Karl, The Universe and Everything – by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki

Karl, The Universe and Everything – by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki


Doctor Karl is one of Australia’s most recognisable faces and has been popularising science for decades. He’s a TV personality, radio presenter, podcast host and author. This is his 43rd book (woah!). He dives into topics such as:

  • Sexist Air-Conditioning
  • Poo velocity
  • Earworms
  • Lightning and Power
  • Solar Energy
  • Marijuana
  • and Life Beyond Earth

Check him out! http://drkarl.com/

Remember to enter our competition to win all 48 books we read and review in Season 2: www.whatyouwilllearn.com/contest   


Here is a dot point summary of the book!

  1. Coffee Nap

If you’re tired / low energy, two things can fix it:  Coffee & Naps  If you time them correctly, you can get the ultimate performance boost

Sleep Debt

If you constantly get less sleep than required, you add to a long-term ‘sleep debt’

The only way to repay this debt is by sleeping more and gradually paying it off

Coffee can give you a short term energy boost, but does not help you sleep debt – a nap can pay off a little

Caffeine 101

Drinking a coffee means the caffeine doesn’t instantly hit your system – is has to pass through the stomach to hit the small intestine, then be processed by the liver, then go into your bloodstream.

Takes ~45mins to hit peak level in bloodstream

“Caffeine can overcome your sleepiness, but only temporarily – it will do nothing for your sleep debt”

Way to maximise it – drink a coffee, nap for 30mins, when you wake up you’re not only refreshed from your nap but you’re also coming into peak caffeine levels in your bloodstream

  1. Hydrothermal Vents & Invisible Mountain Range

Strange life forms on Earth that don’t need sun to survive

Survive in a fully hostile environment on a mountain range invisible to us

Hydro means ‘water’  thermal means ‘heat’, so a hydrothermal vent just releases hot water

Ocean Ridge

Is the biggest Mountain range on Earth

Continuous, 80,000km long and winds it’s way around the Earth

Red Sea

First found in 1949 in the red sea, where there was salty hot water uncomfortably warm

They found a biological ecosystem around the hot springs

Green Pussy

Blue Pussy

Other vents

Ones found in 1979 release hot water at 380 degrees to 464 degrees. Hot water doesn’t boil due to the pressure. Release a bunch of minerals

It comes out a black water

Around Ocean ridge there are bizarre life forms around the vents. They don’t get their energy from the sun

Tubeworms , 2 m long without a mouth or anus

  1. Life on Enceladus

Rocks, minerals and warm water strongly suggest there might be life in our solar system

How do we know of vents?

Found nano particles in the range of 4 – 16 nano metres. The only way mother nature can generate in this wavelength is through massive heat

Best bet is Enceladus, which is a small moon 500km across that orbits Saturn

Why life there?

  1. It has an ocean of salty liquid water
  2. Pretty sure there are hydrothermal vents on the rocky sea floor of this ocean

At the center of the moon there is a rocky core which has sodium, phosphorus, nitrogen etc which can dissolve into the water for a chemical soup

Tiger stripes on the moon

In 2005 frozen water was squirting out of these stripes on Enceladus

In the ocean it is a liquid, then plummets out and becomes frozen

All kinds of chemicals like carbon dioxide, sodium, potassium, nitrogen etc which can be associated with life

Liquid water?

How come the ocean below the surface is warm enough to be liquid?


One theory suggests Saturns massive gravitational pull creates friction on the moon, friction creates heat

  1. Space Junk

“Clouds of orbiting space junk, travelling at hypersonic speeds”

International Space Station threatened by junk – on 16 occasions has had to blast rockets to move out of the way of incoming junk

Space Shuttle windscreen replaced after every second flight because of Micropspoic space junk pounding the windscreen

Fully-functional spacecraft have been completely destroyed by a collision with a big hunk of junk

Global Warming is prolonging the life of space junk

Previously, junk shot off into space with burn off a certain amount in our atmosphere

