The science of studying (as opposed to studying science)

  Ah, spring. Even though I haven’t been in school for fift–um, several–years, it used to be in spring that this young man’s fancy turned to thoughts of…final exams. Final. Exams. The phrase has a kind of closing-of-the-crypt-doors solemnity, doesn’t it? But, we were told, final exams need not be a time of panic, of …

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Three fathers of technology

This month, we celebrate the birthdays of three important scientists, each a “father” of a technology that has shaped this century. First up: April 9, the 75th birthday of John Presper Eckert, the father (well, one of the fathers) of the digital computer. While a research associate at the University of Pennsylvania in the mid-1940s, …

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Memory

What’s the biggest single difference between you and a dandelion? Think about that for a moment. You both take in nutrients, air and water; you both grow, you both age. So what’s the difference? Remember the last time you saw a dandelion? An argument could be made (and in fact I’m going to make it) …

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Flowers

It’s a warm, it’s sunny, it’s spring, and the ’60s musical Hair is coming to town. What better time to celebrate flower power? The use of flowers for gifts and decoration has a long, long history (the ancient Romans and the ancient Chinese were both wild about roses, for example), but to a plant our infatuation might …

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Snoring and yawning

  A couple of weeks ago I wrote about dandruff, bad breath, growling stomachs and body odor. Aside from the fact that none of these things are ever likely to be the subject of a blockbuster TV movie, they have something else in common: they’re all likely to embarrass us. That segues nicely into this …

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March 1994 science anniversaries

This March seems to be a month for important scientific birthdays, beginning with March 4, the 600th birthday of Prince Henry the Navigator of Portugal. Prince Henry began sending out expeditions along the Atlantic coast of Africa in 1418, motivated as much by hatred of the Muslims and a lust for gold as by a …

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Fertilizer

Just so I’m not operating under false pretenses, let’s get one thing straight: I don’t garden. I don’t seed, I don’t weed, I don’t plant, I don’t compost, and I don’t spread manure (this column excepted). My one connection with the plant world is mowing the grass, and I wouldn’t do that if I had …

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Erosion

As water starts to run this time of year, it takes away more than the memory of winter’s snows: it also carries away a lot of soil, dumping it in the nearest ditch, which carries it to the nearest river, which carries some of it eventually to the sea. Sometimes the water also finds its …

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Heredity

“She’s got her father’s eyes.” “He’s got his mother’s nose.” From the moment a baby is born, expect children to look like their parents. But how does it happen? An Austrian monk named Gregor Mendel took the first step toward our modern understanding of heredity in 1866, when he published a theory of inheritance based …

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Glue

Since I only wear glasses late at night when I take out my contacts, for the past couple of years I’ve been making do with an old pair of frames broken in two places: the nose piece and the right earpiece. I must have glued them back together a dozen times, but the repairs never …

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The science of love

 could be considered the worst possible person to tell anybody anything about love, being a 34-year-old single male whose only claim to romantic fame is an apparently unerring ability to be attracted to women who immediately thereafter fall head over heels for someone else, sometimes during our first (and only) date. On the other hand, …

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Galileo

One scientific anniversary stands out above all others this month: February 15, the 430th birthday of Galileo Galilei. Born near Pisa, Italy, in 1564, Galileo entered the University of Pisa as a medical student, but found that mathematics interested him more. Though he never got a degree, he was made professor of mathematics at his …

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