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Edward Willett

Author's posts

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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  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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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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“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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  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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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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Is what you see what’s really there, or is it all in your head? “Well, I don’t know about you,” I hear you say (which is a good trick, considering this is a newspaper column), “but I see what’s really there. This newspaper is really here in my hands–I’m not imagining it.” No, you’re not. …

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Fire’s leaping, luminous tongues are familiar to us from fireplaces, campfires, candles and cookstoves. But do you really know what fire is? Our ancestors didn’t, which is why they made fire central to myth, magic and religion. Many myths speak of a time when humans suffered because they couldn’t warm themselves; then they discovered fire …

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I recently saw two pictures of southern Saskatchewan taken one year apart, in the summers of 1983 and 1984. The photographs are primarily green and pink. In the first photo there’s plenty of green, but also plenty of pink. In the second photo, the green has just about overwhelmed the pink. That might sound like …

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There’s a rather standard science fiction situation, based loosely on some of the oddities of quantum physics (the quirks of quarks, one might say), that postulates a whole other universe co-existing with ours, sharing the same space, but unseen. Well, in a sense this “parallel” world is already accessible, though not as a science-fictional “alternate …

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