If you enjoy learning things, you’ll probably know how good it feels to uncover a new, meaty topic that you can really sink your teeth into. And with such a vast and interesting world around us, there really are no limits on what knowledge we can gather.
Choosing an area of interest can be tricky, but there are plenty of often-overlooked subjects that can make for fun and fascinating research projects.
With that said, here are 10 weird and wonderful topics that could provide you with hours of entertainment.
Having been around for at least 420 million years, sharks have survived at least four of the ‘big five’ mass extinctions – which is undeniably impressive. They were around long before the dinosaurs, and even before the first tree!
Today, there are over 500 species of shark, including everything from the infamous great white shark to the sometimes-pink goblin shark and the harmless basking shark (which is Britain’s largest fish).
As apex predators (meaning they’re top of the food chain), sharks help to keep marine ecosystems in check. But, sadly, overfishing and illegal fishing of sharks for their fins means that numbers are declining worldwide.
If you want to discover more about these fascinating creatures, there are plenty of YouTube videos containing interesting shark facts and footage. Or you might want to check out edX’s course: Sharks! Global Biodiversity, Biology, and Conservation.
Another fun way to learn more about sharks is to download the free OCEARCH app. Here, you can track sharks in the world’s oceans and find out their name, weight, species, and where they’ve previously been!
2. Laws from around the world
Laws on all sorts of things differ quite dramatically around the world, and learning about them can be a great way to find out more about other countries and gain new perspectives.
For example, some of the most unusual laws we came across during our research were…
- In Mexico, bikers who take their feet off the pedals can (technically) be prosecuted.
- New parents in Denmark must choose from 33,000 government-approved names for their children.
- In Japan, if your waist size measures over 33.5 inches (men) and 35.5 inches (women) and you’re between the ages of 40 and 79, you could get in trouble with the law. People not complying with these requirements are reported to the government for ‘re-education’.
For a look at more quirky rulings, check out this list of 175 strange laws from solicitors, Wright Hassall.
Whether you’re a history buff or not, the enchanting nature of castles can be difficult to ignore – and each one has a captivating story to tell.
For example, Bojnice Castle in Slovakia looks like something from a fairytale. It was first built as a wooden fort in 1113 and areas were gradually replaced by stone. Today, locals believe that it’s haunted by a former resident wearing a black dress, who jumped from the castle’s tower to prove her innocence after being accused of adultery.
Another popular castle is the National Palace of Pena in Portugal, Lisbon, which sits on a hill overlooking the Portuguese Riviera, and looks like it’s rising above the clouds. Since it was built by a Portuguese king in 1839, it’s survived a devastating earthquake, been abandoned and reconstructed, and become a UNESCO world heritage site.
The best way to learn more about castles is to visit them – our article, 15 of the best castles to visit in the UK, will hopefully get you inspired. Though many castles in the UK and abroad can also be explored online, like the ones in this article from Trips to Discover.
Alternatively, YouTube has plenty of fascinating videos that’ll help you explore the magic of castles; from the most haunted to the most beautiful. It’s also worth checking out the websites of individual castles, as there are usually plenty of helpful resources available to support learning.
If there was ever something to remind us of the power of mother nature, tornadoes are it!
Captivating, terrifying, and unpredictable, the strongest tornadoes have winds of more than 200mph. These gales violently rotate to form columns that reach from storm clouds to the Earth’s surface.
The widest tornado ever recorded was in El Reno, Oklahoma, in 2013 – measuring 2.6 miles wide, with speeds of over 290mph.
The sheer size and power of tornadoes make them incredibly interesting to learn about, and the internet is loaded with helpful web pages about the science behind them – such as this page from FutureLearn on how tornadoes are formed. You can also watch footage of tornadoes and other extreme weather events on YouTube.
Depending on how dedicated you are to your tornado research project, you could also visit Severe Studios and watch live storm chasing online! This does involve some patience and regular checks, as chasers will – of course – only go live once the action is happening. Though, there are plenty of previous storm-chasing videos to enjoy while you wait.
The world of houseplants is much more immersive than it might appear on the surface! Houseplants are diverse – with different needs and personalities – and looking after them in the right way can be both a joy and a challenge.
For example, some plants – like leafy, elegant peace lilies – prefer a warm, humid environment with indirect sunlight and fairly frequent watering. Without sufficient water, they droop dramatically and perk up soon after having a drink; without sufficient humidity, leaf tips go brown; and too much sunlight will turn leaves yellow!
Other plants, like mysterious lithops (succulents which look like tiny stones), need full sun to thrive and a watering schedule that mimics the dry conditions of their native Africa.
It’s easy to get attached to our green friends and celebrate and mourn their highs and lows. And, along the way, there’s plenty of learning to be done about how best to look after them.
