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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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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Natural Magnetism

It seems that some migratory ants navigate by staying in tune with the Earth’s magnetic field. Scientists recently discovered that some migratory ants have particles of magnetic iron minerals implanted in their body. These particles act like compass needles and give the ants a sense of direction. In one particular species of Brazilian ant, the…

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