The person who invented the Moog synthesizer is Dr. Robert Moog, the man who invented the instrument that helped define the psychedelic sound of the late 1960s. A decade earlier, as a graduate student at Cornell, Moog financed his musical science dreams by selling about a thousand of his do-it-yourself Theremin kits for $49.95 each, […]
The strength of what meteorologists call the updraft in a thunderstorm is what determines the size. A storm forms at a place in the atmosphere where the air is moving up very rapidly. When the air cools in the cold upper atmosphere, its water vapor condenses into a storm cloud. Eventually precipitation forms in the […]
All atomic nuclei are made up of particles called nucleons. A big nucleus like uranium’s is a conglomeration of more than a couple of hundred of these particles, all crowded together into an incredibly tiny space. That’s such a large number of objects to hold together that the nucleus’s average grip on each one is […]
There’s nothing unique about the use of sugar to preserve foods. In principle, you could make your strawberry jam with salt instead of sugar and it would keep just as long. Much longer, in fact, because nobody would go near it after the first taste. Salt has been used for thousands of years, however, to […]
Those quick thaw defrosting trays are also good at taking money directly out of your wallet. What they are is a remarkable new high-tech, space-age miracle called a slab of metal. Of all types of materials, metals are the best conductors of heat. So if you put your frozen hamburger on a slab of metal, […]
Sensitivity to temperature is much more complicated than a simple gender split, physiologists say. The reaction depends on many factors, such as exercise, previous conditioning, diseases, and any other tinkering with the complex system of signals to and from the hypothalamus that sets the body’s temperature controls. Some doctors suspect psychological factors make a difference, […]
Would you believe that they can hide behind picket fences? We didn’t think you would, but it was worth the try. The stripes on a zebra make it quite camouflaged, even in its desert environment. The predators that prey on it, lions, hyenas, leopards, and cheetahs don’t see the same colors we do; the black […]
Let’s look at how chocolate is made. Cacao beans, which are really seeds, are found inside melon-shaped seedpods attached directly to the trunk or thick branches of the tropical cacao tree. The beans are first separated from the pulpy mass inside the pod and allowed to ferment, usually by piling them up in heaps and […]
Many of the specific techniques machines use to detect counterfeit money are closely guarded secrets, since once counterfeiters know how the machines work, they try to foil them. But two common means of identifying paper money are magnetic sensing and optical sensing. Inks used to print notes have certain magnetic properties, which can be sensed […]
You might not die right away, but you would eventually be pulled apart by the force of gravity. As you fell in and even afterward, you might not lose consciousness, but the pull of gravity on your feet would be stronger than on your head, and you would be stretched, then torn apart. The difference […]
Did bleeding or bloodletting the patient in ancient times actually help any medical condition or did it make it worse?
Not unless the victim that is, patient chanced to be suffering from a hypertension crisis or an abnormal buildup of iron in addition to whatever disease the doctor thought he was treating. For example, draining 10 to 12 ounces of blood, for a start, and up to 80 ounces in all, was routinely prescribed during […]
Sounds odd, doesn’t it? Either it’s the most colossal coincidence that ever occurred, or there’s something real fishy going on. Well, even the fishiest-seeming coincidences can have rational explanations. Your first guess might be that the moon isn’t spinning on its axis the way Earth is, and that it just goes around us, maintaining the […]
To measure how many calories there are in food, we use a hot little device called a bomb calorimeter. It burns foods and measures the difference between how much energy went in versus how much energy comes out. Here’s where it gets confusing if you ever talk to a physicist about your weight loss program: […]
If Galileo Galilei had never looked through a telescope, he still would have been considered a great scientist. His findings on the laws of motion set the stage for the work of Sir Isaac Newton one generation later. Galileo not only proved that weight does not affect how quickly objects fall, he also proved that […]
Mashed potatoes would seem to be the easiest thing in the world to make: just boil ’em and mash ’em, right? But potatoes are mostly starch, and a lot depends on how the starch behaves. Potato flesh is made up of plant cells. Inside the cells are thousands of starch granules, little round packages in […]
Fluorescent lights were invented for one purpose: to confuse you. I’m glad to see that they’re doing their job. When an ordinary incandescent lightbulb burns out you can just screw in a new one with the help of a certain number of friends, depending on your vocation or ethnicity. But when a fluorescent light burns […]
Iron plus oxygen plus water equals rust. That’s it. When all three are present, rust will inevitably occur. But if any member of this unholy triumvirate is missing, there can be no rust. Fortunately for us living creatures, but unfortunately for our garden tools and automobiles, oxygen and water vapor are present everywhere in the […]
What Were Hypatia’s Contributions To Science and Why Was Hypatia the First Influential Woman In Mathematics?