Now, with global warming, the lower atmosphere is getting warmer snf upper atmosphere getting colder, meaning less dense, meaning less friction on junk, meaning less of the junk is desintegrated by the atmosphere on the way out, meaning is lives longer

“We estimate there are about 5000 tones of space hunk orbiting Earth”

We’ve had ~5000 space launches, each one sending off fuckloads of junk, leading to 30,000 large space objects

Most of it burns up in atmosphere, but a surprising amount make it back to hit Earth – over the last 50 years, average of 1 piece of space junk each day makes contact with ground


  1. (Europe proposal) Space tugboat – grabs a big lump of junk, throws it in a downward trajectory toward Earth, it burn up in our atmosphere
  2. (US proposal) Solid shield, size of football field, in space that hit the junk and destroys it on contact like a big windshield
  3. (Japan/Aus proposal) Create drag in space to slow down the velocity of space junk. But using electromagnetic drag, as opposed to aerodynamic drag. Attach a long metal string to space junk, then use magnets to attract the metal string (300m long) and slow it down
  4. Lightning Power

Why don’t we capture lightning to produce our electricity?

There isn’t enough

The two elements to create lightning

  1. Air moving rapidly upwards
  2. Freezing cold temperatures between 15 and 25 below zero

3 types of water for these conditions

  1. Liquid water that is super cooled, so it remains liquid even though less than 0
  2. Small crystals of hail, solid frozen ice
  3. Larger heavier blobs of hail, called a Graupel


‘Via a complicated process’ the graupel runs into the other types of water (small hail, and super cool water)

Super cool water and hail are blown upwards , as the air is rising and these are lighter than the Graupels

The top of the cloud is now positively charged. Then they repel and spread out at the top

Graupel falls to the bottom with a negative charge

The negative charge of the bottom of the cloud, induces a positive charge at the ground, a kilometer or so below


In a 50th of a second, the lightning strikes the ground in 45 meter segments

This is an impressive down stroke (10-100 amps) more than your house draws from the grid

Return stroke (upwards)

Down is 200km per second, the upward is 100,000 km per second, 1/3 of speed of light

Lake Marcaibo (lightning capital of the world)

Cold air from the mountains meets the hot air down below, you have the best conditions

  1. Poo in 12 Seconds

Karl saw a click-bait headline on FB that said “All mammals Poop in 12 Seconds”  Fell for it and clicked in

Can a 7-tonne elephant and a 20-gram mouse really take the same amount of time to poo?

Realised he was reading fake facts

An average mouse poo is 300g (but average mouse is 20g)

An average elephant poo is 3837kg (more than half an elephants body weight)

Real facts:  – About 10% of the mass of the food we eat is faeces  – 58% used for activity  – 32% to fuel/operate the body  – daily poo weight is ~1% of animal’s mass

Real outcome:  – two-thirds of mammals poo from 5-19 seconds  – “most animals poo in under 20 seconds”   Bigger animals have more poo, but also defecate at much higher speeds:  – elephant = 6cm/sec  – human = 2cm/sec  – dog = 1cm/sec

  1. Solar Energy Payback Time

The myth is you don’t get the energy back that it takes to create a panel

Solar panels operate for at least 25 years and on the 25th year are at 80% of original

Over it’s life you get 9 – 19 times as much energy back as was used to make them

Payback time in Perth is the shortest in the world, 19 months

The worst is in Brussels, 40 months

  1. Earworm

“An earworm is a small piece of music that squirms into your brain and won’t go away”

  1. Has to be part of listener’s culture (doesn’t work across cultures)
  2. A bit faster tempo than average and usually a lot of repetition
  3. Helps is music is a bit unusual and/or does something unexpected (eg: large jump in pitch)

Potential treatments

  1. Chew gum. Seems that the brain pathways used for chewing gum repeatedly are the same as repeating music in our head, so one cancels out the other
  2. Play the song over and over until it loses impact / becomes meaningless
  3. Opposite – go cold turkey and don’t listen to it at all (alternative is to flood with a bunch of OTHER songs that don’t have catchy earworms)


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