“Ooh, Aah!” 10 Pretty Amazing Sciencey Photographs

# 1: A massive dust storm engulfs much of Western Australia, 2013. This picture was taken from the safety and clear perspective of an ocean vessel.


# 2: Her name is “Bagger 288″ and at 13,500 tonnes she is the biggest land vehicle in the world! Don’t tell her that though, or you may give her self-esteem issues.


# 3: Cancer cells under an electron microscope. They really do look as insidious as you’d expect them to.


# 4: A picture of Einstein’s dishevelled desk only hours after his death on April 18th, 1955. This is probably the birthplace of science’s most important breakthroughs.


# 5: Aurora borealis (Northern Lights) as seen from space.


# 6: Baby octopi! Could they be called octopussies?


# 7: This is purportedly the best and clearest picture that has ever been taken of the planet Mercury, courtesy of NASA. The colour variations have been accentuated to reveal the topography of the planet. Otherwise, it would appear a dull brown to the human eye. Here’s an interesting fact: Mercury is so small and its gravitational pull so measly that it doesn’t even have an atmosphere! Not even gas molecules are attracted to the planet!


# 8: The human tongue under a microscope. GROSS! Try not to imagine this the next time you tash on with someone!


# 9: Ethiopia’s ever active volcano, Erta Ale, maintains this perennial lava lake. No water sports here, tourists, although the scenery is breathtaking!


# 10: What pugs looked like before they were selectively bred to look way cuter and more snub-snouted.


Image Source: http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/8uEWBA/I3tTrA4v:p7vKCMzX/talesmaze.com/29-fascinating-photos-youve-probably-never-seen-before/

The Earth Has Indigestion! Awesome Volcano Footage

For those who struggle with gastric reflux, indigestion and heart burn, the Earth provides some comforting empathy. Check out these three AMAZING videos of volcanoes wreaking havoc upon the local biology:

Volcanic Eruption in Papua New Guinea

Video Source: “Volcanic Eruption in Papua New Guinea” by Phil McNamara and uploaded to the YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2XlDa3WxVJ0

This intense clip was captured on August 29th, 2014, when Mount Tavurvur on Papua New Guinea finally blew its lid, sending an incredible shockwave into the atmosphere and into the ocean vessel the filmmaker was riding!

Pyroclastic Flow Followed by Series of Tornados (Sweet Jesus!)

Video Source: “Pyroclastic Flow Followed by Series of Tornados” uploaded by Photovolcanica on YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzbIdE51jcg

In this amazing science video, the pyroclastic flow off Mount Sinabung volcano (North Sumatra, Indonesia) leaves behind a trail of superheated material, which then generates incredibly strong convection currents. These begin spinning vertically due to the speed with which the air is rising and the result is like salt in the wound of an already decimated landscape: TORNADOS!

Nature’s Fireworks: The Five Most Spectacular Volcanic Eruptions of Recent Years

Video Source: “Nature’s Fireworks: The Five Most Spectacular Volcanic Eruptions of Recent Years” uploaded by Zoomin.TV Science on YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R15iePGcFYE

The title pretty much gives away the content of the film, so go ahead and enjoy these five catastrophically seismic events! It’s a visual feast.


Scientology – It’s Not the Study of Science

Once upon a time, in the early 1950’s to be more precise, a man named L. Ron Hubbard woke up after a night of intense acid-induced dreams. Through the fog of sleep and remembered cacophony of colour, an idea the shape of a light-bulb/dollar-sign materialised. As a science-fiction writer, Mr Hubbard was no stranger to fabricating alternate realities that were a combination of embellished truth, warped physics and general bullsh*t. So, he set about writing a book using his light-bulb/dollar-sign shaped idea, which went on to become a 1950’s bestseller, because people are mostly stupid and are also dying to believe in something.

L Ron Hubbard dianetics

The book was called “Dianetics” and within its almost 700 pages was the secret to self-improvement… to living a new and better life through a changed mind set; just like every other self-help book that has been written. Ever. Initially, the “field” of Dianetics was about self-improvement, but then it became something larger, far more sinister and profitable. More and more people subscribed to the lifestyle, which was a good thing if it was intended simply to improve the way you lived instead of, like some flesh-eating virus, melting the region of your brain dedicated to logic and rational thought.

But, Mr L. Ron Hubbard wasn’t happy with being a bestselling author. He believed his idea had more traction than simply convincing a few housewives to think positively about being married to layabout apes. He believed his idea’s potential was stratospheric and that it could make him ridiculously rich and ridiculously powerful *insert megalomaniacal laugh*. Many years thereafter, Hubbard was famously overheard uttering the following words…

“If you want to get rich, just create a religion.” – L. Ron Hubbard


Image Credit: Los Angeles Times photographic archive, UCLA Library

So he was right. In 1953, the Church of Scientology was officially established in Camden, New Jersey and from there it spread like a pestilence. The worst epidemic the world has seen since the Black Plague and reality television.

The Best Things in Life Aren’t Free

Tom Cruise and Scientology

Jesus Christ wasn’t a millionaire. His parents couldn’t even afford a bed in a state hospital and his old man probably blew his birthday gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh on hookers. Not that I blame the guy… his wife was a virgin after all.

Buddha is famous for living on the bare essentials and even got fat to scare away all the beautiful young girls who were throwing themselves at him. I’m not sure about the Prophet Mohammed, but I wouldn’t trust anyone who’s content to spend eternity with 10,000 virgins. Can you imagine how boring the conversation would be?

The point is, and I shall endeavour to expound upon this later, is that religion shouldn’t be about making someone rich. Religion should be spiritual, not commercial. Today, however, L. Ron Hubbard is obnoxiously wealthy and is influencing people in a way that scaring the shit out of Katy Holmes. He’s also dead, but the legacy continues. So, what started off a self-help system has today become a massive religion that doesn’t seem to make any damn sense at all…

What Is Scientology?


Scientology is a belief framework and a way of life. I wasn’t kidding when I said that Mr Hubbard (not related to “Mother” of cupboard fame) was a science fiction writer. And this is evident in the core teachings of scientology, which were, prior to being leaked by a defector of the religion, not openly available to the public and beginner subscribers.

Scientology teaches us that we are immortal beings who have forgotten our true nature. Also there’s something about a malevolent alien called Xenu who, 75 million years ago (dinosaurs were still happily frolicking about the planet), sent billions of people to the Earth. Xenu was an evil dictator and, in true Kim Jong-Un style, condemned these people to death via hydrogen bombs and volcanoes here on planet “Teegeeack” AKA Earth.

Lord Xenu scientology

The souls of these murdered masses have remained on our planet and are, according to scientology scriptures, responsible for causing modern people spiritual harm. The story of what happened is called the Space Opera and if THAT’S not science fiction, I don’t know what is! What’s unbelievable about scientology is that so many people have bought into it. I knew there were hoards of stupid people on the planet, but this many?

Take Us To Your Banker

More than the ridiculous lore behind scientology, there is a way of life supported by certain practices. There are levels of teachings and modules that you need to learn and master. You also need to learn to free your sub-conscious of all past emotional and physical hurts and this is done in a kind of counselling or spiritual rehabilitation called “auditing.”

Just like school, you have to pay to progress from one grade to the next. There are free online courses for beginners, but if you really want to get anywhere, you have to start shelling out the Benjamin Franklins. These payments are cheekily termed “fixed donations” – as if the money you pay is going towards feeding starving orphans. If you become obsessed with scientology, you’d better be the CEO of a company or an A-list celebrity, because it’s going to cost you dearly to infiltrate the upper echelons of this cult, I mean, religion.

The reported cost of reachng the very highest level in scientology lies in the region of $100,000 and $130,000. This may be all right for someone who earns a staggering amount of money, such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta, but I’d sooner sell my kidneys on the black market than pay THAT amount of money to belong to a religion. On principle alone.

Cultfiction scientology

What this all means is that one’s involvement in scientology is governed by one’s paycheck rather than one’s physical, psychological and mental dedication. Scientology may purport to have noble goals, just like any other religion I suppose. But the clear difference is the fact that it seeks to hide its “knowledge” from everyone UNLESS you pay your buy-in fee. This is at stark contrast to the most important philosophies underlying science, the knowledge yielded by which is free and available to all.

Scientology isn’t a religion. It’s a business, amongst other nefarious things…

Operation Snow White

Scientology Operation Snow White

In the 1970’s, the Church of Scientology took it upon itself to eliminate any unsavoury evidence that pointed towards its higher-up members’ involvement in criminal activity. This included L. Ron Hubbard. It did this by illegally infiltrating a number of private organisations and government agencies – including the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) – in more than 30 countries.

This enormous effort was termed “Operation Snow White” by the Church of Scientology itself and is purportedly the largest infiltration of the United States government to have ever taken place. There were as many as 5,000 undercover agents sneaking around hallways at night, riffling through classified files, tapping telephone lines and stealing and destroying documentary evidence of certain individuals’ iniquitous activities.

When this all went to trial, Mr Hubbard’s wife and second-in-command – Mary Sue Hubbard – pleaded guilty to charges that included burglary of government property and the obstruction of justice. Another 10 upper echelon scientology executives were convicted of an impressive spectrum of crimes.

Top 10 Legitimate Reasons Scientology Should Hitch a Ride on the Porcelain Express:

1. Scientology was fabricated by a science fiction writer. I mean, hello?

2. You have to pay dollar bills to become more devout. If you don’t have enough money, you are doomed to remain in the lower levels. It doesn’t matter how committed or devoted you are to your creed. If you’re poor, you’ll never get anywhere, which is kind of like real life, but religion shouldn’t be that way.

3. The “Space Opera” is the single most ridiculous theory I’ve ever heard explaining how humankind came to be. Forget everything rigorous science has to say. Bring on the evil aliens and thetans! Eat the placenta!

Crazy tom Cruise

4. Scientology only reveals certain teachings to people who have spent tens of thousands of dollars. Only once you breached the loftier echelons of the cult, can you learn about the Space Opera and how everything came to be – or something to that effect. We, the public, aren’t actually supposed to know about Xenu. This information was leaked by defector Steven Fishman, after which it spread like hilarious wildfire across the Internet. I love the Internet.

5. Scientology is legally recognised as a religion in a many countries, including Australia, South Africa, the United States, Sweden, Italy and New Zealand. This means that it’s TAX-EXEMPT. That’s right: janitors and street-sweepers get taxed. Scientology “churches” do not.

6. Scientology is dangerous. If you defect from the religion and threaten to spill the beans, or even if you are a critic of it (oops) you could face severe consequences. Some of these include serious harassment, getting sued, physical and psychological abuse and character assassination. I take solace in the fact that there’s no amount of character assassination they could do to me that tequila doesn’t already on a good night out.

fat girl tequila effects

7. It was invented in less than 60 years ago. At least Christians have dedicated thousands of years to building culture, society, parables and doctrines. At least Christianity has history. Scientology is the new kid on the block and yet people are doggedly committing themselves to it as though it were something REAL.

8.  Members in the upper echelons of scientology are, allegedly, routinely defrauded and their dirty secrets swept under the proverbial rug. *coughoperationsnowwhitecough*

9. Scientology believes that the field of psychiatry is destructive and abusive and must be scrapped. This may be true in certain circumstances, but I’d hate to know what a couple of people I have met in my life would become without their daily dose of lithium.

10.  Scientology markets its teachings and doctrines as fact and sound science. It nurtures ignorance and idiocy and treats natural inquiry as iniquity: as something to be punished.

Suitably horrified? There’s just one more thing…

Operation Freak-Out! Da da da-da da

 Great… now I have that song in my head.

The scandal of scientology

Operation Freak-out was a clandestine plan of the Church of Scientology to silence one of its more avid and eloquently spoken critics, Paulette Cooper. This author and journalist published a rather famous book in 1971 titled “The Scandal of Scientology” – I don’t suppose I need to tell you what it was about. Operation Freak-out was intended to either have Ms Cooper imprisoned or escorted in a straight jacket to a mental asylum!

It was upon reading this latter point that I ceased to be entertained by the ridiculous notion of scientology and actually began to find it quite terrifying and insidious. For a “modern” religion, scientology would seem to promote an extremely backward and dangerous way of thinking. Opposition, challenge and questioning are extremely healthy forces that drive democracy and the enquiring mind. They force us to examine what many take for granted and to gain a more sophisticated understanding of the world, both physically and spiritually. By gagging those who question it, this “religion” is resorting to bullying tactics to silence those who simply aren’t convinced. I’d like to think that they could handle criticism with a little more grace than going all “Lord of the Flies” on yo ass.

How was Operation Freak-out exposed? In 1977, the FBI uncovered documentary evidence of the plan whilst performing an investigation of the Church. This came on the tail of an all-out campaign of harassment against Paulette Cooper. Luckily they were caught in time and an out-of-court settlement was reached… hopefully involving a LOT of money.

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

Tom cruise jumping on couch Oprah Windfrey

Tom Cruise is obnoxiously wealthy and all the credit in the world to him for it. He’s a fantastic actor, he can run really fast and he looks good without a shirt on, so he’s earned his slice of pie (albeit the size of a small galaxy). Tom Cruise also resides in the top echelons of the scientology hierarchy and this isn’t because he has dedicated decades of his life to planning sermons, providing wayward sheep with guidance, denying himself most worldly pleasures, inappropriately fondling choirboys and whatever else it takes to become a priest nowadays. It’s because he paid for it.

Scientology, or at least the founding principles laid out in the 1950’s bestseller Dianetics, has some truly winning concepts. If applied in the right manner, it’s easy to see how this “religion” can be a very good thing and a very good influence. However, these positives stand stark against the various approaches scientology takes in managing its members and in dealing with its opposition. Also, let’s not forget about the Space Opera.

The only thing that science and scientology share is a similar etymology (word origin) and that is -scio meaning “knowledge”. But where science is the rational pursuit of knowledge, scientology is another creature altogether and apparently a very dangerous one at that.

The Science Of Farts: Yes, It’s a Thing

Plate of baked beansImage Credit: BBC Food Blog: What’s Wrong With Cheap Food?

Prelude to the Rude

It has not so subtly been suggested to me by my friends on several occasions that I write a blog about farts and the science behind it all. My friends’ penchant for toilet humor is just one of the many reasons I love them dearly and so, today, with my return to the blogosphere, I plan to finally render reality from drunken suggestion.

Farts are always funny, sometimes embarrassing and rarely appreciated in confined spaces with poor ventilation. So, why do we fart? What accounts for their embarrassing odor? Why do some announce their exit with great brass band fanfare, while others sneak out the back door quieter than a grounded teenager?

Let’s explore the answer to some of mankind’s greatest questions about our own butts.

 “Sweet Lord, Why…?”

Arielle the little mermaid

… asked the countless women who have woken themselves from a deep slumber with the embarrassing realization that they have accidentally revealed to their bedfellow their most preciously guarded secret:

That they are indeed human.

Why must your butt sabotage your attempts to appear beautiful, perfect and divine in the presence of your lover? Goddesses don’t fart!

The good news is EVERYONE farts. Girls fart. We know for a fact that boys fart. All humans fart and animals do, too. It is a perfectly normal biological process that is caused by the generation of gases in your belly, which need to go somewhere or else you’d blow up like a balloon and die. As morose as that sounds, it’s utterly true.

What’s in a Fart?

Boobie bird lifting foot

Image Credit: http://www.wildlifeadventures.com

First of all, “flatus” is the more polite and sterile term, so henceforth we shall be referring to wanton winds as such, since that is what flatus literally means in Latin: “a breaking or blowing of wind.” Flatus is composed of all kinds of interesting things, the precise chemistry of which varies from person to person and from hour to hour, depending on a gruesome suite of factors.

We ingest quite a bit of air when we eat, so that’s one source of flatus. Then there’s the fact that everyone’s bowel is host to legions of bacteria, which help to break down the foods we eat. One of the by-products produced by this intestinal flora is gas and this accumulates in our gut until it gets expelled. This particular source of flatus is quite a bit more “tropical” in bouquet than that caused by the ingestion of air (for obvious reasons).

Now, the chemical composition of this wind depends on the individual’s very unique biochemistry and whether or not their bowels are healthy. Diet and your body’s tolerance for the foods you eat play another major role in the chemistry of your flatus: certain foods may produce a more corpulent sulphurous bouquet, while others might make your pants smell like a horse stable after a long, dank winter.

