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Jeff Danner

Please Stop Rotating the Scrabble Board

Several years ago, I took a test at the Museum of Life and Science designed to determine whether I was better at remembering things that I hear or things that I see. The results were what I expected: my visual memory is far better than my auditory. I have known since I was young, at least instinctively, that I am a visual learner. For example, when trying to recall information for tests in school, I would call up an image of a page from a book or from notes I had taken and read the answer in my “mind’s...

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Salt and South Florida

In the spring of 2012, I wrote a five-part series on water. In Part IV: When the Well Runs Dry, I explained the process by which salty ocean water can infiltrate subsurface, fresh water aquifers and the problems that creates. Over the last couple of weeks, I have encountered several stories about salt water infiltration in South Florida’s Biscayne Aquifer.

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STEM Jobs for the 21st Century

Lately I have noticed a growing trend to encourage people to pursue careers in STEM, an acronym which stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. I find this acronym, developed by the National Science Foundation in the 1990s, to be a bit clunky. My own personal definition of the word “science” has always been broad enough to include engineering and technology as well. Putting that aside, recommending that a young person consider a career in STEM is a rather broad brush. So I thought I’d give you my opinion on which STEM fields I think will have growing importance...

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Life on Mars? It’s All About That Methane

The tantalizing possibility that life may exist on Mars has inspired both scientific exploration and popular culture for a long time. The question of whether we are alone in the universe has recently been reignited by some intriguing data from NASA’s Curiosity Rover, which has been trundling around Mars since 2012. Before we review that data, let’s start with some statistics on the Red Planet: • Mars is approximately half the size of the Earth. • It is about 140,000,000 miles away from Earth and can be reached by space craft in six months. • Earth and Mars were...

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State of Science, Technology and Industry from 1909

My wife recently gave me a book titled Outlines of Industrial Chemistry that was published in 1909. It provides a fascinating look at the state of science, technology, the economy, and everyday life from 106 years ago. The book includes an extensive survey of the industrial topics of its day, including fuels, water purification, fertilizers, cement manufacture, dyes and pigments, ceramics, sugar refining, and even beer brewing. Its author, Frank Hall Thorp, received his degree in Industrial Chemistry from MIT in 1889 and then joined the faculty there. Outlines of Industrial Chemistry was used as a text book at...

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Drug-Resistant Bacteria: Part II

Last week, in Part I of this series, I reviewed the major issues associated with drug-resistant bacteria and discussed the fascinating history of the discovery and uses of bacteriophages. Bacteriophages, viruses that infect and kill bacteria, were first identified approximately 100 years ago. This week in Part II, I will discuss how a discovery made a century ago may be the solution to our current and growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Let’s start with a brief review of viruses. A noteworthy property of viruses is their specificity – a specific virus can only infect a specific kind of cell....

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Drug-Resistant Bacteria: Part I

For this week’s column, I am going to presume some knowledge on the reader’s part regarding the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. If you are not familiar with this issue, let me recommend that you open a new browser window, do a Google search on “drug-resistant bacteria,” and then come back. If you are not inclined, a brief summary follows: More and more bacteria are developing resistance to more and more antibiotics. Of particular concern are drug-resistant strains of E. coli which contaminate food, and staphylococcus (staph) which cause skin infections in hospitals. There are also ongoing global outbreaks...

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Woolly Mammoths and the Voyage of the U.S.S. Jeannette: Part II

Last week, in Part I of this series, I told you the incredible story of the Arctic journey of the U.S.S. Jeannette in 1879. After their ship was trapped in the ice for 21 months and then sank, the crew dragged their food and supplies over a thousand miles of ice while stopping at some small islands in an effort to reach Siberia. Along the way, they found a rather unique and unusual resource which they used to build shelters and repair sledges: woolly mammoth bones. The realization that just over 100 years ago, men were using woolly mammoth...

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Woolly Mammoths and the Voyage of the U.S.S. Jeannette: Part I

If you read my columns, you will have noticed that I enjoy embracing my inner nerd. In that spirit, let me share with you that my favorite author is Hampton Sides, who writes history books. Mr. Sides recently published a new book, In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the U.S.S. Jeannette. Like his earlier books Ghost Soldiers and Blood and Thunder, it is fascinating, informative, and well written. As a bonus, this book has woolly mammoths! We will return to the woolly mammoths later, but first let me share the highlights of the...

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The Missouri River Aqueduct is a Bad Idea

In the spring of 2012, I wrote a five-part series on water (Part I, II, III, IV, V). Part IV, When the Well Runs Dry, discussed human society’s dependence on the unsustainable extraction of water from underground aquifers, with a particular focus on the Ogallala aquifer which supplies the vast majority of water used for agriculture and human consumption in the Great Plains of the American west. Here is the section on the Ogallala aquifer from my earlier column: The Ogallala aquifer, which spans the eight states which make up the Great Plains from South Dakota to Texas, is...

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