Category Archives: Science

Who Invented the Fahrenheit and Celsius Temperature Scales and What Zero Degrees Fahrenheit Signifies

Daniel-fahrenheit

B. Halpern asks: 0 degrees Celsius is the freezing point of water. So what is 0 degrees Fahrenheit? Who came up with Celsius and Fahrenheit? Firmly entrenched in American society, the seemingly capricious nature of the Fahrenheit temperature scale could lead one to think that its Dutch inventor, Daniel Fahrenheit, pulled the number for the freezing point (32°F) of water out […]

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The Origins of the Mathematical Convention of Using “X” as the Unknown

mathematics-symbols

Linda P. asks: Why do we always use “x” for everything in math? For hundreds of years, x has been the go-to symbol for the unknown quantity in mathematical equations. So who started this practice? Algebra was born in the Middle East, during the Golden Age of medieval Islamic civilization (750 to 1258 AD), and its early form can be […]

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Why Does Moist, Baled and Stacked Hay Spontaneously Catch Fire?

hay-fire

Mark R. asks: Why does wet hay that is bailed catch on fire? Plant reactions and bacterial growth combine to raise temperatures in even the driest hay bales, although most never catch fire on their own. However, when hay is packed tightly, and enough moisture gets in, the conditions may be right for spontaneous hay combustion. How does this work? […]

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What Causes Warts?

HPV

John A. asks: What causes warts and how do you get rid of them safely? A viral infection caused by one of several ubiquitous strains (there are more than 100 known, with the vast majority of humans acquiring at least one strain at some point in our lives) of the pesky human papillomavirus (HPV), skin warts happen as the virus […]

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How Memory Works

brain-gears

Dustin A. asks: How does the brain create memories? A complex network that stretches from your basest sensory organs to the most sophisticated portions of your brain, memory aids in everything from simple movements to complicated tasks, and ultimately makes us who we are. Comprised of three distinct neurological processes, memories can be sensory, short-term or long-term. Sensory Memory Acting […]

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The Flower That Smells Like a Rotting Corpse

corpse-flower

Deep in the heart of Indonesia’s Sumatra rainforest, where tigers hunt, rhinos stampede, orangutans play, and cuckoos sing, blooms a flower that does its very best to attract more attention than any of the animals. The rare Amorphophallus Titanum, or Titan Arum, or known by its more descriptive nickname the “Corpse Flower,” is described as the world’s largest flower. But […]

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The Parasite That Could Be Living Inside You Right Now, Toxoplasma Gondii

Toxoplasma_gondii

If we were to tell you that there is a parasite out there that can infect virtually any warm-blooded creature on Earth; is found just about everywhere; approximately 33% of humans are infected; and is also mysteriously linked to people committing suicide and brain cancer, then we told you that it was most commonly found in cats, you’d say we […]

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Where Did All the Neanderthals Go?

neanderthal

For over 150,000 years, our ancient cousins, the Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis), thrived throughout Europe until, in the blink of an eye (geologically speaking), they disappeared off the face of the Earth. Several theories have been proposed to explain their extinction, although a consensus is growing that the primary factor was competition with us (Homo sapiens). Despite their annihilation, however, their […]

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Why Do We Yawn?

yawn

David G. asks: Why do people yawn? Do other animals do this too? Babies, dogs, cats, birds, mice, rats and even snakes yawn, and some of us were even doing it in the womb. Although for thousands of years the reason has remained elusive, recent scholarship may have uncovered the truth as to why we yawn. Physiology of Yawning When […]

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