10 New Discoveries That Will Blow Your Mind
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But what exactly is a flame?
Once you get past answers like, “That thing on the end of a candle,” and “fire,” and realize those don’t really tell you what a flame is you see that it’s not that easy a question to answer. Alan Alda’s teacher failed to answer it adequately for him when he was 11 and lucky thing for us. The question spurred Alda, renowned actor, science advocate and co-founder of the Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University to put on the Flame Challenge, a contest to see who could best explain what a flame is to an 11-year-old ( here’s Alda talking about the contest on Science Friday in March ).
The NY Times’ Kenneth Chang reports that the contest drew 800 entries from 30 countries, was judged by 11-year-olds and the winner, Ben Ames, a native of Kansas City, Mo. explained it the way everything should be explained: with a cartoon. Not a dopey cartoon either -- here it is on YouTube -- but one in which the narrator is explaining to a man in hell what all those flames around him actually are. I’d try to translate it but there’s a reason Ames, a physics graduate student at the University of Innsbruck, won the contest so you should watch the animation. You will find yourself looking for reasons to use the word “chemiluminescence” when you’re done and feeling smart to the point of smug every time you look at a lit birthday cake.
8. Pot without the high?
Speaking of getting lit...or not...a group of Israeli scientists have cultivated a marijuana plant that doesn’t get you high. Perhaps next on their agenda: silent music, taste-free chocolate and a way to have sex without those nuisance orgasms.
The AFP reports that the new cannabis plant has none of the effects brought on by THC, tetrahydrocannabinol. Tzahi Klein, head of development at Tikkun Olam, the company that developed it, said it would bring about none of the “numbing sensations” that pot usually does. The Maariv Daily newspaper reported that the company sought to reduce the THC effect and increase the effect of “CBD, or cannabidiol, which has been shown to help diabetics and to ease various psychiatric disorders.” It also doesn’t give you the munchies.
So it sounds like the pot equivalent of Dayquil: all the effects, none of the bleariness. Okay, I get that. Some people like to take medication and still feel clear-headed. They might be piloting the Exxon Valdez or something. None of my business, really.
I’m a Nyquil girl myself. The slowing, sleepy comforts of some medications are bonus gifts, especially if you’re not feeling well. They’re the very definition, in fact, of the consolation prize.
9. Truly gifted
As well as wonderful, gifts can be weird. Awkward. A friend once gave me a gift certificate for a free massage but I was afraid to use it because I couldn’t afford to tip the masseur.
Some quandary, right? NASA must have gotten to experience it recently when, as Time’s Michael Lemonick reported, the space agency got the spectacular gift of not one but “two pristine, Hubble-class space telescopes still in their original wrappings” which were meant for the National Reconnaissance Office, the agency in charge of intelligence satellites.
Pretty fab, especially since one of the items on the Decadel Survey, an astronomer’s wish-list annually presented to NASA, is a Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, WFIRST, which would have a wider field than Hubble’s and be sensitive to infrared light from new planets and galaxies. One of the gift telescopes could be re-outfitted with the right equipment to enable it to “capture images of Jupiter-like planets around nearby stars and possibly Earth-like planets as well — an achievement astronomers thought wouldn't be possible until late in the 2020s.” Using one of the new telescopes as a base would mean one third to half the cost of such a telescope would be already paid for.