Chin -> Penguin

Chins are funny. Every human has one; no human knows why.

No other primate (extinct or extant) has a chin. Everyone else’s mouth curves inward at the bottom, making chins a curiously and uniquely human trait. There are a few popular ideas for why chins evolved, but none of them holds water. Or food. None of them holds whatever’s in your mouth like your trusty chin does. The proposals that say chins served an evolutionary purpose (whether mechanical or sexual) don’t hold up to scrutiny, while what seems like the best idea (that chins were simply exposed as our ancestors’ faces shrunk) is difficult to prove. It’s a chin-undrum. (That’s conundrum, but chin.)

All I know, really, is that when I’m outside in a blizzard, I need to keep my chin covered because of our old friend the square-cube law. Chins have a lot of surface area, so they lose heat quickly, but they only get warmed at the same rate as the rest of the body (which has less surface area compared to its volume than a chin does). Combine those and it means that chins, ears, fingers, toes, and noses lose heat faster than it’s supplied.

Emperor Penguins have learned the square-cube law, too; it’s why they huddle by the thousands through the Antarctic winter instead of letting every individual fend for themselves. Each member of the huddle has some of their body exposed to the wind and some exposed to other (warm) penguins. Less heat escapes to the wind than it would if everyone were alone. This shielding works so well, in fact, that the penguins at the center of the huddle can get too warm! They move away from the middle to cool off.

When they move to the edge, those on the edge get to shuffle their way toward the middle. They get to warm up and stay alive after bearing the brunt of the cold, the same way members of a household might rotate shoveling duty when it’s really cold outside so that no one gets frostbitten.

At least, that’s the hope—in both cases.

What Is This?

Science is beautifully interwoven. The light we use to understand the Big Bang is the same kind of light we use to heat up leftovers. The telescopes we use to see distant galaxies focus light the same way an inflated balloon can focus sound. The low pitch of rumbling thunder sounds the way it does for the same reason upstairs neighbors tend to sound like grumbling brutes rather than dainty mice. And so on. The more deeply we investigate the inner workings of our material universe, the more interconnected its processes and its physics seem to be.

In this blog, I want to explore some of those interconnections. My plan is simple: Every week, I’m going to go to this Pictionary word generator, set “Number of Things” to 3, “Category” to either Medium or Hard, depending on how I’m feeling that week, and hit “Generate Pictionary Words.” I’ll pick two of the words that pop up and write a little arc of physical connections from one to the other. I’ll post a screenshot of the result from the website, too, just to keep myself honest.

The goal, I suppose, is to be somewhere between an educational read and a good, regular writing exercise. Hopefully it turns out to be both. I can’t promise perfect rigor; I’ll do my best to source claims and double-check my writing, but there’s always a chance I read something wrong in my haste or just write something wrong. I certainly won’t always use semicolons correctly. Why expect anything more from my physics? If someone reads the blog and points out an error, I’ll correct it in the next post—and if that error breaks the chain from one topic to the next, I’ll find another way to connect them. I’ll also thank them for reading, because that’s about the nicest thing a person can do when another humans writes something.

On that note, whether you’ve read this far or skimmed to the end of this introductory post, thank you for reading.