Edward Willett

Author's posts

Measuring temperature

G. D. Fahrenheit, Anders Celsius and William Kelvin may sound like prospects for the Roughriders’ defensive backfield, but they probably wouldn’t work out very well. For one thing, they’re all dead. For another, they weren’t football players, but scientists–and two of them, at least, are household names, which is far less common for scientists than …

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Music

Want to start an interesting discussion? Go up to someone and say, “I think Barry Manilow represents the pinnacle of music in the rock era.” Assuming you can avoid being locked and/or beaten up, you will have demonstrated the fact that music is a topic of great interest to just about everyone. Topics of great …

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Relativity, Part 2

Welcome back (those who came back) for the promised look at Einstein’s general theory of relativity. I hope you remembered the billiard balls and rubber sheet… Einstein’s special theory of relativity, which we looked at last week, states that nothing can travel faster than light. Isaac Newton’s laws of gravity, however, assumed that somehow gravitational …

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Relativity, Part 1

If you were asked, on the spur of the moment, to state a famous scientific equation–any old equation–the odds are you’d say “E=mc2.” Almost everyone has heard of it, and most people have also heard of Einstein and the theory of relativity. Sooner or later, then, a science columnist like myself pretty well has to …

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The heart

“Have a heart!” “You’re breaking my heart!” “He’s a man after my own heart.” “He showed a lot of heart.” “He wears his heart on his sleeve.” “Hey, wanna play hearts?” We use the word “heart” in a lot of different ways–so many, in fact, that the Oxford English Dictionary (which admittedly is not known …

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Sunspots

  If there’s one thing you can count on in this world–or out of it–it’s the sun, right? Always there, always shining behind the clouds, perfect, never-changing. Well… It was a cherished belief of people for many centuries that the sun was perfect and constant. But then along came the telescope. Galileo naturally turned his …

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IMAX

The space shuttle towers above you, gleaming white in the early morning sunshine. The familiar calm voice of the NASA announcer counts down the final seconds to launch. Billowing white steam and smoke explode around you, and as the shuttle majestically rises on a brilliant pillar of flame the thunder of the rockets shakes… the …

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Quarks

“Quark” is a word that people automatically associate with science. It’s memorable because it’s unusual–not to mention fun. (Q. What sound does a physicist’s duck make? A. Quark, quark.) But how many people really know what a quark is? Not many, and since I was one who didn’t, I decided to write a column on …

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Taxonomy

  When people think of science, they think of physics or chemistry or astronomy, of particle accelerators, of racks of test tubes or giant telescopes. They don’t think of taxonomy; yet this less-than-glamorous science is at the heart of modern biology. Taxonomy is not, as you might suppose, the scientific study of taxes. Instead it’s …

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The sense of smell

If you’re like most people, when you’re asked to list the five senses, your order will be something like: sight, hearing, touch, taste and–oh, yeah–smell. Like Rodney Dangerfield, smell “can’t get no respect.” But all that may be changing. And the Japanese, as in so many other areas of technology, are leading the way–by a …

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Telescopes

People have been gazing at the stars for as long as there have been people. The Babylonians and other ancient civilizations had sophisticated observatories from which they plotted the movements of the stars and planets. However, just looking at the stars and planets with the naked eye will never tell you much about them–they’re only …

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Genetic engineering

Though the word “biotechnology” sounds very modern, what it describes has been with us for centuries–if you define it, as one science encyclopedia does, as “using biological organisms, systems or processes to make or modify products.” In other words, the first time somebody discovered the wondrous change wrought in grape juice by fermentation, or an …

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