2458: Bubble Wrap
Title text: I think of myself as the David Attenborough of factory mailing equipment.
Bubble wrap is packing material made by melting two sheets of plastic together with little pockets of air (the "bubbles") spread throughout the surface. It is wrapped around fragile items for moving or shipping because the air pockets act as a cushion if the item(s) within are struck or shaken. Many people enjoy popping bubble wrap as a mindless hobby, perhaps due to the tactility and other sensations of each bubble makes as it bursts.
The premise behind this comic is that the air inside each bubble comes from the factory where it was made, and thus as each bubble is popped that air — along with anything in it — is released. If one had a very sensitive sense of smell, one could detect unique odors present in the factory at the time not present where you are popping the bubble wrap. The comic has Cueball smelling WD-40 (a penetrating oil likely to be found where machines are running), diesel fumes (likely found where trucks drop off supplies or pick up product) and what he thinks is sea air, causing him to muse that the factory is by the ocean.
In reality, the air inside most factories is much like the air anywhere else. This is particularly true for modern factories which are much cleaner than the popular conception of a dirty, smelly factory from early in the days of industrialization. One would be unlikely to distinctly smell WD-40 or diesel fumes standing in such a factory unless it was right after or right near they were used. It would be even less likely to smell them when the minuscule amounts of air in the bubbles was then diluted in the larger amount of air surrounding you when they are popped. Furthermore, although the comic suggests popping the bubbles gives one a "tour" of the factory, in fact all of the air added to the bubbles would only come from air near the machine where the wrap is made. It would be even less likely to pick up smells from other parts of the factory such as diesel fumes from the loading docks, since air is not added to bubble wrap there.
Although this scenario is unlikely given human olfactory ability, scientists with very sensitive equipment have done essentially this with ice cores. As ice is laid down in places such as the Greenland or Antarctic ice sheets, it traps small bubbles from the atmosphere at the time within it. As long as the ice remains frozen, those bubbles remain trapped and do not interact with the current atmosphere, preserving a record of the chemical composition of the air in the past. There have been many scientific expeditions to drill ice cores and then melt pieces of them in a laboratory where special equipment can analyze the ancient air as it is released to study the quantity of oxygen and CO2 within in. The deeper the core is drilled, the farther in the past the sample.
The title text references David Attenborough, who is famous for having narrated many influential documentaries for the BBC about life on earth. He is renowned for having brought science into the homes of tens of millions. The title text humorously suggests that Cueball thinks his "narration" about what he smells in the bubble wrap is as important and distinguished as Attenborough's award winning work.
- [Cueball is holding a large piece of bubble wrap in both hands, clearly pressing one of the bubbles with his fingers so it pops, indicated with several small lines going away from that spot, and a sound.]
- Cueball: Hmm...
- Cueball: WD-40, diesel fumes...
- Cueball: And is that sea air? I guess they're near the ocean.
- Bubble wrap: Pop
- [Caption below the panel:]
- If your sense of smell is good enough, popping bubble wrap gives you a tour of a bubble wrap factory.
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