10 Durable Facts About Duct Tape

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Duct tape can be found in the tool box of any self-respecting handyman, but the versatile product's potential extends far beyond home repairs. From its origins in the military to its popularity with NASA, here are some surprising facts about the reliable adhesive.

1. IT WAS INVENTED TO MEET A MILITARY NEED.

Before the invention of duct tape, packages of ammunition that were sent to the military were sealed with wax to keep their contents waterproof. The cardboard flaps were held shut with a strip of paper tape with a tab hanging loose that would allow soldiers to rip open the boxes in a hurry. Because this type of tape wasn’t very strong, the tabs would often tear off in their hands and leave soldiers struggling to free their ammunition in the heat of battle. 

Hoping to solve the problem, Vesta Stoudt, a mother of two Navy sailors and a worker at the Green River Ordnance Plant in Illinois, wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt with an idea: 

"I suggested we use a strong cloth tape to close seams, and make tab of same … I have two sons out there some where, one in the Pacific Island the other one with the Atlantic Fleet. You have sons in the service also.  We can’t let them down by giving them a box of cartridges that takes a minute or more to open, the enemy taking their lives, that could have been saved."

Roosevelt passed along the letter to the War Production Board in Washington, D.C., who contacted Johnson & Johnson to develop the product. The result was a strong, waterproof tape that soldiers could still tear apart with their hands in a pinch.

2. THE NAME "DUCK TAPE" CAME FIRST.

Since its origins, the tape has consisted of three major components: a bottom layer of glue, mesh fabric, and a polyethylene plastic coating on top to keep it water-resistant. According to Johnson & Johnson, soldiers nicknamed the material "duck tape" in reference to its ability to repel moisture "like water off a duck’s back."

3. IT OWES ITS STICKINESS TO PHYSICS.

While many adhesives, like Elmer’s glue, need to undergo a physical change in order to stick to something, duct tape works a little differently. Its stickiness is created by a pressure-sensitive adhesive, or PSA, which is a soft polymer blend that employs van der Waals forces to attract two surfaces. These intermolecular forces are weak on their own, but with enough of them, they are capable of supporting very heavy loads (this is the same principle that allows geckos to stick to walls).

"Other adhesives, like glues and epoxies, are liquid when you apply them, but they react chemically and harden," Costantino Creton, a materials scientist at the School of Industrial Physics and Chemistry in Paris, told Chemical and Engineering News. "PSAs have no chemical reaction. They don't change at all. They are in the solid state when you apply them, and they stick in their solid state." This makes duct tape the perfect option if you’re looking for a super strong adhesive that's also removable.

4. YOU CAN’T USE IT IN DUCTS.

Following World War II, duct tape began to catch on in the U.S. as a handy tool for home construction. People were using it to hold metal air ducts together, so the company rebranded the product as "duct tape" and updated it with a matching silver color made from powdered aluminum.

Today, its namesake usage is one of the few things that duct tape isn’t recommended for. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory conducted tests in 1998 to see how well different types of tape performed at sealing ducts, and, compared to the other products, duct tape was the clear loser. "Of all the things we tested, only duct tape failed. It failed reliably and often quite catastrophically," Max Sherman, one of the researchers, told Berkeley Lab Research News. Using duct tape on actual ductwork is now considered a code violation in many buildings.

5. DUCT TAPE HELPED SAVE APOLLO 13. 

Following an explosion aboard the ship’s service module, the three members of the Apollo 13 crew transferred to a lunar module designed to hold two people for 36 hours. They had to find a way to last more than twice that long, and the biggest threat to their survival was the carbon dioxide being created by their own bodies. While they had plenty of square carbon dioxide filters on board, they were incompatible with the lunar module’s round holes. Engineers at NASA devised a solution that involved using cardboard, plastic bags, space suit components, and duct tape that was kept on board to create an adapter that would filter out carbon dioxide. This hack ultimately saved the astronauts’ lives.

This wasn’t the only time duct tape proved to be useful in outer space. The tape has been stowed on board every NASA mission since the early Gemini era. Some of its handy applications include making emergency rover repairs, fixing leaky pipes, and keeping items secure in zero gravity.

