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Jeff Danner

Common Science Fifth Anniversary Column

This week marks the fifth anniversary of Common Science® and this is my 239th column! It’s been my great pleasure to write them and I have enjoyed your comments and emails over the years. Nevertheless, I’ve decided that I need to take a little hiatus from writing.   In the mean time, I will still be on the air with Aaron Keck on 97.9 FM/1360 AM WCHL and streaming live on www.chapelboro.com Monday afternoons at 4:32 pm for our usual geektastic science discussions.    For this fifth anniversary column, I have decided to review some of the key themes and points...

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A Simple Way to Help the Birds and the Bees

Sometimes the rest of my life imposes on my writing schedule.   I skipped last Sunday, a rarity, and this week I am writing from the road. While I was in the car yesterday, I heard an appeal from the National Audubon Society for everyone to grow some native plants in order to feed migratory birds. As I listened to the story, I was struck by how this simple appeal pulled together threads from a wide variety of my columns.  Let me see if I can walk you through all of the connections that struck me.   My apologies in advance...

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The Highest Volume Chemical Produced in the World is . . .

In the early 1990s when I was a graduate student in Chemical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, I taught a class called Introduction to Chemical Engineering to the freshmen. During my first lecture, I asked the students to guess the highest volume chemical produced in the United States. They made some worthy guesses, but none were correct. The correct answer back then as well as today, a quarter of a century later, was and is sulfuric acid by a landslide. Furthermore, sulfuric acid would have been the correct answer in 1900 or any other year between then and...

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Cats, Man’s Second Best Friend

My inspirations for topics come from many sources: news articles, conversations, questions from readers, long-held passions, and occasionally random thoughts. This is a random thought week. For some reason, it occurred to me that I don’t know the history of the domestication of cats. I’m not sure why I thought about that. I don’t have a cat and I don’t especially like them. Nevertheless, I decided to follow the thought and it led me to some interesting places. The story behind the domestication of dogs is fairly well known. Sometime around 30,000-40,000 years ago, humans started to form alliances...

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In Which My Chickens Save My Life

I raise chickens at my small farm west of Carrboro, NC. At the moment, there are six members of my all-female flock. In addition to their coop, they have 24/7 access to a 2,500 square foot chicken run. Because I allocate over 400 square feet per chicken, plants grow in the chicken run faster than my flock can kill them by scratching up the ground. I also supplement the volunteer plant life by growing flowers, lettuce, and pumpkins and the like. As a result of my efforts, my chicken run approaches what I perceive to be a sort of...

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U.S. Birth Practices 1940 to 2040: Part II

Last week in Part I, I reviewed the history of birth practices in the United State from 1940 to 2016. This week, let’s project forward to 2040. Currently 99% of all births in the U.S. occur in hospitals, one third of them by Caesarian section. Utilization of the expensive space, equipment, supplies, and personnel from the hospital setting makes birth a very expensive event in the U.S. Despite the significant expenditures and the use of advanced medical technologies, the United States is one of only a handful of countries across the globe with an increasing rate of maternal mortality....

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U.S. Birth Practices 1940 to 2040: Part I

As I am approaching my fifth anniversary of publishing Common Science®, I hope that it is apparent how much I enjoy writing these columns, particularly when the topic brings in threads of history, politics, economics, and culture along with the science. This is one of those weeks. And as often is the case, I will use some of my own family history to help in the telling of the story. In 1940, the year my mother was born at home without the assistance of any trained medical professionals, the United States was still reeling from the Great Depression and...

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Sun Glare Challenges for the Blue-eyed

For some reason that eludes me, I always live directly west of my office. As a result, for much of the year I drive directly into the rising sun in the mornings and into the setting sun in the evenings. Usually my commute provides me with a peaceful and welcome transition between my home and work environments. But on those mornings and afternoons when the sun dips low and traffic on Route 40 slows to a crawl, my frustration builds and I have been known bellow out “encouragements” such as, “Come on people, it’s just the sun!” and “Keep...

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An Engineer Looks at 50

Today is my 50th birthday. So rather than delving into a science or technology topic this week, I ask for you indulgence as I reflect on the first half century of my life. In a bit of a spoiler, let me tell you up front that it’s been a great ride thus far. As I have been approaching this milestone, in the words of David Bryn, I have been asking myself “How did I get here?” In looking back, I find that the answer to that question is inextricably interwoven with my being an engineer, both by profession and...

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Super Capacitors are the Future of Battery Technology

Batteries play a useful, yet underappreciated, role in our lives. They power our hand-held electronic devices, are the key element in hybrid automobiles, and allow the intermittent power available from the sun and the wind to be stored and supplied when needed. So I thought a column about how the science of batteries would be a good way to kick off Common Science® in 2016. In the most general sense, a battery is any device that has 0ne zone that can store and/or produce electrons, the anode or negative terminal, and another side that can accept electrons, the cathode...

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