The metric system

Two years ago, France marked the 200th anniversary of its revolution. It’s no coincidence that just one year later we marked the 200th anniversary of another kind of revolution: the birth of the metric system. Whether this is a reason for celebration or mourning depends on how you feel about the System Internationale d’Units, the …

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Earthquakes

There’s something inherently horrifying about earthquakes. Probably it’s because we are accustomed to thinking of the ground beneath our feet as being, well, “rock-solid.” When that ground gets the shakes, it gives us a pretty good case of them, too. Earthquakes are defined as “a fracture or implosion beneath the surface of the Earth, and …

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How Does Your Garden Grow?

Part of the Saskatchewan Science Centre’s mandate is to demonstrate that it is possible to excel in the world of science “even” in Saskatchewan. The quotation marks are intentional: it’s the attitude embodied in the use of that word we would like to dispel. The fact is, top-notch, world-class science and Saskatchewan are not mutually …

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Fusion

Nuclear fusion as an electrical power source is rather like some people’s plans for after they win the lottery. They’re sure it’s coming, and they’re sure it’s going to be great, but somehow it never seems to happen. Actually, that’s not a very fair comparison, because nuclear fusion really does seem to be on the …

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Fission

We sometimes talk about living in the Nuclear Age, because it has only been in the last 50 years that we have managed to harness the power expressed by Einstein as E=mc2. But strictly speaking, uranium fission, which is what we think of when we think of nuclear power, isn’t new. About 1.78 billion years …

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DNA

Our 26-letter alphabet often seems like a model of efficiency. Look at how much information can be encoded and passed on with it. Look at what Shakespeare accomplished with it. I’m particularly fond of it because my ability to manipulate it is what pays for my food and lodging and other necessities like new CDs. …

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Lasers

Last year (1990) marked the 30th anniversary of an important event that somehow did not result in any parades or speeches or days off work–and no, it wasn’t my birthday. But it was a birthday of sorts: the birthday of the laser. On May 15, 1960, a cylindrical rod of synthetic ruby placed inside a …

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The brain

“I think, therefore I am” may be great philosophy, but let’s face it, there’s more to life than thinking. Most of us also have a body of some description (some descriptions are better than others), and our bodies and brains working together make us us–which is not to say that there’s any doubt about who …

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Digitization

There are certain words these days that are being used to sell just about everything. “Light” (or, horrors, “lite”), is one of them, appearing on everything from beer to slightly-less-greasy-than-usual potato chips; “cholesterol-free” is another; “green” is a third, and afourth, and the one I want to talk about, is “digital.” Digital dashboards, digital TV, …

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Nature’s first issue

One hundred twenty-two years isn’t a very long time, really; certainly not on a geological scale (so, did dinosaurs live 150 million years ago, or 150,000,122 years ago?) and not even on the scale of human history, at least not for the most part. (Can you name the important advances made between 1100 and 1222?) …

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Wind

A few years ago National Geographic, in an article on Saskatchewan, mentioned that we sometimes have a little wind. (I trust I’m not revealing any secrets.) But, one man was quoted as saying, “In Saskatchewan, we don’t consider it really windy until we have whitecaps in our bath water.” Wind and Saskatchewan seem to go …

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Soil

  Most of us think of soil as something to be washed out of clothes, swept off floors, or avoided after a rainfall. We use expressions such as “dirt cheap,” indicating a pretty low regard for the stuff. But that’s just because we think of soil as boring and unimportant. It’s actually an amazing substance …

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