Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Stint With Some Lint


I need to spend some time on oddities in other countries because quite frankly, if I keep focusing on the blatant idiocy over here in the US, I'm going to lose what small shred of hope that I have left. And there are odd individuals in other countries. Hoo-boy, are there ever! Let's go to Vienna to learn about one of them.

Meet Dr. Georg Steinhauser. Dr. Steinhauser is a researcher at the Vienna University of Technology, located appropriately in Vienna. Vienna is a good place to be for Dr. Steinhauser. After all, Freud was from Vienna. It's like the birthplace of psychoanalysis. I imagine the place is just swimming with psychoanalysts. And I'd like a team of those very psychoanalysts to tell me why it is that Dr. Steinhauser has spent the last three years researching what type of body hair it is that traps pieces of lint in one's navel, aka the belly button. Wait. What?


Three years. Three years studying and researching belly button lint. What the hell is wrong this man? He's a scientist, he's a DOCTOR for cryin' out loud! (Even though he looks like he's 12.) It's not easy to become any sort of doctor and being a scientist is no exception. Why on earth would you spend the time that it takes to become a doctor and then use the knowledge that you've gained and the training that you've had and spend your time pulling out belly button fluff? It seems odd, as I can pull out belly button lint without being a doctor! So I don't know why someone would, but I do know that he did.

According to the folks over there at
The Telegraph (who have just been putting out fascinating stories lately, so thanks, Telegraph guys!), Dr. Steinhauser, "...made his discovery after studying 503 pieces of fluff from his own belly button." He also asked his friends, family and co-workers about their own belly button lint. (I imagine that's the sort of thing you only get to do once, as once you've asked anyone about their belly button lint, it's highly probable that they're not going to want to talk to you ever again.) OK, I really hate to ask this, but what constitutes "a piece" of fluff? I mean, if there are two pieces in there and they're pulled out and meld into one, is that still two? Or what if there is only one in there and it breaks on the way out, then what? One or two? I imagine it's questions like these that keep Dr. Steinhauser awake at night. (Me, not so much.)

He did a chemical analysis on the fluff (because that's what scientists are supposed to do! Chemical analysis! But not on belly button lint!) and what he found will shock you. Or it won't. (You could still be in awe that someone has actually taken time to do this. I'm still a bit stunned myself.) He found that the lint wasn't just "...made up of only cotton from clothing." ::::gasp!:::: That's right! He found that there "...were also flecks of dead skin, fat, sweat and dust." (Was this news to the man? Was he thinking, "If it only were not for the lint, it would just be PRISTINE in there! Damn the lint! Damn ALL the lint to hell!")


His findings were published in the Medical Hypotheses journal. How this qualifies as a "medical" anything is beyond me. He wrote that it's the "...scaly structure of the hair" which "enhances the 'abrasion of minuscule fibres from the shirt' and directs the lint towards the belly button." Basically, the hair acts like velcro. He also said he learned that "Abdominal hair often seems to grow in concentric circles around the navel." Concentric circles. Uh-huh. OK, well, good to know. That will help me...when? In case I'm ever on Jeopardy! one day? ("I'll take things only I know for $1000, please, Alex.)

So if you have a concentrically hairy stomach, you're going to have a linty navel. Sure you can shave your abdomen hair if you're really shooting for a "fluff-free navel", but that will only work until the hair grows back. (Again, something that I probably could have told you through casual reasoning and without a Ph.D.) He also mentioned that new clothes "can shed up to one thousandth of their weight to the belly button every year."So if your favorite sweatshirt seems to be getting smaller over the years, it might not be because you're getting fatter! It might be because it has just shed itself off and into your belly button, making the shirt seem smaller and you seem larger. So check there first before heading off to Jenny Craig or over to Kirstie Alley's house.

And although Dr. Steinhauser is a scientist, there are (sadly) apparently others who may not be scientists (and who could tell in this instance?) but who are also fascinated by the lint within one's navel. Take a one Australian bloke Graham Barker for instance. His belly button lint is usually red even though he rarely wears red clothing. (EWW! Do I have to guess why it's red?! I'm not gonna!) Graham is so fascinated with the fluffy stuff within his navel that he "...has been collecting his own navel fluff in jars every day since 1984." Um...1984? WTF? "The achievement has won him a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the world's largest collection of navel lint."


Was there a big field of competitors for that distinction? I don't think there was. And I don't know that I consider something a "world record" when it's extremely likely that you're the only one in the world who does that particular something on purpose! That doesn't necessarily mean that you're worthy of holding a "world record" as much as you are worthy of earning the distinction of someone who clearly needs therapy.

This isn't the only research project that Dr. Steinhauser has immersed himself in. Yes, there are others. Others that are equally fascinating! He did a year long study on how the abrasion of wedding rings causes trace particles of the gold to flake off. He conducted that study by weighing his own wedding ring once a week during the first year of his marriage. He now weighs the ring once every six months and says that he will publish a life long study at the end of his scientific career which he will call "the work of his married lifetime." (By the way, over that year, his ring became 6.15mg lighter than it was when he first started weighing it. He used that figure and applied it to the number of married couples in Vienna and calculated that "2.2 kg of 18-carat gold" were lost every year to abrasion. Ok then.)

He has also studied the amounts of barium and strontium in the snow before and after fireworks were set off and determined that since the barium levels were almost 500 times higher after the fireworks than before the fireworks and that high barium levels can really aggravate a person's asthma, that those with asthma should stay away from fireworks celebrations.


Dr. Steinhauser seems like a smart guy, but I fear he's just a bit too eccentric to be able to put his brilliant mind toward some sort of really important research. What's next for this guy? Which mushroom variety is toenail fungus the most similar to? How often to humans grow new nose hair? Is there a constant butt-crack length to butt-cheek width ratio? You never know. And you don't need to know! But if you ever do need to know, Dr. Steinhauser is your go-to guy for sure.

(Final Side Note: Good Lord, yes, there's more. :::sigh::: While scouring the Internet for pictures for this post, I ran across documentation of the pastime of the one aforementioned Graham Barker, collector of the navel lint. And I thought it just wouldn't be right to leave that stuff out, so here you go. Graham had a blog called My Navel. The site is still up, but it appears he has stopped updating it. There are several close up pictures of the lint he has removed from his navel. There is even a ruler in the photos so you can have some sort of a scale in your head as to the lint's actual size.


There is also the almost obligatory GrahamParker.com. There you can find links to other webpages of his as well as download his CV.



And Graham seems to have another site/blog entitled "Graham's Paddock". This has several subsections, not all of which are about the lint. It also seems to be current and up-to-date. There is more belly button lint documentation there, including photos of the lint stored in jars and separated by decade. There are also recipes for his favorite salads and soups. Go figure.)

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4 comments:

grannyann said...

This sounds like something our congress would give stimulus money to. I can see it now: "Congress gives $5M to the study of naval lint". I'm like you, what's he studying lint when he has all those degrees. If I was his parent and had paid for his college, I'd have his head examined!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Dr. Steinhauser's work is so boring that at least YOU spent a day or two in checking google for his CV... So, who's more freaky?

La Belle Canadienne said...

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Check out this link 4 weird products...give the Japanese a run 4 their money...

Mare said...

Anonymous,
Where you got the idea that it took me "a day or two checking Google" for this is beyond me, as I've fully mastered the search box on Google to the point where I can find my information in a matter of seconds. Also, it was not Dr. Steinhauser's CV that I referenced, it was that of Mr. Barker. I'd appreciate it if the comments that you leave were based upon facts rather than your misinterpretation of them. Perhaps a day or two on Google could help you with some skills to master the retention of accurate information. Thanks for reading!