I’ll Scratch Your Back, If You Scratch Mine

Ants provide interesting examples of insect co-dependence.  Some species keep aphids in a special section of the nest, building little enclosures to hold them like dairy farmers keep cows in a barn.  If danger threatens, the ants carry the aphids to safety. One species actually brings aphid eggs into the nest, tending them with as…

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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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Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head

Scientists who study clouds and water droplet formation help us understand why rain never pours from the clouds in a stream but falls in drops. Clouds are simply very small particles of water. They stay suspended because the force of gravity pulling them down is less than the resistance of the air through which the…

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The Dance of the Honey Bee

When the forager honeybee discovers a good source of food, it returns to the hive and dances on the wall of the honeycomb to tell the others the location of the food source. The routine it goes through is quite precise. If the food is close to the hive it does a round dance, making…

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How Hot Can It Get?

On a really hot day somebody is bound to say “Well, it can’t get much hotter than this!” That could be true as far as the weather is concerned, but it raises the interesting question “How hot can it get?” Adding heat makes atoms and molecules move faster. So the question of how hot something…

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The Universal Speed Limit

Despite the impression you get from watching Star Trek™ adventures, you can’t really zip around the Universe faster than the speed of light! Light always obeys the speed limit. In the vacuum of outer space, it hurtles along at three hundred thousand kilometres a second. The speed of light is nature’s speed limit – the…

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Colour Blindness

As many as twenty-five million North Americans may be walking around with a congenital, incurable, and occasionally life threatening condition. I’m talking about colour blindness. This problem may affect one in twelve men and one in two hundred women, and often we are unaware of it. I only realized I had a slight touch of…

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A Famous Streaker

Long after those physics definitions have faded from memory, we can often recall stories associated with the scientists behind an idea. For example, many people who can no longer state Archimedes’ Principle formally, (that the ratio of a body’s weight to that of the displaced water is called its specific gravity) still remember that Archimedes…

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A Reliable Low-Tech Word Processor

Although I frequently talk about the latest high tech developments, I sometimes write Science Shorts using a very reliable low-tech word processor called a pencil! Far from being made obsolete by the computer, as many as three billion pencils are produced in North America every year. Each is capable of processing around fifty thousand words….

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The Sun’s Spotty Face

Because it’s too dangerous to look at the sun, we don’t notice that it sometimes has a spotty face. Cooler regions of the sun, called sunspots, are depressions that appear as dark patches on the surface of the sun. Sunspots have a typical life span of a few days. They follow a twenty two year…

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