6. IT HAS BEEN USED TO PREVENT INFECTION ...

Hospital-acquired infections account for 99,000 preventable deaths in the U.S. each year. In order to safely fight infection while saving doctors time and effort, the Trinity Medical Center system of hospitals in the Midwest came up with a rather simple solution. They used duct tape to mark 3-foot-square “safe zones” extending from the doorway into a patient's room. This allowed physicians to casually converse with their patients without having to change into full sterile gear every time they wanted to check in. Research shows that the duct tape idea saved the hospital system $110,000 a year and 2700 hours of staff time.

7. … AND A WHOLE LOT MORE.

Mythbusters has devoted three entire episodes to exploring some of duct tape’s most extreme applications. The team was able to successfully use duct tape to patch a damaged airplane fuselage, construct a functioning cannon, build a usable bridge, and lift a 5000-pound car. Of the 18 myths they tested, only one was busted (turns out you can’t use duct tape to barricade a car driving at 60 mph).

8. THERE’S AN ANNUAL DUCT TAPE FESTIVAL.

Since 2005, Avon, Ohio has hosted an annual duct tape festival dedicated to celebrating "duct tape, its enthusiasts, and its wacky and fun uses." The event features duct tape sculptures, a duct tape fashion show, and a parade of giant floats constructed using duct tape. 

9. THERE’S DUCT TAPE TO SUIT EVERY NEED.

Specialty varieties of the product include outdoor duct tape, double-sided duct tape, glow-in-the-dark duct tape, and nuclear-grade duct tape (the latter is certified for use in nuclear power plants).

10. WEARING DUCT TAPE TO PROM COULD EARN YOU A SCHOLARSHIP.

Duck brand duct tape offers a rather unusual scholarship to high schoolers who are willing to get creative with their product. Every prom season, they call upon students to design and create their own suits and dresses for the big day using duct tape. The winning couple of the "Stuck at Prom" competition is awarded a $10,000 scholarship each along with an additional $5000 for their high school.

9 Other Things That Happened on July 4

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iStock/LPETTET

Of course we know that July 4 is Independence Day in the U.S. But lots of other things have happened on that date as well. Here are just a few of them:

1. Three former presidents died.

On July 4, 1826, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson—America's second and third presidents, respectively—both passed away. The two politicians had a love-hate relationship, and Adams's last words were supposedly, "Thomas Jefferson survives." (He didn't know that Jefferson had passed away a few hours earlier.) Exactly five years later, on July 4, 1831, fifth U.S. President James Monroe died in New York City.

2. Henry David Thoreau moved to Walden Pond.

On July 4, 1845, Henry David Thoreau began his two-year living experiment at Walden Pond, near Concord, Massachusetts.

3. Alice Liddell first heard the story of Alice in Wonderland.

On July 4, 1862, little Alice Liddell listened to a story told by Lewis Carroll during a boat trip on the Thames ... it would later become, of course, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It was published exactly three years later—on July 4, 1865.

4. Two famous advice columnists were born.

On July 4, 1918, twin sisters Esther Pauline and Pauline Esther Friedman were born. Today they're better known as Ann Landers and Dear Abby.

5. George Steinbrenner came into the world.

On July 4, 1930, future Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was born (and presumably fired the doctor immediately).

6. Lou Gehrig delivered his retirement speech.

On July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig gave his famous retirement speech at Yankee Stadium after being diagnosed with ALS. He tells the crowd that he considers himself "the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

7. The Zodiac Killer killed for the first time. (As far as we know.)

On July 4, 1968, the Zodiac Killer murdered his first victims (that we know of) at Lake Herman Road in Benicia, California.

8. Koko was born.

On July 4, 1971, Koko, the sign-language gorilla, was born.

9. Bob Ross passed away.

On July 4, 1995, Bob Ross died, and all over the world, Happy Little Trees were a little less happy.

This list first ran in 2008 and was updated for 2019.

