Sep 30, 2013

How hot is lightning?

The temperature of the air around a bolt of lightning is about 54,000 Fahrenheit (30,000 Celsius), which is six times hotter than the surface of the sun, yet many times people survive a bolt of lightning. American park ranger Roy Sullivan was hit by lightning seven times between 1942 and 1977. In cloud-to-ground lightning, its energy seeks the shortest route to Earth, which could be through a person's shoulder, down the side of the body through the leg to the ground. As long as the lightning does not pass across the heart or spinal column, the victim usually does not die. (The Handy Science Answer Book, compiled by the Science and Technology department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh)

Sep 29, 2013

The first discovery of the harmful effects of cholesterol

Some of the first evidence indicating that atherosclerosis was not simply a consequence of growing old but was rooted in our dietary intake of saturated fat and cholesterol came inadvertently from the Korean War. Soldiers who had been killed were autopsied, and medical researchers were stunned by what they found. More than 77 percent of the American soldiers had blood vessels that were already narrowed by atherosclerotic deposits, while the arteries-of the equally young soldiers of the opposing forces showed no similar damage.

At the time, it was thought that the pronounced differences in the conditions of the soldiers' arteries might be more a consequence of genetic predisposition than of their differing diet-styles. But this idea became quickly untenable when a large group of Korean soldiers were put on the U.S. Army diet. They rapidly developed significant increases in their blood cholesterol levels, an unmistakable sign of developing atherosclerosis.

Traditional nutritionists had thought highly of meat, dairy products, and eggs ever since the early animal experiments that showed rats grew faster on animal protein. As well, the first vitamin ever discovered, vitamin A, had originally been isolated from butterfat, which also added to the aura of supremacy these foods enjoyed.

Sep 27, 2013

Electromagnetic force

It is this force that links atoms and molecules to form ordinary solid bodies. Thus, if your elbow doesn't sink into the wood of your desk while you are writing, it is because the electrons in the atoms of your desk and of your elbow push against each other by means of electromagnetic interaction.

The relationship between electricity and magnetism was discovered in 1820 by Christian Oersted (Denmark) in an experiment during which he noticed that a magnetic needle was deflected by an electric current. Andre Marie Ampere (France) later generalized these observations, but it was James Clerk Maxwell (Great Britain) who, in 1864, formulated the general laws of electromagnetism and showed that light was nothing but an electromagnetic wave.

Since the 1930s a number of physicists such as P.A.M. Dirac (Great Britain) and Richard Feynman and Julian Schwinger (both U.S.) have developed the modem theory of electromagnetic interaction between electrons (with the exchange of photons). (‘Inventions and Discoveries’)

Sep 26, 2013

First time speed of light was measured

The astronomer Jean Picard (France, 1620-82) of the Observatoire de Paris -- who was the first to measure the earth's diameter precisely -- had a young Dane, Olaus Romer, as his assistant. The latter carried out observations of the four large satellites of Jupiter discovered by Galileo some 70 years earlier. He measured the intervals of time between the successive eclipses of the satellites by Jupiter and noted that these were regularly shorter or longer depending on whether Jupiter and the earth were closer together or further apart in their respective orbits around the sun.

Romer understood that this phenomenon was due to delays in the light from Jupiter reaching earth. He then calculated that, to explain all these observations, light traveled at a speed of 186,400 miles per second. At last, after 2,000 years of controversy, it was established that light did not travel instantaneously, but has a finite and measurable speed. (‘Inventions and Discoveries’)

Sep 25, 2013

Synergy

In medicine, synergy is the "cooperative" action of two or more drugs, muscles, or organs. The term is applied especially to drugs whose combined action is more powerful than their simple effects added together.

If used in a business application, synergy means that teamwork will produce an overall better result than if each person within the group were working toward the same goal individually. However, the concept of group cohesion needs to be considered. Group cohesion is that property that is inferred from the number and strength of mutual positive attitudes among members of the group. As the group becomes more cohesive, its functioning is affected in a number of ways. First, the interactions and communication between members increase. Common goals, interests and small size all contribute to this. In addition, group member satisfaction increases as the group provides friendship and support against outside threats.

