I presented a short piece on ‘Einstein-a-go-go’ linking canaries (specifically those in coal mines) to some important advances in chemistry. It goes a little something like this . . .
Most people are familiar with the concept of the “canary in a coal mine”. The phrase refers to the miners’ technique of carrying a canary in a cage to warn of adverse conditions as they moved through a mine. If the canary stopped singing, fell off it’s perch, died or was generally in distress (aside from what you might expect of a small bird placed in a cage and taken underground) this was an indicator that the miners might have come across an area of changed atmospheric conditions. Other animals were also used, but canaries are particularly sensitive to some gases including carbon monoxide and methane – both of which can occur in mines - especially if there has been a fire or explosion.
If a change in the atmosphere in a mine was detected there were 2 main concerns: that reduced oxygen might lead to asphyxiation or that flammable gasses (such as methane) might cause an explosion, an eventuality made more likely by the use of open flames as a source of illumination. Either eventuality would spoil your day. More . . .