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Khalil’s Picks (19 July 2013)

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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So much good stuff in this week’s Picks! So much so that I won’t bore you with my usual commentary for a change. Dive in straight away then!

Wave at Saturn — But Will Cassini See You? by Mark Zastrow

Cassini is taking our picture on Friday, but how much light do we humans actually reflect? We’ve crunched the numbers, and the answer may surprise you. At 5:27 p.m. EDT on Friday, NASA’s Cassini imaging team is asking people to look at Saturn in the eastern sky and wave for an interplanetary photo session.

Anatomy of One of Canada’s Worst—and Most Costly—Natural Disasters by Arielle Duhaime-Ross

Canadian officials taking stock of the deluge that occurred in mid-June in Alberta have started to characterize it as the worst flood in the province’s history. Some are even calling it Canada’s second-largest natural disaster, after the 1998 ice storm that hit Quebec and eastern Ontario. Analysts think that the cost of the flood, which claimed four lives and displaced over 100,000 Albertans from their homes, will top $3 billion dollars and could cost as much $5 billion. But numbers like these can be hard to grasp without a bit of context. And, in this case, context is all you need to understand why this disaster blows all recent Canadian inundations right out of the water.

What Do We Actually Know About Pheromones? by Rachel Feltman

The smell of love, what is that? Lemon oil? AXE? What makes someone smell good? How do we come to link everyday smells with particular people, and what’s that indescribable something extra that makes a blanket smell like more than the sum of its parts? Not just soap and cologne, but him.

Flagellum failure lets bacteria turn by Cristy Gelling

When headed the wrong way, some bacteria turn by letting their propellers flop. The newly discovered turning mechanism explains how a marine bacterium can control its direction using only a single flagellum, a stiff, rotating appendage that propels the cell forward. Turning depends on a mechanical characteristic that engineers might consider a failure if the flagellum were human-made: the tendency of flexible materials to buckle under pressure.

How do we Know What’s in the Ocean? by Jessica Carilli

I recently came across a neat new study that took advantage of 39-year long records of fish assemblages from power plant cooling intake systems on the California coast. It was fun (with the blurry glasses of hindsight) to remember my time collecting similar data from a different power plant, located in San Diego Bay. That plant was shut down, and then imploded quite spectacularly in 2010, and was cooled a little differently from those in the study above, simply sucking in bay water for cooling, and straining out larger marine life with rotating metal screens.

Analogue. Analogous. Analogy. by Jane Robb and Jon Tennant

Analogies, metaphors, similes…we use a number of methods of comparison when we want to explain something, make something exciting, compare and contrast, or understand something ourselves. I often use analogies when I am trying to understand something – especially if I am trying to visualise a physical process such as plate tectonics might cause. Other times I understand a concept but subconsciously derive an analogy in my mind and I dig around in my head to find this analogy in order to explain the concept to others.

And… more!!

Khalil A. Cassimally About the Author: Khalil A. Cassimally is the Community Coordinator of The Conversation UK. He's also a science blogger. He hails from a tropical island and is a happy geek. Subscribe to his updates on Facebook and Google+. Follow on Twitter @notscientific.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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