There are negative aspects of group cohesion that have an effect on group decision-making and hence on group effectiveness. There are two issues arising. The risky shift phenomenon is the tendency of a group to make decisions that are riskier than those that the group would have recommended individually. Group Polarisation is when individuals in a group begin by taking a moderate stance on an issue regarding a common value and, after having discussed it, end up taking a more extreme stance.

A second, potential negative consequence of group cohesion is group think. Group think is a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in cohesive group, when the members' striving for unanimity overrides their motivation to appraise realistically the alternative courses of action. (From Wikipedia and Encarta Encyclopedia)

Sep 24, 2013

Temperature Scales

Five different temperature scales are in use today:
(1) the Celsius scale, known also as the Centigrade scale,
(2) the Fahrenheit scale,
(3) the Kelvin scale,
(4) the Rankine scale, and
(5) the international thermodynamic temperature scale.

The Celsius scale, with a freezing point of 0° C and a boiling point of 100° C, is widely used throughout the world, particularly for scientific work, although it was superseded officially in 1950 by the international temperature scale. In the Fahrenheit scale, used in English-speaking countries for purposes other than scientific work and based on the mercury thermometer, the freezing point of water is defined as 32° F and the boiling point as 212° F (see Mercury). In the Kelvin scale, the most commonly used thermodynamic temperature scale, zero is defined as the absolute zero of temperature, that is, -273.15° C, or -459.67° F. Another scale employing absolute zero as its lowest point is the Rankine scale, in which each degree of temperature is equivalent to one degree on the Fahrenheit scale. The freezing point of water on the Rankine scale is 492° R, and the boiling point is 672° R.

In 1933 scientists of 31 nations adopted a new international temperature scale with additional fixed temperature points, based on the Kelvin scale and thermodynamic principles. The international scale is based on the property of electrical resistivity, with platinum wire as the standard for temperature between -190° and 660° C. Above 660° C, to the melting point of gold, 1063° C, a standard thermocouple, which is a device that measures temperature by the amount of voltage produced between two wires of different metals, is used; beyond this point temperatures are measured by the so-called optical pyrometer, which uses the intensity of light of a wavelength emitted by a hot body for the purpose. (Encarta Encyclopedia)

Sep 23, 2013

Tracing ancient usage of herbs by various cultures

Herbal trial and error becomes even more remarkable when we consider that cultures separated by thousands of miles arrived at similar uses for many healing herbs, apparently independently.

Herbal healing includes four major traditions: Chinese, Ayurvedic (in India), European (including Egyptian), and American Indian. Until the 15th century, Old World cultures were isolated from the Americas. Nonetheless, Old and New World herbalists used many herbs similarly.

Angelica and licorice: Asians, Europeans, and Native Americans all used these herbs to treat respiratory ailments.

Hop and the mints: All the ancient herbal traditions used these herbs as stomach soothers.

Blackberry and raspberry: These two popular herbs have been used around the world to treat diarrhea.

Uva ursi: Asians, Europeans, and Native Americans all discovered this herb's diuretic properties.

White willow: All the herbal traditions used this herb to treat pain and inflammations.

During the 19th century, chemists used this "herbal convergence" to point them to the plants that provided extracts for the first pharmaceuticals. According to a report published in the journal “Science”, of the 121 prescription drugs derived from higher plants, about 74 percent came to drug companies' attention because of their use in traditional herbal healing. (‘The Healing Herbs’, the ultimate guide to the creative power of Nature’s medicine’, by Michael Castleman) 

Sep 22, 2013

Fission and Fusion

They're both nuclear reactions (i.e., they change the structure of an atomic nucleus) and they both represent what happens when Einstein's famous E = mc(squared)  is acted out. In fission, which is behind atomic bombs, nuclear reactors, and radioactivity, the nucleus of a big uranium atom is split into smaller parts when struck by a free neutron. Uranium is the fuel of choice because it "splinters" readily, releasing two or three more neutrons, which in turn strike and splinter neighboring uranium nuclei in a chain reaction. The result: energy; also, Chernobyl.

