Sep

7

Print teaser — Helfand’s Index

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Because there’s nothing Bwog likes more than teasing its viewers, we bring you another taste of the upcoming Orientation issue of The Blue and White — it hits your doorstep or dorm lobby tomorrow!


helfand
Helfand’s Index

By David J. Helfand 

The June Harper’s Index, that essential compendium of facts masquerading as social commentary, cited the “ratio of negative portrayals of teachers on U.S. children’s television programs to positive portrayals” as 3:1.  I will refrain from speculating on the ratio with which you will portray your professors after four years at Columbia. I also won’t reveal how your professors will rate you. But I was asked by the editors to provide a “Helfand’s Index” of highly pertinent facts to get you started in Frontiers of Science. All them pass Stephen Colbert’s truthiness test. 

Percentage of the greenhouse gas emissions for the entire country of New Zealand that are produce by the burps and farts of cows and sheep: 40% 

End-to-end length of all the DNA in all the viruses on Earth: 275 million light years (one light year is 6 trillion miles). 

End-to-end length of all human DNA: 18 million km (or 0.000002 light years)—so who’s in charge here? 

Number of neurons emerging up your neural tube and finding their way to specific locations in your brain each minute from the fourth to the eighth month of your mother’s pregnancy: 500,000  (So don’t be surprised if you discover at Columbia that a few of yours are in the wrong place.) 

Percentage of the time a management consultant recruiter will ask you in your senior-year interview how many fax machines there are in Brooklyn: 95% (which is why we teach you how to do silly problems like this in Frontiers). 

Chances of dying on the plane ride home for winter break: 5 x 10^-7

Chances of dying on the way home if your parents drove to get you instead: 130 x 10^-7

Chances that you worry about the former more than the latter: 99% 

Time it would take to get to a billion of you counted 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10—ten digits every five seconds—eight hours a day, seven days a week: 47.6 yrs (Don’t try it; it could significantly cut into your social life, assuming you have one). 

Number of atoms in a typical cell: 100 billion 

Number of nerve cells in a human brain: 100 billion 

Number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy: 100 billion 

Number of galaxies in the visible portion of the Universe: 100 billion (and yes, it is just a coincidence). 

Professor David J. Helfand is the chair of the Department of Astronomy and Co-Director of the Columbia Astrophysics Laboratory.

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6 Comments

  1. So...  

    Mr. Helfand, was the counting to a billion so long because you have to slow down and say a ton of syllables for seven hundred and seventy seven million seven hundred and seventy seven thousand seven hundred and seven?
    or was it based on the digits solely. cuz if it's the syllables you're looking at like 20 more years.

  2. Anonymous  

    130 x 10^-7

    Nonstandard scientific notation!!

  3. re: rick

    i noticed the same thing. i think it's for comparison to the other 10^-7 number

  4. 163:  

    number of sexual encounters I haven't had in my life.

  5. 163:  

    number of sexual encounters I haven't had in my life.

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