With “What if? 2′, Randall Munroe is back to answer your impossible questions

I first just read about MRIs containing really big magnets and I thought: I know the magnetic field extends away from them. It can’t last forever because if I drop my keys, they won’t fly to the nearest MRI.

So the first question is: How far out does this magnetic field go? I was able to find out by looking at the MRI manuals. I read through these guides and they said, “If so This kind of equipment you have to put it that far away. And if yes This kind of gear, it must be that far away. Here’s a diagram showing the zones around the machine where you shouldn’t have tape devices. You can’t have credit cards within that distance.” And then it would mention that This far out, you could get interference with sensitive magnetic sensors.

That was nice, just realizing that in a hospital you might have a lot of different machines, so there’s a whole complicated process of figuring out what can be and how close to an MRI… and then I just started saying, “Helicopter MRI ‘ to google. MRI Helicopter Report,” trying to figure out: Has this ever surfaced? And then I was quite surprised to find out that there was an incident report.

Is there something you’ve read lately that got you really excited that you wish more people would know about it?

I feel like all I am is a bunch of facts that I’m excited to tell people about. There was a chapter about dissolving an iron block. Someone said, “What if I vaporize a block of iron in my garden? What are the consequences?

I know that when you vaporize iron, it reacts with the oxygen in the air and forms iron oxide, which precipitates into small particles that float around. But I don’t know what causes that. Is it good? Is it bad?

And that’s how I finally got in touch with an expert on atmospheric iron transport, Natalie Mahowald, who was working on the IPCC climate report. I asked, “Okay, what happens if you just squirt some iron in the air?” Which turns out to be an interesting question that they’ve been researching for the sake of climate and ocean fertilization. Something she noticed was, “If you live downwind and that iron vapor comes through and you inhale it, it’s going to be bad for you.”

And I asked, “Is that because it’s a metal? Is it poisonous? Is it bad for your lungs?”

She said something along the lines of, “It’s not that it’s a metal, it’s just that you want your lungs to breathe air. And there just aren’t many particles you can breathe that are good for you.”

huh! It doesn’t really matter what it is. It’s just not air.

Funny how many times this has come up since then. We think about toxins, or we think these chemicals are bad for you, or these substances are bad for you. But since seeing it framed like this, I’ve realized how many different areas of life the question, “Are those little particles you’re breathing in bad for you?” always has the answer, “Anything that isn’t air , is not good for you.”

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