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Laphroiag distillery on Islay. A group of international whisky tourists, an important source of revenue for malt distilleries in Scotland, is being shown around. The pagoda chimney is a common feature.

There is a good deal of science, and art, associated with single malt Scotch whisky (there’s no “e” in whisky in Scotland). Many of us know bits and pieces about it and how it’s made. But there may be readers, who, like me, are fans but also interested to learn more.… Read the rest “Single malt Scotch Whisky 101”

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A death in Minnesota

The young man arrived in the emergency room in Minneapolis, Minnesota in acute distress, with a fever, rapid deep breathing, and a racing heart. As reported in 2018, doctors couldn’t initially identify the cause of his problem (1). His breath had twice the normal level of carbon dioxide, and that level kept going up. His fever also kept increasing, despite the doctors’ frantic efforts to stabilize him. Forty-five minutes after admission the muscles in his body violently seized up, rigor mortis, but in a body not yet dead.… Read the rest “How DNP (dinitrophenol) kills you”

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Rooftop air conditioning units, midtown, Manhattan. Imagery Google Maps, ©2019 Bluesky, Maxar Technologies, Sanborn, USDA Farm Service Agency, Map data ©2019

A hot day in New York City

People who were there will remember Saturday, July 20, 2019, as a really hot day in New York City. Although it was not the hottest day on record, the temperature at Kennedy airport reached 96ºF (36ºC). On the street at Union Square in Manhattan, a large thermometer (known as BAT, the “Big-Ass Thermometer”) registered a murderous 110ºF.… Read the rest “Is Air Conditioning Going to Become Futile?”

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Early Press. Accreditation: Daniel Chodowiecki [Public domain]

This post is something original, in that it’s not original: it’s a link to an intriguing article published a few years ago, which came to my attention on Flipboard. The article was published in 2013 in The Atlantic, and was a compilation of the 50 “innovations that have done the most to shape the nature of modern life”(since the wheel). I sent emails which included an abridged version of the article to a number of people.… Read the rest “The Greatest Innovations and Breakthroughs”

The Ponte Morandi before collapse View More

Ponte Morandi, Genoa. The tower on the left, and the adjacent roadway, collapsed on August 14, 2018. Picture attribution: Salvatore1991

A terrible tragedy occurred in Genoa, Italy on August 14, 2018. A suspension bridge in that city, part of the A10 motorway, collapsed into the bed of the Polcevera River, 150 feet below. Forty-three people who were driving over the bridge were killed.

The cable-stayed bridge

The bridge in Genoa, called the Ponte Morandi after its designer, Riccardo Morandi, was opened in 1967.… Read the rest “The Death of Ponte Morandi”

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Necora puber. Photograph: Hans Hillewaert

Cancer is one our most feared diseases, so it isn’t surprising that we notice when it is linked to other parts of our lives. And it’s also not surprising that stories which sound plausible, but which may or may not be supported by evidence, or which are misunderstood, become part of our culture. Three such stories are, that we are in an epidemic of cancer, that vitamin C is a useful anti-cancer agent, and that an abortion increases a woman’s risk of later breast cancer.… Read the rest “Three Cancer Myths”

Modern waste incineration plant in Denmark View More

The Waste-to-Energy plant “Amager Bakke” in Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo credit Niels Quist/Alamy stock photos.

Most people do not enjoy talking, or reading, about garbage. For one thing, it’s boring. But it’s also disturbing: garbage imposes great costs on our economy and our society. The biggest problem is simply the amount of garbage we produce. For example, in 2015, two kilograms (4.4 pounds) of Municipal Solid Waste was generated per citizen of the USA every day (MSW is the fancy name for garbage).… Read the rest “What Should We Do About Garbage? A Burning Question”

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“Livestock are responsible for 18 percent of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming more than cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together. It’s official: taking to the roads in an SUV’s got nothing on cattle flatulence . . . “ This is a direct quote from a recent web post of a climate sceptic. It restates a popular meme about climate change, favoured by conservative commentators: that man isn’t the most important agent of global warming, it’s the farting cows, stupid.… Read the rest “We Need to Talk About Methane”

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Charles Best and Frederick Banting, with one of their research subjects. University of Toronto Archives

This post describes some of the many pathways to scientific discovery. No single model applies to all discoveries, and most discoveries contain elements of different models. I will focus on the field I know best, biomedical research. Biomedical discoveries are usually, but not exclusively, the result of hypothesis- and curiosity-driven “small science”. In contrast, the first report of evidence for the Higgs Boson at the LHC in Switzerland listed over 2500 authors from some 180 institutions, and depended on the construction of a 5 billion dollar supercollider with an annual operating budget of one billion.… Read the rest “THE ART OF SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY”

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Dr. Lyudmila Trut and a human-friendly fox, 1974.

Foxes have a reputation for being elusive, canny, shy. . . in other words, foxy. Wild foxes in captivity are innately aggressive and fearful of humans – not friendly at all. With a great deal of patience, you may be able train one to be more docile, but it would not be a dog-like pet. However, if you have a slightly weird desire for a pet fox that will behave more like a cocker spaniel than a wild fox, you may be able to get one from a genetic research institute in Russia.… Read the rest “The Curious Case of the Friendly Russian Foxes”