The science of ice cream

Photo by Solitude

Who doesn’t love ice cream? It’s sweet, delicious and refreshing. Frozen yet creamy. It’s no wonder that Americans consume more than 20 litres (about 42 pints) each a year(!). I love ice cream. I’m the kind of person that would eat ice cream at any time, no matter the weather.  You could dunk me into a frozen lake and then ask me if I’d like some ice cream and I’d probably say yes. If I have to die of hypothermia, I might as well do it while eating ice cream. But what is ice cream? What is it made of? And …

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Vulcan – The (hypothetical) planet between Mercury and the Sun

Mercury - Photo by NASA

How many planets are there in the solar system? If you went to school sometime before 2006 you’re likely to say 9. Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. However, since then, Pluto has been demoted to “dwarf planet” due to the discovery of several other objects of the same size and composition beyond Neptune. One such object, Eris, is actually bigger than Pluto. If Pluto is a planet so are hundreds of other celestial bodies. Hence the reclassification. Pluto was discovered in 1930, but 100 years or so before, there was another candidate to the planetary club. …

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The loneliest whale in the world


This is not a happy story. This is a sad story. This is the story about a lonely, lonely whale. Under the deep waters of the ocean it’s quite hard to see. It’s really rather dark. Molecules diffuse very slowly in water compared to air, so smell is also quite limited. So whales and other mammals rely on sound. Sound waves propagate much faster in water than in the atmosphere at sea level (4 times as much). Some marine mammals, such as dolphins, use sound for echolocation. They produce a series of high-frequency clicks to get information about their environment, in much …

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Why are chillies hot? And why do we like them so much?

Photo by Gerald Pereira

There is an arms race going on. Farmers are competing to breed the hottest chillies ever, with terrifying names such as Trinidad Moruga Scorpion and Carolina Reaper. Sauce manufacturers are selling more and more potent hot sauces, some of which have to have “not for people with respiratory or heart problems” warnings on the label. It seems as though humanity’s quest for hot, searing pain is never ending. But, why are chillies hot and why do we like them so much? Chilies, or chilli peppers or chile peppers, are the fruits of a plant that originates in South America. Before …

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Hummingbirds are hours away from starving to death

Golden-tail sapphire hummingbird - Photo by Marcial4

“If I don’t eat something I’m literally going to die,” says your friend. Of course, even if you’re really hungry, in the vast majority of situations you are not literally going to die if you miss a meal (unless you’re diabetic with dangerously low blood sugar). In fact, more and more of us carry around quite a lot of extra energy around our bellies. A spare tire of fuel, if you will. But there is an animal that would die if it wasn’t constantly eating. Hummingbirds are fascinating creatures. Found in the americas, they are some of the smallest birds …

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Why does rain smell?

Photo by Edal Anton Lefterov

It’s one of those days. You’re inside, reading a good book while drops of rain gently fall, the perfect soundtrack to a lazy day. Or maybe you’re soaking wet under the torrential rains down in Africa (insert Toto reference here). Whatever the case may be, I’m sure that you’re not only feeling or hearing the rain, you are also smelling it. Why does rain smell?

The great “natural” hoax — Is “natural” really better?


I hear it all the time. X is better than Y because it’s natural. It’s not full of chemicals. It’s herbal. It’s not artificial. You know what else is natural? Cancer. Bacteria. The polio virus. Tsunamis. Mass extinctions. Malaria. Poisons. Natural disasters. How come we give so much faith to nature, when in fact nature does not like us at all? Nature is not nice. Out there in the wilderness only the fittest survive. Are we watching the same documentaries? The ones where the weak gazelle gets eaten by the lion, the ones where animals die of thirst, illness, starvation. …

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There is no ocean deep inside the earth

1280px-Clouds_over_the_Atlantic_Ocean (1)

  “In what sounds like a chapter from Journey to the Center of the Earth, the chemical makeup of a tiny, extremely rare gemstone has made researchers think there’s a massive water reservoir hundreds of miles under the earth.” In the last couple of days newspapers and other media outlets have reported what they’ve been calling “an ocean deep inside the earth”. “What if the outermost layer of the earth was floating on a boundless sea, bigger than all of the ones present on the surface?”(translation mine) writes Laura Berardi on ilFattoQuotidiano, which is normally quite a decent newspaper (though their …

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Death by fan


Apparently, I’m immortal. Because I, for many hundreds of nights, have slept in a room with a fan on. And survived. True story. You might now be wondering if I have gone completely insane (which is not too unlikely). Of course, why would I not have survived. Millions, if not billions, of people sleep with the fan on every night without much consequence. When I was living in a tropical country having those giant ceiling fans on was a basic requirement for being able to get a decent night’s sleep. But, the thing is, in South Korea it is widely …

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Eating a high protein diet is not as bad as smoking


In the latest bout of bad science reporting publications such as the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, CNN and a bunch of others have published articles claiming that a new study shows that eating a high protein diet is as bad as smoking. “People who eat diets rich in animal protein carry similar cancer risk to those who smoke 20 cigarettes each day,” The Daily Telegraph As usual, one has to look at the study itself (published in the journal Cell Metabolism) to gather what has actually been discovered. “A diet rich in meat, eggs, milk and cheese could be as …

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