Edward Willett

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A solution to the world’s food problems?

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2012/11/Sundrop-Farms_01_01.mp3[/podcast] If I told you something has been built in the Australian outback in the past couple of years that can be solidly argued is one of the most important technological advances in decades, would you have a clue what I was talking about? You wouldn’t? Well, I wouldn’t have either until this past weekend when I read an article by Jonathan Margolis from The Observer newspaper in England. A little humbling, but you can’t keep up with everything. Anyway, now that I have heard about it, I’m quite excited: because it is there, in a seaside desert outside Port Augusta, three hours from Adelaide, that a company called Sundrop Farms, ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 12:26, November 26th, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

Butterfly buildings

At the end of August and beginning of September, I and my wife and daughter were in Chicago for the World Science Fiction Convention...and a fair bit of touristy sightseeing, including taking in the (highly recommended) architectural river tour offered by the Chicago Architecture Institute. In the little over a decade since the last time we were there, numerous new skyscrapers have sprung up, each unique, each adding its own unique features to one of the world’s greatest city skylines.  I particularly liked the Trump Tower (the one in the photo), now the second-tallest building in the city, whose pale blue glass blends beautifully with the sky and the reflection from ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 11:36, October 20th, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

Sing, sing a song…

I’ve sung all my life, in church, in choirs, and on-stage, both just for fun and professionally. And through all those years, I’ve heard music teachers say anyone can learn to sing...and the occasional person who counterclaims (and through their singing seems to support the statement) that, well, no, they can’t. So...who’s right? In “Singing proficiency in the general population,” a study conducted by psychologists Simone Dalla Bella of the University of Finance and Management in Warsaw, and Jean-François Giguère and Isabelle Peretz of the University of Montreal, and published in the February 2007 Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, the researchers point out that “singing abilities emerge spontaneously and precociously,” ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 12:30, October 7th, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

Saturday Special: Lisa Fernando and Canada’s epidemic response team

In view of the announcement this week that Canada will send a mobile laboratory to help stem an outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I offer an account of a similar effort from Canada to help combat an outbreak of Marburg hemmorhagic fever (closely related to Ebola) in Angola a few years ago, condensed from a chapter in my book Disease-Hunting Scientist: Careers Hunting Deadly Diseases (Enslow Publishers). *** “You’ve got to be kidding me!” It was 2005, and Lisa Fernando had just been told she would be flying to the African nation of Angola within a ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 11:13, September 30th, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

Throwing like a girl

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2012/09/Throwing-Like-a-Girl.mp3[/podcast] There’s a scene in Huckleberry Finn where Huck is attempting to pass himself off as a girl, but is betrayed, in part, by the way he throws a lump of lead at a rat: “And when you throw at a rat or anything, hitch yourself up a tiptoe and fetch your hand up over your head as awkward as you can, and miss your rat about six or seven foot. Throw stiff-armed from the shoulder, like there was a pivot there for it to turn on, like a girl; not from the wrist and elbow, with your arm out to one side, like a boy.” There’s a reason “You ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 11:38, September 19th, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

Chicon 7: the 70th World Science Fiction Convention

(Note: if you're thinking this doesn't exactly read like a typical convention report from a SF writer, that would be because this is actually my weekly science column. A slightly different version will be my column for the next issue of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild newsletter Freelance. Never let a convention go to waste! (The photo is of Betsy Wollheim and Sheila Gilbert, co-publishers and co-editors of DAW Books, among whose authors I am proud to count myself. Betsy is holding the Hugo Award for Best Professional Editor (Long Form), a long-overdue tribute to one of the best editors in the field.) Most people plan their summer vacations ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 22:27, September 12th, 2012 under Blog, Books | Comment now »

Let’s go to the tape

While I was browsing for another Olympic-themed column idea (as promised last week) one story particularly caught my eye: a Reuters piece by Kate Kelland headlined (in the Regina LeaderPost, at least)  “Scientists skeptical as Olympic athletes get all taped up.” It caught my eye, not because it had a picture of female beach volleyball players in bikinis attached to it (honest!), but because I had seen, on the backs of some of the synchronized divers a few days ago, these weird ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 10:02, August 4th, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

Olympic throwing sports

Just in time for the Olympics (and just in time for this science column), COSMOS Magazine has run an interesting online piece by Richard A. Lovett on the history and physics of the Olympic throwing sports. It is customary, in the column-writing biz, to be up-front about any direct personal connection you have to your topic. So, full disclosure: I was a high-school shot-putter. Sad to say, Olympic caliber, I was not. As I heaved my eight-pound lead ball an embarrassingly short distance in my one-and-only competition, however, I did wonder who on Earth ever came up with the idea of this is a sport. The same people who brought us ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 9:54, July 28th, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

Auroral sounds

There are few more awe-inspiring sights in the sky than the northern lights. Probably everyone who lives in Saskatchewan has seen them multiple times, and those who live further north are even better acquainted with them...but that doesn’t mean we know everything about them. One mystery associated with the northern lights is the claim by some people that they can hear them as well as see them. Many scientists have dismissed the notion as nothing more than an auditory illusion...but now research has not only verified the existence of sound associated with the northern lights, it has recorded it and pinpointed its source in the sky. What generates it, though, ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 9:44, July 28th, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

Edison’s Battery

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2012/07/Edisons-Battery.mp3[/podcast] Thomas Edison gave us many wonderful inventions, mainstays of 20th century life. However, since he died in 1931, you might be forgiven for asking, “What has he done for us lately?” Him personally, not so much, what with being dead and all: but one of his inventions has just taken on new life, thanks to scientists at Stanford University. Back in 1900, fully 28 percent of the cars built in the United States were electric. While they didn’t put out a lot of power (a kilowatt or two—by comparison, the Model T’s engine put out the equivalent of 15 kilowatts), they were considered viable alternatives, especially in the city. And as Edison ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 13:40, July 12th, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »