Dr Daniel Reardon of Australia's Swinburne University was attempting to join the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. It didn't work, but he has earned massive respect for his self-deprecating tone after being hospitalized with powerful magnets stuck inside his nose.
Being an astrophysicist, not a microbiologist, Reardon wasn't likely to invent a new treatment. Nevertheless, following in the footsteps of the Australian radio astronomer who invented WiFi, he thought his skills might be transferable. Reardon imagined a device that sounds a warning alarm before you touch your face, thus preventing the most common form of infection of COVID-19, the respiratory illness known to transmit via droplets on surfaces, hands etc.
With a magnetic field detector and time on his hands while self-isolating Reardon bought some powerful neodymium magnets online and started to tinker, but his product came out backwards. “I accidentally invented a necklace that buzzes continuously unless you move your hand close to your face,” he told the Guardian.
Reardon admitted to IFLScience this problem could have been solved with a NOT gate, but he didn't have one in the electronic equipment he was using, and had learned his magnetic field detector wasn't sensitive enough for the job anyway.
Like many an inventor upon encountering obstacles, Reardon started playing with his equipment, in this case the magnets, clipping them either side of his ears and then his nostrils, which was where things went wrong.
With two magnets inside his nostrils and two outside all was well, but when he removed the outside ones those inside stuck to each other on either side of his septum. Oblivious of advice regarding holes and digging cessation, Reardon tried to use the other two magnets to pull out the internal ones.
“At this point, my partner who works at a hospital was laughing at me,” he said. “I was trying to pull them out but there is a ridge at the bottom of my nose you can’t get past.
Like any good Millennial, Reardon googled the problem, but the solution required more magnets than he had. “As I was pulling downwards to try and remove the magnets, they clipped on to each other and I lost my grip. And those two magnets ended up in my left nostril while the other one was in my right. At this point I ran out of magnets,” he told the Guardian. Metal pliers got magnetized, which made things worse, not better.
“My partner took me to the hospital that she works in because she wanted all her colleagues to laugh at me.” Unsurprisingly, they did, saying things like, ‘This is an injury due to self-isolation and boredom.’”
Reardon, who has made a full recovery, told IFLScience he decided to give the story to the world, rather than hiding because “I thought people could do with a laugh at the moment.”
Reardon's work, which he says is actually going quite well at the moment from home, involves collecting pulsar observations from radio telescopes across Australia and South Africa, including the famous Parkes Dish. He is participating in analyzing tiny changes in pulsar timing to detect gravitational waves and “explore fundamental physics in very dense environments.” He's participating in the ongoing quest to verify General Relativity against competing theories. “These observations could also be used for interstellar space navigation,” he told IFLScience.
The good humor with which he described his misadventures has won Reardon social media fame, at least locally, although he is probably yet to match Matt Agnew, the astrophysicist from the same department who was last year's Australian Bachelor.
Reardon told IFLScience he has not been game to play with the magnets again, but says anyone with better equipment is welcome to continue the quest to make his concept a reality.