MySci Round-Up, September 3-6: The "Human Bullet" Breaks 300 MPH

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On this day in 1935, Sir Malcolm Campbell became the first driver to break the 300-mile-per-hour barrier at Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. The 50-year-old British daredevil, nicknamed the “Human Bullet” in the press, was a former World War I pilot who took up automobile racing in the 1920s and dedicated himself not just to becoming the fastest driver on the planet, but to pushing the record as far as he could. He set his first world land speed record in 1924 at Pendine Sands in West Wales, hitting 146.163 miles per hour in a V-12 Sunbeam. He went on to set new world-record speeds another eight times, most of them in various versions of the Bluebird, an innovative car that he designed with various engineers for the purpose of achieving maximum speed. The 
1935 version that he took to the famously smooth Bonneville Salt Flats weighed six tons and sported a Rolls-Royce V-12 engine with aircraft-type cylinders, capable of achieving 3,200 RPM and 2,300 to 2,500 horsepower. In March, he hit 276.82 MPH at Bonneville, but that wasn’t quite speedy enough for him. On his second try in September, Campbell aimed for the big three plus two zeroes, which works out to five miles per minute.

According to a 
New York Times account, more than a thousand spectators lined the mile-long course that morning as Campbell climbed into the Bluebird to make the two runs within an hour required by the international rules of land-speed racing. Near the end of his first run, Campbell had a brush with death when his left front tire “blew out with a noise like a rifle crack,” as the Times reporter described it. Campbell swerved off the guideline, but the driver was able to avert a crash with a quick twist of the steering wheel, and then slowed to a halt. “Hurry, boys, hurry,” he exhorted his mechanics. “We’ve got to make a quick change or the hour will be up.” The crew managed to get him ready for a second run, but with just eight minutes to spare. Campbell rolled out from the starting line and accelerated down the five and a half-mile approach path to the measured mile, battling a crosswind and fumes and steam that filled his cockpit. The second run was a tad slower than the first, and Campbell was disappointed when American Automobile Association officials initially averaged out the two runs at 299.875 MPH. But on second glance, they spotted an error in their computations, and corrected the result to 301.337 MPH—so fast that it was only three MPH slower than the then-speed record for airplanes. Finally satisfied, Campbell retired from auto racing, and switched to racing boats instead. And with that, here are the science and technology stories of the day.

Hawking says universe didn’t need a divine creator, and further, that it’s not the only universe. 
While religious leaders are upset about the Godless part, the M-theory conclusion that there are multiple realities is perhaps even more mind-boggling.

Distant gas giants Uranus and Neptune contain water. 
This explains certain weird quirks in their magnetic fields.

Scientists identify the proteins involved in stimulation from touch. This could lead to new treatments for a wide range of ailments, from deafness to kidney problems.

Facebook unveils new “subscribe” feature, in apparent evolution toward being more Twitter-like. Users will be able to get continuous updates of their friends’ postings. Rumor has it that eventually, you’ll be able to track anybody who makes his or her posts accessible to all. And isn’t that pretty much the same thing as getting tweets?

Chrome 6 reportedly contains embryonic version of Chrome 7. Unfortunately, though, the latter simply consists of hardware acceleration and tab-switching features, and isn’t going to burst out of Chrome 6’s stomach and start ranting at Arnold Schwarzenegger, like the mutant in “Total Recall.” 

Can lab-grown synthetic human epidermis replace bunnies in toxicity testing? Not totally, alas. But it does give a creepy new meaning to that old Courtney Love lyric about “miles and miles of perfect skin.”