Category Archives: Science

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


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?


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?


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


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


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


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?


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?


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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A Brief Overview of Tourette Syndrome


A neurobiological disorder that causes its sufferers to make uncontrolled sounds and movements, the symptoms of Tourette syndrome (not Tourette’s) can be so mild that many people who have the condition are not even aware of it. What is Tourette? Like many other psychological conditions, the syndrome is diagnosed after several symptoms have been observed, and they include: At least […]

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