Wednesday, December 5, 2012

G v. VAB

There is no bigger name in rare bug creation than the genius Irish husband and wife team of Anderson & Aluvia Van Allen.  Mostly that's because it is very rare in and of itself to actually create a bug.  But they are creators.  It is what they do.  Well, technically I guess it was more of a modification than a full on creation.  A twisting of nature.  Their story is no straight shot either.

It dates back to the early days of upper atmosphere exploration when a young Anderson Van Allen was using "rockoons" to learn about the Earth's atmosphere.  He would strap a rocket to a weather balloon, allowing the rocket to be carried high into the upper reaches of the sky where the balloon would eventually pop.  At that point the rocket would fire, allowing it to reach further into the atmosphere than if it had been fired from the ground.  He leveraged the efficiencies of each, combining them to create a whole greater than the sum of its two parts in much the same what that the renowned philosopher Jack Handy reasoned that the most dangerous creature on the planet is neither tiger nor lion nor elephant, but rather a shark riding on an elephant's back trampling and eating everything in their path.  A simple matter of combined efficiencies.

As Anderson was busy mucking about with his rocket balloons, Aluvia was abuzz on the home front, wrangling with the couple's young boys, Ronin and Wynot.  As a scientist herself, she was constantly finding ways to engage the boys in inquiry-based learning.  Whether that was by combining unusual concoctions in the kitchen or exploring the wilds of their backyard, she challenged the boys to question what they saw, digging into the why and how of everything.  She was also a determined fashionista, eschewing the fads of the day in favour of the simple elegance of the little black party dress.

All of this came together in the most unlikely of ways over dessert one evening.  The Van Allens were finishing up their Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls, which the boys had created when they crashed into one another in the middle of the kitchen.  It is still disputed whether Ronin got his chocolate in Wynot's peanut butter or Wynot got his peanut butter on Ronin's chocolate, but the result was a combination greater than the sum of its two parts.  The dessert served as inspiration for the couple.  Anderson had complained that the buckle on his belt irritated him as he sat eating his meal.  Aluvia had suggested some simple designs for a buckleless belt that would be both functional and fashionable.  Anderson, his head still half in his work, mumbled something about the Earth's magnetic poles and the effects they had on the electronically charged particles surround the Earth.  And thus was born the Van Allen belt.  Though the apparatus for holding up one's pants never really took off, they did also use the same name (mostly as a marketing technique to try to sell more belts) to describe the bands of irradiated particles that surround the Earth. 

But what you may ask does all of this have to do with Rare Bugs?  Ah, that comes next.  You see we're not done with combined efficiencies.  Below is a graphic of the Van Allen belt.  Have a look.  What do you notice?  We're going to use a little inquiry based learning of our own here.

You see, one of the effects of the magnetic pull of the Earth's poles on those electrically charged particles, or "sparkies" as they are commonly referred to in the scientific community, is beta radiation.  That's not to be confused with beta carotene.  BC good, BR bad.  So what do you see when you look at this diagram?  A graph of the flux levels of particles in the Van Allen belt?  A six-legged, fat abdomened bug?  How about both?

So one sunny Saturday afternoon, Anderson had taken the boys with him to a rockoon launch.  The boys, being naturally inquisitive, all "chip off the old block" like, were poking about in the field amongst the weeds, searching out crawling critters.  They happened upon a somewhat nondescript little bug, probably of the order Hemiptera, and came up with divergent hypotheses.  Wynot felt that the bug could travel to space and bring back some moon cheese for them.  Ronin believed that it would be too cold for the bug in space and besides it would not be able to hold its breath long enough for the return trip.  But he was up for some moon cheese.  To solve the argument they tucked the bug into their dad's little rockoon and soon the little buggy was headed off to space.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Tiny bug + beta radiation = giant, Tokyo stomping bug.  Or as it came to be known - the Van Allen bug.

After that the story gets pretty ordinary.  Giant bug rampages through Tokyo, destroying buildings, crushing cars, distracted only momentarily by Manga.  Japanese invoke the name Godzilla.  Godzilla crushes bug.  And much of Tokyo.  Japanese cheer.  Then chase him away with sticks.  Photos below.

Gloatzilla vamps for the camera and mocks his victim post throw down.

Sulkzilla trudges back out to sea, knowing, deep in his heart, though he hates to admit it, when they need him again, he'll be back.

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