12 Facts About Diabetes Mellitus

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iStock/mthipsorn

Thirty million Americans—about 9 percent of the country's population—are living with diabetes mellitus, or simply diabetes. This chronic condition is characterized by sustained high blood sugar levels. In many patients, symptoms can be managed with insulin injections and lifestyle changes, but in others, the complications can be deadly. Here's what you need to know about diabetes mellitus.

1. There are three types of diabetes.

In healthy people, the pancreas produces enough of the hormone insulin to metabolize sugars into glucose and move the glucose into cells, where it's used for energy.

But people with type 2 diabetes—the most common form of the disease, accounting for about 95 percent of cases—either can't produce enough insulin to transport the sugars, or their cells have become insulin-resistant. The result is a buildup of glucose in the blood (a.k.a. high blood sugar or hyperglycemia). Type 2 diabetes typically develops in adults.

Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes, makes up the remaining 5 percent of chronic cases and most often develops in children and young adults. With this condition, the initial problem isn’t blood sugar levels, but insulin production: The pancreas can’t make enough insulin to process even normal amounts of glucose. The sugar builds up as a result, leading to dangerous concentrations in the bloodstream.

The third form, gestational diabetes, only afflicts pregnant people who weren’t diabetic before their pregnancy. The mother's blood glucose levels usually spike around the 24th week of pregnancy, but with a healthy diet, exercise, and insulin shots in some cases, diabetes symptoms usually can be managed. Blood sugar levels tend to return to normal in patients following their pregnancies.

2. The mellitus in diabetes mellitus means "honey sweet."

Around 3000 years ago, ancient Egyptians described a condition with diabetes-like symptoms, though it wasn't called diabetes yet. It took a few hundred years before the Greek physician Araetus of Cappodocia came up with the name diabetes based on the Greek word for "passing through" (as in passing a lot of urine, a common diabetes symptom). English doctor Thomas Willis tacked on the word mellitus, meaning "honey sweet," in 1675, building on previous physicians' observations that diabetic patients had sweet urine. Finally, in 1776, another English physician named Matthew Dobson confirmed that both the blood and urine of diabetes patients were made sweeter by high levels of glucose in their blood.

3. The cause of one type of diabetes is well understood; the other, not so much.

A person’s lifestyle is a key predictor of developing type 2 diabetes. Factors like being overweight or obese, consuming a high-calorie diet, smoking, and seldom exercising contribute to the risk. Foods and drinks that are high in sugar—soda, candy, ice cream, dessert— may contribute to hyperglycemia, but any food that’s high in calories, even if it's not sweet, can raise blood sugar levels.

In contrast to these well-established factors, medical experts aren’t entirely sure what causes type 1 diabetes. We do know that type 1 is an autoimmune disease that develops when the body attacks and damages insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Some scientists think that environmental factors, like viruses, may trigger this immune response.

4. Family history also plays a role in diabetes risk.

If a parent or sibling has type 2 diabetes, you are predisposed to developing pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Lifestyle habits explain some of these incidences, since family members may share similar diets and exercise habits. Genetics also play a role, but just because one close relative has diabetes does not mean you're destined to. Research conducted on identical twins, which share identical genes, showed that the pairs have discordant risk. Among twins in which one has type 1 diabetes, the other has only a 50 percent chance of developing it; for type 2, the risk for the second twin is 75 percent at most.

5. Racial minorities are at a higher risk for developing diabetes.

Many racial minority groups in the U.S. have a higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes. Black Americans, Latino Americans, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and some groups of Asian Americans are more likely to have pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes than white Americans. This can be partly explained by the fact that some of these groups also have higher rates of obesity, which is one of the primary risk factors of type 2 diabetes. Socioeconomics may also play a role: One study shows that people with diabetes living in poverty are less likely to visit diabetes clinics and receive proper testing than their middle-income counterparts. According to another study, diabetic people without health insurance have higher blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol rates than insured diabetics. Genetics, on the other hand, don’t appear to contribute to these trends.

6. Diabetes is one of the world's deadliest diseases.

With proper management, people with diabetes can live long, comfortable lives. But if the disease isn’t treated, it can have dire consequences. Diabetics make up the majority of people who develop chronic kidney disease, have adult-onset blindness, and need lower-limb amputations. In the most serious cases, diabetes leads to death. The condition is one of the deadliest diseases in the world, killing more people than breast cancer and AIDS combined.

