Cambridge University Says Spelling Does Not Matter?

By Anupum Pant


Oh tell me you have never received this old chain mail that had the following paragraph attached in it, and warned you that if you did not forward it to 20 friends, something bad would happen. The passage  –

Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteres are at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a tatol mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe.

The paragraph contains a bunch of letters that are jumbled and you are still able to read it at a normal pace. The passage speaks for itself and says that according to a research study done at Cambridge university, it doesn’t matter in what order the letters in a word are; only the first and last letters need to be in the right place. According to it, everything in the middle can be messed up and you can still easily read it even when it clearly shouldn’t be making any sense.

Questions, Questions!

Certainly blows your mind. But if you start questioning the legitimacy of what the passage claims, you start finding a couple of unanswered questions…

1. It says, “a researcher at Cambridge”. I’d like to throw an open challenge to you – Find me the publication where “the researcher from Cambridge University” published this paragraph (or something similar).

Cambridge does have a Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit where researchers try to figure how brain processes language. But it is clear from this blog-post that people at Cambridge didn’t even know about the  meme that had been circulating all over the internet. At the time when this meme started circulating, in Cambridge, no one was doing research in this area. The prof says:

To my knowledge, there’s no-one in Cambridge UK who is currently doing research on this topic. There may be people in Cambridge, MA, USA who are responsible for this research, but I don’t know of them.

However, in 1999, the effect was originally demonstrated in a letter – [here]

Let’s give it up for the internet trolls, the phenomenon is indeed, intriguing. The researcher tries to figure out the science behind it in the same blog-post. He finds that the effect is same with many other languages. However, it doesn’t seem to work with languages like Finnish and Hebrew.

2. Try reading this:

Bblaaesl pryleas pnmrrioefg srillaimy aeoulltsby dvrseee clbrpmaaoe tteenmrat.

If you need hints, it follows the same rule. The sentence has all the words with first and last letters in place. The letters in the middle are jumbled. According to “the researcher from Cambridge” you should be able to read it easily. Why can’t you? It follows the exactly same rules. Have I made my point?

Why does it work?

Believe it or not, the paragraph actually works. I could read it without any hiccups. At the same time, the one above, which follows the same rules is pretty difficult to read. So what makes the chain mail paragraph so readable? In simple words…

1. There are 69 words in the paragraph. Out of those 69 words, only 37 are jumbled. All the other 32 words are two or three lettered words, which can’t follow the rule. That clears up the structure of sentences.

2. Out of the 37 jumbled words. 12, if I counted correctly, are four letter words that can only have the middle letters swapped. Those are breeze to figure out. That leaves us with just 25 jumbled letters. Given your life-long experience with reading, you can easily predict those if you know most of the other words.

3. Most of these 5 or more lettered words (in 25) are at such places that they don’t even require reading. For instance, your brain can easily figure that “because” will come after “this is”. So it knows, “bcuseae” is actually “because”.  Also, all of these 25 “big” words are easy and familiar ones.

4. The words have not been jumbled a lot.  There are mostly letter swaps, like – porbelm. “Porbelm” has just 2 pair of letters swapped. All those words that have this are pretty easy to figure too. What if it was “pbelorm”? It gets tougher when the central letter is moved from its place. Isn’t it?

But the mission of the makers of the meme passage was to blow your minds in a way that you’d be forced to forward it to your friends. So, they put in easy jumbles.

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A Chat With Jaan Altosaar From Useful Science

By Anupum Pant

Today is a special day on Awesci because I’m publishing the first ever interview that has been done especially for the website – A talk with one of the creators of Useful Science, Jaan Altosaar. I hope I keep bringing more of these interesting talks in the future.

Useful Science – Background

Useful Science is a super-hit science website run by a team of grad students from some of the world’s top universities like MIT, McGill, UCSB, Oxford, and Johns Hopkins. The website does exactly what its name says – Publishes practically useful science research summaries (every of them is cited) that can be understood by anyone in 5 seconds or less – a marvelous concept, I must say.

Make sure you finish reading our talk because in the end Jaan shares a great piece of information, without which and article on AweSci wouldn’t be labeled as complete.

A: When did you start Useful Science? Could you share with us what goes behind the scenes at Useful Science?

J: We launched on January 15th, 2014. We use Trello to coordinate our team and review process, and many of us use RSS feed readers to stay on top of the latest research (e.g. we subscribe to research journals, EurekAlerts, and blog feeds). The backend (designed and run by Cameron Spencer at is built on Drupal. We use Google Analytics for tracking stats, Hootsuite for managing our social media profiles, and Mailchimp for our email list (subscribe here!).

A: How did all of you guys meet?

J: Most of us are connected through McGill (our alma mater) and more specifically, we lived together in Douglas Hall in first year! I reached out to the rest of the contributors after meeting them at graduate school open houses.

A: Where else on the web do the team members write?

