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Spanish Influenza: The Last Of Five Infamous Epidemics We Hope We Never See

SPANISH INFLUENZA

"¢ The deadliest epidemic in history, the Spanish flu killed at least 50 million people — and maybe twice that many — surpassing even the plague.

influenza_mask.jpg"¢ The flu brought the country to its knees in 1918 and 1919. In New York City, 851 people died in one day. Public gatherings were cancelled nationwide. When people did go out, they wore very chic gauze masks.

"¢ Though it is still called Spanish flu, many epidemiologists now think the virus originated in rural Kansas.

"¢ Many folks didn't take the epidemic seriously because it was a flu epidemic. Everybody's gotten the flu, right? But this was an extraordinarily violent flu. Its victims turned blue, coughed so hard they pulled muscles, and bled from the nose and ears.

"¢ It took a while for the average Joe or Jane to realize was happening. Politicians focused on World War I weren't about to let a little flu distract the country. They downplayed the danger, censured newspaper reports, and crammed soldiers into barracks where the flu raged, according to John Barry's The Great Influenza. American officials also played the blame game: The Germans started flu, they said.

"¢ Searching for clues why this particular flu was so deadly, scientists have taken tissue from the bodies of frozen flu victims found in the Arctic.

"¢ On the bright side, the flu walloped the German army, helping us win the war. It also spurred research on pneumonia (a secondary infection that many flu victims caught), which led to the discovery of DNA.

Other Infamous Epidemics We Hope We Never See: yellow fever, cholera, plague and syphilis. Chris Weber will be back with more Weird Science later this month. Give him a round of applause.

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Stradivarius Violins Get Their Distinctive Sound By Mimicking the Human Voice
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Italian violinist Francesco Geminiani once wrote that a violin's tone should "rival the most perfect human voice." Nearly three centuries later, scientists have confirmed that some of the world's oldest violins do in fact mimic aspects of the human singing voice, a finding which scientists believe proves "the characteristic brilliance of Stradivari violins."

Using speech analysis software, scientists in Taiwan compared the sound produced by 15 antique instruments with recordings of 16 male and female vocalists singing English vowel sounds, The Guardian reports. They discovered that violins made by Andrea Amati and Antonio Stradivari, the pioneers of the instrument, produce similar "formant features" as the singers. The resonance frequencies were similar between Amati violins and bass and baritone singers, while the higher-frequency tones produced by Stradivari instruments were comparable to tenors and contraltos.

Andrea Amati, born in 1505, was the first known violin maker. His design was improved over 100 years later by Antonio Stradivari, whose instruments now sell for several million dollars. "Some Stradivari violins clearly possess female singing qualities, which may contribute to their perceived sweetness and brilliance," Hwan-Ching Tai, an author of the study, told The Guardian.

Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. A 2013 study by Dr. Joseph Nagyvary, a professor emeritus at Texas A&M University, also pointed to a link between the sounds produced by 250-year-old violins and those of a female soprano singer.

According to Vox, a blind test revealed that professional violinists couldn't reliably tell the difference between old violins like "Strads" and modern ones, with most even expressing a preference for the newer instruments. However, the value of these antique instruments can be chalked up to their rarity and history, and many violinists still swear by their exceptional quality.

[h/t The Guardian]

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