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Jeff Danner

The Origin Of Water On Earth

From the 1960s through the 1980s, my Aunt Shirley was a third grade teacher in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. After she retired, she gave me a copy of one of the science text books that she had used. In the section about water on Earth, there was a sentence that said “all of the water on the Earth has been here since it was formed.” My response to reading this sentence was a derisive chortle. As any reader of Common Science or anyone who has taken a chemistry class will know, the products of combustion are water and carbon dioxide....

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The Polar Vortex and Quantum Physics

January of 2014 brought record-setting cold temperatures to Chapel Hill, NC, and the words “polar vortex” dominated the local lexicon for several weeks. Given that we are likely to experience these dramatic cold snaps more and more frequently here in the Southern Part of Heaven, I thought a column reviewing the science of the polar vortex was warranted. Further, if you will bear with me, I’d like to share with you why the behavior of the polar vortex reminds me of quantum physics. Figure 1 below shows the normal air flow patterns and prevailing winds in the northern hemisphere:...

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Electric Cars Are Not Actually Emissions-Free

Over the holidays I did a fair bit of driving, including the abject drudgery of navigating Route 95 between Richmond and Washington, D.C. in both directions. At one point, it took two hours to advance just 40 miles. All of this time on the highway gave me ample opportunity to find things that annoyed me. Let me share one with you. Every time I drove past an electric vehicle sporting a “No Emissions” bumper sticker, I wanted to stop and give the driver a science lesson. Since that was difficult to do while rolling (or crawling) down the highway,...

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Common Science Comprehensive Index

April 2015 will be the fourth anniversary for Common Science®. In each of the past three Decembers I have published a hyper-linked index for the columns from that year. This year I decided to do something different. Below is an index with links to all 185 columns I have published. I have some new ideas for Common Science® for 2015. I’ve been writing for 3.5 years, doing the radio spot (Mondays at 4:32 on 1360 AM/97.9 FM WCHL, Chapel Hill, NC), and have been running a Twitter Feed, @commonscience, for about a year. Lately, I have been evaluating where...

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Results of my 2014 Predictions

In January, I made predictions for what I expected would be important science stories during 2014, five positive ones and four negative. Now it is time to see how well I did. Below I review my predictions, tell you what did or didn’t happen, and give myself a score on a scale of 1 to 5 for accuracy. Positive Predictions Kick and Kill for HIV What makes HIV very difficult to cure is its tendency to lie dormant inside of cells for long periods of time, making it invisible to the immune system. Many researchers are looking for ways to...

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Fracking: A Raleigh-Riyadh Connection

As you may have noticed at the pump recently, gasoline prices have fallen by 35% over the last few months, from just below $4.00 per gallon down to around $2.60, a five-year low. During this same time period, the price of petroleum, the raw material from which gasoline is made, has dropped from $110 to $70 per barrel. A quick calculation shows, unsurprisingly, that the percent reduction in the price of gasoline is nearly identical to the percentage drop in the price of petroleum. In order to understand why gasoline prices have dropped, we need to examine why petroleum...

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An Engineer On A Diet: Part II

Last week in Part I, I reviewed the energy balance for the human body and explained how it controls whether or not we lose weight while dieting. This week, I’ll share with you some my observations on how this energy balance applies to my own weight loss efforts. The weight loss industry in the United States brings in over $65 billion dollars a year in revenue and includes a wide array of diet systems. Each of these systems tends to contain their own biological explanation on why their recommended approach will help you melt away the pounds. In my...

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An Engineer on a Diet: Part I

Dieting is big business in the United States. If you include the $21 billion spent on diet sodas, the weight loss industry takes in over $65 billion dollars a year. A commonly cited statistic is that at any particular moment, one half of all adults in the U.S. are on a diet. In the interest of both testing the science of dieting for this column and dropping a few pounds myself, I am currently one of them. The diet industry is filled with books and theories. There are protein diets, cabbage diets, grapefruit diets, and diets where you are...

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Why Are The Norwegians Burning Trash?

Several weeks ago, my daughter came home and said “Dad, why does Norway have to import trash to keep its power plants running?  You should write a column on that.” And so I have. First, in the interest of full disclosure, I love Norway. I have been there both for business and pleasure and in my opinion it is the most beautiful country I have ever seen. And I have seen quite a few. Norway is the 6th wealthiest country on Earth, with a per capita GDP of approximately $64,000 per year. It is always near the top of...

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Is The Toilet The Greatest Public Health Invention Ever?

Last week’s column, Spinal Cord Miracle?, was an inspiring story about how scientific progress enabled a man whose spinal cord had been severed to walk again. This remarkable achievement came as a result of the expenditure of millions of dollars and decades of research. While writing that column, I was struck by the starkly contrasting circumstances of the billions of humans whose health is at serious risk due to lack of access to one of our cheapest and oldest technologies: the toilet. Approximately 2.6 billion people – that’s 37% of us – do not have consistent access to a...

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