N is for Naming

Next time you happen to be walking though the Chamela-Cuixmala nature reserve on the West Coast of Mexico, keep your eyes out for this parasitoid wasp: Its scientific name is Heerz lukenatcha.  There is also a related wasp named Heerz tooya.  Who comes up with these things!? Biologists, it turns out. The current official naming system for animals …

K is for Kepler

Truth is the daughter of time, and I feel no shame in being her midwife. These words, written by Johannes Kepler in 1611, are profound.  At the time, Galileo had just discovered the Galilean moons (including Europa) in Florence but was being persecuted for his belief that the Earth orbits the sun.  Kepler, a staunch supporter of heliocentrism, …

H is for Helium

Say goodbye to foil floating hearts on Valentines, shimmering floating shamrocks on St. Patty's, and the prospect of tying thousands of balloons to your house and abducting a neighbourhood boy scout.  The world's Helium reserve is going to run out, and sooner than you might think. Helium is the universe's second most abundant element and we've never …

F is for Faraday

The year is 1791.  On a crisp autumn morning in south London, Margaret Hastwell, a blackmith's apprentice, gives birth to her third son.  With her husband, son, and daughter crowded around, she decides to name the newborn Michael.  Michael Faraday. Margaret had a lot on her plate, what with two young children, a husband who was …

A is for Axolotl

Imagine a creature that never grows up, can regenerate limbs without scars, and has a sort of slimy, alien-like cuteness.  Sounds like a critter you'd like to meet, right?  Ambystoma mexicanum, the axolotl, lives all over the world in aquaria but their only wild habitat is under severe threat.  Chances are that neither of us …