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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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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!

Genetic Engineering 101 June 9, 2008

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Diseases, Human Body, Nutrition and Health, Science in the Media, Technology, Think About It.
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Nick Kim – Genetic Engineering Cartoon

Credit: Nick Kim.

While the cartoon above by one of my favorite cartoonists – Nick Kim – might suggest I’m against the concept of genetic engineering, that isn’t exactly accurate. I’m more a fan of cautious progress, which means that I think we need to be careful about using this technology. The cartoon is a goofy one because it exaggerates some of the real concerns about genetic engineering. You might be wondering what those concerns are? Well, read on!

A Little Primer On Genetic Engineering

I figured it would be cool to give a brief primer on all of this genetic engineering stuff for those who have heard the term but maybe still aren’t too sure exactly what it means! First, think about your genes. Your genes direct lots of neat traits about you such as your eye and hair color. Genetic engineering works to meddle with the genes in an organism, which allows for control over that organism’s traits. You’re maybe thinking about this concept for humans, but the applications for genetic engineering are really diverse.

Some Potentially Good Stuff

With genetic engineering, there are some important benefits but there are also some aspects that concern scientists, researchers and many members of the public. There are even scenarios that are particularly worrisome and the cartoon above is an extreme representation of one of these consequences. But first, let’s check out some of the positive aspects.

Food is one way that genetic engineering can be used to provide benefits for humans. Through genetic engineering, we can create genetically modified organisms (GMOs). One reason scientists create GMOs is to increase the nutritional value of a food. Think about your own diet. Hopefully, you eat lots of different kinds of foods. Even if you don’t, you probably have access to variety – fruits, vegetables, meats and many more.

For a number of countries, the population there is living on a small range of staple foods. This means that they aren’t getting all of the nutrients they need for good health. However, a food such as a carrot can be engineered to have a nutrient it would not normally have or perhaps the nutrient content could be raised. GMOs can also result in fruits and vegetables that are resistant to pests and the poor weather conditions that can reduce the yields for farmers. Not only that, but genetic engineering has applications in medicine and health. Vaccines have been created by this type of technology and synthetic human insulin was developed through genetic engineering.

Uh Oh

Still, the benefits unfortunately don’t come without problems! The creation of GMOs is thought to potentially harm biodiversity, which means that there is less variety of life in the environment. Think about it – if a vegetable is engineered to be tolerant to a herbicide, the herbicide will kill weeds around the vegetable with less impact on the crop. But wait, if nearby animals feed on those weeds, they lose a valuable source of nutrition and are unable to survive. In this way, the biodiversity is harmed.

The Unexpected

Another fear is that GMOs could have unpredictable results. So, this could mean that the food might trigger allergies in a person allergic to nuts even though that person is eating soybeans. How can this happen? If a gene from nuts is inserted into soybeans – perhaps to increase the nutritional value of the soybean, then people who are allergic to nuts would think the soybean is fine to eat. Nope! The gene could prompt changes that trigger an allergic reaction.

Monsters Or Not?

Now, back to that cartoon! Ever seen the scary movie or read the book ‘Frankenstein?’ One of the perceptions of genetic engineering is that it might create a Frankenstein-like organism – a monster that has all sorts of creepy traits. While it’s true that there are issues around genetic engineering and unexpected or uncontrollable results, the comparison to Frankenstein is considered by some people to be a scare tactic that is far from accurately representing the risks of genetic engineering.

Genetic engineering is a complicated and controversial subject and you might have your own opinion about whether you support some or all of its applications. As with many types of technology, it is rapidly changing and we’re constantly learning new bits about genetic engineering. Whatever you think about it, try to get involved by learning more from the news, school, friends or your parents. One of the most powerful ways to improve the safety of genetic engineering is to be informed and challenge the stuff that worries us!

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Treating Burns With Nintendo Wii February 26, 2008

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Human Body, Technology, Think About It.
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Nintendo Wii

For most of us, the Nintendo Wii games console is a fun way to hang out and play with a cool toy. For burns victims, however, it’s a lot more than just fun! They are using a Wii as part of their physiotherapy program. In fact, it’s currently available at a physiotherapy unit in England, where burns victims and those with hand injuries get to play around with a Wii as part of their therapy.

