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Humans Bite Harder Than Vampires April 21, 2010

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Book Reviews, Brain Power, Forensic Science, Human Body, Think About It.
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Tiko is wide-eyed with fright! What is scaring him? Could it be a vampire?

When National Geographic asked me to review their new book called Vampire Forensics, I had to ask myself if I had the guts to do it! As a self-proclaimed scaredy-cat, I wasn’t sure if learning about the origins of vampires would be something my timid self could take. Worse still was what happened when I attempted to grab Tiko for comfort. Once he heard me say “vampire,” he raced into the wardrobe and refused to emerge.

Like many people, I’m fascinated by popular vampire culture, from entertaining television shows to famous books such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The question that remains is – where did it all start and how did it become what it is today? And maybe the second question I had when I started reading Vampire Forensics was whether this book was a bite I could handle. Let’s find out!

Disease, Death And Burial

Researched and edited by Mark Jenkins, Vampire Forensics traces the history of vampire culture. Early on in the book, Jenkins writes about a mysterious, 16th century skull discovered in Venice that was thought to be the remains of a female vampire. The skull was buried with a brick jammed in its mouth, which people thought would stop the vampire from rising up to feed on others. In other areas of the book, diseases such as the plague or tuberculosis are linked to vampire myths, mostly due to signs of the disease such as paleness and the fact victims would waste away. Jenkins also goes on to merge ideas about burial and death with vampire culture.

While I expected a lot on forensics, this part of the book fell short. Instead, I read about all kinds of folklore that were scattered together without the structure a reader needs to make sense of it all. Where historical facts were relayed, these suggested a possible link to vampires, without the real forensic guts to strengthen the connection. It felt a bit like the writer was grasping at straws by choosing many random stories and trying to tie them in with vampire culture.

Poor Tiko is afraid of vampires. Perhaps if I read Vampire Forensics to him, he will learn they are not real. Now, I just have to figure out how to get him out of the wardrobe!

Still, there are heaps of fun tales and facts that kept the book interesting right to the end. I did shudder at some of the gory bits but in a sense, this is part of the appeal when it comes to vampires. People like to be afraid and they like the intrigue of the unknown.

Can You Handle It?

Who will like this book? Well, it’s not a book for my younger readers and even then, will probably only interest a select group of my teen readers. The graphic prose and macabre tales are gruesome at times. But for those who perhaps truly do fear vampires, this book brings that fear to a much less frightening reality. We learn how events that are most definitely of the human kind fueled the myths and fantasy that make up vampire culture today. While the book didn’t give much of a vampire bite, it left some strong human tooth marks. Ironically, I think readers may be left fearing humans far more than vampires.

Science Gets Pretty November 30, 2009

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Brain Power, Easy As Pie, Human Body.
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Science can be a lot of things – including being pretty as I found out in a recent contest here on the blog. I asked readers to tell me about the weird and wacky science things they had seen or learned about, whether that was at school or on their own.

While I was impressed with all of the entries, the winning one I liked because it was about everyday science. It really represents something simple but still very random and cool. And, as I mentioned, something pretty – a beauty aid, in fact! Maybe best of all, it’s about discovery, one of my favorite aspects of science.

The winning entry goes to Michelle of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her prize is the new Seeing is Believing book by Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Here’s part of what Michelle had to say:

You know the aspirin for headaches? My mum crushes it up with water and puts it on her face. It’s weird but she says it helps her spots. She said if I get spots it will get rid of them. She doesn’t know why it works but says her friends use it too and they told her about it.

The Science Of Aspirin

Hmmm – so what is it in aspirin that would potentially help skin? It’s possibly the ingredient acetylsalicylic acid. Many cosmetic face creams and products today use salicylic acid to exfoliate the face and improve skin tone and clarity. How this has become the trendy skin treatment is beyond me though!

Careful With Your Skin

I wouldn’t personally recommend you use aspirin on your face – mostly because it’s not meant for your skin and could be irritating to people, especially if your skin is sensitive. But it’s still a neat example of how science fits into daily life. Thanks Michelle and enjoy your book!

Don’t Believe Everything You See September 15, 2009

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Brain Power, Easy As Pie, Environment, Human Body, Ocean, Psychology and Behavior, Technology.
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1 comment so far
Tiko looks like hes immersed in the new Ripleys book.  But looks can be deceiving!  We all know dogs cant read although maybe theres a nice, sausage picture that has captivated Tiko!

Tiko looks like he's immersed in the new Ripley's book. But looks can be deceiving! We all know dogs can't read. Hmmm, perhaps Tiko is captivated by the cheddar cheese carving on page 130 of the book. Tiko loves cheese!

Should you believe everything you see? Well, in the case of the Ripley’s book that I was recently sent to review, you can believe most of it! The new Seeing is Believing book by Ripley’s Believe It or Not is a bright, colorful book with a rather creepy but intriguing eyeball on the cover.

Over the course of the last few weeks, my favorite magazines – BBC Focus, Scientific American and New Scientist – along with various other science books strewn around have been glanced at and quickly dismissed by friends and family who pop over (how cheeky!). Yet when they see the glossy Ripley’s cover, virtually all of them do what I might begin to now coin the Ripley’s Rxn, which involves a lingering look, followed by a gleeful exclamation of “Ooooh cool.”