In Hypatia’s time, it was common for scientists to share their knowledge by writing commentaries, or new versions of old books. By the fourth century A.D., many of the books in the Alexandria library were aging. For example, Ptolemy’s Almagest was over 200 years old. New copies of these manuscripts had to be copied by […]
It depends. The old phonograph records spun at a constant speed (for example, 33 or 45 revolutions per minute). That made it easy to make a turntable to handle them, but it meant that the music recorded near the outside of the record had better sound than the music recorded on the inner grooves. A […]
It’s a good question. You’d think that a rocket’s exhaust has to push against something, like a paddle needs to push against water to propel a canoe. But in reality, a rocket doesn’t need to push against the atmosphere to fly. What it’s doing is essentially pushing against the inertia of the rocket exhaust. But […]
Wine that is simmered for a long time in a stew would probably retain only a small fraction of its alcohol, but other dishes, like briefly flambeed crepes Grand Marnier or a soup with sherry added at the last minute, would probably still have enough to be of concern to those who want to avoid […]
Everything is made of particles: atoms and molecules. But it’s not simply that some particles are lighter than others, although that’s a big part of it. It’s also that some particles are packed more tightly together than others. Lead is denser than, i.e., heavier than the same volume of, water, mostly because lead atoms are […]
Can a large commercial jet glide to a landing if it loses its engines or will it just drop like a rock?
A lot of nervous fliers have come under the impression that passenger jets will pretty much fall out of the sky if all the engines fail. The truth is that large planes can glide about as well as small ones. In fact, sometimes while landing a pilot will put the engines into idle and let […]
Lots of people outgrow their food allergies. Many people avoid foods to which their allergies are long gone, experts say, and many allergies disappear by the age of four. The reason is not known, but many immune conditions are outgrown with time, possibly because the immune system needs time to mature. Actually, only a minority […]
Why Is Boiling Water In the Microwave Dangerous and How Does Superheated Water In the Microwave Explode?
When you boil water in the microwave, a portion of the water in the cup is becoming superheated. This means the liquid temperature is actually slightly above the boiling point, where it would normally form a gas. In this case, the boiling is hindered by a lack of nucleation sites needed to form the bubbles. […]
Why Are There So Many Different Types of Rain From Heavy To Light and What Causes Different Raindrop Sizes?
Elongated stair rods are an illusion. Large raindrops actually tend to be flattened by air resistance. When they land they are called in Afrikaans, and I understand, in Welsh, “old women with clubs.” The circular sheet of splashing water suggests a wide skirt and the centrally rebounding droplet a cudgel. Droplet size is the main […]
As soon as scientists heard the equation E = mc2 in 1905, they knew it was only a matter of time before a weapon of tremendous power would be devised. In 1939, Albert Einstein was informed that scientists in Europe, including Germany, had discovered a way to release the atomic energy of the element uranium. […]
Why Do My Ears Pop When Taking Off and Landing On a Plane and How Do Airliners Control Cabin Pressure?
For reasons of fuel economy, large civil transport aircraft have to fly at altitudes far in excess of those capable of sustaining life. Whereas 5500 metres is about the maximum altitude at which a person can live for any extended period, a subsonic passenger jet has the best fuel economy when flying at around 12,000 […]
Designers of the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber say that they used radar-absorbing surfaces and a weird shape to outsmart radar systems. However, the more complicated and more disturbing answer is that the much-ballyhooed stealth design works only against a certain class of radar, and that the planes can be detected by newer radar systems. As […]
How Did James Watson and Francis Crick Determine the Structure of DNA and How Genetic Information Is Stored?
James Watson and Francis Crick started with the work of American scientist Linus Pauling, another contestant in the DNA race. Pauling had already determined that many proteins, one of the main components of cells, had the structure of a helix, a spiral chain in the shape of a twisted ladder. Watson and Crick decided to […]
A grandfather clock uses a pendulum to keep time, a swinging weight that oscillates back and forth at fixed intervals. However, if the pendulum swings once every second, a tiny error quickly spirals into a major timekeeping problem. The solution is to break the second down even further and to use a ‘pendulum’ that swings […]
A Depression flower garden is also called a coal garden or a crystal garden. It’s a homemade set of colorful crystals. They’re a lot of fun for kids and grown-ups, and are a hands-on way of learning about crystal formations. You begin by breaking up several charcoal briquettes and putting them into the bottom of […]
Contrails, or condensation trails, are clouds of ice crystals formed when hot, moist air from aircraft engines mixes with cold, drier air in the upper atmosphere. Contrails are similar to cirrus clouds, naturally occurring clouds found at altitudes around 20,000 feet. Portions of the upper atmosphere are too dry to produce condensation, so aircraft flying […]
Why Do Some People Sneeze When They Go From Indoors Into Sunlight and What Causes a Photic Sneeze Reflex?
Some people sneeze when they go from dark conditions into very bright light because photons get up their nose, or so we’re told. We think that the answer may be fairly simple: when the sun hits a given area, particularly one shielded or enclosed in glass, there is a marked rise in local temperature. This […]
Everything is hot. That is, it contains some heat. And as a consequence, it has a temperature. Even an ice cube contains heat. “Hot” is strictly a relative term. Heat is the ultimate form of energy, the form into which all other forms ultimately degenerate. There is energy of motion (Techspeak: kinetic energy), there is […]
Skin changes that cause wrinkles do accompany aging, as the deeper layer of skin, the dermis, gets thinner. But it happens more quickly in sun-exposed areas and in people who smoke. The breakdown of two kinds of molecules, collagen and elastin, is at fault. Collagen type 1 is the molecule that makes up the bulk […]