The Pressed Frog Phenomenon

I found the image below at the Texas History site of the University of North Texas. It appears there as is, without any further explanation (or date).

I realize that the indentations on top of bricks are called 'frogs', but why were actual frogs being placed inside bricks?

As far as I can tell, it must have been an experimental demonstration of the 'pressed frog phenomenon' — this phenomenon being that one can place a living frog inside a brick as its being made, apply thousands of pounds of pressure to the brick to mold it, and the frog will survive. The frog won't be happy about the experience, but it won't burst. Whereas the same pressure applied to a frog that isn't in a brick will definitely cause it to burst.

Obviously the brick hasn't been heated in a kiln, because that would definitely cook the frog.

The article below from 1925 explains the science of why a frog in a brick doesn't burst. The key part of the (overly long) explanation is this sentence:

when the pressure was exerted gradually there was a tendency for the particles of clay around the body to "wall up" the body by the grains of clay moving instead of a tendency of the body "bursting" by the particles of the body moving.

However, this doesn't solve the mystery of who first decided to put a frog in a brick.

Clarion Ledger Sun - Aug 16, 1925

Posted By: Alex - Mon May 23, 2022 - Comments (5)
Category: Animals, Science, Experiments, 1920s

Knives made from frozen human feces

The non-fiction book Shadows in the Sun by Wade Davis contains the following passage:

There is a well known account of an old Inuit man who refused to move into a settlement. Over the objections of his family, he made plans to stay on the ice. To stop him, they took away all of his tools. So in the midst of a winter gale, he stepped out of their igloo, defecated, and honed the feces into a frozen blade, which he sharpened with a spray of saliva. With the knife he killed a dog. Using its rib cage as a sled and its hide to harness another dog, he disappeared into the darkness.

This caught the attention of some archaeologists who decided to test if a knife made from human feces would actually be strong enough to cut through muscle and tendons. They published their results in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The researchers paid close attention to detail. For instance:

In order to procure the necessary raw materials for knife production, one of us went on a diet with high protein and fatty acids, which is consistent with an arctic diet, for eight days.

However, the results were disappointing: "the knife-edge simply melted upon contact, leaving streaks of fecal matter."

Conclusion: the story of the fecal knife was an urban legend.

Posted By: Alex - Fri Mar 25, 2022 - Comments (4)
Category: Science, Experiments, Excrement

The Case of the Furious Children

In 1954, six young boys who exhibited violent behavior were brought to live on the grounds of the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. They were specifically selected because they were deemed the worst of the worst:

The boys were selected on the basis of the consistent ferocity of their behavior, as documented in the records of courts, schools, and social agencies. Though they were only eight to ten years old at the time they became charges of the government, their case histories were long and strikingly similar: classroom difficulties ranging from inability to learn to violent tantrums, truancy, stealing, fire-setting, assaults—often fiendish in their ingenuity—on other children, sexual misbehavior, and so on.

For the next five years, the boys were attended around the clock by a team of specialists.

It was all part of an experiment, which came to be known as the "Case of the Furious Children," designed to find out why these young boys were so violent and whether they could be turned into responsible citizens. Eventually, around $1.5 million (in 1950's dollars) was spent on this effort.

By the end of the experiment, one of the researchers, Dr. Nicholas Long, said that the boys now had a "better than 50-50 chance of living a productive life." So what became of them? Were they reformed, or did they head down the path of crime and prison that they originally seemed to be destined for?

I'd be interesting to know, but I haven't been able to find anything out. I'm guessing the info has never been released because of privacy issues.

More info: Harpers Magazine - Jan 1958

Chicago Daily Tribune - July 19, 1959

Posted By: Alex - Wed Jan 19, 2022 - Comments (0)
Category: Antisocial Activities, Experiments, Psychology, Children, 1950s

Fish-Operated Vehicle

Scientists at Israel's Ben-Gurion University of the Negev trained goldfish to drive a "fish-operated vehicle" or FOV. Details from

Each fish was put into the FOV – equipped with a fish tank – at different locations in a room and tasked with a goal to drive to a visual target. If they steered to the target, they were rewarded with a fish pellet. To the scientists’ amazement, the goldfish successfully reached the target after a few days of training, no matter what position they started in or if they were interrupted by hitting a wall or by false targets, according to the release.