J: A few of us have personal websites; they’re listed on Useful Science’s about page.

A: What advice will you give to the thousands of Indians who apply to graduate school every year?

J: I found the process time-consuming but worth it, and tried to organize my thoughts into a resource in the form of a blog post (focused on graduate school).

A: Why did you feel the need to start Useful Science?

J: We felt there was a gap in science communication. The question was: what would a website look like if every sentence on it was cited?

A: Judging from your backgrounds, you people just love science too much and do it for the joy of it, but do you ever wish to make money out of useful science?

 J: We’d wish to make only enough to make the website sustainable. We are non-profit and any funds we receive through donations go directly to upkeep of the website (e.g. server costs and new features).

A: What revenue sources do you have in mind?

J: We’re hoping to integrate with so that anyone can order any of the one sentence summaries on a t-shirt.

A: I’ve read about you on Lifehacker, where else on the web, have you been featured?

J: We’ve been lucky to have been featured in BoingBoing, the McGill Science Undergraduate Research Journal’s blog, BetaKit, McGill’s Office for Science and Society blog, ITworld, the McGill Reporter, and Computerworld.

A: Before you go, could you share with us an interesting piece of science trivia for the day from any of your favorite areas?

J: One of my favorite areas of research focuses on the importance of mindset. Specifically, believing that intelligence is malleable and not fixed (i.e. it can be improved with practice) has been shown to improve grades. It’s great motivation for overcoming failure and pursuing deliberate practice.

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Bricks Which Are Lighter Than Air

by Anupum Pant

What would smoke look and feel like, if you could solidify it?


Although, first made in 1931, Aerogels are relatively newer materials and a tremendous amount of research is being done on them everyday. Lightest solids ever, Aerogels weighing about seven times lesser than air have been made. Their extreme properties have given a fascinating field of interest to students and scientists. [Read the last paragraph]

How are they made?
Aerogels, also known as solid smoke or frozen smoke are extremely light materials. They are made by a process called sol-gel process which involves removing all the moisture from a specially made gel (Hypercritical Drying). Although the procedure may sound simple, there is a lot of technology involved in making them. Moreover, practically usable Aerogels which can endure moist conditions and high stress conditions are much more challenging to make. Also, it is very expensive to make them. [They can be made at home – with costly equipment of course]

Why is it so light? 
The whole lot of porosity left inside due to drying of the gel is what makes it so light. You can think of them as a sponge which is hard like pumice. But, when you think of a sponge, remember that mostly Aerogels aren’t very resilient. That means, unlike sponge they won’t get back into the previous shape after they’ve been pressed a lot. They are much sturdier/tighter than sponges. A small (not very small; due to very low density they occupy large space) piece of Aerogel weighing just 2 grams has been shown to hold a 2.5 kg brick without deforming. Poorly made Aerogels, on the other hand can also not be very sturdy. They would deform with a hard press of a finger and stay deformed.

How light are they?
Agreed, they can be lighter than air, but the practical mass varies greatly. And they don’t float in air because, with air present inside them, they are slightly heavier than air (weight of air inside + solid material), but can be made to float in air by replacing the air inside it with Hydrogen or Helium. Their lightness and density is completely dependent on the amount of porosity included during the fabrication – which can be controlled. Also, the kind of gel used to make it, affects the weight of the final block. So a block with 3 feet in length, breath and height can weigh anything from 1 kg to just 160 gm.

Aerographite, a carbon Aerogel made by German material scientists from Kiel University and the Hamburg University of Technology, was said to have weighed only 0.2 mg per cubic centimeter. It was 5000 times less dense than water and 6 times lighter than air (counting only the solid material’s weight of course). [Published Paper]

Graphene Aerogel: As if that wasn’t enough, recently, Chinese material scientists developed a lighter material than Aerographite. It was based on Graphene. A Graphene Aerogel; seven times lighter than air. This one, unlike other silica Aerogels, can recover like a sponge after getting deformed. [Published Paper]

Other Properties

Aerogels exhibit various other desirable properties which make them useful for a myriad of applications [See the Wikipedia Article]. For instance, they are very good insulators of heat. A nicely made Aerogel block which is just under a centimeter thick can protect things from a direct flame. Other desirable properties are high surface area, high thermal and acoustic resistivity, low dielectric constant, and low refractive index.

Aerogels absorb water or moisture from the air and even from human skin easily. Handling them with bare hands can cause blisters. But, the ones which repel water have been made successfully by altering fabrication parameters. Also, if particles of it are inhaled, it can cause problems. Hence, hand gloves and respiratory masks are used to handle them.

I want to study interesting materials like these

If you think Aerogels and Wolverine’s claws are interesting things. You can make a career in researching materials like these by making a foray into Materials Science and Engineering. Most good universities offer a course in it. It is a budding field, growing at a rapid pace with loads of opportunities waiting for you.