Edward Willett


Circadian desynchrony and the blue light special

[podcast]https://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2012/12/Circadian-Deosynchrony-and-the-Blue-Light-Special.mp3[/podcast] We’re coming up on the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere: at the latitude I live at, in Regina, Saskatchewan, that means that today the sun rose at 8:49 a.m. and will set at 4:54 p.m. We’ll lose a few more minutes yet before the winter solstice. That’s not a lot of daylight: we spend two-thirds of our day in darkness this time of the year, and of course further north it’s even worse, until you get to the Arctic and twenty-four hours of sunlessness. Thank goodness for artificial light! It means we can live pretty much as we want without being a slave to the natural ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 15:09, December 10th, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

Blame your brain for overeating

[podcast]https://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/upLoads//2009/12/Why-We-Overeat.mp3[/podcast] Put on a few extra pounds over Christmas? Wonder why you feel compelled to eat half a box of chocolates half an hour after finishing your second plate of turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy? Feel a little guilty? Well, new research offers clues to one of the most baffling aspects of the eternal battle of the bulge: why we keep eating even when we’re full. Short version: blame your brain. When you’re hungry, food looks more appealing than when you’re not: hence the old adage about never shopping on an empty stomach. Previous research has suggested that ghrelin, a hormone the body produces when it’s short of calories, may act on the brain to trigger this behavior. Now new research suggests that this ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 12:16, December 30th, 2009 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

The chemistry of love

Men have always suspected it, but now there's scientific evidence: chocolate makes females more interested in sex. OK, so maybe that's oversimplifying. What the study announced just before Valentine's Day (appropriately enough) really said was that a "messenger protein" called DARPP-32 makes female rodents more interested in sex. But even the study's lead author, Dr. Shaila Mani, a molecular biologist with Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, made the connection. Dr. Mani said that sensory cues such as soft lights, wine and, yes, chocolate, stimulate the brain's production of dopamine. Dopamine, in turn, activates DARPP-32, which gears up the interest in sex. Dr. Mani studied female mice and rats, who don't have sex just ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 5:52, February 15th, 2000 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »


"The Devil made me do it," said comedian Flip Wilson in the '70s. These days, though, it's hormones that get the blame. Teenagers becoming uncontrollable as spring kicks into high gear? Hormones. Blowing up at your boss/spouse/children for no reason? Hormones. Overweight? Hormones. Underweight? Hormones. Feeling depressed? Euphoric? Romantic? Hormones, hormones, hormones. All of which begs the question, "Just what is a hormone?" Hormones get their name from a Greek word meaning "to urge on," and that's just what they do: they urge cells in the body to perform in certain ways. They're messengers from one part of the body to another, and are essential to the regulation of many ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 11:33, May 5th, 1997 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »


Glow, little glow-worm, shimmer, shimmer . . . Have you ever wondered why glow-worms shimmer? Probably not, especially if, like me, you wouldn't know a glow-worm from a tapeworm and wouldn't care to meet either one. But maybe you've seen fireflies dancing in the dark, or, on a more practical note, been thankful for the little glowing spots on your old-fashioned analog alarm clock that tell you it's three o'clock in the morning when you're awakened by a strange noise. All of these are examples of luminescence, a phenomenon that is of great interest to scientists and great practical use to everyone else....

Posted by Edward Willett at 5:58, January 8th, 1992 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »


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. But there is another alphabet that makes the English one of 26 letters look grossly overstocked. With just four letters, it manages to encode and transmit all the information necessary to create a living creature, from the lowliest bacteria to the mighty blue whale to us. That's the alphabet of the genetic code, and its ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 16:24, November 6th, 1991 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »