It’s become a joke that physicists think they understand all ‘lesser’ fields of science than the people with actual training. Now we lesser beings have a beautiful example to point at and laugh.

An Australian astrophysicist, stuck at home by the pandemic, decided to try and build a device to help with the coronavirus — a gadget that would signal when your hands moved close to your face. I have to admit that that does sound like something a physicist would be capable of doing, but everything went wrong. He somehow thought putting magnets in his nose would be helpful.

Reardon said he placed two magnets inside his nostrils, and two on the outside. When he removed the magnets from the outside of his nose, the two inside stuck together. Unfortunately, the researcher then attempted to use his remaining magnets to remove them.

“At this point, my partner who works at a hospital was laughing at me,” he said. “I was trying to pull them out but there is a ridge at the bottom of my nose you can’t get past.

“After struggling for 20 minutes, I decided to Google the problem and found an article about an 11-year-old boy who had the same problem. The solution in that was more magnets. To put on the outside to offset the pull from the ones inside.

“As I was pulling downwards to try and remove the magnets, they clipped on to each other and I lost my grip. And those two magnets ended up in my left nostril while the other one was in my right. At this point I ran out of magnets.”

Before attending the hospital, Reardon attempted to use pliers to pull them out, but they became magnetised by the magnets inside his nose.

“Every time I brought the pliers close to my nose, my entire nose would shift towards the pliers and then the pliers would stick to the magnet,” he said. “It was a little bit painful at this point.

It’s terribly unfortunate that he ran out of magnets. If only he’d had a few more this story could have gone on even longer!


  1. brightmoon says

    Did he use some of those super magnets ? He’s an idiot. just picking up one of those things improperly can cause injury.

  2. wzrd1 says

    @2, I’ve quite a few of those magnets. Never even came close to injuring myself, largely because I respected their strength and ability to compress tissues destructively, so I didn’t stick them up my frigging nose.

    ‘“At this point, my partner who works at a hospital was laughing at me,”’
    That’s OK, I’m laughing at him now and will for a long, long, long time. Think proton decay will be well along and I’ll still be laughing.
    I’m guessing that astrophysics degrees don’t have any classes on common sense in the syllabus. Perhaps they should, at least in regards to powerful magnets.

    Hey PZ, did he write up that experiment? He might earn an entry in the Annals of Improbable Research. Then, the entire planet could join in on the laugh.
    Maybe he could then try to replicate the experiment utilizing a magnetar and find the result being he was unaware of the gravity of the situation.
    You know, a young neutron star with an insanely powerful magnetic field…

  3. komarov says

    Just from the quotes here I’m guessing he was going for a trigger based on magnetic field changes as he moved his (magnet-studded) hands closer to his face. (Yes, I could probably read the article but that would not be the clichéd physics way of doing it) The obvious and trivial solution should have been to plate his face with copper or gold and electrify that. It’s much more convenient than a permanent magnet up your nostrils, which I bet you have to touch with your hands to get in and out.* If you dislike the idea of galvanising your head you could also wrap a few metres of wire around it to create a coil. Or, if you want to be really boring and down to earth, tape the damn magnets to your face. If you insist on being stupid about it, use superglue.

    Or you could simply wear any type of gloves which already act as “hand-awareness devices”, i.e. you’ll know what your hands are doing and won’t be touching your face anyhow.

    *What if you shared your magnets with an infected person?! Clearly, magnet hygiene must be strictly enforced, adding to the problems of this “solution”

  4. Sean Boyd says

    He should write this experience up and submit to a journal. I smell an Ig Nobel in his future!

  5. jack16 says

    There are lots of non magnetic tools. Good idea to keep some at hand for the proposed task.

  6. F.O. says

    It’s terribly unfortunate that he ran out of magnets. If only he’d had a few more this story could have gone on even longer!

    Wow this is gratuitously mean. What the actual fuck PZ!?

  7. rabbitbrush says

    Instransitive @5 – How is one supposed to keep one’s hands away from one’s eyes while listening to that?

  8. christoph says

    @ Intransitive, # 5: I’m wondering if the bricklayer’s name was Wile E. Coyote.

  9. psychomath says

    @5 – Instransitive

    Very funny bit. I had never heard of him. It appears he died quite young but was an interesting man. Reading his Wikipedia page I learned he was a “prison visitor”, which I also had never heard of. It is a person who visits with prisoners who don’t get other visitors. Apparently this started originally to support conscientious objectors but then expanded to include anyone. I think I might look into that. Thank you for the pointer.

  10. says

    Hoffnung’s sketch is like Larry Miller’s “Five Stages of Drinking”. Both telegraph every joke. You know what they’re going to say next, but you listen anyway for the delivery.

  11. Matt G says

    The solution to the hand-to-face problem is to have people wear head cones like dogs do.

  12. says

    I keep thinking of that amusing “Should I Lick The Science” list meme. Does this mean we now need a “Should I Snort The Science” list too?

    I propose the Physics entry to be “PHYSICS: Unavoidable, except magnets. Avoid magnets. If this fails, at least deny further magnets.”

  13. davidc1 says

    Don’t know if the craze has reached America but in Europe people are using very powerful magnets to fish for metal stuff in canals and other bodies of water .Some people have been bringing up small arms from WW2 discarded by the German army .

  14. nomdeplume says

    Well, he has had more than his ten minutes of fame, perhaps he will be known for life as “the guy who stuck magnets up his nose in one of the silliest experiments of all time even though he is a physicist”. Look, PZ, I know you and the cat are going stir-crazy, but “put down the magnets, ok”?

  15. bcwebb says

    PZ has to do magnetic field affects on web formation or egg production in spiders.

    There was the perhaps apocryphal story of the mice in magnetic fields experiment that found putting mice inbetween the poles of a strong electromagnet stopped the mice from breeding –until someone pointed out the magnet gap was too narrow for the mice to be on top of eachother….

  16. epawtows says

    Electrical current can be generated by moving magnetic fields. So, wrap some wire around the guy’s head, wait for a sneeze, and hook him up to the grid.The energy crisis can be solved with a few dashes of pepper.

  17. Dr. Pablito says

    If I could just chime in, this guy was an ASTROPHYSICIST with no reported laboratory experience. Clearly has blind spots about stuff he has no experience with. Clever, inexperienced people can be dangerous in the lab because they don’t know what they don’t know.

  18. says

    As someone with a Master’s Degree in Physics: yes we ALL (including me) think we know everything until reality bites us on the bum. And sometimes even after then.

  19. DanDare says

    That’s the best laugh I have had in years. Tears are streaming down my face. Thanks.

  20. says

    Magnets are an unnecessary complication. A more practical approach would be something like this: When my hand (A) approaches my face (B), it casts a shadow which causes the groundhog (C) to retreat into its hole, pulling a cord that turns on a fan (D) which moves a sailboat across a basin, where it is seen by Erich Von Daniken (E), who believes it to be the Loch Ness monster, and runs for a TV camera (F), which…

    Ehh, the hell with it. Gimme a magnet.