Around A.D. 145 in the Greek city of Pergamum, a father had a dream that his son Galen should become a physician. Dreams were very important to the Greeks of the ancient world because they were thought to be inspired by the gods. The father immediately enrolled his 16 year old son in Pergamum’s medical […]
What Were the Consequences of Marie Curie’s Discovery of Radium and Who Coined the Term Radioactivity?
Marie Curie discovered that a small amount of radium would destroy human tissue. This meant it would be tremendously effective in treating many types of cancer by destroying cancerous tumors. Doctors immediately started treating cancer patients with radiotherapy, or Curie therapy as it was sometimes called. There was a problem, however. Many years later, it […]
What Was Pangaea, How Did the Supercontinent Pangaea Get Its Name, and What Does Pangaea Mean In Latin?
Alfred Wegener was so sure of his theory on the origin of the continents that he gave the original continent a name, Pangaea, which means “all of Earth” in Latin. In his research, he found much more support for the theory, in addition to the fossil findings in Greenland. Wegener created a map of Pangaea […]
Planes on aircraft carriers use a technology that was perfected in the days of chariots and togas: the catapult. Under the deck of the carrier are two huge cylinders that measure more than 150 feet long. The cylinders, connected to a launcher, build up a great deal of pressure as they’re filled with steam diverted […]
Antoine Lavoisier was heavily involved in many official duties for the French government. He was the leader of the commission set up to create a new system of weights and measures. The result was the metric system used in most of the world today. Despite his close ties to the government, Lavoisier was a strong […]
Thousand-year-old eggs, called pidans in Chinese, are a tongue in cheek eggsaggeration. Less lyrical Chinese may call them hundred-year-old eggs. Truth be told, however, they’re only about a hundred days old, which may strike you as bad enough. Here’s how they’re made. Take a fresh duck egg in the shell, plaster it all over with […]
It was an extremely cold day, wasn’t it? Below zero Fahrenheit, perhaps? That was the problem. Sand won’t work when it is too cold. In order to improve traction, the sand grains must become partially embedded into the ice, making tiny bumps in what had been a smooth surface, in effect, making “sandpaper” out of […]
Why Does a Weather Vane Point To the Direction the Wind Is From and Why Are They Shaped Like a Rooster?
The arrow on a weather vane points into the wind. If the arrow is to the north, the wind is from the north. The tail of the weather vane is heavier than the nose, and in some but not all weather vanes, there is some type of flap that moves as the wind blows so […]
There are two main theories on the origins of the earth’s water. Some believe the water was here from the start, some think it came later, from comets. Years ago, people tended to assume that the water concentrated at the earth’s surface was locked up inside and slowly emerged over the 4.5 billion years of […]
Alcohol is the safest solvent for drugs that do not mix well with water, as pharmacists have known since ancient times. Safe, that is, for the general population. For an alcoholic or anyone else who does not want to ingest spirits, a pharmacist will recommend a tablet or lozenge, or for a severe cough, a […]
Inside the battery, electrons are indeed passed from one atom to another like jumping fleas. But that’s not how electricity flows through a wire or through a complicated electric circuit. The electrons don’t just enter one end of a wire, hop from one atom to the next, and come out the other end. Let’s say […]
Why Is the Claim That the Great Wall of China Is the Only Man Made Object Visible From Space an Urban Legend?
The claim of the Great Wall of China being visible from space is incorrect. It is well known as one of the most widely believed urban legends, perhaps second only to the famous one about mass suicide by lemmings. A person with perfect eyesight is able to resolve up to about one minute of arc […]
How Did Jöns Jacob Berzelius Create a Notation System For Chemistry By Improving On John Dalton’s Work?
John Dalton published his findings on atomic weights and his atomic theory in 1808 in A New System of Chemical Philosophy. The book also included a set of symbols for the elements to help explain his findings. In 1814, Swedish chemist Jons Berzelius improved on Dalton’s findings. He made some of the atomic weights more […]
In one way, the science of genetics, the study of how heredity works, is among the oldest sciences. For many centuries, man controlled the mating of domestic plants and animals to produce desired traits. Warriors needed speed in their horses so they would breed the fastest runners. Farmers would breed the strongest oxen to produce […]
It sounds reasonable to put up fences on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge to deter suicide jumpers, considering the bridge is open to pedestrians and is a popular tourist spot. The average is about twenty-two deaths a year. Only a few have ever survived the 250-foot drop into the chilly, raging Pacific below. We’ve heard […]
Cobwebs are made by spiders. The word “cob” is derived from the Middle English word for spider, coppe, and cobweb is often used to refer to any spiderweb. The dusty strings that do not look like the circular Halloween spiderwebs, which are made by only some species, are instead probably an accumulation of abandoned draglines. […]
Who Are James Watson and Francis Crick and What Were the Scientists’ Contribution To the Field of Genetics?
