When tech goes wrong: Worst science projects ever

Even the most august universities and private laboratories aren’t above chucking cash into the toilet to calculate exactly what weight of tenners will float…

Scientific research has brought us an understanding of DNA and atomic science, among other great things. But for every great discovery, there's invariably a project that wasted money on a ridiculous premise. We check out the worst offenders of all.


There’s no life on Mars

The latest of the 40 attempts since the 1960s to reach the red planet – 60 per cent of which have failed – is NASA’s Curiosity Rover. Part of a $2.5 billion mission, this six-wheeled vehicle descended by parachute to the surface of Mars. There, we expect it to stumble over the corpse of the British-born Beagle 2, which disappeared from radar upon entering the atmosphere in June 2003 and was officially declared lost two months later. The cost? A not insignificant £44 million. Maybe it’ll also find Alex James from Blur – the floppy-haired cheese pimp produced the probe’s call sign and helped fund the project – and form a super-group with David Bowie, who we’d imagine will no doubt be there, too.

 


Ducks enjoy water

University of Oxford brainiacs spent three years and £300,000 of public money on, essentially, installing a shower in a duck pond. The mallards mainly stood under the shower and often drank from it, leading scientists to conclude, in 2009, that ducks like the wet stuff. National Farmers Union spokesman Anthony Rew told The Guardian: “If they asked a farmer, he would tell them ducks like water.”


You can get laid online

In 2010, Stanford University’s $239,100, government-funded study revealed nearly a quarter of hetero couples found committed partners online, while 61 per cent of gay people also did because it was more discreet. The study may also have helped an estimated 8.38 per cent of Arkansas natives realise they didn’t have to marry first cousins.


World of Warcraft involves collaborating and competing

UCI Professor Bonnie Nardi spent three years and $107,000 of public money on “research in Warcraft play,” prompting a further $3 million investment from the US National Science Fund. The brief? To study how “multiplayer computer games and online virtual worlds can help organisations collaborate and compete more effectively”. That should eliminate America’s $16 trillion debt, then.


Making things float is hard

In 2011, Princeton University student Noah Jafferis demonstrated a magic carpet, of sorts. Using high-frequency undulations to trap air under a 10cm sheet of electrified plastic, he was able to lift it millimetres off of the ground, and propel it forwards like a small, square stingray. All he needs to do now is build one which could carry a human – maths tells us that it would need to be over 12m square, alas – and he would have perhaps the ultimate device for the drive-by stealing of traffic cones.


Elephants are not drug abusers

In 1962, Oklahoma University researchers tried to induce an uncontrollable rage (known as “musth”) in a 5,000kg elephant. It did so by injecting 297mg of LSD into its arse – 0.64mg would have been plenty. There weren’t reports of him seeing pink humans flying around and he certainly didn’t “find himself”; he went into convulsions, and died after an even larger dose of promazine hydrochloride was administered to “counter the reaction”. To remove the dead elephant, Syd Barrett was called in to ingest him on a sugar cube, after which he used Noah Jafferis’ magic carpet to fly into the future and dissolve into an infinite, vibrating universe.


Animals do unpleasant things

The recording of the “first case of homosexual necrophilia in a mallard” won the IG Nobel Prize for Biology in 2003. Dutch researcher Kees Moeliker observed: “Next to the obviously dead duck, another male mallard mounted the corpse and started to copulate, with great force.” The poor victim was stuffed (again) and now lives at a museum in Rotterdam, presumably as a warning. The Latin name for the duck? Anas platyrhynchos. We’re saying nowt.


Monkeys can’t type

Give an infinite number of monkeys the same quantity of typewriters and they will eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare: this is true – it’s the nature of infinity to produce all possible outcomes. In 2003, however, Plymouth University used just six macaques, one computer and £2,000 of Arts Council cash to check. The primates quickly got bored, before “shitting on the keyboard” – this was written up as an actual finding – and bashing it with rocks. Geoff Cox of Plymouth University’s MediaLab said, “It wasn’t actually an experiment as such, it was more like a little performance.” Coldplay: look to your laurels.

 

Okay, this one sounds useful…

Finally, Google has created a network of 1,000 computers with 16,000 processing cores and a billion connections wired up like a human brain. It’s job: to recognise cats. Oh. YouTube, you have a lot to answer for…

Future tech: At a glance

future tech predictions
Future Tech: Predictions answered definitively

We were promised a variety of future tech, most of which have failed to hit the shelves. So, what ever happened to flying cars and teleportation? Answers please...

Comments

Be the first to comment…

Bad Bond Gadgets

Bond gadgets
Worst Bond gadgets ever

Tech that 007 should have left at the office

Back to top
Close
T3 Newsletter
Sign up to recieve the T3 newsletters by entering your details below

Your Details

As you're registering with us. we'd like to think that you'd enjoy receiving the following emails; if you'd rather not receive them, please untick the boxes:

I would like to receive other emails from T3, Future Publishing Limited and it's group companies containing news, special offers and product information
I agree to the terms of use and privacy policy and confirm that I am over 16 years of age *
Close
Log in or Join

By clicking below you agree to our terms and conditions and our privacy policy

Log in to T3.com with your preferred social network

Log in with your T3.com account

CloseJoinPlease complete these additional details

Join T3.com with your preferred social network

OR

Join T3.com

Please tick this box to confirm you are 16 years old or over

Just so we know you're human

Newsletters

I would like to receive T3 email newsletters, packed full of the latest tech news, competitions and exclusive offers.

I would like to receive other emails from T3, Future Publishing Limited and its group companies containing news, special offers and product information.

I would like to receive offers from carefully selected third Parties. We will not share your data with the third party.

Close Edit your profile

Change your password

Newsletters

I would like to receive T3 email newsletters, packed full of the latest tech news, competitions and exclusive offers.

I would like to receive other emails from T3, Future Publishing Limited and its group companies containing news, special offers and product information.

I would like to receive offers from carefully selected third Parties. We will not share your data with the third party.

Social networks

You have authorised these social networks to interact with your T3.com account.

Please ensure you deactivate or revoke access to this website from within your social networks settings to ensure all permissions are removed.

Close Forgotten your password

Forgotten your password?

Please enter the email address that you used to sign up and we'll send you a new password

Close
Forgotten password
Don't have a T3 Account? Join now