A Positive History

Better still, the Wii already has a successful history. In Manchester, it was used to rehabilitate a boy who suffered burns after being struck by lightning. Over here where I am currently living in Wales, it was even used in a care home with the aim to keep the residents physically and mentally active. Also, in other areas of the world such as Germany and the United States, it has been used to help stroke victims regain movement in their arms and legs.

Making It Work

What’s the deal with it? Well, playing on a Wii requires the user to mimic a whole bunch of physical movements used in sports such as tennis or boxing. It’s thought that the Wii is more than just fun because it helps the user to regain flexibility in damaged areas. Since the Wii isn’t seen in the same light as traditional physiotherapy activities, patients respond favorably and simply have fun doing it, without focusing on it being a treatment.

Still, the point of the Wii isn’t to totally replace conventional physiotherapy. Instead, it’s a cool complement to the more traditional types of exercise and movement needed to help a patient improve mobility. So far, it’s looking like the response to the Wii is fabulous. Patients have improved their range of motion and strength while having a blast doing it!

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Life In A Shell February 19, 2008

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Easy As Pie, Neat Science Jobs, Science in the Media, Technology.
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Shell House 6

Future architects, take note! If you’ve ever thought that being an architect might be a cool job, I’ll give you one more reason. You can create some of the coolest designs with a bit – or a lot – of imagination and the right client.

The habitants of this very cool ‘shell house,’ are a young couple with two kids. They originally lived in a traditional house – one most of us would call normal – before deciding that they needed a change. To spice things up, they worked with an architect to create a home that was nicely tuned in with nature. The special idea was for each member of the family to feel almost like a snail, moving with ease from one room to another in the spectacular abode. The house itself is called Nautilus and was created by architects at Senosiain Arquitectos.

Credit: World Architecture News.

If you see architecture as being a job you would enjoy, the classes to focus on in high school are physics, mathematics and, of course, art. Now hop to it! I’m still hoping for a dream house made of some special melt-proof chocolate. I have faith that one day, such chocolate will exist. Perhaps I can hire one of my readers to design it for me sometime in the near future. I’ll even pay extra if you can add in some white chocolate!

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A Wooden Bicycle January 24, 2008

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Environment, Technology, Weird Gadgets.
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Marco Facciola

We’re lucky here on our earth. Why? Because we have heaps of different materials that allow us to build and create almost anything our minds can conjure up! Ever wondered how we’d fare if our wasteful ways left us with only a handful of materials?

Marco Facciola, a 16 year-old high school student in the International Baccalaureate program, was required to complete a project on a non-academic topic. As he was reflecting on a story his grandfather told – when rubber was scarce during the war and his grandfather needed wheels for a bicycle – Marco thought about building a functional wooden bicycle. The full, original article can be read here.

There were many challenges although it seems that the challenges were what made the project so exciting and interesting for Marco to complete. His biggest one proved to be the design of a wooden chain that wouldn’t break. Another challenge was budgeting for the wooden bicycle. Marco described how he didn’t want to purchase new drill bits because of his tight budget. He explains how he got creative to keep on track with his project:

I could not sharpen the bits I was using because they were Forstner drill bits. So, to prevent them from overheating and dulling, I drilled only a little at a time. I would remove the bit from the partially drilled hole and while it was still turning, I would take a bar of soap and rub it against its side to reduce the friction in the hole. This also cooled the bit slightly.

Having enjoyed woodworking and design for a long time, Marco plans to challenge himself with future projects. For now though, he is going to focus on school, his job and sports.

Credit: Lee Valley.

Taking Care Of What We Have

I think that Marco’s project shows how an open mind and hard work can allow a person to build with only one material instead of the many different materials usually required. At the same time, the project was a challenging and time-consuming one. It demonstrates how important and valuable it is to have a wide range of materials to use for building and creating the items we use in our lives. If you’re not getting my hint there, I’ll say it more clearly! Reduce, reuse and recycle!

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