February 2012 Archives

February 29: Why Is There a Leap Year?

How long is a year? A calendar year is the amount of time that it takes the earth to move in one complete orbit (nearly a circle, but not quite) around the sun. A day on the other hand, is one complete rotation of the earth around it's own center.The ancient...

Five Things You Didn't Know About Pirates

Ahoy, my fellow landlubbers! As many of you are well aware, pirates have been massively popularized in literature and cinema. After all, who hasn't read or heard of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island? And who hasn't cackled or guffawed at Captain Jack...

Bacteria! Bacteria in the Ball Pit!

For the family undertaking a long road trip, a McDonald's restaurant outfitted with an indoor playland is an oasis in the interstate desert. These food and fun factories offer something for everyone. Kids get to release pent-up energy after being cooped up in...

What's So Special About Oscar Winners?

Colin Firth and Natalie Portman sort of have a lot in common. For one thing, they are both actors. In fact, they are both Oscar-winning actors. They are both presenting awards at the 84th Annual Academy Awards ceremony this weekend. And...they both are...

Can Science Explain McDonald's Shamrock Shake?

"So... In your professional opinion, would you say that making the Shamrock Shake is more art or science?"The McDonald's employee looked at me with a befuddled expression."It comes out of the machine," she said."Ah yes, of course!" I exclaimed. "So science,...

LIFE Fusion on Target for Ignition This Year

Controlled nuclear fusion with net energy gain is on schedule to occur later this year at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in Livermore, California.That was the message from NIF's director for laser fusion energy, Mike Dunne, who spoke at a Photonics West...

3D Printing

Think of what you have to go through to heal a broken bone. What comes to mind? A big plaster cast that you collect signatures on for a month? Surgically implanted titanium and stainless steel plates and screws, making you popular with airport screeners? A...

Are Multiracial People More Apt to Be Successful?

It's a question I've occasionally pondered when watching Derek Jeter smack a homer or while laughing hysterically at one of Maya Rudolph's jokes: Are mixed-race people more inclined to be successful?2006 data shows that mixed-race people make up only two...

Is Jackson Blankenship's Face a Good Distraction?

On his Twitter account, University of Alabama freshman Jackson Blankenship proudly declares that he has been "publicly embarrassing [himself] since 1992." Due to recent events, this open humiliation is being taken to a much grander stage, and Blankenship...

Pros and Cons of Being a Cute Adult

Humans have a very simple definition of "cute": anything that remotely resembles a human baby. We think big heads are cute because our babies are born with freakishly large brains. Forward-facing eyes are cute because our babies have forward-facing eyes. We...

Geese Aren't Always Gaggles: Animal Collective Nouns

Climbing out of your car in a crowded supermarket parking lot, you hear what sounds like a raucous cocktail party. Glancing skyward, you see the sound's origin: hundreds of migrating, low-flying Canadian geese coming right at you. It's at this moment that...

No More Mercury in Science Class? Totally Lame.

The school was deserted. There was no teaching nor hand raising, no recess nor laughter. Instead, EPA officials scoured the grounds in haz-mat suits. In 2005, a mercury vapor scare forced South Granville High School in North Carolina to shut down for...

Strange Attractors

Taking the V-day bait, let's ask, "How are geeks spending their supposedly solitary Valentine's Days?" If they are into all that sweet mathematical physics action, they may be envisioning attractors. Like a mathematical pin-up, just seeing a snapshot of the...

Bug Love: Searching for Romance in Class Insecta

In the 1998 animated movie, Antz, the protagonist, "Z," a worker ant, falls in love with Bala, the princess of the colony. Though only a meager worker, Z eventually triumphs through numerous trials, rescues the entire colony from certain doom, and marries...

Six Romantic Ideas That Are Shot Down by Science

It's the season for cupids, dinner reservations, and teeth-breaking candy hearts. Everywhere I look I see couples holding hands, whispering secrets, and giving each other piggy-back rides. I can't even turn on the TV or radio without being bombarded with...

Are We Entering an Epigenetic Spiral of Obesity?

The facts are telling.Thirty-four percent of American adults aged twenty years or older are obese. In 1996, no state had an obesity rate above 20%. In 2010, no state had an obesity rate below 20%. There's no doubt that the American public's collective girth...

The Science of Alcohol: Beware the 'Beer Blanket'

The "beer blanket." The "vodka veil." The "moonshine mantle." The "shroud of spirits." If you've ever had a nip o' the "good stuff" then you have undoubtedly felt the warm, fuzzy feeling that swathes you at each inebriating indulgence. It's this feeling that...

The Potential of Thought-Controlled Computing

Thought-controlled computing sounds right out of science fiction, and it's exactly what you think it is: an emerging technology that allows you to directly control a computer through thought.Speaking at TEDxToronto in September 2011, Ariel Garten shed some...

Why Do We Philosophize?

"Anyone can call themselves a philosopher and announce any claim as a philosophical truth, and no one can say that the author is not a philosopher nor the claim is not a philosophical truth; [therefore] philosophy is...

How to Think with Your Hands

Our hands help us do lots of physical things: weed gardens, button buttons, and pick noses. However, it turns out that our hands can also help us think. According to a recent study, explaining a task using hand gestures may be even more profitable than...

Without NASA, Future of Space Coast Up in the Air

Last week, spectators from across the country watched with mild incredulity as Newt Gingrich spoke to Floridians about his vision for a permanent lunar colony. Upon hearing this, many of us snickered from our couches at home, but at the Holiday Inn in Cocoa,...

Thomas Jefferson: Founding Father of Science

Newton follows up Monday's piece on Benjamin Franklin with a look at how Thomas Jefferson was a founding father not only of America, but also of American science.Thomas Jefferson was a pioneer. Of this you are undoubtedly aware. He played a pivotal role in...

NASA Manned Spaceflight Slowly Dies

Just before dawn on July 21st of last year, Space Shuttle Atlantis touched down at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It is the same complex from which all six of the country's missions that took men to the moon were launched. Each shuttle mission, all 135...