By Sharon Weinberger Ann Finkbeiner | June 19, 2013 | 1 Comment
Ann: May I introduce my friend and colleague, Sharon Weinberger. She once wrote a book about her trips to the world’s various nuclear test sites and it sold reasonably well, probably to boys. But recently somebody else’s book, The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold History of the Women Who Helped Win World War II, hit the best-seller list, and Sharon told me she was possessed by the Great Green God of Jealousy. That’s a well-known side effect of having written any book ever, but I think in this case it’s more complicated. Dear Sharon, can you explicate?
Sharon: The Girls of Atomic City is clearly an appealing book so I don’t begrudge the author her success. But in this case, I think my jealousy is about her ability to connect with female readers. I write on science and national security, and when I look for examples of books in this area that seem to have crossed the gender barrier, I find books that are about family life or wives of scientists. Another recent example, perhaps, is the Astronauts’ Wives Club, which chronicles the wives of the men who had the “right stuff.” This goes back to the issue you raised of gender in scientists’ profiles: why do journalists ask scientists who are women about their childrearing habits? Perhaps we need to ask another question: why do we see women gravitating toward books about childrearing habits?
Ann: Because our stupid binary culture can’t handle anything more complicated?
By Christie Aschwanden | June 18, 2013 | 2 Comments
On Sunday evening, I was standing in our orchard watching the sunset when I turned around and saw a strange beam of light that appeared to rise from the east, directly opposite the setting sun. Crepuscular rays or “God’s Fingers” are pretty common around here, but usually these majestic light rays emanate from the sun. How could a sunlight radiate from a point opposite the sun?
I basked in this beguiling mystery for approximately ten seconds before my husband informed me that it was no mystery at all. “It’s just an optical illusion caused by those clouds,” he said, pointing to the storm clouds above that had been spitting out dry lightning for the past 20 minutes.
Upon further investigation, I realized that he was right. The rays we were seeing were actually parallel lines, created by sunlight pouring through gaps in the clouds. But when these straight, parallel lines get projected onto our spherical sky, they take on a circular appearance and seem to converge on the horizon in the same way that railroad tracks appear to intersect in the far-off distance. This photograph taken by the Expedition 29 crew at the International Space Station in 2011 offers a more revealing perspective. Read more…
By Cameron Walker | June 17, 2013 | No Comments
Right now, the butterfly might be coming out. Or it might not. On Thursday, my son’s preschool teacher said that Friday would be the day. On Friday, she said she hoped it would wait until Monday. She and the kids have been marking off the days since the monarch caterpillar stopped munching milkweed and spun its chrysalis.
The monarch’s chrysalis is green with a few yellow spots like a crown near the top. It hangs on the inside of a soft-sided mesh cage. Every time someone says the word butterfly, it seems, at least one kid jumps up and checks to see whether it has emerged. Waiting is very, very hard. Read more…
By Sally Adee | June 15, 2013 | No Comments
June 10 – 14
This week, LWON got a new PoLWON! (not pictured at left) Her name is Roberta Kwok and you may remember her from her intriguing guest post about how investigators solved a grisly and tragic car crash. Roberta kicked the doors down with with an amazing primer on the history of the exoplanet hunt.
Tom told us why it’s not the popcorn that makes you fat but the bag. And don’t skip the comments, in which Ann reveals the secrets to perfect diy popcorn.
Ann also teamed up with Abstruse Goose to make fun of poison ivy. (Patronising poison ivy in mid-June. Surely not a brilliant idea.)
See you next week!
By Roberta Kwok | June 14, 2013 | 1 Comment
CELESTE: How long this time?
LE GENTIL: How long will I be gone? Three years. I swear to you, Celeste, on everything that’s holy: three years, no more.
CELESTE: What if you miss it?
LE GENTIL: The transit? I won’t.
CELESTE: You missed the last one.
Venus (the small dark dot) crosses the Sun.
That lovers’ quarrel comes from Transit of Venus, a play by Maureen Hunter that chronicles French astronomer Guillaume Le Gentil’s doomed quest to see Venus crossing the Sun. Le Gentil embarked on a voyage to India in 1760 as part of an international effort to observe the transits of Venus, which occur in pairs roughly once a century. By watching these rare celestial events from far-flung points on the globe, scientists hoped to calculate the distance from the Earth to the Sun. Read more…
By Christie Aschwanden | June 13, 2013 | 1 Comment
We are overjoyed to announce that Roberta Kwok has become the newest person of LWON (or LaWONian, as some of us like to say). You’ve seen her here before. Her first guest post explained how a study to detect traffic patterns gave investigators new insight into a fatal car crash. Elsewhere, she’s written about synthetic DNA, mysterious fossils, and how plants and animals get their shapes. Her 2009 narrative about some astronomers who tracked a meteorite in real time won the the American Geophysical Union’s Walter Sullivan Award for Excellence in Science Journalism. A person of many talents, Roberta also writes beautiful fiction and she once worked as a software engineer in Silicon Valley. We’re especially grateful for her computer savvy, since she has agreed to help keep the technology behind LWON running smoothly. Roberta hails from Calgary but recently relocated from northern California to Seattle, where she’s trying not to think about the coming rainy season.
By Thomas Hayden | June 13, 2013 | 9 Comments
When I think back on the formative moments of my youth, it’s hard to top the Canada-Wide Science Fair of 1980. It was there, in Thompson, Manitoba, that I first truly experienced the transformative power of science to make daily life richer, better, more rewarding. No, it wasn’t my own engagement with the scientific method and R&D – sure, the physically accurate cloud simulation device my sister and I designed and constructed was nifty, and the experience helped shape my future education and blah blah blah. But it was the junior science on display in the booth next to ours that really changed the future for me.
I don’t remember his name, and I can’t recall where he was from. But I do remember his schematics almost well enough to sketch them for a patent application. Our neighbor’s popcorn popping optimization research went on to win first place in our division, and deservedly so. By painstakingly varying a score of conditions, from oil type and volume and preheat time to advanced notions such as pre-soaking the kernels and using a pressure cooker, my adversary simultaneously anticipated and outdid the Cook’s Illustrated trial and error approach to kitchen science. (The magazine launched the same year.) Read more…
By Richard Panek | June 12, 2013 | 3 Comments
Yesterday I confessed my fear of magicians. Today I confront that fear by going to the source: Alex Stone, a magician I met at a party who, at my prompting, was kind enough to perform an impromptu set that thrilled me but that also, on the walk home, left me feeling uneasy. I later learned that Alex is the author of Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind, a book that explains some of the hard-wiring behind the brain’s susceptibility to illusions.
Richard: Magicians scare me because they can manipulate my mind. Should I be scared? Or can you reassure me?
Alex: I don’t know how much reassurance I can offer you, given what I know about magicians. It makes sense, though. Magicians are experts in deception and lying. Some of them—most of them—do it to entertain people and make them happy. But many of the same techniques magicians use to manipulate people’s minds can also be used for more nefarious purposes, and have been. Magic also reminds us of how easy we are to fool, which is amusing but, as you noted, kind of scary, too.keep looking »