Sleep

  “To sleep, perchance to dream. Aye, there’s the rub . . . “ Aye, there’s the rub indeed–the rub being, nobody’s really sure why we sleep. Or why we dream. Or why either is important. Some scientists doubt that dreaming is of any great importance. They don’t have those doubts about sleep. We know …

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Ozone

Submitted for your consideration: a blue, pungent gas that used to be simple oxygen –but now is something quite different. You are about to enter…the O-Zone. Ozone, at first gasp, doesn’t seem like something to be concerned about. Normal oxygen molecules–the ones we breath–consist of two oxygen atoms. Add one more, and you get ozone. …

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The greenhouse effect

Presumably, by now, you’ve heard of something called the “greenhouse effect.” (If you haven’t, we’ll pause briefly while your next-of-kin checks to see if you’re still breathing.) The term “greenhouse effect,” as usually used today, refers to the predicted gradual warming of the Earth due to an increase in various gases in the atmosphere, primarily …

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Zero: much ado about nothing

Several centuries ago Shakespeare titled a play Much Ado About Nothing. If I gave these columns titles, that’s what I’d call this one–not because I think I write as well as Shakespeare, but because that’s what this column is about: nothing. Nothing is very important. Um, what I mean is, the concept of nothing is …

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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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