Trying to Apply Intuition to Physics

Feel for physicsI sympathise. How can anything be smaller than a really tight squeeze? Unfathomable. It’s interesting how our perception, which is quite useful for observing phenomena happening at our scale, gets bent over backward and whirled around when we try to apply it to either things that very very big or small (or hot or dense).

Talking about the universe with kids is a lot of fun! Continue reading

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Extreme Nature Spells – When Scientists’ Kids Fight

Quark soup

Thanks to their tireless search for the ultimate things in life (that is, the constant bombardment with questions like ‘What’s the smallest thing you know of in the whole world?’ and ‘What is the hottest thing you know?’) kids are little information sponges.

This spontaneous exchange between our 5 and 3 year olds sure made their physicist daddy (and biologist mommy) proud. Continue reading

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‘Treatment-free’ Beekeepers Give Varroa Mite Free Rein

Infestations rarer among professional beekeepers

Hobby beekeeping is very common. A European Bee Health Report found that in many countries, the majority of beekeepers pursue the activity as a hobby. They give Germany as an example: 80% of beekeepers keep just 1–20 colonies, 18% keep 21–50 colonies and only about 2% keep more than 50 colonies. They note that improving expertise and education are likely good ways to improve honey bee health.

Bee health simple copy

I have delved into the complex factors of bee health earlier in the piece If You Care About Bees, Look Past Neonicotinoids

They may be on to something. In fact, in the past months two scientific publications – a large European surveillance study, and an essay in Journal of Economic Entomology – turn the spotlight on bee management, holding handling factors, like the lack of appropriate treatment, largely accountable for the spread of bee mites and diseases.

Bee epidemics have become a growing problem for both wild and cultivated bees thanks to the spread of the cultivated European honey bee. The Varroa Destructor mite is at the core of the problem, because it also passes on bee diseases (I have discussed this more at length in my earlier bee health piece).

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Seven Reasons Why You Really Don’t Want to Have Measles

In light of the current measles epidemics spreading in Europe, I wanted to visit some of the main concerns with the disease, and the reasons we very fervently want to put a stop to its spread. Seven reasons to make sure you protect yourself and your children from measles:

7 Reasons You Don't Want to Get Measles

  1. Diarrhea, ear infection, and hearing loss. Common measles complications.
  2. Pneumonia. Occurs in about 1 in 20 children, most common cause of death from measles in young children.
  3. Encephalitis (swelling of the brain). About 1 out of every 1,000. Can lead to convulsions, deafness, or intellectual disability.
  4. Death. Estimated between 1-10 in every 5,000 cases of measles, or up to 1 in 10   where adequate nutrition and health care are lacking.
  5. Immune amnesia. Measles is associated with two years of increased susceptibility to, and mortality from other infectious disease. Studies suggest measles causes ‘immune amnesia’, wiping out previously developed immune memories.
  6. Delayed fatal inflammation of the brain (SSPE). Occurs 2-4 years after measles. May be much more common than thought, 1-2 per 10,000 – and a preliminary report warns of rates even higher, 1 in 600 for children under one year and, 1 in 1,400 in up to five-year-olds.
  7. Epidemics. Measles is one of the most contagious of all infectious diseases. It is infectious before symptoms appear and remains in the air two hours after infectious person has left. The sick and the very young and old, will always be easy victims of measles.

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No, The UN Did Not Dismiss Pesticides as Unnecessary

The Guardian recently published a piece, UN experts denounce ‘myth’ pesticides are necessary to feed the world, where they claim that pesticides are an unethical marketing ploy by chemical companies, that has lead to disastrous consequences.

Strong claims require strong evidence. The authors of this report unfortunately do the discussion on pesticide use a disservice by relying so much on hyperbole from activist organisations rather than focusing on peer-reviewed sources.

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‘Un experts’ view or hyperbole?

There are valid discussions to be had about the inappropriate use of pesticides, especially in the developing world – but this type of rhetoric as displayed in the report and the Guardian piece, lacking a proper regard for evidence, does not help the situation of the farmers most in need of our help.

Let’s take a look at the report, and the perspectives of UN organisations on the topic. This report is published under the UN organisation that deals with human rights: United Nations Office of the Human Rights High Commissioner.

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Radioactive Reflections – A Radiochemist’s Take on Nuclear Power, Frog Legs, and Cigarettes

radioactive-svgWhen Eerika Häkkinen was young, she used to carry a “Nuclear, No Thanks” -badge with her wherever she went. Later she began to study chemistry at the University of Helsinki, and thought that majoring in radiochemistry would be a great way to come up with more informed arguments against the technology – but by the time she finished her studies, her outlook on nuclear power, and radioactivity in general, had quite changed.

Eerika is a good friend of mine, and her story was influential in making me view nuclear power and radiation risks in a more nuanced way. I wished to share some of those perspectives with you, and Eerika kindly agreed for me to interview her. Continue reading

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On the Nature of ‘Natural’


Rocket flower for my breakfast sandwich from my balcony garden. Eating beautiful things from nature is the epitome of ‘natural’.

Is something good because it’s natural? The word natural is often used when we want to convey something good, and imply that the object of discussion is not, in some way, the product of a humans-only process. To note, this common definition of the word makes the assumption that humans are something unnatural, which is an interesting starting point for reflection on its own right. The term natural, however, is rarely used when describing something with unwanted consequences – no matter how clearly they may also not be the result of any human intervention – instead it comes into the picture when talking of something that is wholesome, normal, healthful, or acceptable. You don’t hear people referring to a ‘natural food poisoning,’ say, or a ‘natural contamination with mold.’

This gives the word a skewed presentation, making ‘natural’ seem rosier than it may be.

For a contrast, consider this quote from the Daily Beast:

It is the natural course of type-1 diabetes for the patient to waste slowly to death, but nobody questions the benefits of exogenous insulin.

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