Men on the forefront of scientific discovery do not fear risking life and limb, be it drinking the vomit of a sick man or dosing themselves with LSD. One astrophysicist followed in their footsteps in the name of covid-19 health research and ended up with magnets up his nose, at risk of a horrifying and violent death. He is okay.
As the Guardian first reported, Daniel Reardon of Australia was noodling around out of boredom, attempting to invent an alarm system which would alert the user every time they raised their hand to their face.
Reardon explained to Gizmodo via email that he was trying to keep people from passing the virus from their hands onto their faces. While masks and gloves offer protection, “Really we just need to stop touching our faces, and wash our hands regularly,” he said.
He had conceived of a circuit necklace that would beep when it detected a magnetic field; when paired with a magnetic bracelet, the device would signal an alarm if the wearer brought their hand too close to their face. An attempt to build the object yielded the inverse result, a necklace that beeped continuously and only stopped when within proximity to magnets. (Reardon readily admitted to the Guardian that he specializes in pulsar and nanohertz-frequency gravitational waves, not circuits.)
Still curious, he clipped the magnets to his ears, and then, his downfall: the nostrils. When he removed the magnets from the outside of his nose, the inner magnets stuck together around his septum. When he attempted to draw the magnets out with other magnets (a tactic once effectively used on an 11-year-old boy), they just stuck to the original magnets. “At this point I ran out of magnets,” Reardon told the Guardian.
“My partner took me to the hospital that she works in because she wanted all her colleagues to laugh at me,” he said. “The doctors thought it was quite funny, making comments like, ‘This is an injury due to self-isolation and boredom.’”
The doctors managed to manually remove three of the magnets with the help of anaesthetic spray; the third fell down his throat, and he it coughed out.
This might be a tragic tale, had Reardon swallowed two or more magnets. According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, the ingestion of multiple magnets can “cause severe morbidity because they can attract across loops of bowel and erode through intestinal walls.”
Reardon remains optimistic for future iterations. “There are other means of doing proximity detection, and the idea is still sound, so I might have another go!” he told Gizmodo. “The response I got from the article included new suggestions from helpful strangers.”
God bless him. Research suggests that people touch their faces between 16 and 23 times per hour, and if I’ve learned anything from the multiple daily warnings on the subject, the desire to scratch eyebrows and rub eyeballs and brush hairs out of one’s face is beyond the capabilities of an average prefrontal cortex to control. Reardon did assure the Guardian that future experiments won’t see him fall victim to the same magnetic pitfalls: “Needless to say I am not going to play with the magnets any more,” he said.