So how long before your Uber driver is a fish?

More info: "From fish out of water to new insights on navigation mechanisms in animals"

Posted By: Alex - Thu Jan 13, 2022 - Comments (3)
Category: Motor Vehicles, Experiments, Fish

Hand-Sniffing After Handshakes

Research by biologists Noam Sobel and Idan Frumin reveals that after a handshake people frequently lift their hand to their nose and sniff it. The researchers hypothesize that this is to smell the body odor of the other person.

As described by Sarah Everts in her recent book The Joy of Sweat:

Sobel also conducted a fascinating experiment with his graduate student Idan Frumin to see what people did with their hands after a handshake. Their team secretly videotaped people after they shook the hand of someone new, someone they had just met for the first time. Here's their delicious discovery: A few seconds after the handshake, the experimental subjects would inevitably sniff their own hands, to gain some odorous information about the new person.

"When we showed them the videos, many of the subjects were completely shocked and disbelieving," Frumin told me. "Some thought we had doctored the videos - not that we had the computing power or the expertise to do so."

. . . When Frumin now goes to conferences, he sometimes stands back and watches people unconsciously sniffing. "Sometimes I catch myself doing it too. People tell me I've ruined handshakes for them, that they've become very self-conscious about shaking hands, especially with me."

The Weizmann Institute has more info. Sobel and Frumin's article about their research is in the journal eLife Sciences.

Posted By: Alex - Wed Dec 08, 2021 - Comments (6)
Category: Science, Experiments, Smells and Odors

Lambs in a wind tunnel

Controversial experiments in which British government scientists subjected newborn lambs to prolonged periods in a wind tunnel and baths of cold water to test their weather resistance have been stopped by the Agricultural Research Council.

After spending more than $40,000 on the experiments the scientists concluded that lambs with short wool got cold faster than lambs with long wool.

Sounds like Nobel Prize material there.

San Francisco Examiner - Dec 9, 1979

I'm not entirely sure, but Deborah Samson's research at the University of Edinburgh seems like it was the original study: "Genetic and physiological aspects of resistance to hypothermia in relation to neonatal lamb survival".

You can download at this link (pdf file) her doctoral thesis describing the research. As usual with things like this, the actual scientific study doesn't seem as wacky as the media report of it.

Update: While browsing through Samson's thesis, I discovered that she had a picture of the lamb "wind tunnel apparatus".

Posted By: Alex - Sun Dec 05, 2021 - Comments (2)
Category: Experiments, Farming, 1970s

Jello Brainwaves

In 1974, Dr. Adrian Upton of McMaster University placed E.E.G. electrodes on a blob of lime jello and obtained positive readings. This indicated brain activity. He published his results in 1976 in the Medical Tribune.

Upton was trying to demonstrate that when doctors use an E.E.G. to determine brain death, it can be difficult to obtain a perfectly flat readout, because the equipment picks up stray electrical activity from the surrounding environment. Or maybe he had discovered that jello is a sentient lifeform.

The Jell-O Gallery Museum in Le Roy, New York seems to prefer the latter conclusion. A brain-shaped jello mold on display at the museum bears the message: "A Bowl of Jell-O Gelatin and the Human Brain Have the Same Frequency of Brain Waves."

image source: Donna Goldstein,

More info: The Straight Dope

Wichita Eagle - Mar 8, 1976

Posted By: Alex - Mon Nov 15, 2021 - Comments (7)
Category: Food, Jello, Experiments, 1970s, Brain

King Gustav III’s Coffee Experiment

According to what may be legend, King Gustav III of Sweden conducted that country's first clinical trial during the second half of the 18th century. He wanted to determine whether drinking coffee was bad for one's health. He firmly believed it was. The story is told on the website of Sweden's Uppsala University Library:

The king Gustav III viewed coffee consumption as a threat to the public health and was determined to prove its negative effects. It is said that he decided to carry out an experiment on two prisoners. Two twins had been tried for the crimes they had committed and condemned to death. Their sentences were commuted to life imprisonment on the condition that one of the twins drank three pots of coffee every day while the other drank the same amount of tea, and this for the rest of their lives, in order to see if the coffee affected their life expectancy. Unfortunately the king died before the final result of his experiment: the first twin died at the age of 83 and he was the one who drank tea!

