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Jul 11, 2011

Why Does Water Freeze Before Alcohol Does?

We recently explained that one reason wine’s freezing point is much lower than water’s is because of its alcohol content. But we didn’t explain why alcohol has a much lower freezing point than water. Let’s explain that now (hint: water molecules are “stickier.”) A substance freezes when its molecules become “stuck” in a fixed array… 

Jul 6, 2011

Why Doesn’t Wine Freeze? And Do Vacuum-Sealing Stoppers Keep Wine ‘Fresh’?

I set out to learn why wine doesn’t freeze. But while I was questioning a wine researcher, I thought I’d also find out whether those vacuum-sealing wine stoppers are worth it. Here’s what I found out. Question 1: Why Doesn’t Wine Freeze? Wine will freeze, it just has a much lower freezing point than water… 

Jun 30, 2011

How Does My Dog Always Know When I’m Coming Home?

When I get home from work my dog is always at the door, waiting for me. Friends of mine report the same phenomenon. Do they spend all day at the door waiting for us? Maybe, but probably not. It’s probably the result of associative learning. Dogs and humans have been a double-bill for tens of… 

Jun 21, 2011

Concrete: It’s Everywhere, You Probably Don’t Understand It, And It’s Changing

We are always surrounded by things we don’t really understand, but there are few man-made substances as common, but little understood, as concrete. We walk on it, drive on it and live in buildings built on it (or even from it). And, while most people hardly ever think about it, there are researchers who think… 

Jun 15, 2011

What Is 3D Printing? And How Does It Work?

Three-dimensional (3D) printing holds promise for a wide variety of applications, from biomedical implants to space exploration. But when a friend asked me how it worked, I had no idea. It was a perfect excuse to learn something new. And now, dear reader, I can explain it to you. 3D printing is exactly what it… 

Jun 1, 2011

Bad Bugs of Summer: Horse Flies

Mosquitoes and ticks are nasty, but no family of blood feeders can compete with horse flies. They’re the most diverse group of blood-feeding animals on Earth (and, as far as we know, in the entire universe). Whether you call them horse flies, greenheads, deer flies or bloodthirsty so-and-sos, these insects are all part of the… 

May 23, 2011

Bad Bugs of Summer: Black Widows

It’s hard to think of an arthropod with a worse reputation than the black widow. Heck, the term is even used to describe serial killers – and it doesn’t get much worse than that. We’ve already covered mosquitoes, ticks and carpenter bees in our “bad bugs” series, but any conversation about bugs people hate has… 

May 20, 2011

Bad Bugs of Summer: Carpenter Bees

Our first two posts on the bad bugs of summer were about bloodsuckers: mosquitoes and ticks. We’ll now look at a pest that is a plague on our homes, if not our flesh – carpenter bees. However, in keeping with tradition, this “bad bug of summer” is not a true bug. Why are carpenter bees… 

May 17, 2011

Bad Bugs of Summer: Ticks

In our second post on the bad bugs of summer, we’ll be talking about ticks. Or, as I like to think of them, those bloodsucking disease spreaders. First of all, I really shouldn’t call ticks “bad bugs.” Technically, they’re not bugs at all. Of course, mosquitoes aren’t either. But ticks aren’t even insects. They’re arachnids.… 

May 11, 2011

Bad Bugs of Summer: Mosquitoes

Summer is more than lemonade and swimming pools. It means bug bites – mosquitoes, ticks, horse flies, you name it. This is the first in a series of posts profiling these bad bugs of summer: what they do, why they do it, tips on how to protect yourself, and the occasional trivial factoid. We’re starting… 

Mar 9, 2011

How Magnets Work (It’s Complicated)

Occasionally, when looking for scientific issues to write about, I will survey my friends to see whether they have any “fundamental science” questions that I could explore. When someone recently suggested that I find out how magnets work, I thought it would be easy. I was wrong. First of all, I learned that there are… 

Nov 17, 2010

Thanksgiving Science: Tryptophacts and Tryptophantasies

I was looking for an excuse to write about Thanksgiving science when a friend posed this question: “Can tryptophan be extracted from a turkey and then be injected directly into a human vein via syringe?” Answer: no. But that raised some other interesting questions, like, what is tryptophan? And if tryptophan doesn’t make us sleepy…