Win money with physics

Would you like to make some extra cash through physics without even setting foot in a science classroom?

Yes? Well then, pick up a copy of "The Instant Physicist: An Illustrated Guide" by Berkeley physics professor Richard Muller for only $16.95 and start raking in the bucks.

The book's introduction begins: "Learn astonishing facts! Win arguments with friends and relatives! Make crazy-sounding bets, and win money!"

"The Instant Physicist" is full of counter-intuitive and unusual facts from the world of physics.

Here's my plan for putting the book to use. While talking to a friend or family member, I will casually make a foolish-sounding comment like, "I sure like compasses and how they help you figure out directions by pointing to the south pole."

My companion will likely say, "You idiot! A compass needle points to the north pole."

With the trap set, I will look puzzled and say, "Really? Wanna bet?" Then "The Instant Physicist" will reveal that compass needles are attracted to the south pole of a magnet and the Earth's magnetic south pole. But about 800,000 years ago, the Earth's magnetic poles flipped, leaving us with a magnetic south pole at the geographic north pole. (The eerie thing about these occasional magnetic pole flips is that for a few thousand years before they happen, the planet's magnetism turns off.) I'm sure that clever anecdote has whetted your appetite for finding out more ways to become a physics hustler.

How about baiting someone by saying that biofuels are radioactive? It's actually true, although the radiation levels are not dangerous. Plants get their carbon from radioactive carbon dioxide — known as radiocarbon — in the air. That makes them radioactive. When they are turned into biofuels, that fuel is also radioactive. Fossil fuels like oil are made from plants that were buried millions of years ago and have since lost their radioactivity.

Or, let someone think you are a conspiracy theorist by saying, "In 1995, the U.S. government admitted that flying disks really did crash in Roswell, New Mexico." In 1947, a string of balloons, radar reflectors, radio transmitters and disk microphones — dubbed "flying disks" by scientists — crashed near Roswell. The disk microphones were used successfully to detect the far-off rumbling of Russian nuclear tests. The government tried to cover up the fact that America possessed such technology by saying that only a weather balloon had crashed.

How about this one? Super white laundry is actually dirtier than white laundry. Strange, but true. To get those socks "whiter than white," detergent manufacturers add chemical phosphors that cling to clean clothes and cause normally invisible ultraviolet light to become visible. Clothes that are free of phosphors can only reflect back regular visible light.

For everyone who thinks that Thomas Edison was such a genius, if he had had his way, we would have a coal-fired power plant burning in every neighborhood. He favored low-voltage direct current (DC) electricity. His rival, Nikola Tesla, favored high voltage alternating current (AC) electricity, which allowed transmission lines to be more efficient so that power plants could be built far away. Tesla's system won out. Thankfully, transformers reduce the voltage of AC electricity before it reaches our homes.

You can make a bet that Edison, America's beloved "Wizard of Menlo Park," electrocuted puppies. Terrible as it sounds, Edison made movies of animals being electrocuted with AC electricity to demonstrate its dangers. He even worked his way up to electrocuting a circus elephant, an event that became the inspiration for the movie "Dumbo."

Reach reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-479-8199 or

Share This Story