In fusion, which is behind starlight, sunshine, and the hydrogen (aka. thermonuclear) bomb, and which scientists hope someday to adapt to nuclear-energy production, the nuclei of two little hydrogen atoms are joined together, or fused, at temperatures approaching 50,000,000 Celsius, to form a single, heavy helium nucleus, ejecting high-speed neutrons (and impressively little pollution) in the process. In both fission and fusion, the atoms resulting from the splitting and the joining, respectively, weigh slightly less than the ones that went into the process. It's this difference in mass that has been converted into energy.

So why not forget dangerous, dirty fission and get behind controllable, clean fusion? Because fusion, while it works nicely on the sun, requires temperatures higher than we've in general been able to achieve here on earth except, so far, in the hydrogen bomb, which is triggered by fission -- in the form of an atomic bomb -- at its core anyway. It's true that in late 1993 an experimental fusion reactor at Princeton produced a few megawatts of power for a fraction of a second; while doing so, though, it used up more power than it produced. Nevertheless, a number of countries, including Japan, China, the United States, Russia, and members of the European Union [later joined by India and South Korea] started collaborating on an International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER).

Sep 21, 2013

Sep 20, 2013

Holograms

The hologram (from the Greek “holos”, whole, and “gram”, something written) is a three-dimensional photograph using the interference produced by the superimposition of two laser beams. Dennis Gabor (Great Britain, b. Hungary) discovered the principle of holography in 1948 in the course of his research into electronic microscopy. But it was not until the discovery of the laser that practical applications could be developed.

E.N. Leith, J.U. Upatnieks and C.W. Stroke (all U.S.) of the University of Michigan carried out the first tests in 1963. Since then, holography has developed greatly in the spheres of research, industry and art. The first examples of holography applied to art were achieved by Prof. Youri Denisyouk (U.S.S.R.) who, toward the end of the 1960s, applied holography to the reproduction of works of art. (‘Inventions and Discoveries’)

Sep 19, 2013

Philosophy during China’s Warring States Period

During China’s succeeding Warring States Period (481-221 B.C.), only a handful of states survived. Rulers of states used new technology (such as iron tools) and management techniques to mobilize populations for military service and state-supervised agricultural production. It was a time of population growth and increasing wealth despite near-constant warfare. As rulers looked for new sociopolitical ideas to enhance their power and security, state patronage of learning created a class of literate administrators, advisers, and teachers.

The first and most influential Chinese philosopher was Kongzi (551-479 B.C.), usually known by his Latinate name, Confucius. Confucius, along with later generations of disciples who elaborated upon his ideas (Mencius, Xunzi, and others) advocated a hierarchical society in which the ruler, aided by enlightened ministers, would serve as "father and mother of the people." The Confucians prized harmony, moderation, ritual, and historical precedent but disparaged law, which they saw as the enemy of virtue. Rival thinkers advocated strict codes of law and coercive punishments to control the populace (Shang Yang, Han Feizi); improved managerial techniques to make government more effective (Shen Buhai); frugality, universal love, and self-defense (Mozi); escapism (Yangzi, Zhuangzi); and government by a sage attuned to the rhythms of cosmic force (Laozi). In practice, government during the Warring States Period became increasingly bureaucratic and merit-based, rather than aristocratic and hereditary, as rulers adopted promising ideas and techniques from various schools of thought. (The New York Times ‘Smarter by Sunday – 52 Weekends of Essential Knowledge for the Curious Mind’)

Sep 18, 2013

Quantum theory – how it came about

At the end of the 19th century, no law had been discovered to account for the phenomenon of heat and light radiation by a solid, white-hot body. In 1900 Max Planck (Germany, 1858-1947) guessed that radiation did not occur in a continuous fashion but in small discrete units, separate quantities or quanta. This discovery, which enabled scientists to explain heat radiation, turned physics upside down, especially in the sphere of classical mechanics, which became inoperable in the area of infinitely small quantities. Thanks to this theory, Albert Einstein (Switzerland, b. Germany; 1879-1955) explained in 1905 the photoelectric effect by showing that light, which comprises both waves and particles, moves by quanta, tiny packets of light, which were later called photons.

Niels Bohr (Denmark, 1885-1962) built on this quantum theory a model of an atom, describing in 1911 the movement of electrons inside the atom. This model enabled him to achieve remarkable results in the fields of the spectroscopy of gaseous matter and of X-ray physics. (‘Inventions and Discoveries’)

Sep 17, 2013

One’s susceptibility to heart attacks

The human heart doesn't actually look very much like a valentine, but it is nevertheless a wondrous and beautiful muscle. About the size of a clenched fist, it begins to beat only a few weeks after conception and thereafter pumps forth the rhythm of our lives through every moment of our uterine and earthly existence. Only at the moment of our death does it cease.

This beating has a definite purpose: to pump blood to all parts of the body. The life of our very cells depends on the oxygen and nutrition brought to them by the flow of our blood. If for some reason any muscle did not receive a fresh flow of blood, it would quickly die.

Since the heart is also a muscle, it, too, must continuously receive a fresh flow of blood, and you might think that receiving a blood supply would never be a problem for the heart, since its chambers are always full of blood. But the heart is not able to directly use any of the blood contained within its pumping chambers, any more than a stereo amplifier can plug into itself. Instead, the heart muscle feeds from, the blood supplied to it through two specific vessels, called the coronary arteries.

In a healthy person, the blood flows freely and easily through the coronary arteries, and the well-fed heart keeps pumping away as it should. But if one of the coronary arteries, or one of its branches, should become blocked off and so be unable to supply the heart with blood, then even though the heart's chambers are full of blood, that part of the heart dependent on the blocked-off artery will die.

Sep 16, 2013

The Earth’s origin and composition – earlier attempts to understand

Speculation about the origin and composition of our planet Earth is as old as civilization itself. Most religions contain some form of creation myth, and many hold that the natural forces governing the planet are embodied by gods and spirits. In antiquity, various philosophers propounded theories of the natural world. In the sixth century B.C., Pythagoras correctly noted that the Earth is a sphere, and Aristotle offered plausible, but incorrect, theories for volcanoes, earthquakes, fossils, and other natural phenomena. Pytheas described the tides and noted that they are controlled by the Moon. By the third Century B.C., Eratosthenes calculated the size of the Earth with reasonable precision.

Before the Enlightenment of the 18th century most European scientists were heavily influenced by religious belief, including the biblical story of creation. Scholars attempted to fix the age of Earth through a careful and literal reading of the Bible, concluding that creation took place about 6,000 years ago. But in the 17th century, a few scientists developed ideas that we still believe to be correct today. In 1669, the Danish scientist Nicolas Steno correctly explained fossils as the remains of long-dead organisms and introduced the idea that layers of rock, later called strata by geologists, were deposited at different times, with older layers lying below more recent ones. In Scotland in 1785, an amateur geologist, James Hutton, suggested that Earth's strata must have formed gradually. A half century later, another Scot, Sir Charles Lyell, argued strongly that one could explain geologic history perfectly well by pointing to the geological processes – the action of wind and water, earthquakes, and volcanoes - presently at work and observable on Earth. Lyell rejected the short time derived from the Bible and proposed a much greater period for the development and evolution of Earth. Lyell's notion of a vastly great "geologic time" made possible the evolutionary theory of Lyell's good friend Charles Darwin. It provided the time scale necessary for natural selection to take place. (The New York Times ‘Smarter by Sunday – 52 Weekends of Essential Knowledge for the Curious Mind’)

Sep 15, 2013

How long is the Grand Canyon?

