Morriss. But it never arrived. For years, Morriss and a friend tried to decode the three ciphers, but they could only manage the second cipher (the one describing the contents of the treasure).


5. Treasure Of Jean LaFitte


Jean LaFitte, along with his brother Pierre, were French pirates who made their living attacking merchant ships in the Gulf of Mexico and then selling the goods at one of their many ports or through a warehouse they owned. Apparently, the two brothers were so good at smuggling and pirating that they amassed enough wealth that they had to resort to burying some it.

After LaFitte died sometime between 1823 and 1830, legend of his treasures began circulating around Louisiana. Claims have been made that there are large caches of treasure buried somewhere in Lake Borgne, right off the coast of New Orleans, and another about five kilometers (three miles) east of the Old Spanish Trail near the Sabine River in a gum tree grove.


4. Butch Cassidy’s $20,000 Treasure


Butch Cassidy is arguably one of the most notable outlaws of the Wild West. He was such an outlaw that he even formed an outlaw group, called the Wild Bunch, to travel with him, robbing whomever they felt like. Before the law was hot on his tail, Cassidy and the Wild Bunch actually buried $20,000 somewhere in Irish Canyon, located in the northwestern part of Colorado in Moffat County.


3. John Dillinger’s Buried Treasure


Being an outlaw means you have money, and everyone knows John Dillinger had a lot of money. Only months before he died, he buried $200,000 in Wisconsin.

Dillinger was hiding out with a few of his outlaw buddies in April 1934. FBI agents found out they were hiding in the Little Bohemia Lodge in Mercer, Wisconsin, and they surrounded Dillinger, along with “Baby Face” Nelson and the other men. The FBI shot the first three men walking out the door, all three of whom happened to be civilians. Amid all the confusion, the gangsters were able to escape out a back entrance. It is said that Dillinger ran a few hundred meters (yards) north of the roadhouse where he buried $200,000 in small bills inside a suitcase.

Just two months later, Dillinger was shot to death in Chicago, never getting the chance to go back to find the money.


2. $200 Million Off The Coast Of Key West


In 1622, the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Atocha was heading back to Spain when it was caught in a hurricane off the coast of Key West. Many ships perished in the hurricane, all of which were carrying an enormous cargo of gold, silver, and gems that has been valued to fetch around $700 million today.

But most of the loot has already been found. In 1985, treasure hunter Mel Fisher found $500 million of the buried treasure less than 160 kilometers (100 mi) off the coast of Key West.

Experts believe there is still plenty of treasure to find. The original captain’s manifest states there are still about 17 tons of silver bars, 128,000 coins of different values, 27 kilos of emeralds, and 35 boxes of gold.


1. The Treasure Of San Miguel


In 1712, Spain assembled one of the richest treasure fleets to ever be assembled at that time. By 1715, Spain had amassed a fleet of 11 ships, all filled to the brim with silver, gold, pearls, and jewels, which are estimated to be worth about $2 billion by today’s standards.

The plan for the ships was to leave from Cuba for the mainland just before hurricane season hit, hoping the hurricane season would be a deterrent to pirates and privateers. It turned out that leaving so close to hurricane season was a mistake. Just six days after leaving the shores of Cuba, all of the ships had sunk, thousands of sailors had died, and every bit of gold, silver, and jewelry was doomed to lay at the bottom of the sea.

Since then, seven of the ships have been recovered, but experts believe only a small amount of the valuables on the ships has been found.

The one ship that has yet to be found is the San Miguel—the ship that experts believe contains most of the treasure.

But where is it? Well, most of the ships that have been found have been located off the eastern shores of Florida, although some of the ships may have made it farther out to sea before sinking.

10 New Technologies That Will Make You A Cyborg

If you look at the history of human culture, most of our technology was created with the purpose of making something easier. But recently we’ve been moving in a new direction: instead of creating technology that we can use, we’re making technology that makes it easier for us to use ourselves. There’s something terrifyingly romantic about the idea of a cyborg—the merging of man and machine—and these new technologies serve as subtle reminders that we are nudging our civilization inexorably closer to the brink of a cyborg age.


10. Vibrotactile Gloves


One of the attractions of becoming a cyborg is the possibility of extra senses. Humans have five senses (depending on how you divide them up), and most of them are linked to a specific organ. For example, you see with your eyes. But what if you had the ability to “see” with your hands when conditions weren’t the best for vision? Well, ask Anthony Carton and Lucy Dunne of the University of Minnesota, who are developing technology that will help firefighters navigate through smoke without needing to actually see.

It’s called the vibrotactile glove, and it uses a pair of gloves outfitted with an ultrasonic rangefinder. Inside the glove is a series of vibrating motors that, when activated by the rangefinder, will map the position of surrounding obstacles on the back of the wearer’s hand. A firefighter will be able to hold his hand in front of him and “feel” the position of everything in the room.


9. Display-Enhanced Forearm


The area between a person’s wrist and elbow serves a very important function. Specifically, it keeps your wrist connected to your elbow. But to Simon Oberding and his team at Singapore University, that area is nothing more than wasted space. What Oberding plans to do with the forearms of the future is turn them into digital displays. He’s developed a prototype that straps onto the forearm and has four separate screens, each of which shows a different set of data. For example, one screen can display GPS directions while another scans YouTube for interesting videos.

At its core, Oberding’s prototype is just an extended wristwatch. To reach true cyborg level, you have to dig a little deeper and implant the watch directly under your skin. A Toronto software company—called AutoDesk—has been experimenting with implanted user interfaces. They don’t have a specific goal for the technology yet, but they’ve managed to successfully implant a touch sensor in the forearm of a cadaver and charge the embedded electronics with a Bluetooth receiver. They are still working on making the tech commercially viable.