7. Millions of Americans are pre-diabetic.

According to the CDC, 84 million adults living in the U.S. are pre-diabetic: Their blood sugar is higher than what’s considered safe, but hasn't yet reached diabetic level. In pre-diabetic patients, blood glucose levels after eight hours of fasting fall between 100 and 125 milligrams per deciliter, and diabetic levels are anything above that. People with pre-diabetes are not just at a greater risk for type 2 diabetes, but also for heart disease and stroke. Fortunately, people who are diagnosed with pre-diabetes can take steps to eat a healthier diet, increase physical activity, and test their blood glucose level several times a day to control the condition. In some cases, doctors will prescribe drugs like metformin that make the body more receptive to the insulin it produces.

8. After climbing for decades, rates of diabetes incidence are declining.

In the U.S., the rate of new diagnoses skyrocketed 382 percent between 1988 and 2014. Globally, 108 million people had diabetes in 1980, but by 2014 that number was 422 million.

But thanks to nationwide education and prevention efforts, the trend has reversed in the U.S., according to the CDC. Since peaking in 2009, the number of new diabetes cases in America has dropped by 35 percent. In that same timeframe, the number of people living with diagnosed diabetes in the U.S. has plateaued, suggesting people with the condition are living longer.

9. The first successful treatment for type 1 diabetes occurred in 1922.

Prior to the 20th century, type 1 diabetes was usually fatal. Diabetic ketoacidosis—a toxic buildup of chemicals called ketones, which arise when the body can no longer use glucose and instead breaks down other tissues for energy—killed most patients within a year or two of diagnosis. In searching for way to save children with juvenile (type 1) diabetes, Canadian physician Frederick Banting and medical student Charles Best built on the work of earlier researchers, who had demonstrated that removing the pancreas from a dog immediately caused diabetes symptoms in the animal. Banting and Best extracted insulin from dog pancreases in University of Toronto professor J.J.R. Macleod's lab. After injecting the insulin back into dogs whose pancreases had been removed, they realized the hormone regulated blood sugar levels. On January 11, 1922, they administered insulin to a human patient, and further refined the extract to reduce side effects. In 1923, Banting and Macleod received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their work.

10. A pioneering physicist discovered the difference between type and and type 1 diabetes.

In the 1950s, physicist Rosalyn Yalow and her research partner Solomon Berson developed a method for measuring minute amounts of substances in blood. Inspired by Yalow's husband's struggle with diabetes, Yalow focused her research on insulin. Their "radioimmunoassay" technology revealed that some diabetes patients were still able to produce their own insulin, leading them to create two separate categories for the disease: “insulin-dependent” (type 1) and “non-insulin-dependent” (type 2). Prior to that discovery in 1959, there was no distinction between the two types. In 1977, Yalow won the 1977 Nobel Prize in Medicine for the radioimmunoassay, one of only 12 female Nobel laureates in medicine.

11. Making one insulin dose once required tons of pig parts.

Insulin is relatively easy to make today. Most of what's used in injections comes from a special non-disease-producing laboratory strain of E. coli bacteria that's been genetically modified to produce insulin, but that wasn't always the case. Until about 40 years ago, 2 tons of pig pancreases were required to produce just 8 ounces of pure insulin. The pig parts were typically recycled from pork farms.

12. A quarter of diabetes patients don’t know they have it.

The symptoms of type 2 diabetes can develop for years before patients think to ask their doctor about them. These include frequent urination, unexplained thirst, numbness in the extremities, dry skin, blurry vision, fatigue, and sores that are slow to heal—signs that may not be a cause for concern on their own, but together can indicate a more serious problem. Patients with type 1 diabetes may also experience nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain.

While serious, the symptoms of diabetes are sometimes easy to overlook. That’s why 25 percent of people with the illness, 7.2 million in the U.S., are undiagnosed. And that number doesn’t even cover the majority of people with pre-diabetes who aren’t aware they’re on their way to becoming diabetic.

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