Oct 26, 2013

The rainiest place on Earth

The wettest place in the world is Tutunendo, Colombia, with an average annual rainfall of 463.4 inches (1177 centimeters) per year. The place that has the most rainy days per year is Mount Waialeale (means ‘rippling water’) on Kauai, Hawaii. It has up to 350 rainy days annually.

In contrast the longest rainless period in the world was from October, 1903, to January, 1918, at Arica, Chile - a period of 14 years. In the United States the longest dry spell was 767 days at Bagdad, California, from October 3, 1912, to November 8, 1914. (The Handy Science Answer Book, compiled by the Science and Technology department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh)

Oct 17, 2013

Fungal Diseases of Plants

Most types of plant-related diseases are caused by fungi. The leaves of this plant have been infected by tar-spot fungus. Fungi can infect all parts of the plant including leaves, stems, flowers, roots, and fruit. The physical manifestations of fungal diseases of plants include wilting, club root, root rot, wood rot, cankers, various types of mildews, blights, lesions, and leaf spots. The effects of fungal diseases can be devastating as evidenced by the potato blight that destroyed the Irish potato harvest of 1845 and caused a widespread famine in Ireland. (Encarta Encyclopedia) 

Oct 16, 2013


Geometry is a branch of mathematics that deals with shapes and sizes. Geometry may be thought of as the science of space. Just as arithmetic deals with experiences that involve counting, so geometry describes and relates experiences that involve space. Basic geometry allows us to determine properties such as the areas and perimeters of two-dimensional shapes and the surface areas and volumes of three-dimensional shapes. People use formulas derived from geometry in everyday life for tasks such as figuring how much paint they will need to cover the walls of a house or calculating the amount of water a fish tank holds.

Geometry combines simple conceptual building blocks to construct complex logical structures. These building blocks include undefined terms, defined terms, and postulates. Combining these components creates chains of reasoning that support conclusions called theorems.

Undefined terms
Some concepts central to geometry are not defined in terms of simpler concepts. The most familiar of these undefined terms are point, line, and plane.

Oct 15, 2013

What Matter Is Made Of

The best analogy for how we are coming to understand matter is the peeling of an onion. We peel off one layer and penetrate to a deeper one, only to discover that there is yet another to work on. The first layer was peeled off our onion in 1805, when British chemist John Dalton published the modern atomic theory of matter. He showed that the enormous variety of substances that surround us is made up of only a few different chemical elements, each of which has its own type of atom. In the early twentieth century the second layer was peeled off when the structure of the atom was revealed. All of the different kinds of atoms, it was argued, were made up of only three kinds of elementary particles – protons and neutrons in the nucleus and electrons orbiting the nucleus; this picture of the atom would become more or less standard. For a while, its inherent simplicity seemed to be clouded when it was found that there were not just two types of particles inside the nucleus, but hundreds. Most of these appeared and disappeared too quickly to be seen, but they could be produced independently in accelerators.

In the mid-1960s, yet another layer was peeled off. It was pointed out that the myriad elementary particles are actually made up of a small number of still more basic entities called quarks. Quarks are held together by particles called gluons -- they're the Elmer's that keeps the three quarks of a proton or neutron together. Scientists believe that these particles derive from an even more basic form of matter called quark-gluon plasma, a primordial soup that made up the universe ten millionths of a second after the Big Bang. As things cooled down, this liquid went through "hadronization," hardening into protons and neutrons, which in turn coalesced first into nuclei, then into atoms. After that, the atoms came together to form molecules, which eventually transformed into you, this book, and the easy chair you're sitting in. At least, that's the theory. (‘An Incomplete Education’, by Judy Jones and William Wilson)

Oct 14, 2013

What on Earth? – a helping hand

Not all inventions change our lives, some just make us scratch our heads.

For all those waiters rushed off their feet, Philip Garner (U.S.) has invented this helping hand. Although unable to snap fingers for the busboy, it is ambidextrous. (‘Inventions and Discoveries’)

Oct 13, 2013

Human beings are virtually identical to one another at the level of genes

In our own genetic profile, believe it or not, scientific evidence indicates that we humans share 99.4 percent of our total DNA sequences with the chimpanzees. This doesn’t mean, of course, that humans are direct descendants from our tree-swinging friends, but it does emphasize that the genius of our molecular code is supported by eons of nature’s greatest evolutionary effort. Our human code was not a random act, at least not in its entirety, but rather is better constructed as nature’s ever-evolving quest for a body of genetic perfection.

As members of the same human species, you and I share all but 0.01 percent (1/100th of 1 percent) of identical genetic sequences. So biologically, as species, you and I are virtually identical to one another at the level of genes (99.99 percent). Looking around at the diversity within our human race, it is obvious that 0.01 percent accounts for a significant difference in how we look, think and behave. (‘My Stroke of Insight’, by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.)