Barstow Desert Dispatch - Jan 7, 1991

Wikipedia notes that the authenticity of the coffee experiment story has been questioned. Though it doesn't say why.

As far as I can tell, the earliest English-language reference to the story appeared in a 1937 issue of The Science News-Letter. This account was then widely reprinted in newspapers (see below).

The Science News-Letter attributed the information to the Swedish-born botanist Bror Eric Dahlgren, who was a curator at the Field Museum in Chicago. Dahlgren did author a 1938 pamphlet about the history of coffee, which you can read online at the Biodiversity Heritage Library, but it doesn't include the story of King Gustav. I can't locate where else Dahlgren might have told the story of the coffee experiment, which makes it impossible to check his references.

The Sheboygan Press - May 28, 1938

Posted By: Alex - Thu Sep 23, 2021 - Comments (5)
Category: Experiments, Coffee and other Legal Stimulants, Eighteenth Century

Butt Breathing Tubes

Recent studies suggest that it may be possible to supply oxygen to patients via a "butt breathing tube" rather than by the traditional tube down the throat. This new technique is also known as "enteral ventilation via anus". Caleb Kelly, in the journal Med (Jun 11, 2021) notes:

Enteral ventilation via anus (EVA) is an enema-like procedure to deliver oxygen to the body through the distal gut. This is a provocative idea and those first encountering it will express astonishment.

The key to the technique is the use of an oxygen-saturated perfluorocarbon solution that can deliver enough oxygen to make it through the mucus membrane of the intestines and into the blood.

The technique has been demonstrated successfully on mice, rats, and pigs, but not yet on humans.

Josh Bloom, on the American Council of Science and Health site, observes:

If you don't like the idea of having a tube shoved up...there... it's a damn sight better than having one down your throat.

image source: The Scientist

Posted By: Alex - Sat Sep 04, 2021 - Comments (2)
Category: Science, Experiments

The Power of Prayer on Plants

According to the Rev. Franklin Loehr, prayer could supercharge the growth of plants. Pretty much any prayer would work. He detailed his argument in his 1959 book The Power of Prayer on Plants.

When Richard Nixon was told of Loehr's results, he reportedly said, "That sounds like a good kind of thinking to me."

However, in 1961, a group of Harvard students tried to replicate Loehr's results and failed to do so. In fact, in their experiment the plants that weren't prayed for at all grew better than plants that were prayed for by either skeptics or believers.

More details from Newsweek (Apr 13, 1959):

Prayer Food

Can prayer make plants grow faster and bigger? Skeptics think it laughable, scientists find it irrelevant, and farmers tend to rely on more mundane methods to increase their crops. But the Rev. Franklin Loehr is convinced that the answer is yes, and has just written a book, "The Power of Prayer on Plants," to tell why.

After five years and 900 experiments, the 46-year-old Presbyterian minister reports he and 150 members of his prayer group found that prayed-for wheat and corn seeds grew into bigger seedlings than ones which got no prayer or outright negative prayer. Commenting on their methods last week in his Los Angeles home, Mr. Loehr explained that they used every kin of prayer and found every one effective to a degree.

"There were silent and spoken prayers," he continued, "those to loved ones, and the humble prayer straight to God. But mostly people just talked to the plants, loved them, or scolded them. First I tried buddying up to them, and then I observed that the people getting better results were approaching the plants on their own level of consciousness."

Picking up a copy of the book, he pointed to the jacket, which shows a lone, stunted shoot on the no-prayer side of an experimental seedbed. "He wasn't supposed to be there," explained Mr. Loehr, "so we blighted him with three bursts of negative command."

Mr. Loehr dropped the experiments two years ago, having persuaded himself, at least, of their validity. He is now concentrating on "soul dynamics" prayer for people—not, of course, to make them grow faster and bigger. "The fact is," he concluded, "we used plants to test prayer just as the artificial heart is tested in dogs instead of humans."

Along similar lines, see our previous post "Does holy water help radishes grow better?"

Posted By: Alex - Fri Aug 06, 2021 - Comments (2)
Category: Religion, Experiments, Books, 1950s

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