8. Muscle-Propelled Force Feedback


Haptic technology—or force feedback—is not new. If you’ve played a video game with a vibrating controller, you’ve experienced haptic technology—the rumble pack vibrates simultaneous with action in the game, providing a sensation along with the visual image. In some cases, force feedback is used to make you do something specific by creating a force that you naturally try to counter. Think of it like someone pushing you sideways—your body resists and pushes back towards them in an effort to maintain your balance.

Most devices that use haptic technology create the force with a vibrating motor, but there are limits to how small that can get, which means there are limits to what it can be used for. A team of German researchers threw out the motors entirely; instead, they use electrical stimulation on the muscles to force a response. In testing, they had volunteers play an airplane game on a smart phone while strong gusts of wind (in the game) periodically knocked the plane off course. As the “winds” hit, the player’s right arm would jerk up, tilting the game to the left and forcing them to compensate by using their other arm to tilt the phone back to the right position.

Video games aside, muscle-propelled force feedback will eventually be used when you’re trying to learn something new. So if you’re golfing, electrical impulses could gently nudge your body into the correct posture for the perfect swing.


7. Brainwave Sensors


We’ve already discussed the huge strides in reading brainwaves, like one experiment in which researchers flew a helicopter with brain signals picked up by an EEG sensor.

But using a different type of brainwave reader—known as functional near-infrared spectroscopy, or fNIRS—a group of researchers at Tufts University has developed a device that will not only pick up brainwaves, but actually organizes that data to tap into personal preferences. In this case, the fNIRS data was linked to a brain-computer interface that was able to accurately display movie recommendations. Stranger yet, the more a person used the system, the more accurate the predictions became, as if it was actually learning about that person over time.

These sensors are difficult to use in everyday settings because little things like head movements can disrupt the signal, but the same team is developing a program that can effectively filter out this noise. This could lead to a seamless brain-to-machine connection that will be able to make the perfect decision for you every time. It could tell you what movie you want to watch, what you want to eat, or even what kind of car you want to buy.


6. Fully Articulated Prosthetics


Perhaps the oldest form of cyborg technology is the prosthetic limb. We know that the ancient Egyptians used prosthetics, but we’ve come a long way from carving blocks of wood into the shape of a toe. In fact, we’ve made more progress in that area in the past decade or so than the rest of history combined. Take the BeBionic myoelectric prosthetic hand, which can move every finger joint individually via a connection to the skin and muscles in the amputee’s upper arm. A tiny twitch will orient the hand into a different position based on the electrical current running through the skin—giving the prosthetic full articulation that’s almost, but not quite, as realistic as using a real hand.

It takes a little practice, but eventually you can perform a huge number of tasks that wouldn’t be possible with a less advanced prosthetic, such as tying your shoelaces or using a computer mouse.


5. Nano-Fractal Implants


In 2005, neuroscientist Armand R. Tanguay Jr. wowed the world with his bionic eye that attached to the retina and received images from a digital camera mounted on a pair of sunglasses. But the future of bionic eyes looks even stranger—physicist Richard Taylor is developing an “implant” made of self-assembling fractal-shaped nanomaterial that can mimic eye neurons.

The biggest problem with cameras is that they don’t provide information in the same structure that the eye is used to. Retinal neurons are branched, like a fractal pattern, and a camera sends signals in a straight line. When a camera is plugged into a blind person’s retina, most of the information is lost in the gap between machine and living tissue. That’s why nearly every retinal implant to this point results in a hazy, grainy, black-and-white image—far from the resolution achieved by the human eye.

Taylor’s “nanoflowers” would form a more appropriate connection when implanted in the retina. Since they more closely resemble naturally occurring neurons, they would be able to mesh almost seamlessly with the still-working parts of a blind person’s eye, letting the brain receive the full transmission from a camera.

The next step is building a camera that can see with the 127-megapixel resolution of the human eye. At that point, a blind person would have perfect vision.


4. Merging Vehicles And Humans


This project, dubbed Homunculus, seems a little silly on the surface. However, it’s also one of the first experiments of its kind to attempt to merge a human with a vehicle, and the implications could potentially change the way we communicate with our cars. As the researchers put it, “We propose the situation that humans and vehicles can be unified as one unit.”

The current approach with Homunculus is geared toward pedestrian safety. For example, an onboard camera tracks the driver’s head movements, while a pair of eyes attached to the front of the car copies those movements. This allows a pedestrian to see if the driver is looking at them. Strips of infrared sensors on the sides of the car connect to two vibrating motors on the driver’s arms, signaling when something (a small child, for instance) is close to the car.


3. Taste Changing


If you’ve seen the The Matrix, you might remember when one of the characters comments about how the machines couldn’t figure out what chicken tasted like—and that’s why everything tastes like chicken. It’s a throwaway joke, but if you think about it, how would you break down the elements of something as abstract as “flavor,” and reproduce them at will?

That’s the question Hiromi Nakamura and Homei Miyashita have been tackling for the past two years, and they have successfully managed to change the flavor of food at the flick of a switch with electric currents. Their goal is to use artificial taste sensation to enhance the realism of virtual reality simulators. In other words, if you’re using a virtual reality headset and you go through the motions of eating a piece of cake, a tiny device attached to your tongue will produce the right type of current to make you literally taste the cake.

Their second goal is to develop something like an electric straw, which you can program to deliver the taste you want—no matter what you’re drinking. It’s not unrealistic to see that technology evolve into a tongue implant that lets you choose what you want to taste.


2. Telescopic Vision


“Superpower” is a term that shouldn’t be thrown around lightly, but that might be the only way to describe a contact lens that’s being tested at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Using a liquid crystal shutter embedded in the contact lens, a person wearing it would be able to instantly switch between normal vision and 2.8x magnification, giving them telescopic vision on demand.

And surprisingly, it works. The contact lens was already tested on a life-size model of an eye, and the technology was put into a modified pair of 3-D glasses to test on a real human. The only hurdle the team is facing right now is putting the liquid crystal shutter onto a softer plastic, like the kind used in most contact lenses today. In true cyborg fashion, the lens has been dubbed the “Terminator Lens.”


1. Parasitic Humanoid


The Parasitic Humanoid, developed by a team at Osaka University in Japan, turns the previously mentioned force feedback into the ultimate tool for skill transmission. Basically, the device is worn on the head, and sensors spread out to the different parts of the wearer’s body. As the person goes through the motions of an activity, the computer learns what the proper movements should be. Eventually, it’s able to “teach” those motions to someone else using force feedback.

In this video, two of the Parasitic Humanoids are being used simultaneously. One is attached to an expert, and it’s connected to a second parasite on another person. The second person can feel—as well as see—what the expert is doing and seeing, allowing them to copy a complex skill without any formal training. As the system improves, the researchers plan to use a single parasite that’s already been programmed with the desired skill. In the relatively near future, you might be able to buy a Parasitic Humanoid, download any skill, and learn it almost immediately.

10 Largest Things Of Their Kind In The World

Humankind has always been impressed by really, really large things. Whether natural (like the Grand Canyon, which hosts around five million visitors per year) or man-made (like, say, the world’s largest fire hydrant in Beaumont, Texas, which draws considerably fewer), we seem to be inexorably drawn to things that make us feel tiny.

It seems that in our never-ending quest to list interesting things, though, some of the largest have been strangely overlooked.


10. Airplane


What you see in the image above is the AN-225 “Mriya,” a Ukrainian airliner, giving a piggyback ride to a Russian space shuttle. Yes, the world’s largest aircraft is capable not only of delivering hundreds of tons of cargo and complete, arena-sized concert stages, it’s the aircraft you will need if you’re transporting other aircraft—a Boeing 737 can fit inside its cargo hold.

Built in 1988, it was easily (by 50 percent) the largest plane in the world at the time—and remains so today (yes, there is only one of these). Inactive for about seven years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the massive aircraft was restored and put back into service in 2001, and it gets plenty of use, since it can transport cargo that literally no other plane on Earth can.

Construction began on a companion to “Mriya” (translated as “dream” or “inspiration”), but stalled, probably because it would require another $300 million to complete. It’s landing gear has an astounding 32 wheels, and it holds the world record for heaviest airlifted payload, almost 560 tons—far short of its maximum rated takeoff weight of 640 tons. Its wingspan is the length of a football field, and it’s almost that long from nose to tail as well.


9. Outdoor Swimming Pool


Most hotel swimming pools are nothing special—they’re known for being small, crowded, and shallow. In an attempt to keep those adjectives out of their pool, designers of the outdoor swimming pool at San Alfonso Del Mar Resort in Chile seem to have overcompensated a bit.

In photos, it looks like some kind of weird, clear lagoon running the length of the resort’s main beach. Upon further inspection, yes, it is actually a swimming pool, and the sheer numbers associated with it boggle the mind. Covering 20 acres, the pool is over 900 meters (3,000 ft) long (the second-longest, in Morocco, is a measly 137 meters). Its deep end is 35 meters (115 ft)—also a world record—and it holds 66 million gallons of water. Also, it could engulf 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools, took five years and nearly $1 billion to build, and costs about $2 million yearly to maintain.

The pool uses an advanced suction and filtration system and virtually no chemicals, making it surprisingly environmentally friendly. Says biochemist Fernando Fischmann, whose company designed the pool: “As long as we have access to unlimited seawater, we can make it work, and it causes no damage to the ocean.”


8. Cave


In 2009, a local farmer brought a group of British explorers to the entrance of a cave he had found years earlier in Vietnam’s Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. They were excited at the prospect of finding a new cave system, but what they found was an underground river running along the floor of the single largest cave passage that has yet been found.

Take another look at the above image; in case you missed it, there’s a caver standing on the rock near the middle of the frame. Note that you cannot see the cavern’s ceiling above him. The cave is in a very remote region—previous cave-seeking expeditions to the area likely came very close to finding it, but the terrain is exceedingly difficult. At least five kilometers (three miles) long, the cavern boasts natural skylights (where weaker limestone has washed away) and spectacular ceilings nearly 300 meters (1,000 ft) high.


7. Vacuum Chamber


Vacuum chambers are used to recreate the conditions of space: to see, for instance, how matter clumps together in the absence of gravity or to test components of space suits. There are some very large ones out there, but only one so large that it’s capable of performing environmental testing on a completely assembled spacecraft: the Plum Brook chamber in Sandusky, Ohio.

The chamber has been used for testing of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, a craft that NASA hopes will one day take astronauts back to the moon and maybe to Mars or distant asteroids. The Plum Brook chamber is 37 meters (122 ft) tall—easily sufficient to fit the spacecraft, at 23 meters (75 ft)—and an incredible 863,000 cubic feet. If you’d like to get a really good idea of the chamber’s immense size, though, just watch The Avengers again. The opening scene, in which Loki steals the Cosmic Cube, was filmed in it.


6. Waterfall


Inga Falls, along the Congo in Kinshasa, Zaire, is certainly not the tallest waterfall in the world. Heck, it’s not even close—its longest drop is a measly 21 meters (70 ft). (There are three waterfalls in the world with drops over 3,000 feet, to put that in perspective.) At four kilometers (2.5 mi) wide, it may not be the widest of falls, either—but it moves more water than any other waterfall on the planet. A lot more, as it turns out.

Most are familiar with the image of Niagara Falls, or perhaps Victoria Falls, as a standard for huge, terrifying falls that move (literal) tons of water. Victoria moves a lot: over 38,000 cubic feet per second. Niagara moves over twice that much: around 85,000. Inga Falls has an average discharge rate well over 10 times that of Niagara—over 900,000 cubic feet of water per second. Its closest competitor, Livingstone Falls (along the same river), discharges 25,000 cubic feet per second less than Inga; the next closest doesn’t even compare. Niagara and Victoria Falls come in 11th and 15th on that list, respectively.