Oct 12, 2013

Viruses are not considered living organisms

Because they are unable to accomplish life's processes by themselves, viruses are not considered living organisms. They are able to metabolize and reproduce only when they are within living cells. Thus, all viruses are parasites, and many of them cause disease.

Much smaller than the smallest bacteria, most viruses consist only of a strand or two of a nucleic acid – DNA or RNA - wrapped in a protein coat. Some also have a lipid envelope outside the coat. A virus reproduces and spreads because once its nucleic acid is inside a cell, the virus uses the cell's own DNA to produce additional copies of itself. (‘The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge’)

Oct 11, 2013

Fur and feathers for protection … and

Mammals have fur and birds have feathers for protection. What covers butterflies and moths?
Answer: Butterflies and moths are covered with colored scales. (Science Challenge, by E. John De Waard and Nancy De Waard)

Oct 10, 2013

The Origin of Language

The use of language is one of the key characteristics that distinguish Homo sapiens from other primates. Because no direct evidence of language exists in the fossil record, researchers have had a difficult time inferring its development. Fortunately, the evolutionary history of the human brain and throat offers some insight.

The human brain plays a vital role in the production and comprehension of language; therefore, the emergence of language capabilities should be reflected somehow in changes to the brain's structure. If this is true, the fossil record can help. Although brain tissue doesn't fossilize, surviving crania can be used to make endocasts, which reveal the shape of the brain that the cranium being cast once held. Because studies of modern human brains have identified the areas where speech production and language comprehension take place, researchers using endocasts can trace the development of these areas over time.

Differences observed in the throat anatomies of modern humans and primates have also aided researches in making inferences about the development of language capabilities. The larynx, for example, occupies a lower position in the human throat than it does in the throats of other primates. This arrangement makes possible the large human pharynx, which produces the relatively wide variety of sounds used in human speech. There is, however, a strong disadvantage to this arrangement: a greatly increased risk of choking while eating or drinking. Therefore, language must have been a strongly advantageous trait; otherwise, the increased incidence of choking would have ensured its elimination through the process of natural selection.

Oct 9, 2013

It takes less energy to be a healthy person than to be a sick one

How would you experience optimal efficiency of your healing system? Very likely you would not be aware of it, because we tend to pay little attention to our health when it is good. You would recover speedily from illness and heal from injuries uneventfully. Ordinary stresses of everyday life might annoy you but would not derange your digestion or blood pressure. Sleep would be restful, sex enjoyable. Aging of your body would occur gradually, allowing you to moderate your activity appropriately and live out a normal life span without undue discomfort. You would not contract heart disease or cancer in middle age, be crippled by arthritis in later life, or lose your mind to premature senility.

This scenario is realistic and, I think, worth working for. Actually, the body wants to be healthy, because health represents efficient operation of all of its systems. A useful analogy is the engine of a far. When all components are doing what they should be doing in just the right way, efficiency is maximal, and operation is quiet, producing a "contented" purr that you rarely notice. An engine that calls attention to itself by sounding noisy and rough, hocking, and expelling black smoke is not efficient. Since efficiency is the ratio of work done to energy supplied, the sick engine is working harder to accomplish less. In a similar way it takes less energy to be a healthy person than to be a sick one, and just as a driver may not pay attention to the sound of a well-running engine, people may not be aware of the condition of good health until it breaks down. A program to boost the efficiency of the healing system will not necessarily produce immediately noticeable changes. It is a long-term investment in the future of the body. (Andrew Weil, M.D., ‘Spontaneous Healing’)

Oct 8, 2013

“Wise Women” - their contributions to health and healing

Most medical histories chronicle great discoveries by great men, from Hippocrates, the father of medicine, to Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin. Their contributions should not be underestimated, but from ancient times down to the present day, a relatively small number of male physicians have made the great discoveries and ministered to the kings and princes, while an enormous number of women herbalists have taken care of everyone else.

Women healers have gone by many names: midwives, wise women, green women, witches, old wives, and nurses. Most physicians have never taken women's folk healing very seriously, and scientists often dismiss folk wisdom as "old wives' tales."

But the fact is, medically untrained women still provide most of the world's primary care. Even in the United States, most people view physicians as the health-care choice of last resort. The medical profession promotes the idea that family doctors are our "primary providers," but studies show that before people call health professionals, about 90 percent consult a friend or family member, and those "health advisers" are overwhelmingly women.

Not only that, women have always been the primary consumers of health care. Today women account for an estimated two-thirds of all physician visits and three-quarters of all prescriptions. It's no coincidence many herbs were used historically to calm the womb, trigger menstruation, induce abortion, promote or dry up mothers' milk, and treat infant colic and infectious diarrhea (still a leading cause of infant death in the Third World). These were the daily concerns women patients brought to their women healers.

