(alternative title: If Santa had a lab)
The (not really) real story of Santa Claus started when he was a young apprentice in the village workshop. He started working there after school, to make some extra money for his holidays, and quickly became good with woodworking. So, he thought of using those skills to make a real impact in the world. And with his head full of dreams he left his village and signed up for a PhD programme in materials science.
He was a highly interested and dedicated student, with many innovative ideas, which he soon began testing in the lab. Woodworking became a thing of the past for him. He studied different materials and combined different metals, creating some of the most amazing objects ever produced.
Things were going so well for him… or so it seemed. He had indeed produced a lot of data, but no one could really understand what he was doing. The professors at his university ignored him and laughed at his presentations; his papers were often rejected because they were “outside the scope of this journal” and “too specialised for such a prestigious journal with a broad readership”; and his grant applications… well, you get the picture. Luckily, he had a very supportive supervisor who really believed in him and his projects, and eventually he managed to graduate. And with some luck, he got enough money to allow him to start his own lab, in his home town.
He was finally free to develop his vision, his contribution to the world.
Santa had always enjoyed contacting with people, and had always been very dear in his home town. He frequently got letters from people interested in knowing more about his research. And he always took the time to reply to each and every one of those letters; in many cases he even sent some of the products of his research. “I discovered a way to improve thermal insulation and applied it to clothing. Would you be so kind to try these socks out this winter and let me know what you think?” – he wrote back once to an elderly man living in the North Pole.
He realised how happy people were to receive these gifts, as they felt they were contributing to a bigger cause. And with time, he saw the benefits of involving non-scientists in his research, and he started taking this even more seriously. So, he created an annual outreach event in his home town where he went to people’s homes to talk about science and leave one of his creations as a gift. And because Santa’s sweet tooth was no secret, his hosts returned their gratitude with a nice cup of hot chocolate at every stop. Hence, his belly!
Quickly, the word about this generous and highly creative scientist spread out all over the world. He was now getting letters asking him to come to the homes of families in every corner of the earth. And with his fame came hundreds of applications of students and postdocs to join his lab.
Santa’s lab was now booming with resources and experimenting with everything they could think of. Easy-to-open wrapping paper and colourful ribbons soon became a must for just about any present; and for some reason they kept working on socks, at least I guess they did, otherwise how would one explain getting socks for Christmas? Every! Year! Really!… I don’t know about you but I only have two feet.
Interestingly, one of their major breakthroughs was in the field of nutrition. It seems that the food supplements craze was started by Santa, when they developed a food supplement that could make reindeers fly. It did not work on other animals though, and the mechanism is still unknown, but he was able to patent it and that has been enough to keep the lab running all these years.
But years have passed, and Santa is now taking it a bit more slowly. At the peak of his life he must have been able to complete the amazing task of distributing presents to all the children in the world in one day (which according to this physicist’s view would require him to travel at more than 1000 km/h and withstand a 17,500 G-force). But age does have a toll on him as well, even if he seems to be holding pretty well in his 70s (?!), he’s not so active anymore.
So Santa is now outsourcing some of his work. In the recent years, he’s been relying on a big enterprise (whose name should not be pronounced, but is named after a river, and a forest). And even though they’re less eco-friendly – flying reindeers could really slow down climate change – they’ve been doing a good job helping Santa.
And that, dear readers, is how science made Christmas what Christmas is today.