5. Salt Flats


The Salar de Uyuni (“Uyuni Salt Flat”) lies atop an extremely high plateau in southwestern Bolivia—at almost 3,600 meters (12,000 ft), the elevation is twice as high as mile-high Denver, Colorado. The salt is as thick as the air is thin (several meters thick, in most places), and the sheer surface area is astonishing—over 10,000 square kilometers (4,000 square miles).

The area, of course, produces a lot of salt. Also? Plenty of lithium. Enormous untapped reserves lie beneath the surface of the flats, comprising an estimated one-half to two-thirds of the world’s reserves. While it looks exceedingly desolate, the area is also home to one of the world’s largest pink flamingo habitats and about 80 other bird species.

The area has another amazing feature: for much of the year, a thin layer of water covers the surface. This produces the effect seen in the above photo. The world’s largest salt flat appears, during these seasonal times, to be the world’s largest mirror.


4. Zoo


When it comes to naming the world’s largest zoo, there’s more than one way to skin a . . . to calculate such a thing: by area, by the number of species on display, or a matrix involving both. The latter actually makes the most sense—at 12,000 acres, Red McCombs Wildlife in Texas could be considered the largest zoo by acreage, but only hosts about 20 species.

So while it has neither the largest acreage nor the highest number of individual species on display, travel website Touropia proclaimed Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska, to be the largest in the world using the combined matrix. The 130-acre complex hosts 17,000 animals of over 960 different species and welcomes over 1.5 million visitors annually. The zoo is also home to the world’s largest indoor desert and has the biggest cat complex and largest geodesic dome in North America.


3. Power Station


For almost 20 years, the Chinese government forged ahead with the Three Gorges Dam project, despite concerns both at home and abroad about its potential ramifications. The threats to the surrounding environment and historical areas, to say nothing of the tens of thousands of locals displaced by the project, were all downplayed by officials throughout the dam’s construction. Only after its completion, at an estimated cost of $23 billion, did China admit that perhaps there were some valid environmental concerns.

And indeed: over one million residents of the Yangtze Valley were displaced by the project, and environmentalists are concerned that its lake has now become a dumping ground for industrial waste. Other environmental and logistic problems (like downstream ports being unable to accommodate ships after a 2011 drought) have also presented themselves in the wake of the dam’s completion.

But the numbers, in terms of power production and sheer scale, are mind-boggling. Standing at 2.4 kilometers (1.5 mi) in length and 180 meters (600 ft) in height, the dam enables oceangoing vessels to sail directly into mainland China for months out of the year and generates as much electricity as 18 nuclear power plants. Its capacity (22,500 megawatts) dwarfs that of it closest competitor, Itaipu Dam in South America (14,000 megawatts).


2. Video Screen


Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo, Brazil is a big building. Nearing completion at the time of this writing, it seats nearly 50,000 and will be the 11th-largest stadium in Brazil, when it plays host to several FIFA World Cup football matches in 2014. It’s a sharp, modern structure, but its facade is what landed it on this list—the entire front of the building is one giant video screen.

The screen will be capable of displaying images, video, and scoreboard information that will be visible to anyone even glancing in the stadium’s general direction. At 20 meters (65 ft) high and an astonishing 170 meters (560 ft) long, the screen is comprised of 34,000 LEDs and is easily the biggest video screen in the world.

To put that in perspective: Americans’ jaws dropped when the gigantic video monitors of Cowboys Stadium were unveiled to the world in 2009. But the Cowboys’ monitors fail to place in the top five largest video monitors in the world, and they’re not even one-third of the length of the gargantuan Arena Corinthians facade.


1. Freestanding Structure

Finally, we go back to China, where the New Century Global Center opened for business in July 2013. In terms of its footprint, it is the largest man-made freestanding structure on the planet—almost 1.8 million square meters (19 million square feet) of space.

Taking three years to complete, the structure holds a 14-screen IMAX theater, an ice skating rink large enough to host sanctioned international competitions, a complete replica Mediterranean village, and (of course) a water park. The water park alone can accommodate 6,000 visitors at once, all of whom could easily be put up in the 2,000 available hotel rooms. But even these details don’t do justice to the immense scope of this facility—inside this building, you could fit 20 Sydney Opera Houses. Or over 300 football fields. Or Monaco.

10 Amazing Forgotten Explorers

Sometimes it’s not enough to be the first, to go the farthest, or even to chart the uncharted. Historical memory can be a fickle mistress, which is why we’ve decided to right historical injustice and celebrate the oft-overlooked pioneers of exploration.


10. Alexander Gordon Laing



For late 18th– and early 19th–century Europeans, Timbuktu was the El Dorado of Africa. But there’s a reason the word “Timbuktu” is still synonymous with remote isolation, because even if Alexander Laing could have accessed Google Maps it wouldn’t have done him any good.

With only a vague idea of where he was heading, the British army officer and his tiny retinue left Tripoli in July 1825. Laing’s local guide promised the plucky Scotsman the journey would take only a few weeks, but the caravan spent 13 months wandering the desert, avoiding warring nomads, and fighting its own war with thirst and hunger.

The worst of Laing’s ordeal came 1,600 kilometers (1,000 mi) and nearly a year into his journey, when his guide betrayed him to bandits. Laing survived and recounted the event like a minor inconvenience akin to burnt chips in a letter to his father-in-law. After detailing multiple cuts and fractures all over his face, head, and neck, he concludes: “I am nevertheless, as already I have said, doing well.”

Laing stumbled into Timbuktu a couple months afterward. He and his journal disappeared, but his subsequent murder was confirmed in 1828 by the second European explorer to reach the city.


9. Auguste Piccard



The Swiss scientist began his career as a physicist working with Albert Einstein and may have looked more science-y than any other man in history. But the two brilliant scientists’ paths diverged as Piccard became fascinated with the study of cosmic rays.

