Many poor souls have been victims of April Fools' Day jokes, and science — with it's reputation for achieving stunning and sometimes fantastic feats — makes for some of the best fodder.
From harnessing the energy of thunderstorms to rounding off the number pi, here are some of history's greatest science April Fools' Day pranks to wow your nerdy friends. [April Fools! 5 Hilarious Fake Scientific Breakthroughs]
CERN confirms the Force
Researchers at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), home of the particle smasher used to discover the Higgs boson particle and other groundbreaking insights into the four fundamental forces (the strong force, the weak force, the electromagnetic force and gravity), reported today (April 1) that they had confirmed the existence of the Force — the supernatural power in the fictional "Star Wars" universe.
"Very impressive, this result is," a statement from CERN quotes "a diminutive green spokesperson for the laboratory" as saying. The statement goes on to say that researchers are unsure of what causes the Force but its practical applications include long-distance communication, influencing minds and lifting heavy objects out of swamps.
On April 1, 1923, the German newspaper Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung reported that a Russian scientist named Figu Posakoff had discovered a way to harness "the latent energy of the atmosphere" — the forces that power thunderstorms and other extreme weather events, according to the website The Museum of Hoaxes. The newspaper reported that this discovery would allow the Soviets to fling objects "of any weight almost unlimited distances," but had promised to use it only for peaceful purposes. The New York Times ran a front-page story on the technology on April 3, not realizing it was a joke.
Powering your appliances and other electronic devices with lightning is indeed enticing, but these powerful jolts that helped Marty travel back in time in the movie "Back to the Future" are not so easy to harness. Even if someone could predict when and where a bolt would strike, storing and converting the energy into a current used by appliances would be difficult, according to the Institute of Physics. And much of a lightning bolt's energy goes into heating the surrounding air, meaning even if you could convert that energy, it would be just a small bit of a bolt's power.
In 1960, a professor named Hans Laube invented a system known as "Smell-O-Vision," designed to release odors during a movie so a viewer could smell the events depicted. On April Fools' Day in 1965, BBC TV aired an interview with Laube in which he pretended to demonstrate the technology by chopping onions and brewing a cup of coffee. People watching at home called in to the show to report they had smelled the odors through their television sets, The Times of London reported. (The technology was real, and involved injecting odors into the seats of moviegoers in time with the film's soundtrack; however, it only showed up in one move — the film "Scent of Mystery." There have been a number of similar efforts since then, but none has really taken off yet.)
In 1981, Michigan newspaper The News-Herald printed a hoax story claiming that scientists were planning an experiment on the breeding and other habits of several types of freshwater sharks. As part of the fake experiment, the scientists supposedly planned to release 2,000 blue sharks, hammerheads and great white sharks into three lakes in northern Michigan. The article quoted a "National Biological Foundation representative" as saying, "We can't be responsible for people if they are attacked. Besides, anyone foolish enough to believe all this deserves to be eaten," The Museum of Hoaxes reported.
Rounding off pi
On April Fools' Day in 1998, a man named Mark Boslough wrote a joke article that was posted to the newsgroup talk.origins and published in a newsletter for the group New Mexicans for Science and Reason, claiming that Alabama's state legislature had decided to round down the value of pi, the mathematical ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter from the infinite, nonrepeating decimal 3.1415... to the "biblical value" of 3, according to Snopes.com. A decade later, an executive from the Microsoft Institute for Advanced Technology in Governments wrote on his blog that the true value of pi was 3.141999, or "three easy payments of 1.047333," NBC News reported.
Pi would not be pi, of course, if it were truncated; it is an irrational number, meaning it goes on forever with no repeating sequences. And mathematicians think one could find any random string of numbers within pi, from a random person's birthday to your Social Security number, according to the Exploratorium.
Woolly mammoth comeback
For April Fools' Day in 1984, MIT's Technology Review magazine published a story called "Retrobreeding the Woolly Mammoth," describing how a pair of Soviet and American scientists had succeeded in bringing the long-extinct creature back to life, by inserting DNA from frozen Siberian woolly mammoths into elephant cells and growing them to term in a female elephant. But perhaps the joke was on them: A biologist at Harvard University is currently attempting to do just that, as part of an effort to bring back long-gone species — a process known as de-extinction. But achieving this goal — if it's even possible — is still a way off, scientists say.