Oct 7, 2013

The original use of the word “chaos”

In Greek mythology, Chaos was the primal void that gave birth to Gaea (Earth), Tartarus (Infernal Regions), Eros (Love), Erebus (Darkness), and Nyx (Night). (The Book of Answers, by Barbara Berliner)

Oct 6, 2013

On the back of the US $1 bill, what do the words “Annuit Coeptis” mean?

The motto above the eye on the dollar bill means, ''He [God] Favored Our Undertakings." The eye represents the all-seeing deity. The pyramid symbolizes strength; it is unfinished to suggest the work ahead. (The Book of Answers, by Barbara Berliner)

Oct 5, 2013

How Tuesday got its name

The Romans named the third day of the week dies Martis, for Mars, the god of war. It is still known as mardi in French and as martes in Spanish. The Germanic people used the name of their own war god, Tiu -- giving us the name Tuesday.

A few Tuesdays have special importance. The Tuesday after the first Monday in November is Election Day in the United States. People go to the polls to choose the officials who will run the government.

In the Christian calendar, Shrove Tuesday comes right before Lent, -- the 40-day period of prayer and fasting that leads up to Easter. It's -- the last chance for people to eat, drink, and make merry. In days gone by, people tried to use up all the butter and other fats they had on this day because they would have to give up fats during Lent. Rich, buttery foods became a Shrove Tuesday tradition. So this day is also known as Pancake Tuesday, and as Fat Tuesday (or Mardi Gras, in French).

Today some cities still hold Mardi Gras parades and festivals. The Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans is one of the most famous. But most Tuesdays are just ordinary days. And Tuesdays of the past were pretty dull: Just as Monday was washday, Tuesday was ironing day. (Grolier New Book of Knowledge Encyclopedia)

Oct 4, 2013

Diet and High Blood Pressure

  • Incidence of high blood pressure in meat eaters compared to vegetarians: Nearly triple
  • Incidence of very high blood pressure in meat eaters compared to vegetarians: 13 times higher
  • Patients with high blood pressure who achieve substantial improvement by switching to a vegetarian diet: 30-75 percent
  • What patients are typically told when prescribed medications for high blood pressure: "You’ll probably need to take these for the rest of your life."
  • Patients with high blood pressure who are able to completely discontinue use of medications after adopting a low-sodium, low-fat, high-fiber vegetarian diet: 58 percent
  • Incidence of high blood pressure among senior citizens in United States: More than 50 percent
  • Incidence of high blood pressure among senior citizens in countries eating traditional low-fat plant based diets: Virtually none (‘The Food Revolution: how your diet can help save your life and our world’, by John Robbins)

Oct 3, 2013

The actual shape of a raindrop

Although a raindrop has been illustrated as being pear-shaped or tear-shaped, high-speed photographs reveal that a large raindrop has a spherical shape with a hole not quite through it (giving it a doughnut-like shape). Water surface tension pulls the drop into this shape. As a drop larger than 0.08 inches (2 millimeters) in diameter falls, it will become distorted. Air pressure flattens its bottom and its sides bulge. If it becomes larger than 0.25 inches (6.4 millimeters) across, it will keep spreading crosswise as it falls and will bulge more at its sides, while at the same time, its middle will thin into a bow-tie shape. Eventually in its path downward, it will divide into two smaller spherical drops. (The Handy Science Answer Book, compiled by the Science and Technology department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh)

Oct 2, 2013

Naming hurricanes and tropical storms

Since 1950, hurricane names are officially selected from library sources and are decided during the international meetings of the World Meteorological Organization (WHO). The names are chosen to reflect the cultures and languages found in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Hawaiian regions. The National Hurricane Center near Miami, Florida, selects the name from one of the six listings for Region 4 (Atlantic and Caribbean area) when a tropical storm with rotary action and wind speeds above 39 miles (62 kilometers) per hour develops. Letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z are not included because of the scarcity of names beginning with those letters. Once a storm has done great damage, its name is retired from the six-year list cycle. (The Handy Science Answer Book, compiled by the Science and Technology department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh)

Oct 1, 2013

Is Chicago the windiest city in the US?

In 1990 Chicago ranked 21st in the list of 68 windy cities with an average wind speed of 10.3 miles (16.6 kilometers) per hour. Cheyenne, Wyoming, with an average wind speed of 12.9 miles ( 20.8 kilometers) per hour, ranks number one, closely followed by Great Falls, Montana, with an average wind speed of 12.8 miles (20.6 kilometers) per hour. The highest surface wind ever recorded was on Mount Washington, New Hampshire, at an elevation of 6288 feet (1.9 kilometers). On April 12, 1934 its wind was 231 miles (371.7 kilometers) per hour and its average wind speed was 35 miles (56.3 kilometers) per hour. (The Handy Science Answer Book, compiled by the Science and Technology department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh)