10) The thermostat in your office may be sexist
Always wearing a sweater to work—even in the middle of the summer? Blame Povl Ole Fanger, a Danish scientist who in the 1960s developed a model that predicted comfortable indoor temperatures for the average worker of the day—a 40-year-old man sporting a three-piece suit. Now, researchers say they have built a better model by taking modern attire and demographics into account.
9) Did natural selection make the Dutch the tallest people on the planet?
Scientists have finally solved the mystery of why the Dutch are so tall. Tall Dutch men on average have more children than their shorter counterparts, and more of their children survive, researchers have found. The findings, say scientists, are an impressive example of human evolution in action.
8) Internet search engines may be influencing elections
BIDGEE/WIKIMEDIA/CREATIVE COMMONS (CC BY-SA 3.0)
“What we’re talking about here is a means of mind control on a massive scale that there is no precedent for in human history.” That’s how this story starts, and it just gets wackier from there.
7) Rats forsake chocolate to save a drowning companion
SATO, N. ET AL., ANIMAL COGNITION (2015)
Are you as altruistic as a rat? Even when offered a piece of chocolate as an alternative, the rodents prefer to save a comrade in trouble—a sign that humans aren’t the only animals who feel empathy.
6) Did dark matter kill the dinosaurs?
Of all the hypotheses of how dinosaurs died, this may be the strangest. A team of scientists proposes that mysterious dark matter may seep into Earth’s core about once every 30 million years, triggering massive volcanoes and ripping apart continents.
5) Want to influence the world? Map reveals the best languages to speak
S. RONEN ET AL., PNAS EARLY EDITION (2014)
If you’re thinking about taking Chinese as a second language, you might consider Spanish instead. This study reveals that if you want to spread your ideas far and wide, some languages are much better—and slightly more surprising—than others. (Note that this story actually published in late 2014, but it missed our cutoff for last year’s list.)
4) Shattered chromosome cures woman of immune disease
One of the most fascinating medical stories of the year is about a woman whose serious genetic immune disease was apparently cured in her 30s when one of her chromosomes shattered into pieces and reassembled. The phenomenon is known as chromothripsis, and it could pave the way for therapies for a variety of diseases.
3) Rare African plant signals diamonds beneath the soil
Don’t forget what this plant looks like—it could make you rich someday. A scientist has found that a thorny, palmlike plant in Liberia seems to grow only on top of kimberlite pipes, which are known to contain diamonds. Now get digging.
2) ‘Winged monster’ on ancient rock art debunked by scientists
Is it a dragon, a flying reptile, or something far more banal? One of our favorite stories of the year finally solves a lingering debate that has pitted rock art researchers and archaeologists against young-Earth creationists for decades.
1) How long would it take you to fall through Earth?
OLESACHEM AT THE MANHATTAN WELL DIGGER/WIKIMEDIA/CREATIVE COMMONS
It’s a question that’s been asked by everyone from kindergartners to physicists. Now, scientists have an answer—or at least a better answer than they had before. Our favorite story of the year is also one of the most fun.