The Grand Canyon, cut out by the Colorado River over a period of 15 million years in the northwest comer of Arizona, is the largest land gorge in the world. It is 4 to 13 miles (6.4 to 21 kilometers) wide at its brim, 4,000 to 5,500 feet (1,219 to 1,676 meters) deep, and 217 miles (349 kilometers) long, extending from the mouth of the Little Colorado River to Grand Wash Cliffs (and 277 miles, 600 feet or 445.88 kilometers if Marble Canyon is included).

However, it is not the deepest canyon in the United States; that distinction belongs to Kings Canyon, which runs through the Sierra and Sequoia National Forests near East Fresno, California, with its deepest point being 8,200 feet (2,500 meters). Hell's Canyon of the Snake River between Idaho and Oregon is the deepest United States canyon in low-relief territory. Also called the Grand Canyon of the Snake, it plunges 7,900 feet (2,408 meters) down from Devil Mountain to the Snake River. (The Handy Science Answer Book, compiled by the Science and Technology department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh)

Sep 14, 2013

Apostle Peter

The sources of knowledge about Peter are the letters of Paul, written between 50 and 60 AD; the four canonical Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, written from about ad65 to the end of the 1st century; two canonical letters bearing Peter's name as author and probably written in the 2nd century by someone other than Peter; and a reference by a Roman presbyter named Gaius (flourished early 3rd century) to a “trophy” on Vatican hill memorializing the place of Peter's martyrdom or burial. In these sources several well-established traditions about Peter are found. He was called by Jesus to be a disciple, and he became prominent among the Twelve, often serving as their spokesman. At Caesarea Philippi he confessed Jesus to be the Messiah and was subsequently rebuked (see Mark 8:33) or praised (see Matthew 16:17) by Jesus for that confession. After Jesus' arrest, Peter denied being associated with him and suffered enormous self-reproach for having done so, but the first appearance of the risen Jesus was to Peter.

Peter played an important role in the early Christian church at Jerusalem, having received a special call to preach the gospel to his fellow Jews. In time, Peter came also to affirm the Christian mission to the Gentiles, whose chief advocate was the apostle Paul. Peter took part in a meeting in Jerusalem that focused decisively on the place of Gentiles in the church (see Acts 15). Against the faction of Jewish Christians who would have required converts to Christianity to be circumcised and to abide by Jewish dietary restrictions, Peter supported those who declared that the Christian message of salvation to all did not require that Gentiles adhere to specific legal and ritual precepts of Judaism.

Sep 13, 2013

Eat at Least 5 Servings of Fruit and Vegetable a Day

Emptier hospitals. Shorter lines at the pharmacy counter. Far fewer of the major diseases that disable and kill millions. If everyone followed the simple and delicious advice of our health experts by eating at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, the results would be nothing short of miraculous.

The fact is, we humans are designed to eat these foods by the fistful every day. Our bodies are meant to be flooded with a daily deluge of amazing chemicals called antioxidants that protect cells from damage. And we need them now more than ever. Modern life triggers the production of more free radicals in our bodies than ever before - thanks to fried foods (and simply to overeating!), to more pollution, to the fact that we're living longer, and perhaps even to a thinning atmosphere.

Free radicals are atoms or groups of atoms with an odd number of electrons. They form naturally when we digest food, convert blood sugar into energy, or are exposed to sunlight or pollution. Free radicals destroy cell walls or even worse, DNA itself. The result? Increased cancer risk, cholesterol that's more likely to burrow into artery walls, and damaged cartilage that can't cushion joints properly. Your body uses the antioxidants in fruits and vegetables to neutralize free radicals before they can do harm. Shortchange yourself, and you're essentially letting rogue elements take over your body.

Sep 12, 2013

Can carbs keep you disease free?

Many people are cutting down on carbs to keep their weight in check. A smart idea? That depends.

Most experts agree that carbs in the form of soda and sugary fruit drinks, store-bought baked goods (like muffins), packaged snacks, and sweets make blood sugar and blood fats (such as triglycerides) soar, raising your odds for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even some forms of cancer.

