The Talking Room: Adam Savage Interviews Author Mary Roach

While researching topics for her books, author Mary Roach puts the obscure and fascinating stories of science under a spotlight. Her books cover a diverse range of topics, including sex, colonizing Mars, death, and the human alimentary canal. Please welcome Mary Roach to The Talking Room!

Shot and edited by Joey Fameli

Comments (23)

23 thoughts on “The Talking Room: Adam Savage Interviews Author Mary Roach

  1. Evelyn McHale, the women who jumped from the Empire State Building, apparently did leap from the observation deck:

    “Evelyn was the 12th suicide from the building and the sixth to clear all of the setbacks. She was one of five people in a three week period to attempt suicide from the observation deck. In response a 10-ft wire mesh fence was installed and guards were trained to spot potential jumpers.”

  2. I’d love it if you made these into a podcast. I’m always looking for good things to listen to and that is the easiest medium for me.


  3. How would I go about saving these videos locally to my iPhone so I can watch them while flying home? I use the Giant Bomb Video Buddy for their videos.

  4. Toilets with a shelf are not just an “Eastern European” thing. We have them in the West (I’m based in the Netherlands) too 🙂

    I always figured they have the shelf so you don’t splash your behind when dropping a load in there. I hate it when that happens in the just water toilets I have used.

  5. I wonder if the privilege of presidential waste collection extends to presidential candidates. For example, when Hunter S. Thopmpson meets Nixon in a restroom at the urinals (Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail), and Nixon starts gesticulating on college football to Hunter. Were their waste products getting collected for analysis? And how did Hunter’s results turn out?

  6. Okay. I’m going to bite.

    Internet research suggests that the volume of the average flatus is probably around 50 to 80ml. Adam’s question though was specifically whether ripping a really big one could propel you, so I’m going to generously assume a volume of 250ml. Frankly, this sounds ludicrous – and would probably be grounds to consult a gastroenterologist – but bear with me. Flatus is primarily comprised of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen and methane – of which the heaviest by some margin is carbon dioxide at just over 44g/mol. While it seems to me it would be impossible to fart pure CO2 – since a lot of the gas being expelled is air that we have inadvertently swallowed, and so it would be diluted by the lighter gases in the breathable atmosphere – again I’m going to assume the “optimum” composition. According to Wolfram Alpha, 250ml of CO2 at standard temperature and pressure has a mass of 0.4522 grams. To keep the math simple, I’m going to call this half a gram (or 0.0005kg).

    Googling suggests body mass for an average human adult to be 62kg. I believe the average for astronauts, however, will be skewed by a selection process which emphasises fitness and also based on the simple economic fact that every pound you want to transfer out of Earth’s gravity costs tens of thousands of dollars. In any case, again I’m going to assume a best-case scenario (and choose a number that makes crunching the numbers easy down the line). A body mass of 50kg seems reasonable (I’ve seen 52kg cited as average for japanese females, and there have been a number of female japanese astronauts).

    Now, we’re trying to determine how much force moves the astronaut forwards when they fart – which is just Newton’s third law (yadda-yadda-equal-and-opposite-reaction), right? Obviously, from a physics standpoint a fart functions as a rocket, and reading wikipedia’s discussion of the physics of rockets tells me that the net thrust of a rocket (or fart), which is the force that will accelerate our astronaut forwards, is equal to the propellant flow multiplied by the effective exhaust velocity. Now, both the propellant flow and the exhaust velocity start involving time in our calculations. My google-fu actually let me down at the point where I started trying to determine a reasonable figure for the duration of a fart. One second seems like a reasonable ball-park for the sort of butt bazooka implied by Adam’s question, and again keeps the numbers nice and simple.

    Based on the numbers discussed, this net thrust will be 0.0005 times the exhaust velocity. Accelerating our ass-tronaut (hey, I had to go there sooner or later) to a speed of one centimetre per second (below which I figure any effect is barely perceptible) in the one second during which we are exerting a force requires 500 newtons of force. To achieve this, the effective exhaust velocity of the rocket (i.e. the speed at which the air biscuit must escape the astronaut’s bunghole) would be 1000 metres per second, or a little under mach three. I know astronauts are a special breed, but do even they have the sphincter-control necessary to cut supersonic cheese?

    I’m gonna say no. You cannot propel yourself around the ISS by farting. Sorry.

    I have to add some disclaimers. I am neither a rocket scientist nor a flatologist. In fact frankly my high-school physics is pretty rusty. I haven’t seriously double-checked any of my research or calculations, plus it’s early, and I haven’t had my second cup of coffee yet. The fact that astronauts have been using compressed gas as a means of propulsion in microgravity since the sixties suggests that this is actually more feasible than my back-of-an-envelope calculations suggest. I look forward to having my errors pointed out to me. I would caution, though researching this will WRECK your google search history. Seriously.

  7. I should also add… Another great interview – I’m loving this series. And thanks for the thought experiment. A fun way to spend my morning.

  8. This is one of the best interviews i have ever seen, funny, interesting and weird, everything i like 🙂 i am defiantly going to go out and get some of her books.

  9. When Adam let out a rather audible sniffle during the “cold and flu transferrance” bit I couldn’t help thinking he was remembering his fluorescent runny nose from that Mythbusters episode – and sure enough, there it comes a few moments later. Sure that was subconscious.

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