Plastic

I vividly remember a science fiction book I read as a kid about the destruction of civilization by a new strain of bacteria. It didn’t kill people: it ate plastic. Electronic equipment disintegrated, clothes dissolved, airplanes fell apart, buildings burned–modern society ceased to function, so dependent had it become on plastic. If our ancestors lived …

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Satellites

Satellites have been much in the news recently–or, if you were trying to watch CBC Newsworld last week, in the absence of news. The failure of the Anik E-2 satellite drove home as nothing else could have just how important satellites have become to our everyday lives. (People really sit up and take note when …

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Happy 40th anniversary, USS Nautilus!

  There’s not much in the way of interesting scientific anniversaries on my list for this month, which suits me fine, because it means I can focus on the one that interests me most:  the 40th anniversary of the launch of the world’s first nuclear submarine, the USS Nautilus, on January 21, 1954. I don’t …

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Coffee

Ask the average coffee drinker where coffee comes from and he’ll probably say “South America.”  Coffee actually originated in Ethiopia, where the coffee plant grows naturally.  Coffee has been drunk in Arabian countries for centuries, but was only introduced to Europe in the mid1600s.  Plantations established in European colonies in Indonesia, the West Indies and …

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Winter

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but…it’s winter. As I write this it’s -28 outside, huge piles of snow line the streets, and tow-truck operators are gainfully employed all over the city. Winter is on everyone’s minds, which must be why I was recently asked several winter-related questions by Colin Grewar, host …

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Dr. Tom Wenaus and the Superconducting Super Collider

A couple of years ago I wrote a column about one of the biggest scientific projects of our time, the Superconducting Super Collider, currently under construction in Texas.  I didn’t know at the time that a Regina man is one of the scientists working on it.   Dr. Torre Wenaus is a staff physicist at …

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The Superconducting Super Collider

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Human Genome Initiative, “biologists’ equivalent of the Apollo program.”  But there’s an even bigger and more expensive initiative happening down in Texas that you might call physicists’ equivalent of Apollo.   This gigantic (in every sense of the word) project is called the Superconducting Super Collider, or …

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Glass

There’s a window above my desk through I’m watching a cold wind blowing leaves down the street. It’s not blowing in my face, however, thanks to a very special material: glass. Glass is an “amorphous solid”– its molecules don’t form a strict pattern, like the molecules of steel or granite, but are jumbled together like …

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Big ideas

At this time of year it’s traditional to make resolutions concerning the new year, review the old year or preview the coming year. Well, I don’t normally make resolutions; reviewing the old year is done far better by others; and previewing the coming year would involve precognition–which I don’t believe in. There is, however, one …

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Clausotechnolometry: the study of the technology of Santa

A couple of Christmases ago I wrote about aerotarandusdynamics: the study of flying reindeer. In passing, I mentioned their mysterious master, one “Santa Claus.” Now scientists are studying him, too, trying to understand the advanced technology this “jolly old elf” (as one authority describes him) uses yearly in his Christmas crusade. These scientists are “clausotechnolometrists.” …

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Christmas trees

It’s that jolly time of a year again when we celebrate new life by murdering 40 million trees. Which, I hasten to add, is simply a dramatic opening and not the beginning of a manifesto for the Evergreen Liberation Front. Fact is, I’m a big fan of the custom of having a Christmas tree. For …

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December 1993 science anniversaries

‘Tis the season for December’s science anniversaries, and there’s a biggy this month: the 90th anniversary of the first successful flight in a self-propelled heavier-than-air craft. But first, two other flight-related anniversaries. Twenty-five years ago, on December 21, 1968, NASA launched Apollo 8. The crew of Col. Frank Borman, Lt. Col. William A. Anders and …

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