Archive for ‘Science’

June 9, 2020


Guano Islands Act

Guano [gwah-noh] is the accumulated excrement of seabirds and bats. As a manure, guano is a highly effective fertilizer due to its exceptionally high content of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium: key nutrients essential for plant growth. Guano was also, to a lesser extent, sought for the production of gunpowder and other explosive materials.

The 19th-century guano trade played a pivotal role in the development of modern input-intensive farming, but its demand began to decline after the discovery of the Haber–Bosch process of nitrogen fixing led to the production of synthetic fertilizers. The demand for guano spurred the human colonization of remote bird islands in many parts of the world, resulting in some of the first examples of U.S. colonialism and the expansion of the British Empire.

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May 29, 2020

South Atlantic Anomaly

Van Allen radiation belt

The South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA) is an area where the Earth’s inner Van Allen radiation belt (a protective zone of energetic charged particles originating from the solar wind that are captured by Earth’s magnetic field) comes closest to the Earth’s surface, dipping down to an altitude of 120 miles. This leads to an increased flux of energetic particles in this region and exposes orbiting satellites to higher-than-usual levels of radiation.

The effect is caused by the non-concentricity of the Earth and its magnetic dipole. The SAA is the near-Earth region where the Earth’s magnetic field is weakest relative to an idealized Earth-centered dipole field.

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May 12, 2020


Castillo de San Marco 1677

Coquina [koh-kee-nuh] is a sedimentary rock that is composed either wholly or almost entirely of the transported, abraded, and mechanically-sorted fragments of the shells of mollusks, trilobites, brachiopods, or other invertebrates. The term coquina comes from the Spanish word for ‘cockle’ and ‘shellfish.’

Coquinas accumulate in high-energy marine and lacustrine environments where currents and waves result in the vigorous winnowing, abrasion, fracturing, and sorting of the shells that compose them. As a result, they typically exhibit well-developed bedding or cross-bedding, close packing, and good orientation of the shell fragments. The high-energy marine or lacustrine (lake) environments associated with coquinas include beaches, shallow submarine raised banks, swift tidal channels, and barrier bars.

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April 16, 2020


Skylon by George Morrow

Tensegrity [ten-seg-ri-tee], tensional integrity or floating compression is a structural principle based on a system of isolated components under compression inside a network of continuous tension, and arranged in such a way that the compressed members (usually bars or struts) do not touch each other while the prestressed tensioned members (usually cables or tendons) delineate the system spatially.

The term was coined by inventor Buckminster Fuller in the 1960s as a portmanteau of ‘tensional integrity.’ The other denomination of tensegrity, floating compression, was used mainly by the constructivist artist Kenneth Snelson. Shorter columns or struts in compression are stronger than longer ones. This in turn led Fuller to make claims that tensegrity structures could be scaled up to cover whole cities.

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April 7, 2020


Entourage effect

Terpenes [tur-peens] are a large and diverse class of organic compounds (carbon-based chemicals), produced by a variety of plants, particularly conifers (evergreens), and by some insects. They often have a strong odor and may protect the plants that produce them by deterring herbivores and by attracting predators and parasites of herbivores.

Terpenes have gained public awareness through the growth and education of medical and recreational cannabis. Organizations and companies operating in cannabis markets have pushed education and marketing of terpenes in their products as a way to differentiate taste and effects of cannabis. The entourage effect, which describes the synergy of cannabinoids, terpenes, and other plant compounds, has also helped further awareness and demand for terpenes in cannabis products.

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March 29, 2020

Maillard Reaction

Louis Camille Maillard

The Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned food its distinctive flavor. Seared steaks, fried dumplings, cookies, and other kinds of breads, toasted marshmallows, and many other foods undergo this reaction. It is named after French chemist Louis-Camille Maillard, who first described it in 1912 while attempting to reproduce biological protein synthesis (how the body combines amino acids to form proteins).

The reaction is a form of non-enzymatic browning which typically proceeds rapidly from around 280 to 330 °F. Many recipes call for an oven temperature high enough to ensure that a Maillard reaction occurs. At higher temperatures, caramelization (the browning of sugars, a distinct process) and subsequently pyrolysis (final breakdown leading to burning) become more pronounced.

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March 6, 2020

Musica Universalis

Harmonices Mundi

The musica universalis (literally ‘universal music’), also called ‘music of the spheres’ or ‘harmony of the spheres,’ is an ancient philosophical concept that regards proportions in the movements of celestial bodies—the Sun, Moon, and planets—as a form of music. This ‘music’ is not thought to be audible, but rather a harmonic, mathematical, or religious concept.

The idea continued to appeal to scholars until the end of the Renaissance, influencing many kinds of scholars, including humanists. Further scientific exploration discovered orbital resonance in specific proportions in some orbital motion.

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February 15, 2020

Message in a Bottle

MS. Found in a Bottle

message in a bottle is a form of communication in which a message is sealed in a container (typically a bottle) and released into a conveyance medium (typically a body of water).

Messages in bottles have been used to send distress messages, in crowdsourced scientific studies of ocean currents, as memorial tributes, to send deceased loved ones’ ashes on a final journey, to convey expedition reports, and to carry letters or reports from those believing themselves to be doomed. Invitations to prospective pen pals and letters to actual or imagined love interests have also been sent as messages in bottles.

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February 3, 2020


World Soundscape Project

soundwalk is a walk with a focus on listening to the environment. The term was first used by members of the World Soundscape Project under the leadership of composer R. Murray Schafer in Vancouver in the 1970s.

Hildegard Westerkamp, from the same group of artists, defines soundwalking as ‘… any excursion whose main purpose is listening to the environment. It is exposing our ears to every sound around us no matter where we are.’

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January 28, 2020

Saturn’s Hexagon

Saturn's hexagon

Saturn’s hexagon is a persisting hexagonal cloud pattern around the north pole of Saturn. The sides of the hexagon are about 9,000 miles long, which is more than the diameter of Earth. The hexagon is about 18,000 miles wide, may be 190 miles high, and may be a jet stream made of atmospheric gases moving at 200 mph.

It rotates with a period of 10h 39m 24s, the same period as Saturn’s radio emissions from its interior. The hexagon does not shift in longitude like other clouds in the visible atmosphere.

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November 17, 2019


From Cliché to Archetype

Bromide [broh-mahyd] in literary usage means a phrase, cliché, or platitude that is trite or unoriginal. It can be intended to soothe or placate; it can suggest insincerity or a lack of originality in the speaker. It can also refer to a commonplace or tiresome person, a bore.

A now outdated usage of ‘bromide’ is a photographic print, stemming from the use of silver bromide in photographic films, emulsions and papers. Its original usage was as a chemical term, referring to bromine salts.

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August 8, 2019



Autorhythmicity [aw-toh-rith-miss-uh-tee], or automaticity, refers to the heart’s ability to spontaneously generate an electric charge without outside help. Cardiac electrical activity originates in the sinoatrial node (SAN) and is propagated via the ‘His-Purkinje’ network, the fastest conduction pathway within the heart. This pathway is known as the electrical conduction system of the heart.

The electrical signal travels from the SAN, which stimulates the atria to contract, to the atrioventricular node (AVN), which slows down conduction of the action potential from the atria to the ventricles. This delay allows the ventricles to fully fill with blood before contraction. The signal then passes down through a bundle of fibers called the ‘bundle of His,’ located between the ventricles, and then to the ‘purkinje’ fibers at the bottom (apex) of the heart, causing ventricular contraction.

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