Of course, the Earth’s atmosphere interfered with Piccard’s study of said rays. His solution? Leave the atmosphere. To accomplish this and further his research, Piccard built a balloon complete with an attached pressurized chamber. And over the course of more than two dozen balloon flights, Piccard reached altitudes ranging from 15,000 to 23,000 meters (50,000 to 75,000 ft)—higher than any man before him.


8. Zhang Qian

200–114 B.C.


In the second century B.C., the Chinese weren’t too sure of what lay west of them. So the Han government commissioned its envoy, Zhang Qian, to locate Central Asian kingdoms and open up new markets for Chinese exports.

Qian made it as far as Bactria (Afghanistan) where he encountered the remnants of a fascinating culture that had been forced south into India by nomads. The Greco-Bactrians were Hellenic colonists who settled in the area following Alexander the Great’s conquests. They brought grapevine cultivation, European horses, and traditionally proficient artists to the area—which Qian reported to the Han court.

But Qian wasn’t done yet. Despite the occasional kidnappings by Xiognu nomads, Qian continued to crisscross the Central Asian steppe and frequently saw Chinese goods, like silk, command outrageous prices. Qian forged trade agreements with countless peoples as he traveled. And within about a decade of Qian’s death, Chinese traders were regularly traveling between the continents to exchange goods along routes similar to Qian’s. Those routes formed one of history’s greatest networks of commercial exchange, the Silk Road.


7. Pytheas

4th Century B.C.


A Greek sailor, Pytheas, discovered—at least from a Mediterranean perspective—the British Isles. Pytheas circumnavigated Britain at a time when most Greco-Roman minds imagined little existed beyond the Pillars of Hercules (Gibraltar) other than an endless ocean.

Before Pytheas could even begin his exploration in earnest, the Greek geographer had to navigate the Carthaginian blockade at modern-day Gibraltar. Apparently, Pytheas managed to avoid Carthage’s warships and sight Britain, Scotland, and Ireland.

But the most incredible part of Pytheas’ expedition came when he found a land he called Thule. Lying one week’s sail north of Britain, Thule, as described by Pytheas, was a place where oceans “congealed” and days lasted only a few hours. While his findings sounded laughable to ancient scholars, Pytheas’ voyage probably traced part of Norway’s Atlantic coast and likely took the Greek ship into the Arctic circle (the “congealing oceans” obviously being ice), making Pytheas history’s first polar explorer.


6. Even More Auguste Piccard



Auguste Piccard was no one-hit wonder, hence his place here twice. We just couldn’t keep him off the list with all the records he’s broken. Being the first man to enter the stratosphere was only the beginning for him. After World War II ended and funding to match his ambition became available, Piccard pursued his next dream—deep-sea exploration.

Piccard invented a steel-hulled submersible he dubbed a “bathyscaphe.” Piccard’s third bathyscaphe, The Trieste, resembled his high-altitude balloon design in reverse. The Trieste‘s cabin was built to withstand pressures exceeding 16,000 lbs per square inch—more than enough to flatten the average submarine. With US backing, Piccard’s son, Jacques and Don Walsh, a US naval officer, piloted The Trieste to the deepest point on the Earth’s surface, the floor of the Mariana Trench. This achievement was not duplicated for half of a century.


5. Ibn Battuta



Ibn Battuta, a son of middle-class Moroccan parents, was all set to become a lawyer and lead a traditional life. Then a pilgrimage to Mecca intervened. Once Battuta got there though, he pulled a Forrest Gump and kept running—or in this case, riding his horse.

After reaching Mecca, Battuta continued on to Persia and then back to Baghdad. Ibn Battuta then determined that he would go as far as possible as often as possible while “never traveling the same route twice.” For the next three decades, Ibn Battuta kept to his motto almost continuously and covered 120,000 kilometers (75,000 mi), a feat unequaled for centuries.

Actually tracing all of the traveler’s routes means grabbing a map of Europe, Africa, and Asia, then marking it with enough ragged pen lines to begin rendering it incomprehensible. For most of his travels, Battuta traveled within the Muslim world. His insider status allowed him privileged access to and observation of the customs of far-flung peoples, which he recounted (not always entirely accurately) in The Travels of Ibn Battuta.


4. Hanno The Navigator

6th Century B.C.


To be fair, Hanno has not been completely forgotten; the Carthaginian sea-captain and original “Navigator” is the titular inspiration for a 2008 song. Long before Pytheas journeyed through the Pillars of Hercules and north, Hanno made his way south along the West African coast.

Whereas several explorers are notable for their solo efforts, Hanno amazes with the incredible scale of his undertaking. Hanno’s fleet consisted of 60 ships and 30,000 men and women. Hanno wasn’t merely exploring; he was colonizing. And to that end he was successful: the Carthaginians established several lasting towns and trading posts.

Unfortunately, dwindling provisions forced Hanno to abandon his attempt at circumnavigating Africa. However, Hanno’s account did leave scholars with several intriguing references to African geography and animals, like the following:

“Most of them were women with hairy bodies, whom our interpreters called ‘gorillas’ . . . we could not catch any males: they all escaped . . . However, we caught three women, who refused to follow those who carried them off, biting and clawing them. So we killed and flayed them and brought their skins back to Carthage.”

So, Jane Goodall wouldn’t be proud, but the earliest probable reference to the large primates? Maybe add “The Zoologist” to Hanno’s honorifics.


3. Harkhuf

Approx. 2280 B.C.


Over 4,000 years before Stanley presumed anyone to be Livingstone, the Egyptian courtier Harkhuf was busy exploring the vast interior of Africa. During the 23rd century B.C., Harkhuf led four expeditions into lands far removed from the Nile riverbank.

It’s believed that Harkhuf carried Egyptian influence as far as the Kingdom of Yam (possibly modern-day Chad) and Sudan. The journey to the former would have taken the explorer through hundreds of miles of unforgiving desert (on foot), and perhaps even farther, as Harkhuf’s tomb inscription notes as a point of pride that the trek took only “seven months.”