Stock up instead on "smart carbohydrates” - whole grains like oatmeal, barley, whole grain bread, and brown rice, as well as fruits, vegetables, and beans and you'll flood your body with powerful disease-fighting compounds. These strategies can help you replace refined carbs with more of the good stuff.

Say yes to breads and cereals with the word whole in the first ingredient. Give potatoes the night off. White potatoes and white rice make blood sugar soar; in comparison, whole grain side dishes such as barley, quinoa, and bulgur keep it lower and steadier.

Have beans for supper a few nights a week. Rinse canned beans to reduce excess sodium. Then toss 'em into soups, salads, casseroles, or pasta sauce or enjoy them with your favorite seasonings as a side dish.

Drink unsweetened iced tea or water. Besides adding hundreds of waist-widening calories, soda (even one can a day!) has been linked with a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, and overweight. (‘Simple Health Secrets’, by Reader’s Digest) 

Sep 11, 2013

G7/G8 (Group of Seven/Group of Eight)

Formed in 1975 by the six biggest industrial democracies -- the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, and Italy -- and joined by Canada a year later. Starting in 1991, the USSR, then Russia, began dropping by for post-summit conferences. In 1994 Russia became a regular visitor, and in 1998 it became a full participant in what now became the G8, although the G7 has continued to function alongside the formal summits, presumably just to confuse the average newspaper reader. These days, the G8 meets annually, and by turns, in the capital, another big-deal city (Montreal, Florence), or a jewel-like historic landmark or golf resort (Versailles, Williamsburg, Gleneagles) of the host nation, with everyone's finance minister (our Treasury secretary) and all the prime ministers (or presidents) in attendance, at which point it considers, and attempts to bring into line, matters of economic policy and planning, then schmoozes, often managing to work out an intractable problem or two over one of the six-course dinners prepared by the host country to show off the national cuisine. With old-style Kennedy-and-Khrushchev-type summit meetings largely a thing of the past, the G8 get-togethers have become some of the most important meetings in the world, real pileups of power and money at which issues as broad as terrorism and the environment are hashed out, often leading to the creation or resuscitation of some new international organization to "handle” the problem. (‘An Incomplete Education’, by Judy Jones and William Wilson)

Sep 10, 2013

How do colors affect one's moods?

According to the American Institute for Biosocial Research, "colors are electromagnetic wave bands of energy." Each color has its own wavelength. The wave bands stimulate chemicals in your eye, sending messages to the pituitary and pineal glands. These master endocrine glands regulate hormones and other physiological systems in the body. Stimulated by response to colors, glandular activities can alter moods, speed up heart rates, and increase brain activity. (The Handy Science Answer Book, compiled by the Science and Technology department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh)

Sep 9, 2013

Modern Numerations

Around the 5th century AD., decimal position arithmetic appeared in India: it used 10 figures from 0 to 9 such as we know today. In 829 Mohammad Ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi (780-850) published a treatise on algebra in Baghdad in which he adopted this decimal system. A French monk named Gerbert became interested in the Arabic figures during his voyage (980) to Cordoba in Spain, and was able to spread the use of these symbols when he became Pope Sylvester II in April 999. However, it was not until Leonardo Fibonacci, known as Leonard of Pisa, through his Liber Abaci, written in 1202, that Arabic numbering began to spread throughout Europe. In 1440, thanks to the invention of printing, the shape of these 10 figures was definitively fixed. (‘Inventions and Discoveries’)

Sep 8, 2013

Numbers

Numbers were first written in the 3rd millennium B.C., as is attested to by the clay tablets discovered in Susa and Uruk (currently Warka in Iraq) and those from Nippur (Babylon, 2200 to 1350 B.C.). The Babylonian system of numeration is on a base of 60. Our time divisions are a vestige of this. There was no zero; missing units were simply indicated by a space.

The ancient Mayan system was on a base of 20 - the number of fingers and toes. This was a position system and included a final zero which was not an operator.