If you’re new to houseplants and aren’t sure which ones to choose, you might want to check out our article; 10-low maintenance indoor plants that can add life to your home. Udemy also has a great course (Houseplants 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Indoor Gardening) that covers the basics!
Whether you believe in ‘aliens’ or not, the phenomenon of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) is usually enough to pique everyone’s interest!
Put simply, UFOs are any strange, flying object in the sky that can’t be immediately identified or explained. Research has shown that UFOs are definitely real, though this doesn’t mean that they’re alien spaceships.
However, what we do know with regard to the possible link between UFOs and aliens is that there are huge numbers of potentially habitable worlds in our milky way galaxy. In fact, NASA’s Kepler space telescope suggests that 50% of the sun-like stars in our universe could harbour rocky planets with life potential.
What’s more, last summer, NASA announced the launch of its $100,000 nine-month study of UFOs, with the aim of getting to the bottom of the mystery. So, if you’ve ever been curious about UFOs, there’s never been a better time to wade knee-deep into the research!
You might want to start by reading about some of the most credible UFO sightings over the years on the History website. And if you’d like to delve deeper, Udemy has an excellent course on the subject.
7. Capitals of the world
The vastness of our world means that, chances are, plenty of us have bucket lists of countries we’d like to visit, or aren’t as clued up on geography as we could be.
For example, do you know what the capital of the Maldives is? Or the capital of Switzerland? Perhaps you do – but if not, then finding out can be a fun way to discover new places; maybe even some that you’d like to visit.
With there being 195 world capitals, remembering the names of all of them can be challenging. So a helpful way to really get to know each one is to learn something memorable about it: what makes it different? What’s the culture like? What’s it most famous for?
If you want to test your knowledge and find out how many world capitals you do know, you could take the Britannica quiz below.
8. Pet psychology
Pets use many signals to communicate with us and even a simple sneeze or yawn can send a message.
There’s also been a rise in the number of people using labelled buttons to train pets and help them communicate better – Bunny the dog is one such example who recently found internet stardom after being trained this way. Bunny can use buttons like ‘walk’ and ‘help’ to express her needs to her owner.
These advanced training techniques have led many to ask the question: are our pets even more intelligent than we may realise?
For those who’d like to find out and deepen their connection with their pet (or who just love animals and would like to understand them better), the study of pet psychology can provide an interesting insight.
The Open University has a free Living Psychology: Animal Minds course that explores whether our pets experience emotions the same way we do, whether non-human animals can solve complex problems, and to what extent other species have minds similar to human minds.
Pet behaviour is also a profession (we’ve listed it in our article on 12 interesting jobs working with animals) so, depending on how much it interests you, it could make for an exciting new career path!
9. Fashion through the years
Fashion has always been a hot topic of conversation – and the fact that it’s constantly evolving makes it all the more fascinating.
In Ancient Egypt, people wore wax or perfume cones on their heads to hide their body odour; in the 15th century, men and women wore long pointy shoes that were 50% longer than the length of their feet; and in the 19th century, men wore corsets. Fast-forward to the 20th and 21st centuries and we’ve seen everything from cloche hats and shoulder pads to hotpants and wedge trainers.
Some fashion trends have been lost forever, while others have cycled back around, such as 90s baggy jeans and quirky, patterned shirts.
A couple of the best places to learn about the history of fashion are the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum in London and the Fashion Museum in Bath – both of which have free entry. Reading books and magazines from the fashion period that you’re interested in can be helpful too, as can taking courses – such as the free History of Royal Fashion course from Future Learn.
If you don’t mind paying, you might also want to look into this Fashion History course from the Business of Fashion (BoF), taught by fashion expert, Colin McDowell.
If you’re into crime fiction or true crime, then a more in-depth look into forensics might be right up your street.
Forensic scientists might examine fingerprints, handwriting, paint or chemicals, and digital evidence – among many other things – to piece crimes together. This insider’s guide from the BBC provides some insight into what it’s actually like to work in the field.
While you might not be considering a career in forensic science, it can still make for an intriguing topic of study for anyone who’d like a deeper understanding of how crimes are solved.
There are plenty of online forensic science courses, such as the Open University’s free Forensic Science and Fingerprints course, which explains the principles involved in classifying and matching fingerprints. Or, you can explore other courses available through our website using the button below.
And, if you’d like to take your learning of how science is used to solve crimes further, why not sign up for ‘There are no criminals in my family’? This is an upcoming one-hour talk on Rest Less Events that explores how DNA testing databases are used to identify both victims and perpetrators.
From tornadoes and world capitals to fashion and forensics, there’s a whole world of knowledge out there just waiting to be explored.
Learning about an unusual subject is not just something fun you can do in your spare time, it also makes for a great conversation starter and can lend way to new ideas and perspectives.
We hope something in this list piqued your interest. But if you’d like more inspiration, why not check out our articles; 16 interesting online courses or 25 Rest Less Events to look out for in August?