Harkhuf’s funerary inscription also suggests the Egyptian explorer encountered a pygmy tribe in his travels. That same inscription makes Harkhuf the first explorer (of the imperial variety) in all of recorded history. Not the first explorer to “cross” or “circumnavigate” or “discover”—the first explorer of written record. Ever.


2. Juan Sebastian Elcano



Trivia fans probably know Magellan was killed well before he could complete the first circumnavigation of the world. Far fewer know the lengths his successor went to in finishing the last 16 months (or nearly half) of the voyage.

Sure, Juan Sebastian Elcano was a mutineer, but to be fair, after almost a year of searching, Magellan’s expedition still hadn’t found its way around South America, and the Spice Islands could never have seemed farther away. Considering only 18 of Magellan’s 240 men actually made it back to Spain, maybe Juan Sebastian had reason to be worried.

By the time Elcano assumed command following Magellan’s death in the Battle of Mactan, only half the crew remained. And since Magellan had renounced his Portuguese citizenship to sail for the Spanish, Elcano and his ship, Victoria, were considered pirates within Portuguese waters—which was pretty much the entire Indian Ocean.

Preferring starvation to probable execution, Elcano crossed the Indian Ocean without putting into port. Thanks to this feat of seamanship and Elcano’s grim determination to avoid capture, one-third of his crew completed the circumnavigation, returning to Spain in truly ghastly shape—but alive nonetheless.


1. James Holman


When Holman died in 1857, he was perhaps the most well-traveled man the world had ever seen, having logged some 400,000 kilometers (250,000 mi) in his lifetime. Holman hadn’t planned on being a professional globetrotter and author; he originally aspired to be a British naval captain, but a sudden illness at age 25 robbed him of his sight.

Undaunted, Holman spent the entirety of his life seeking out new experiences in exotic lands. “The Blind Traveler,” as he became known, bucked cultural conventions, rejected travel companions, and refused to be treated as an invalid. Holman first crisscrossed Europe then attempted a mostly overland circumnavigation of the world—an attempt cut short when Russian authorities suspected him of actually being sighted and spying for Great Britain.

Unfortunately, little documentation exists of Holman’s actual routes over the next two decades, when he did the bulk of his traveling across Eurasia and Africa. Even so, plenty of evidence remains of the man’s adventures, like his ascent of Mount Vesuvius while it was erupting or his hunt of a mad elephant in Ceylon. Sadly, Holman’s writing and travel were victims of the era’s prejudice. The 19th-century public refused to believe a blind man could observe the world around him with such insight and depth. And with the exception of leading minds like Charles Darwin and (later) Sir Richard Burton, Holman’s accomplishments were roundly ignored.

10 Astonishing Shipwreck Treasures

According to UNESCO, there are as many as three million shipwrecks scattered across the world’s seabed. Under international maritime and salvage law, military wrecks normally remain under the jurisdiction of their governments, while almost anything goes in international waters.

To excavate the ocean’s wrecks would take more than 400 years, and its treasures could be worth hundreds of billions of dollars. It should come as no surprise that, aside from being attractive to underwater archaeologists, these wrecks are also of major interest to treasure hunters and salvage operations as they can potentially generate millions of dollars–given the right wrecks are discovered.


10. The Salcombe Wreck

(Still being valued)


Between 1200 and 900 B.C., a ship floundered off the coast of Devon in England. At the time of its sinking, Babylon was still flourishing, the Hanging Gardens hadn’t been built yet, and it would be centuries before the birth of Buddha. Its discovery was announced in 2010. Amateur archaeologists and divers have so far uncovered 300 artifacts that weigh over 185 lbs combined, including copper and tin ingots (used to make bronze), weapons, and several pieces of jewelry. Though it may not be the largest treasure ever discovered, it is significant both because of its age and because the artifacts have proven that a definite trade network existed between Britain and Europe during the Bronze Age. Academics from Oxford University are investigating the finds to try and locate its exact origins, but unfortunately, none of the ship’s parts are still intact.


9. The Belitung Shipwreck

$80 million


The Belitung shipwreck was the first Arabian ship to be discovered and excavated. Found by fishermen just off the coast of Indonesia in 1998, it has yielded the richest and largest assortment of early ninth century Tang Dynasty gold and ceramic artifacts ever found–bowls, spice jars, inkwells, funeral urns, crystals, and gilt-silver boxes. Some of the more significant items included pearls from the Gulf, rubies and sapphires, a gold cup (the largest ever found), and a silver flask. After its excavation, the cargo was purchased by the Singaporean Government, which has loaned it indefinitely to the Singapore Tourism Board.


8. The Ship of Gold

$100–150 million


The S.S. Central America sank during a hurricane in September 1857 carrying 15 tons of gold. Its sinking greatly added to the “Panic of 1857” in the United States which in turn led to the first worldwide economic crisis. After its discovery in 1987 and the subsequent excavation, 39 insurance companies claimed they had a right to the gold and artifacts recovered because of damages paid by them in the 19th century. Legal battles ensued which ultimately saw the discovery team ending up with 92 percent of the gold. One of the gold bars discovered became a very important piece of currency after selling for $8 million–a worldwide record at the time.


7. The Antikythera Treasures

$120–160 million


In the year 1900, divers discovered an ancient shipwreck just off the island of Antikythera. The Archaeological Service of Greece launched an expedition shortly thereafter in what was the world’s first major underwater archaeological expedition. Another expedition in 1976 recovered the most significant part of the cargo. The recovered Antikythera mechanism (believed to be the world’s oldest analog computer) has received so much media coverage over the years that many are not aware of the ships’ other treasures.

The massive haul of artifacts from the famous wreck also included coins and jewelry, glassware, pottery, wonderful statues, and even copper couch beds. One of the remarkably well-preserved statues was a classical bronze statue sculpted sometime from 340 to 330 B.C. named Statue of a Youth. The entire collection of artifacts recovered is on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Greece until August 2013.