Even though his work lay undiscovered for over 30 years, Gregor Mendel uncovered the basic secrets of genetics. His laws revealed that genes were responsible for inheritance, but what were they made of and how did they work? After 1900, huge advances were made in the power of microscopes. Scientists could now see inside the […]
If Tucson was twice as hot as Miami, it certainly wouldn’t be 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celsius). But that’s not because 160 degrees is too hot; it’s not hot enough. The temperature that is “twice as hot” as 80 degrees Fahrenheit, believe it or not, is 621 degrees Fahrenheit! Here’s what’s going on. First […]
Contrary to what everybody says, the ice on your driveway doesn’t melt, any more than sugar melts in coffee or tea. People often confuse melting with dissolving. (“I don’t need an umbrella; I won’t melt in the rain.”) But melting, as you have already noted, requires heat. You can certainly melt ice or sugar by […]
It can be embarrassing when stomachs make noises, but they have their reasons; a lot is going on in there. When your stomach is empty, and there’s nothing for the stomach acid to do, it doesn’t just go away. It churns and produces gases as it bubbles and waits, impatient for you to feed it. […]
Lightning is an electrical charge trying to find its way into the ground. It will use whatever conduit it can to best accomplish that. Air doesn’t conduct electricity all that well. Actually, it’s pretty resistant, so when there are other alternatives, lightning will use them to make its way toward ground. The best thing to […]
Kudzu, often called the vine that ate the South, is a Chinese and Japanese fodder and cover crop with an edible root. The original Japanese pronunciation was kuzu. The Latin name is Pueraria lobata, but it was called Pueraria thunbergiana until 1947. An American consul in Japan in the late nineteenth century, Thomas Hogg, exported […]
This controversy has been raging ever since the early seventeenth century, when Sir Francis Bacon became a charter member of the Betcha-the-hot-water-freezes-first camp. The only appropriate answer to this puzzle is, “It depends.” It depends on precisely how the freezing is being carried out. Freezing water may sound like the simplest of happenings, but there […]
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 […]
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 […]
It does sound odd, but something is really going on here. What makes the MSG story hard to swallow is that the terminology is misleading: “Flavor enhancers” do not enhance the flavors of food in the sense of improving them; that is, they don’t make anything taste better. What they do is intensify, or magnify, […]
A whale, though its penis is not easily measured to exact inches. Whales don’t have erections exactly, but projections the penis is usually hidden except during intercourse, when it is still partially hidden. But somehow those crafty marine biologists were able to measure it, and here’s what they discovered: the right whale’s penis measures over […]
Because the eye has two kinds of receptors, cones for fine resolution and color and rods for dim light, and the rods tend to be located around the periphery, for viewing the edges of the field of vision. Cones are extremely good at high definition and for precise positioning of pinpoints of light. Rods don’t […]
Morning sleepiness in teenagers (or in anyone else) may have a cause as simple as lack of sleep, perhaps because of too much homework after a part-time job, followed by television. In that case the cure may be to sleep more, cut down on some sleep-robbing activities, and gradually change bedtime and waking time in […]
There are two groups of lizards commonly called chameleons, and they change colors in different ways. True chameleons belong to an Old World family called Chamaeleontidae, with two genuses and about eight-five species. They have a variety of colorations, which they can change, to a greater or lesser extent, by concentrating or spreading out the […]
Sun flares are massive explosions on the sun with enough force to burn through the upper layer of Earth’s protective atmosphere. The flares are magnetic, so Earth’s magnetic field is able to protect us from the huge amount of heat and energy. However, the flares can still manage to disrupt activity on Earth’s surface for […]
How Do Placebos Work, What Does It Mean In Latin, and What Is the Difference Between a Placebo and a Nocebo?
Placebos are substances with no pharmacological properties, such as sugar or dummy pills. The word placebo means “I shall please” in Latin, and was first used in a medical context in the 18th century. They are widely used as a control in experiments to test the effect of medicines, and are made to look and […]
Cane syrup is simply clarified sugar-cane juice, boiled down to a syrup in much the same way maple syrup is made by boiling down the thin, sucrose-rich sap of the North American sugar maple and black maple trees. Black birch trees also have a sweet sap that can be boiled down into a syrup. Treacle […]
This is one of those loaded questions that can drive you crazy because the question itself is misleading. It starts with a mistaken assertion and asks us to carry on our reasoning from that point. But you can’t pursue the road to truth if somebody starts you off in the wrong direction. A mirror does […]
The chemical process used in a glow stick is not that far from the chemical process that occurs inside a lightning bug. When you open the glow stick package, you find a stick with yellow liquid inside (generally, a chemical called luciferin). Inside the yellow liquid is a glass tube that contains a chemical enzyme […]
Ordinarily, water is the best mixer in the world, and I don’t mean just with Scotch. It mixes with, it associates intimately with, it even welcomes into its very bosom, that is, it dissolves, more substances than any other liquid. That’s why it is sometimes called the universal solvent. But there is one family of […]