Chemical Evolution – An Unlikely Story

One of the explanations put forward to explain the origin of life is the Chemical Evolution theory. In essence, it suggests that basic chemicals underwent a transition to form living cells. In order to understand that the steps proposed for chemical evolution make a very unlikely story, consider the following analogy. This explanation is of…

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The Unpredictable Fury of a Tornado

One of the most dangerous conditions in the weather’s multiplicity of threats is the tornado.  The only thing predictable about a tornado is its unpredictability.  North America gets more tornados than any other part of the world, around a thousand per year in the United States. While hurricanes hang around over open water and usually…

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The Extraordinary Properties of Light

Like many things that are always present in life, we take light for granted.  But scientists have discovered it has many extraordinary properties. It was not until the 20th century that the real nature of light was revealed.  Albert Einstein proved that nothing can exceed the speed of light. Light establishes the speed limit for…

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Mapping Our Sense of Smell

One of the more interesting Nobel Prizes in 2004 was the one for medicine.  Two Americans, Richard Axel and Linda Buck won their prize for discovering how we can recognize and remember some ten thousand odours, from rotten fish, to the perfume of our first sweetheart. Their work mapped the most enigmatic of our senses,…

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Moving Beyond Matter

We humans are skilled at “spicing up” our language by creating imagery.  We take a common substance, like butter, give it a literary twist here and there, and come up with word pictures that have impact and meaning. Butter has given us a number of interesting expressions and proverbial phrases. 1.  “Butter fingers,” is someone…

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Predicting Height is Tricky

As someone who had a short mother, I’ve always believed that every adult son will be taller than his mother.  A better rule of thumb is that the likeliest height of your children will be the average of the parents’ height in centimetres, plus seven centimetres for sons, or minus seven centimetres for daughters. But…

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The Humble Lichen Monitors Pollution

Lichens are a unique combination of fungi and algae which survive by accumulating nutrients from the air.  Because they lack roots, stems and leaves, they can grow almost anywhere. Scientists have long known that lichens are very sensitive to air pollution.  For example, they were used to estimate the nuclear fallout from the Chernobyl reactor…

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Some Creatures Have Good Reason to Spit

Human saliva contains a bacteria killer called lysozyme.  In ancient times, people knew that spit was curative from observing animals licking their wounds, which subsequently healed. Many creatures in nature make good use of saliva for many practical purposes.  Some spiders, for example, use spit to immobilize their prey from as far as twenty centimetres…

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Living in Glass Houses

Because modern glass is so strong, people who live in contemporary glass houses can perhaps risk throwing stones.  But modern glass is more than strong – it’s smart too.  Smart windows change their absorbency as conditions change, permitting better control of brightness and temperature within buildings.  The secret rests in coatings applied to the surface…

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Feet – Marvels of Engineering Design

Our feet are made up of twenty-six bones and thirty-three joints.  They are held together by over a hundred ligaments, all served by tendons, nerves and blood vessels.  Feet are marvels of engineering design.  They act as multi-functional supports, propellants, and balancing devices.  They enable us to manoeuver in amazing ways. The average person takes…

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