6. Treasure of the S.S. Republic

$120 – 180 million


The S.S. Republic was lost during a hurricane in 1865 off the coast of Georgia carrying coins worth an estimated $400, 00. The wreck was finally discovered by Odyssey (a well-known deep sea exploration and salvage company) after being submerged for more than 230 years. To date, more than 51,000 US gold and silver coins have been recovered from the site along with almost 14,000 artifacts which includes thousands of bottles, glasses, and stoneware containers. Soon after the first excavation, a lawsuit was filed by a man claiming Odyssey used his information to locate the wreck. In 2004 a federal judge ruled in favor of Odyssey, awarding them full ownership of the cargo.


5. The Diamond Shipwreck

(Still being valued)


Geologists working for De Beers (the world’s biggest undersea diamond miners) were stunned when they discovered a shipwreck buried in the beach. After uncovering several ingots, the mining operation was stopped and archaeologists were called in. In what some have called “the find of a lifetime”, they uncovered not only the oldest shipwreck ever to be found off Africa’s coast but also more than 22 tons of ingots, 6 cannons, swords, thousands of gold coins traced back to King João III, and more than 50 elephant tusks. After some investigation it was ascertained that the ship was the Bom Jesus, a Portuguese ship which sailed in 1533 and disappeared off the coast of West Africa.


4. The British Treasury Ship

$200 million


The S.S. Gairsoppa sunk in 1941 after being torpedoed by a German U-boat. The ship carried a total cargo of silver, approximately 7 million ounces, worth £600,000 at the time. In 2010, Odyssey Marine Exploration won the exclusive salvage contract for its cargo after the UK Government Department of Transport put out a tender. Under the terms of the contract, Odyssey carries all the risks involved but retains 80 percent of the pieces salvaged.

A year later, the wreck was discovered in the North Atlantic, approximately 4.6 kilometers (2.8 mi) below the surface. Odyssey recovered 48 tons of silver (43 percent of the lost treasure) but had to stop the project due the weather conditions. The complete weight of the haul makes it the largest known metal cargo that has ever been recovered from the sea. The excavation will resume when the rough weather season passes.


3. The Whydah Gally

$400 million


The Whydah is significant as it is the only pirate ship that has ever been found. Even more significant is the fact that the Whydah was the flagship of “Black Sam” Bellamy, a famous pirate captain. Discovered by Barry Clifford in 1984 after many years of searching, its treasures are still being recovered to this day. More than 200,000 artifacts including cannons, coins, gold jewelry, and the ship’s bell have been brought to the surface. Since 2007, a selection of the Whydah’s artifacts has been on show in a travelling exhibition sponsored by The National Geographic Society. Aptly named “Real Pirates”, the exhibit is incredibly popular.


2. The Atocha Motherlode

$450 million


The Nuestra Señora de Atocha was carrying jewelry and jewels, indigo, silver, gold, and copper when it sank off the Florida Keys in 1622. The treasure on this legendary ship was so vast, that it took two months to painstakingly record and load it before the ship could depart along with the rest of the Spanish fleet. Although the Spanish tried to locate the wreck, it was never found. In July 1985, after scouring the seabed for almost 17 years, Mel Fisher discovered the Atocha and her fortune. To this day, the wreckage site is still being explored and excavated as the sterncastle, the most valuable part of the ship, has yet to be found.


1. The Black Swan Project

$500 million


In 2007, Odyssey Marine Exploration flew 17 tons of coins from Gibraltar to an undisclosed address in the US. Their newly discovered shipwreck was located in a lane where many Colonial-era ships floundered and they were uncertain as to nationality, size, and age. Due to the uncertainty and other security concerns they did not release the wreck site, nationality, date, or type of the coins. The treasure haul was the largest to date throughout the world. Experts called the find “unprecedented” and without comparison.

It wasn’t long before the Spanish Government filed a claim against the cargo, claiming that it came from the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, a Spanish frigate that was sunk by the British in 1804. In 2008 a US federal court ordered Odyssey to disclose the location of the wreck site. The location appeared to rule out Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, but after 5 years of litigation, the courts ruled in favor of Spain and the treasure was flown back.

10 Extreme Cases Of Self-Experimentation

Science progresses by theory and experimentation. When an experiment requires a human subject there are two main options for the investigator. By far the most popular is to cast about for a volunteer, usually obtained by offering money rather than appealing to their thirst for scientific advancement. The other option is for the scientist to use him or herself as a test subject. Here are ten cases of bizarre, dangerous or important self-experiments.


10. Pain


Pain is a tricky concept to quantify. We all know people who can deal with a limb being lopped off without complaint while we ourselves are weeping over a paper cut. One potential way to work out a scale of pain would be for an individual to experience a range of painful stimuli and compare them against each other. This was the course Justin Schmidt took when he wished to compare the pain caused by various invertebrate stings. Schmidt ranks the pain caused by a sting from 0 (Ineffective against humans) to 4 (Excruciating). For stings at the higher end of the scale he also adds a verbal description of the pain to allow a fuller examination of what one suffers. One sting—that of the Pepsis wasp—was described as “Immediate, excruciating pain that simply shuts down one’s ability to do anything, except, perhaps, scream.”


9. Cholera


Max von Pettenkofer was a huge figure in 19th century German medicine, being seen as the founder of hygiene. One of the most troubling diseases at the time was cholera, which causes death by extreme loss of fluids by diarrhea. We now know that it is caused by a germ, Vibrio cholerae, and is spread by fecal contamination. Pettenkofer lived in the early days of the germ theory of disease and was convinced cholera was caused by a mixture of a germ and soil conditions which transformed the germ into an infectious miasma. To prove the importance of soil in developing cholera, Pettenkofer drank a sample of pure cholera germs to see if he would get sick. While he felt a little unwell he did not end up dying from voluminous vomiting and diarrhea. This shows the limit of self-experimentation; we only have one self and a single datum is not generally sufficient to prove a theory.


