Houston, We’ve had a Problem

The Apollo 13 space accident was dramatically documented in a popular 1995 movie. The three astronauts aboard survived a four day struggle, involving numerous near misses with death. It was on this flight that Commander Jack Swiggert made the famous under statement “Houston, we’ve had a problem here”. Like many of the space accidents the…

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Turn That Noise Down!

As a parent I always told my kids that loud rock music would damage their hearing.  But as a scientist I was on flimsy ground. I ignored experiments that compared hearing loss in people who regularly attended rock concerts with control groups who didn’t listen to this kind of loud music.  An insignificant hearing loss…

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Edible Explosives

Before my life-transforming heart by-pass operation, I controlled angina pain by taking tablets containing nitroglycerine. Since this is a highly explosive substance, one of my friends speculated that I might be banned from flying if I got too close to the sniffer dogs at the airport! Nitroglycerine is so easy to detonate that it wasn’t…

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PRESUPPOSITIONS OF SCIENCE

Many well known scientists believe that the realm of the physical universe is all that exists. This universe consists of matter (the “material stuff’ that we can know by our senses) and forces (such as gravity and electrical forces). In essence, they believe in nature alone. They seek to know how forces act upon matter….

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Hard Bread And Soft Cookies

One evening we neglected to do the usual kitchen clean-up.  I discovered in the morning that although a bread stick had become so hard I could use it as a hammer, our cookies had become soft and unappetizing. Cookies and bread differ in both composition and texture.  Cookies are denser, and contain much more sugar…

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Water, The Miracle Molecule

In the intensive search for extra-terrestrial life scientists always look for water because of its crucial role in supporting life. They recognize that without liquid water, physical life is impossible because water has a number of unusual properties that are crucial to maintaining life. There is no evidence that any other simple molecule exists that…

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Yawning self-portrait Joseph Ducreux

Yawning is a great example of a behaviour that we all engage in involuntarily. While its specific usefulness is unclear, it is common to us all. Its social implications are interesting. When one person starts to yawn, others tend to mimic the behaviour. That makes us think that it is more tied to psychological and…

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What Did Einstein Do?

Recently, a student asked me, “What did Albert Einstein really do?” Well, here’s a Science Shorts version of what should actually be a long answer. Einstein’s most famous equation is E= mc2. This equation tells us that we can change mass into energy. The formula provides the basis of nuclear energy. The letter ‘E’ indicates…

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Andreas Vesalius

Andreas Vesalius lived in a time of monumental historical changes: of intellectual growth and stimulation, of political and religious restructuring, of wars and plagues. Vesalius was born into a Flemish family of physicians who served in the imperial court. He grew up in an enriched intellectual environment, received a quality education, and like his father…

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Where Does All that Dust Come From?

One of the frustrating things about house cleaning is that no matter how clean you try to keep things, household dust still accumulates. That grey dust, it turns out, is largely human skin. The tiny flakes of skin that we lose on a daily basis create over seventy percent of the dust in our home….

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