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2017 Cool Science Gift Guide

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If it nerds, gift it! At last! Our seasonal round up of online gifting opportunities that will tickle the corners of your nearest and dearest science nerd’s heart. Although there’s a plethora of tacky science stuff out there—hanging a caffeine molecule on a pendant chain is so last year, and not at all scientific IMHO—I’ve… Read More »2017 Cool Science Gift Guide

Scientist holding large rodent.

In case you were wondering: HeroRATs

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APOPO rat holds a snack in its pawsWe first squealed with delight over the APOPO HeroRATs in a cool science gifts post waaaaaay back in November 2014. Always on the lookout for science treasures, we couldn’t help but introduce the amazing impact the rats’ olfactory abilities were making in mine detection and tuberculosis screening in Africa.

Oh, and the cute! Valentine’s Day is coming soon…

We adopted a couple of the rodents (Hans and Gertie), added APOPO Hero Gifts to our browser bookmarks and sent some virtual baskets of bananas to our nearests and dearests. With regular updates from our adoptees, APOPO is never far from our hearts and minds.

So, what have the giant pouched rodents-of-unusual-size been up to since then? We thought you’d like to share in the awesomeness (and of course the cuteness—squee!) of this amazing organization.

Read More »In case you were wondering: HeroRATs

Up, up and away: The coolness of vanishing helium

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Helium. The supercool supercoolant—the gas that keeps party balloons aloft, carries entire houses all the way to Paradise Falls and turns humans briefly into chipmunks—is vanishing. Leaking out of colourful balloons, helium molecules rise up through the atmosphere and disappear into space. Although it’s one of the most abundant elements in the visible universe, it’s rare on Earth, and a non-renewable resource. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Should we worry? Poof! and no more birthday balloons bobbing overhead. Would that be such a bad thing? Well, the ocean life currently struggling with mylar and latex trash might celebrate, but the rest of us could miss this amazing element—it’s much more valuable than just as a filler for gaudy party tchotchkes.

Read More »Up, up and away: The coolness of vanishing helium

Celebrating Frances Oldham Kelsey for Ada Lovelace Day

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Ada Byron aged 17

Every year, Ada Lovelace Day rolls around, reminding the world that yes, we do need to reach out in support of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). To defend this assertion, this year I’m only putting forward two pieces of evidence: #timhunt and #shirtgate, both of which happened in the year since the last Ada Lovelace Day.

And with that justification, here’s my contribution, countering the seemingly ingrained misogyny within the world of STEM with my celebration of female contributions to science.

In 1960, Canadian pharmacist and physician Frances Oldham Kelsey was hired by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in Washington, D.C., to review drug applications for licensing in the United States. Since Kelsey had experience in placental drug transfer, teratogens and pharmaceutical safety, it is perhaps fitting that one of the first drug approvals to land on her desk was Richardson-Merrell’s application for thalidomide.

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Enchantment and wonderland: 4D LABS

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4D Labs. Image E. Rickert.

Scientists aren’t as uptight or as mad as the stereotypical personalities shown in popular media. No, they buy burgers for the BBQ, drop off dry cleaning and use public transit—just like everybody else. I know for a fact that some even go “squee!”…but not so much over kittens (okay, maybe about kittens too).

So, how do I know about the “squee!” bit?

Well, a couple of weeks ago I was guilty of a squee! and so were two other Talk Science to Me team members, mastermind Eve Rickert and associate editor Roma Ilnyckyj, as we toured SFU’s impressive 4D LABS facility on the Simon Fraser University Burnaby campus. Each turn of the corridor seemed to bring new laboratory delights in the shape of adorable compact electron microscopes, bright and shiny clean lab facilities, and a laser lab that belongs in a Marvel superhero film set.

Squee! indeed.Read More »Enchantment and wonderland: 4D LABS

Cool science memories from the team

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Enough about you—what about us?

It would be correct to say that here at Talk Science to Me, we pretty much eat, sleep and breathe science. In fact, that’s how our mastermind, Eve Rickert, explained her journey into #scicomm for a class of health science writers at Kwantlen Polytechnic University we were invited to speak to earlier this month. From tales of the pistol-packing shrimp that stuns its prey with sound waves, to the excitement of bacteriophages that bring the dead back to life, Eve brought a fresh sense of marvel and storytelling about the world of science writing to inspire the students.

But what about the rest of the team? What particular moments hooked them into reporting, editing and designing science materials? Read on to find out more…

Read More »Cool science memories from the team
The famous "pale blue dot" photograph, showing Earth as a pale blue dot in the ecliptic as viewed from the Voyager space probe.

Delayed valentine: Worth waiting for?

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The famous "pale blue dot" photograph, showing Earth as a pale blue dot in the ecliptic as viewed from the Voyager space probe.
Every human that ever lived, lived inside that pale blue dot.

Sometimes, the best valentines are those that arrive late, long after the roses have withered and the chocolates have been consumed.

At around the same time that I started high school, NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft blasted off on its journey to the outer planets. Thirteen years later and nearing the end of its planned primary mission, it turned its onboard cameras back toward the centre of our solar system. On February 14th, 1990, Voyager 1 took what is commonly known as the Pale Blue Dot image of Earth.

Read More »Delayed valentine: Worth waiting for?
An abandoned uranium mine in Queensland, Australia. © Calistemon, 2009 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Treasures: Natural nuclear reactors

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I don’t know how other people are taught, but for a long time I thought that nuclear reactors generated energy through some borderline-mystical atomic process that I could never really comprehend. And that’s partly true. But if you skip the details of how fission actually works, its role in a power plant is actually pretty simple to understand: the reason we can use nuclear decay to generate power is that it releases heat. So it’s not really the mystical atoms as such that make nuclear power possible, but the comparatively mundane process of using heat to make steam to move turbines.

Read More »Treasures: Natural nuclear reactors