8. Food


Since the first person starved to death it has been obvious that humans need food. What is less obvious is what happens to it once it is inside you and why it seems we excrete less than we take in. In the early 17th century a doctor called Sanctorius decided to weigh everything he ate, his own body, and everything he excreted for over 30 years. He built a special chair to allow him to measure the changes in his weight. These experiments allowed him to calculate that for every 8 pounds of food he ate he passed only 3 pounds of waste. Clearly some was being lost by a process he could not understand and he called this an insensible perspiration. Weighing all your feces and urine for 30 years is true dedication to science, but then I suppose it is better to use your own than someone else’s.


7. Infectiousness


Yellow fever is a viral disease spread by mosquitoes that still kills 30,000 people each year despite there being an effective vaccine available. In the past epidemics of yellow fever would spread through North America and people would regularly leave cities for the safer countryside during ‘the fever season.’ Since it was such a peril a young medical student called Stubbins Ffirth decided to investigate. Certain that it was impossible for the disease to pass from one person to another he tried to infect someone using samples from victims. The person he tried to infect, as you might guess from this list, was himself. He took vomit from yellow fever patients and drank it. He also rubbed it in cuts on his own body for good measure. He did not contract the disease. Perhaps that was not the infectious route, he considered; so he then poured vomit onto his eyeballs. Still no fever. He then progressed through blood, saliva, and pus. Still in robust health Ffirth decided he had confirmed yellow fever was not infectious and published his results. Unfortunately all his samples had come from patients who had passed the infectious stage of the illness and yellow fever is very much a transmissible illness. He never found out he had drunk vomit for nothing.


6. Electrical Stimulation


The discovery of electricity and its effects on dead animals lead to a scramble of scientists attempting to investigate the role of electricity in life. Johann Wilhelm Ritter, discoverer of ultraviolet light, was one such scientist. His experiments into ‘animal electricity’ did away with testing it on corpses and onto his own body. He applied charges to various areas and recorded the results. The most extreme reaction he found was when he used his battery, a Voltaic pile, on his genitals and achieved orgasm. Like a child with a new toy he repeated his experiments endlessly. He was so attached to his work that he joked about marrying his Voltaic pile. The increasing shocks he gave himself occasionally required morphine to dull the pain and it is likely he shortened his life by his work.


5. Surviving Submarines


War has been a natural training ground for scientists. The huge number of bodies produced let early medics explore human anatomy. But the urge to help prevent deaths has also spurred some scientists into risky behaviors. J. B. S. Haldane was one of the great theorists of evolution but also had a flair for dramatic experiments. He learned this from his father, also a biologist, who used to experiment on his son. Wishing to study the effects of rapid changes in pressure which a submariner would experience on escaping from a wreck, Haldane had himself repeatedly placed in a decompression chamber. While much was learned about nitrogen narcosis, the bends, no major harm was done to Haldane except for some fits and perforated ear drums. He shrugged this latter off. “The drum generally heals up; and if a hole remains in it, although one is somewhat deaf, one can blow tobacco smoke out of the ear in question, which is a social accomplishment.”


4. Upside Down World


All we know of the world is through our senses and so it is natural for scientists to investigate how those senses work. George Stratton decided to test how the mind would adapt to change in its perception of sight. By wearing glasses he inverted his vision so up was down and down was up. At first putting on the glasses led to the nausea and disconnected feelings you would expect. Within days he was able to function normally and after some time he reported that he actually felt the image he was receiving was actually the right way up. When he took the glasses off he thought the world as he saw it without the glasses was upside down. Repetitions of this experiment have failed to replicate this feeling normality but have shown the power of the brain to adapt to changes in perception compared to reality.


3. Hanging Sensation


Nicolae Minovici was a man who had a question he wanted an answer to: what does hanging feel like? For most of us the answer ‘Probably not great’ would be a sufficient guess, but Minovici wanted to know beyond reasonable doubt. The only logical answer was therefore to have himself hanged and experience it for himself. Several times and with several different types of noose he had assistants hoist him into the air. The pain was apparently severe and lasted for weeks after each experiment, not something condemned men would have to contend with as their suffering is cut somewhat short. Of course this experiment does not answer what those who suffer the long drop and a broken neck undergo when they are executed.


2. Heart Cathetar


Sometimes it is necessary for doctors to get access to the heart either for diagnosis or treatment. The simplest way to do this might seem to be to hack open the chest and have a look at the organ itself. Obviously this has massive risks and while even today opening the chest is risky, in the 1930s it would have been almost certainly fatal. Werner Forssman studied corpses and decided it would be possible to pass a thin tube, or catheter, along blood vessels and directly into the heart. Needing to discover whether this would be possible in still living humans he decided an experiment would be in order. He cut open his arm and threaded the tube up and into his heart. A small slip could have torn a major vessel and led to his death but he still needed to prove he had reached the heart. So, with the tube dangling from his arm, he walked from the operating room to an x-ray machine, and took the pictures which showed he had been successful. For this bit of scientific derring-do he shared the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1956.


1. Stomach Ulcers


One of the most basic rules of lab safety is no eating or drinking, but there can be serious rewards for ignoring this ban. Today stomach ulcers are, for the most part, just punch lines in jokes about people being too stressed but they were once a major cause of death. The risk is from an ulcer causing bleeding or perforating and leading to infection. The cause of these potentially fatal ulcers was a mystery until two scientists, Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, discovered many patients carried the bacterium Helicobacter pylori in their stomachs. After checking his stomach was healthy Marshall downed a Petri dish of the bacteria and waited. He soon developed gastritis and other symptoms. They had shown H. pylori could cause stomach ulcers and that antibiotics could treat them. For this discovery Marshall and Warren shared a Nobel Prize in 2005.