In the 5th century B.C. the Greeks used the letters of the alphabet. For units of one thousand, the nine first letters accompanied by an inferior accent to their left were used This system, which had no zero, was used for a thousand years.

Babylonian numeration was perfected in the 4th century B.C. by the appearance of the zero in mathematical texts. The zero was placed either at the beginning of a number or within a number, but never at the end. The word zero comes from sunya, which means "nothing" in Sanskrit; it became sifr in Arabic and was Latinized into zephirum by Leonardo Fibonacci. It was fixed at zero in 1491 by a Florentine treatise.

The Hebrews and Arabs adapted the Greek system for their own alphabets. Calculations were then made using abacuses. Numbers were represented by pebbles -- the word calculation derives from the word calculus, meaning pebble. (Adapted from ‘Inventions and Discoveries’)

Sep 7, 2013

The Impact of Enlightenment

Voltaire
As French urban society grew wealthier, it also became more literate. In academies and salons, where social distinctions among the wealthy ceased to be made, nobles and bourgeois began to debate philosophy and science with each other. Even artisans joined reading groups and began paying attention to the newspapers then cropping up all over the country.

This was the height of the Enlightenment, when a group of French writers known as philosophes spread the values of free inquiry and open debate throughout France and later across the rest of the Western world. At the core of their belief was the idea that reason was the basis for all human improvement. Inspired by the many advances recently made in science, they wanted to apply the same rational method to all forms of human endeavor, including political philosophy.

Because the phihophes despised irrationality, they frequently attacked the mysticism and religious intolerance of the Catholic Church. In 1762, for example, Voltaire (1694-1778) launched a public campaign to free Jean Calas, a Huguenot being put to death by the Languedoc parlement for allegedly murdering his son to prevent him from embracing Catholicism. Voltaire used the trumped-up Calas case to demonstrate the extent to which French public institutions had become infused with religious bigotry, but he couldn't save Calas.

Sep 6, 2013

Herbal Healing – its prehistoric roots

The healing properties of plants have not changed. What was a healing herb a thousand years ago is still a healing herb. Physicians of the ancient were expected to know their herbs. Plants gave healing powers to those who studied them, worked with them, and respected them. In many lands and in many times, healers spent good part of their lives in field and forest gathering green medicines. They remembered what they learned, and they passed it on.

Today we benefit from the accumulated herbal wisdom of the ages. Our special vantage point enables us to peer back through history, harvesting for our own benefit only those herbs that have stood the test of time.

But even the herbal uses that didn't pan out are fascinating. While the story of the healing herbs has its comic episodes, it's also a dramatic story of human sacrifice, complete with medical heroes - men and women whose work deserves to be recognized.

What is a healing herb? The word herb comes from the Latin for grass. Technically, herbs are plants that wither each autumn, plants other than shrubs or trees. But many shrubs and trees are used in herbal healing, such as barberry, bay laurel, and slippery elm, for example. To an herbalist, "healing herbs" include every plant with medicinal value

The plants that we know as healing herbs existed long before the first human appeared on earth. No one knows how long it took for humans to discover the curative power of plants, but prehistoric sites in Iraq show the Neanderthals used yarrow, marsh mallow, and other healing herbs some 60,000 years ago.

Sep 5, 2013

Why do all newborn babies have blue eyes?

The color of the iris gives the human eye its color. The amount of dark pigment, melanin, in the iris is what determines its color. In newborns the pigment is concentrated in the folds of the iris. When a baby is a few months old, the melanin moves to the surface of the iris and gives the baby his or her permanent eye color. (The Handy Science Answer Book, compiled by the Science and Technology department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh)

Sep 4, 2013

What does it mean to have 20/20 vision?

