The Light Side: Does the "Five-Second Rule" Exist?

February 21, 2014

Autonomous, Termite-Inspired Robots that Build Like Mad

Bus Riders Are Detoured by Another Horror-Movie Prank

Let's Face It, This Is Awkward -- but Hilarious

Admit it. You've done it before. You are about to bite into a delicious muffin when, in your sudden clumsiness, it slides out of your hand and plops on the floor. You quickly squat down, pick it up, dust it off, and declare, "Five-Second Rule!" before putting it in your mouth, thinking you were faster than those nasty germs.

If you didn't eventually wind up in the bathroom for a prolonged period, congratulations; you have an iron stomach (intestines, really, though that doesn't quite have the same ring to it). Still, microbiologists and medical experts alike recommend you don't keep pushing your luck.

Science, in fact, has disproved the five-second rule. It has been found that bacteria and viruses will hop aboard fallen food as soon as it touches any kind of floor (tile, carpet, wood) -- and nasty germs like E. coli, salmonella, and listeria don't discriminate, whether it's a dropped cookie or tomato. The only factors that determine the amount of microorganisms transferred are the stickiness and moisture of the food (wet is worst) and the type of floor and its surface geometry. But rest assured that pathogens will end up on your downed burger patty.

The name Jillian Clarke

is as much legend as the rule. In 2003, Clarke, a high school senior at the time who was interning in the food science and nutrition department at University of Illinois, found that bacteria on floors jumped onto gummy bears and cookies in less than five seconds, in a pioneering study that is now often cited. She was awarded an Ig Nobel prize at Harvard University for her research "that first makes you laugh, then makes you think."

After that landmark project, a team at Clemson University

published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology a full-on study of the five-second rule with bread and bologna on wood, tile, and carpeted floors, determining that both foods picked up between 150 and 8,000 salmonella bacteria in five seconds. The Clemson University researchers also found that bacteria on floors survived for up to four weeks.

So the next time you spill a nice chunk of Gouda cheese, you're better off tossing it into the trash than trying to salvage it. And if you hear someone invoke the rule, revoke their food. Friends don't let friends eat five-second food.

Autonomous, Termite-Inspired Robots that Build Like Mad

Researchers at Harvard University have created a termite-inspired robotic builder noted for its simplicity and ability.

Harvard, Robot, autonomous, biomimicry, Wyss, self-organizationCalled TERMES, the 175 mm (6.8 in) long, 110 mm (4.3 in) wide, and 100 mm (4 in) tall robot was designed to work in cooperation with other identical units to build large structures. Each robot's behavior, which is similar to that observed in termite colonies, is controlled by a series of 10 sensors and three actuators, each of which helps it sense its environment.

In experiments conducted by both the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the TERMES system used foam bricks to demonstrate its ability to assemble structures.

Using a motorized arm and gripper system, each unit in the TERMES group was able to contribute to the creation of a larger, user-defined structure simply by laying down a brick in a position that's been defined by a building algorithm. Maneuvering over uneven brick surfaces on four whegs (a combination of a wheel and a leg), each robot has the ability to traverse any terrain. This allows the robots to build structures on a seemingly mammoth scale.

Although each TERMES robot is a simple device, the power of the system lies in the programming. Based on the concept of stigmergy,

a self-organization mechanism that indirectly coordinates actions within a group, the TERMES system requires no blueprint for the creation of large structures. In the TERMES model, each robot reacts to changes in its environment and builds accordingly, which lends the robots a few very interesting properties.

According to Harvard, "Each robot executes its building process in parallel with others, but without knowing what else is working at the same time. If one robot breaks, or has to leave, it does not affect the others. This also means that the same instructions can be executed by five robots or 500."

Although TERMES is still in its infancy, its underlying technology could lead to major advancements in the world of robotics. Networked, hive-mind-style robots could be crucial in a number of industries

, including construction and defense. While we are still a ways from this technology's maturity, it's not hard to image a TERMES-like system integrated into whatever evolves from DARPA's Robotic Challenge



This article by Kyle Maxey

was originally published on

and is adapted in its entirety with permission. For more stories like this please visit


Bus Riders Are Detoured by Another Horror-Movie Prank

The hidden-video prank is a growing genre-within-a-genre in horror movies. In fact, this method of viral promotion has a name, "prankvertising," and is now a global phenomenon.

Last month, we alluded to the promotional stunt for the flick Devil's Due

, in which a scary-looking animatronic infant jumped out of a remote-controlled baby stroller to freak out unsuspecting passersby. And, before that, we documented the prank for Carrie

, which sent a bunch of coffee-shop patrons scrambling with what looked like real-life act of anger-fueled telekinesis. Both mischievous hidden-camera acts occurred in New York City.

To complete the trifecta of tricks, we go to Brazil, where a TV variety show, after getting permission from Universal Studios, rigged a bus stop shelter with a poster box for the film Curse of Chucky, from which an actor dressed as the horror icon lunges out wielding a fake knife. Hidden cameras recorded the terrified reactions of mothers, children, and young adults -- not to mention a pair of dogs -- who were waiting for the bus, as "Chucky" chases after them.

Each time, the lights flicker, followed by a creepy laugh, before the Good Guy doll inhabited by the spirit of a serial killer breaks through the glass display. The gag proves that waiting for public transit can be anything but "child's play."


Let's Face It, This Is Awkward -- but Hilarious

One of the unexpected benefits to come out of today's age of high-speed photography and "super slo-mo" cameras is the capture of funny faces figure skaters make as they spin through the air in their double lutzes and triple axels.

The facial expressions have become a sideshow staple with every figure-skating event. Distractify

has assembled its collection of "27 Funniest Faces" from the Olympic Games competition in Sochi, Russia.

When enormous centripetal forces are pulling at them, it's hard for them to keep a straight face -- and for us, too.


Top photo credit: KROMKRATHOG at


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