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Dispatches From The North Pole: Santa’s Bag Of Toys

Typical view from the North Pole Labs.

Editor’s Note: This is the last in a series of occasional dispatches from Dr. Larry Silverberg, a researcher at NC State who is leading a visiting scholars program at Santa’s Workshop-North Pole Labs (NPL). Dr. Silverberg is an expert in unified field theory and is accompanied by four other mechanical and aerospace engineers: Drs. Mohammad Zikry (novel materials), Greg Buckner (medical robotics), Fred DeJarnette (space travel), and Herb Eckerlin (energy conservation).

We’re all really starting to miss North Carolina. It is -35 degrees Celsius (-31 F) this morning at NPL, and I’m craving a chicken biscuit (if I never see gingerbread again, it will be too soon). But I shouldn’t complain. We learned a lot about how Santa is able to fit so many toys onto his sleigh. We knew it was theoretically possible, but it is astonishing to see it in action.

Dr. Zikry is still trying to work out the specifics regarding Santa’s “magic sack” – a sort of nano-toymaker that uses a reversible thermodynamic processor to create toys for good girls and boys on site. As you can imagine, that cuts down significantly on the overall weight of the sleigh (fuel efficiency!). The magic sack uses carbon-based soot from chimneys, together with other local materials, to make the toys by applying high-precision electromagnetic fields to reverse thermodynamic processes previously thought to be irreversible. Simply put, it’s amazing.

We leave for home in the morning. From here on out, Santa and his crew will be too busy with last-minute details to show a bunch of professors around. All in all, our time at NPL has been an eye-opener. We appreciate the opportunity Santa has given us to visit his sleighport and work alongside the elves at NPL. It was a unique learning experience and a tremendous honor. The principles of cold fusion are still a closely guarded secret, but we’ve learned a lot. Perhaps most importantly, we’ve learned that we still have a lot to learn – and that there is still plenty of magic for us to uncover in science. I can’t wait to get home and get started!

Happy holidays!

Note: Previous posts from the series available here, here and here.

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  1. Sheesh, Wiggy, didn’t you read the posts? Many of the technological difficulties you raise have been addressed! 🙂

  2. Holiday Hypothesis

    Most of us as children, for some mysteriously warped reason, were taught by our parents about the magical fairy with a periodontal fetish who visits us while we are sleeping…and you wonder why children are afraid of the dark. And about the springtime bunny who thinks he’s a chicken and delivers ornate hard-boiled eggs on Easter Day. Who came up with this stuff?

    The most enduring and globally accepted mystical tale of all of these with roots in reality is the story of Santa Claus. The unfortunate part to this important basis of childhood doctrine is this once credible yarn has over the centuries morphed into a tale which defies the laws of physics. I’m here to set the record straight and save your children a lot of disappointment later in life with…

    A Holiday Hypothesis on that age old question, “Is there a Santa Claus?”

    1. No known species of reindeer can fly. But there are 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified. And while most of these are insects and germs, this doesn’t completely rule out flying reindeer, which only Santa has seen.

    2. There are 2.5 billion children in the world. BUT since Santa doesn’t appear to handle the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist children of the world, that reduces the workload to 15% of the total – 375 million according to Population Reference Bureau. At an average census rate of 3.5 children per household, that comes out to 107 million homes. One presumes there’s at least one good child in each.

    3. Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the Earth, assuming he travels east to west, which would seem logical. This works out to be 960.1 visits per second. Santa has 1/1000th of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house. This excludes the time taken to eat the cookies and milk left for him.

    Assuming each of these 107 million stops are evenly distributed around the earth, which of course we know to be false, but for the purposes of my calculation we will accept, we are now talking about 0.78 miles per household. A total trip of 75 ½ million miles, not counting stops to do what most of us do at least once everyone 31 hours, plus feeding, etc. This means Santa’s sleigh is moving at 676 miles per second, 3,208 times the speed of sound, assuming an average altitude of 1000 feet. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle to leave earth orbit, the New Horizons space probe launched in January 2006 on its way to pseudo-planet Pluto, moves at a poky 9.44 miles per second. A conventional reindeer can run, tops, 15 miles per hour.

    4. The payload on the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming each child gets nothing more than a medium sized Lego set weighing in at approximately 2 pounds, the sleigh is carrying 375,000 tons, not counting Santa, who is invariably described as overweight. On land, conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting “flying reindeer” (see point #1) could pull ten times the normal amount, we can’t do the job with eight, or even nine. We need 250,000 reindeer. With the average reindeer weighing in at 375 lbs., this increases the payload, not even counting the weight of the sleigh, to 418,750 tons. Again for comparison, this is six times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth II weighing in at 70,327 gross tons.

    5. 418,750 tons traveling at 676 miles per second creates enormous air resistance. This resistance will heat the reindeer up in the same fashion as a spacecraft re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy per second, each. In short, they will burst into flame almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them, and create deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer team will be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second. Santa, meanwhile, will be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500.06 times greater than gravity. A 250-pound Santa, which seems ludicrously slim, would be pinned to the back of the sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force.

    In conclusion, if Santa ever did deliver presents on Christmas Eve, he is now dead. Just remember kiddies, when you stop believing in Santa, you start getting clothes for Christmas…

    Marc “Wiggy” Kovacs NCSU BSAE ’89