Can you make batteries from tiny black holes? Maybe, say scientists


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Tiny black hole batteries

Following on from Feedback’s discussion about the Black Hole public toilet in New Zealand (25 November 2023) comes word of a plan called “Using black holes as rechargeable batteries and nuclear reactors“, published in the journal Physical Review D.

Successful technologists, almost as much as unsuccessful technologists, are not so easily cowed by limits others believe to be insurmountable. The plan’s authors, Zhan-Feng Mai and Run-Qiu Yang at Tianjin University, China, keep their chins up and their minds cranking.

They write: “Though the black hole’s strong gravity forbids that the classical matters escape from it into outside, fortunately, the energy can be extracted from the black hole through quantum or classical processes.”

They handwave away the swath of problems reputed to afflict anyone who suggests even going near a black hole. Their black hole, they specify, will be a “tiny black hole”.

This kind of confidence inspires venture capitalists, a variety of humans who are experiencing a golden age here in the early 2020s. Many are looking for new big opportunities to raise funds and invest portions thereof after extracting appropriate fractions therefrom.

Black hole batteries could be their next big thing, following hard on the flighty footsteps of cryptocurrency and artificial intelligence, both of which flocks of investors have found to be as compellingly attractive as black holes.

Two-story superpower

Alison Litherland tells of a beneficially duplicitous trivial superpower.

She says: “Your mention of Rosemary Firman’s husband’s ability to read two different pages of braille at the same time (16 September 2023) reminded me of the trivial superpower I had when my children were little.

“I could read them a bedtime story out loud while at the same time silently reading a novel to myself. I have no idea how my brain managed to separate out the two stories, but it certainly helped with the tedium of reading the same bedtime story yet again.”

Coffee with confusion

Ambiguity has a field day in this medical journal headline: “Coffee and heart failure: A further potential beneficial effect of coffee“.

That title rides atop a letter to the editor from Anna Vittoria Mattioli and Alberto Farinetti at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia in Italy. The journal is Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases.

Mattioli and Farinetti explore some of the ambiguities in medical investigations – and medical pronouncements – about good and bad health effects of drinking coffee.

Some people in some places drink espresso, some drink other forms of coffee. Some drink filtered coffee, some unfiltered.

Some people in some places drink coffee “in relation to a meal, thus influencing absorption and effect on the gut”, some drink it standalone. Some people are men, others are not, with possible differences in “the absorption of macro and micro nutrients and in their bioavailability”.

Further studies, Mattioli and Farinetti suggest beneath their confusion-inducing headline, are required to “not create confusion”.

Edge on edge

Sam Edge is vexed about a paper that featured in a previous Feedback column (4 November 2023) called “New insights on the genetics of hair whorls from twins and the southern hemisphere“. Sam finds it hair-raising that the paper drew any attention.

He says: “The old chestnut about drain circulation rears its head again, I see. Given the tiny volume and mass involved in a head of hair, coupled with the fact that people spend a significant amount of their time in a non-vertical pose and moving around, it’s ridiculous to suggest that the Coriolis force could be involved in hair whorling.” The Coriolis force, you will recall, is a surprising twist in how things appear to move while something rotates.

Feedback hopes it won’t set Edge on edge to learn that there is a new version of that paper. Now titled “Genetic determinism and hemispheric influence in hair whorl formation“, it appears in the Journal of Stomatology, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.

The new version gives a twisty, this time distanced, nod to the Coriolis question: “Other non-hemispheric factors should [be] assessed on samples from various Northern and Southern hemisphere locations, such as maternal health, maternal nutrition, and/or prenatal hormone exposure, before considering a potential effect of hemispheric environmental physical factors such as the Coriolis force.”

Sheffield names harvest

Susan Frank doesn’t beat about the bush in conveying garden variety information.

She writes: “I thought you’d like the names of two of our trustees associated with the Sheffield Botanical Gardens Trust, Barbara Plant and Christine Rose.”

Feedback notes that the Sheffield Botanical Gardens Trust website clarifies (by displaying the info specially within parentheses) that trustee Miles Stevenson, who is neither a plant nor a rose, is a chair.

Marc Abrahams created the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony and co-founded the magazine Annals of Improbable Research. Earlier, he worked on unusual ways to use computers. His website is

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