Saturday, 24 August 2013

The secret life of molecules

Whilst I was trawling around on the internet the other day in search of ever more obscure factoids, I came across this rather amazing claim with regard to molecules of water. The gist of it was that every single living person on earth has at least one molecule of water in them that was once pissed out by Oliver Cromwell.

Quite why Oliver Cromwell should have been chosen to represent this "fact" I am not sure as presumably it could have been applied to any historical figure or indeed anyone who ever lived. I am not even sure if it is true or just one of those "urban myths" that crops up from time to time. Further digging suggested it may have once been mentioned on QI, though I am not sure if that is where it came from or someone on the show heard it elsewhere and thought it worthy of an airing.

It is all to do with the sheer scale of the numbers involved. Atoms and molecules, being the extremely small things they are means that even in a single drop of water there are untold billions of them, so I suppose it is not unreasonable to imagine that even in one single visit to the 17th century latrine so many billions of molecules of water must have been released that they are now to be found scattered across every square mile of earth.

Molecules and atoms are forever, so every single one has existed since the universe was formed - it is a closed system, so take a single molecule of water or even atom of hydrogen if you so wish and imagine what adventures that must have had since the Big Bang, 13 billion or more years ago.

This whole Cromwell and pissing thing is quite unsettling though when you think about it. Perhaps it is best not to think about it. Every molecule of water must have been through countless people, and not just as urine. It is in fact highly likely that every time you have a drink of any sort you are drinking a huge collections of millions of past people's urine, faeces, semen and more. So much for anyone who says they don't swallow.

I must apologise for this lowering of the tone, I haven't done it for a while, it seems I have let my standards slip. I also think I am letting all of this get to me a bit much. Whilst I was in Sainsbury's the other day doing a bit of shopping, I imagined the molecules in my shopping basket talking to each other. I had just put down a pack of toilet paper on top of some beef I had just bought, so to all intents their molecules were more or less touching each other, apart from a bit of plastic wrapping. The conversation went something like this:

Toilet Paper Molecules: "Hello, I'm toilet paper, I've got hydrogen, oxygen and carbon atoms in me. I used to be a tree. How are you?"

Beef Molecules: "Oh not bad, apart from the fact I used to be part of a cow until I got killed and chopped up and sent here. I've got lots of elements in me, including lots of iron, it's very good for you, you know".

Toilet Paper Molecules: "Well, looks like we are at the checkout now, might not see you again as we'll probably end up in separate bags and when I get home I will be going to the bathroom and you will be going to the fridge".

Beef Molecules: "Well, that's true, but then again, thinking about it, we may well be meeting up again in a few days".

Toilet Paper Molecules: "That's very true, look forward to seeing you there, it's a date".

Well if that hasn't put you off your dinner, I don't know what will. OK what I have just written might seem utterly ridiculous but it's food for thought.

I'm always quite fascinated by where things have been and what they've done. I am quite interested in those experiments they do with geese where they tag them and see where they migrate to. You can even do it on the home front now with a GPS tracker you can buy and attach to your cat's collar. Perhaps we should get one for "our" cat Susie, we might actually find out where she lives then.

I've just been looking through my pockets at my change and oldest coin I have is a penny that is dated 1971. That's 42 years ago which makes it older than the majority of you reading this. Now that's another fascinating thing. Imagine if someone could have tagged it with some sort of tracker back in 1971 and followed it everywhere it had been throughout that time. What an adventure, from person to person, shop to shop, bank to bank. Now that could be an epic tale to tell! Who knows what great moments in history it might have witnessed. How many different products it may have been used to purchase. Perhaps that might be a book or a movie in itself! The secret life of a penny...

21st June 1976, "A small boy with sticky fingers prised me out of his pocket today and bought a penny chew with me as part of a 10p bag of penny sweets at the papershop. About 10 minutes later I was given out in change to a man in a suit who bought a copy of The Times. I was in his trousers for about half an hour before he took them off and I noticed he was in a hotel bedroom with a lady I am pretty sure was not his wife. And he was definitely married as I felt his wedding ring clink against me in his pocket. Later he left me on a plate with all his other loose change and I was scooped up by a waitress and popped in a jar, ready to be shared out later. I wondered who I'd be given to and where I'd end up tomorrow. Just another day in the exciting life of being a penny".

I think I had better bring this blog entry to a close now before anyone brings my sanity into question. When I told Claire the little story above about the toilet paper and the beef she a) burst into hysterics and b) strongly advised against writing it in the blog. As always on these occasions, I could not resist doing exactly that.

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Jason xx

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