Many people think that with 20/20 vision the eyesight is perfect, but it actually means that the eye can see clearly at 20 feet what a normal eye can see clearly at that distance. Some people can see even better – 20/15, for example. With their eagle eyes, they can view objects from 20 feet away with the same sharpness that a normal-sighted person would have to move in to 15 feet to achieve. (The Handy Science Answer Book, compiled by the Science and Technology department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh)

Sep 3, 2013

Thunder

Thunder is the explosive sound produced by an ordinary lightning discharge. The lightning bolt heats the air around it so quickly (within a few millionths of a second) and to such a high temperature (about 10,000° C, or about 18,000° F) that the air molecules are pushed apart with great force, much like in an explosion. A wave of compressed air (a sound wave) moves out from the lightning bolt.

A lightning strike seems to be over very quickly, but thunder can last much longer, changing in pitch and loudness (see Sound). This happens for several reasons: the lightning bolt has an irregular shape; the air expands in all directions at once; lightning bolts overlap; and objects on the ground interfere with the sound. Because the lightning bolt is not straight and is at an angle to the vertical, not all parts of the bolt are the same distance from the listener, so sound from different places on the bolt reaches the listener at slightly different times. Also, sound from the far side of the lightning reaches the listener after sound from the near side. Lightning often occurs in groups of several bolts very close to each other, and sound waves from different bolts mix to form a continuous sound. Echoes from hills or other reflecting objects contribute to the rumbling effect.

Because sound travels more slowly than light, thunder is heard after the lightning is seen. The distance between an observer and the lightning bolt can be estimated by counting the number of seconds between the lightning and the thunder. The light reaches the observer almost instantaneously, but the sound travels at about 1.6 km (about 1 mi) every 5 seconds. Thunder can seldom be heard from more than 24 km (15 mi) away. (Encarta Encyclopedia)

Sep 2, 2013

Fungus - They range from tiny, single-celled organisms invisible to the naked eye to some of the largest living multi-cellular organisms.

Fungi are any member of a diverse group of organisms that—unlike plants and animals—obtain food by absorbing nutrients from an external source. The fossil record suggests that fungi were present 550 million years ago and may have evolved even earlier. Today thousands of different types of fungi grow on and absorb food from substances such as soil, wood, decaying organic matter, or living plants and other organisms. They range from tiny, single-celled organisms invisible to the naked eye to some of the largest living multi-cellular organisms. In Michigan for example, the underground portion of an individual Armillaria mushroom, a type of fungus, extends more than 12 hectares (30 acres). Other fungi are among the longest-lived organisms on Earth—some lichens, a living partnership of a fungus and an alga, are thought to be more than 4,500 years old.

A large and widely distributed group of organisms, fungi perform activities essential to the functioning of all natural ecosystems. They are among the foremost decomposers of organic matter, breaking down plant and animal remains and wastes into their chemical components. As such, fungi play a critical role in the recycling of minerals and carbon. Fungi’s value to humankind is inestimable. Certain types of fungi, including several types of mold, have proven extremely valuable in the synthesis of antibiotics and hormones used in medicine and of enzymes used in certain manufacturing processes. Some fungi, such as mushrooms and truffles, are considered tasty delicacies that enhance a wide variety of recipes. Not all fungi are beneficial—some damage agricultural crops, cause disease in animals and humans, and form poisonous toxins in food.

Sep 1, 2013

Pope Pius IX

Pope Pius IX (1792 -1878) was the head of the Catholic Church from 16 June 1846 to his death in 1878. He was the longest-reigning elected pope in the history of the Catholic Church—nearly 32 years. During his pontificate, he convened the First Vatican Council in 1869, which decreed papal infallibility.

Few popes of modern times have presided over so momentous a series of decisions and actions as Pius IX. During his reign the development of the modern papacy reached a kind of climax with the promulgation of the dogma of papal infallibility. 

It had long been taught that the church, as “the pillar and bulwark of the truth,” could not fall away from the truth of divine revelation and therefore was “indefectible” or even “infallible.” Inerrancy had likewise been claimed for the Bible by both Roman Catholic and Protestant theologians. As the visible head of that church and as the authorized custodian of the Bible, the pope had also been thought to possess a special gift of the Holy Spirit, enabling him to speak definitively on faith and morals. But this gift had not itself been identified in a definitive way.