What does this tell me?

No matter what age, people like weird stuff and they like simplicity. Ripley’s manages to do both and do it creatively in a way that speaks to young and old alike. My excited thirty-one-year-old friend enjoyed the book as did his nine-year-old son.

After all that pretending to read, Tiko awaits a liver treat for his hard work.  Being an actor sure isnt easy!

After all that pretending to read, Tiko awaits a liver treat for his hard work. I'll bet he's thinking that being an actor sure isn't easy!

Just how much of the new Ripley’s book is believable though? While the publishers do put a disclaimer that they aren’t responsible for the accuracy of the book, it’s still reasonably expected that the tidbits of information are true. Not so. I spotted a headline titled Glandular Fever. Of course, my UK readers will likely recognize this as the term for what we call infectious mononucleosis or mono here in North America. It’s caused by the Epstein Barr virus and because it can be transmitted through saliva, it’s often called the kissing disease as well.

Expecting to read about mono, I was surprised to read about a woman who had an imbalance of hormones that caused her to experience excessive hair growth all over her body. My sense is that Glandular Fever was meant to be a catchy title but nobody realized it was the term for another health condition.

Still, a minor inaccuracy or few doesn’t at all break the fantastic impact and enjoyment of this quirky book, but it’s perhaps a reminder to kids and adults that there is a lot more to science than meets the eye.

Find out more at the Ripley’s website.

A Weird Science Contest: Win The New Ripley’s Book!

I like contests. Do you? If so, I want to invite my readers to send an email telling me about the grossest or weirdest thing they’ve ever seen in science. It could be something from science class or maybe just a creepy picture of a bug. If you do send a picture, make sure you include a description of why you think it’s so weird! Anyone aged ten to sixteen can enter. The contest closes on the 15th of October, 2009.

Send your stories and pictures to mina@weirdscience.ca and I’ll share the winning entry in November on the blog here. Plus, I will also mail you the new Seeing is Believing book by Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Please include your:

  • Name
  • Age

Please also get permission from your parents before entering. Any entries from under 13s must be done through a parent’s email address and must also include a telephone contact number for the parent. If you’re a winner, either you or your parents will be contacted for a mailing address to receive your Ripley’s book.

Good luck!

Science And Art Make A Delicious Cookie August 31, 2009

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Brain Power, Easy As Pie, Human Body.
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1 comment so far

At first glance, I was actually a bit creeped out to see a favorite cookie of mine dissected to show the innards of a human! But this super cool image is the creation of an artist, illustrator and self-proclaimed “crazy person” named Jason Freeny.

What I like most of all when I see this kind of stuff is that it comes from an imaginative place. While science is full of theories and information, it takes a vivid, explorative imagination to bring this to visual life in a way that makes us stop and say “wow.” When I asked Jason about his interest in the human body and science, he replied:

The intricacy fascinates me.

Now, I only wish my high school textbooks had pictures like this way back when I was in school. Well, not that way back. I wonder if this particular gingerbread man has a few gray hairs hiding under his sugary, baked crust.

A Clever Condom August 13, 2009

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Brain Power, Diseases, Human Body, Think About It.
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Most teens today are probably familiar with how condoms work. If you’re sexually active, you already know that condoms can help to protect you from sexually transmitted diseases and also reduce the likelihood of an unwanted pregnancy.

But, researchers at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, United States, are trying to create a new gel that acts like a condom. Sounds a bit strange, doesn’t it? Yet if all goes well, this new gel could be a surprisingly clever weapon against semen and any bacteria or viruses contained within it! This includes viruses such as HIV.

Creating A Trap

Standard condoms protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.  In developing countries, women need cheaper options that give them control over their sexual health.

Standard condoms protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. But in developing countries, women need cheaper options that give them control over their sexual health.

When you picture a condom, you likely picture something more solid, while a gel would be softer, wouldn’t it? Not always so. This particular gel is a liquid when it’s in contact with the vagina – a highly acidic environment. Once alkaline semen makes its way in there though, the gel turns solid. In fact, any particles that are bigger than 50 nanometres are trapped. This includes semen, HIV and even viruses such as the herpes virus.

Getting It Right

This research team isn’t the first to try making a gel to combat HIV. Unfortunately, other teams haven’t been successful at creating an effective gel to protect women against HIV. In fact, one study found that the gel actually increased the rate of HIV infection. You can see that it’s a tough task to get it right.

It’s Not For You

Why isn’t this condom for you? It’s not that you shouldn’t be using one, of course. Researchers are working on this new condom mostly for women in countries where HIV is common. They also want this condom to be a low-cost alternative for women to get protection if their partner won’t wear a condom. In this way, women can take control of their sexual health.

Pick and Choose

With most of my readers being in the United States, Canada and Britain, you can pick and choose from a number of birth control options and condoms. For many of you, these will be provided without cost through your school or sexual health clinics. We’re lucky here to have access to all of these choices. We also live in a society where you can say “no” to sex without a condom and generally, our culture is one where your choice is respected.

So, shouldn’t women all around the world have choices too?

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