What all flatus has in common is that 99% of its volume is composed of the following constituents:

  • 20 to 90% Nitrogen
  • 0 to 50% Hydrogen
  • 10 to 30% Carbon dioxide
  • 0 to 10% Oxygen, and
  • 0 to 10% Methane

Given this chemical composition, we can explain one commonly observed fact and another commonly joked-about reality concerning the very future of life on Earth:

  1. Hydrogen and methane are highly flammable gases, which is why you can light your farts on fire. But, did you know that only some people have the specific types of bacteria necessary to produce methane? You will find examples of these humans on YouTube publicly wrecking their sex appeal.
  2. Carbon dioxide and methane are greenhouse gases, which means they have the tendency to absorb solar radiation, thereby contributing to the warming of the Earth’s atmosphere. Given their fibrous diets, cows and other livestock fart (and burp) a LOT and this has been postulated to contribute to climate change. The threat of impending doom has never had a funnier back-story.

Fart Bouquet

funny fart picture

So, now we know that flatus is mostly caused by ingesting air and by bacterial fermentation in our guts. The next question humankind has asked of itself since the very first hominid got kicked out the cave by dropping a vile dart is: why do some farts stink?

Since the main constituents mentioned above (hydrogen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen, etc.) don’t smell of anything on their own, the hot, moist odor of flatus is really determined by trace gasses and chemicals that only make up 1% of the flatus’ volume! And these are produced by bacterial fermentation and digestion in the gastrointestinal tract. It’s through these processes that your body is able to conjure up some pretty exotic chemicals that can taint your flatus, thereby enabling you to torture your poor girlfriend with an age old tradition called a “Dutch Oven.”

funny fart poster

Some of the chemicals that contribute to the malodor of flatus include indole and skatole, which are produced through the digestion of meat. This explains why carnivorous animals produce such insidious flatus, while the posterior emissions of cows, hippies other herbivores are far more tolerable (in theory).

Volatile sulfurous compounds, such as methanethiol, dimethyl sulfide and hydrogen sulfide, are produced by intestinal bacteria as waste products and they also play a major role in the bouquet of your flatus. The latter of these three accounts for that “rotten egg” smell.

Finally – and for this one you may want to put down that sandwich you’re eating – poop. Yes, poop. If you have a bullet in the chamber, or so to speak, your flatus may exit your body amidst a cloud of poop molecules, causing everyone nearby to flee from the room amidst a fanfare of disgusted wrist-flapping.

Orchestral Score

brass band funny fart

The final question we ask in this heroic endeavor to understand the one bodily function that has the rare ability to make everyone laugh, regardless of age, gender and creed, is this: why are some farts noisy?

This has everything to do with the physics of a flatus’ escape from your derriere and not its composition. Since there is no way I can bring myself to answer this question in an inoffensive way, I’ll leave you with a quote from the Beach Boys:

“Good, good, GOOD, good vibrations!”

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

Nicki Minaj anaconda

If you ever felt embarrassed by the odd fart, just imagine the eternally crippling life struggles faced by a flatologist. Yes, the study of farts “flatology” is an official field. I mean, how on God’s sweet Earth do you explain to new acquaintances, dates and (if you even get that far) in-laws what you do for a living?

We can’t help it: farts are funny and even though I consider my sense of humor to be fairly evolved, my not-so inner child will always laugh out loud at them. For instance, I’ve spent the majority of my time writing this blog in utter hysterics. Having said this, farts are also interesting and a fairly accurate indicator of our diet and intestinal health. So remember, to fart is human and to forgive the guy who just did it in an elevator, divine. Not that I’d know anything about it in practice…

I’m a lady and everyone knows ladies don’t fart.



Epic Rap Battles: Albert Einstein Versus Stephen Hawkins

I’ve never been a huge fan of rap, but the boys who bring us “Epic Rap Battles of History” have revolutionized my opinion of this music genre!

In this awesome sciencey video, watch Albert Einstein tear shreds out of Steven Hawkins and Hawkins give Einstein a tongue-lashing of truly EPIC proportions. It’s absolutely hilarious and probably the most warped history/science lesson you’ll ever sit down to!

Artist: Epic Rap Battles of History
Featured Artists: Nice Peter, MC Mr. Napkins
Released: 2011
YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zn7-fVtT16k

All Things Bright and Beautiful – Evolution Made Them All!


The principles behind evolution have always stood in stark contrast to those postulated by the bible. I have never read the bible and on the few occasions that I have tried, I have fallen promptly asleep. Since I am only aware of the basics – don’t kill people, don’t steal shit, don’t be gay (oops), don’t have sex outside of marriage (oops again) etc. – I won’t spend a moment longer comparing the two schools of thought. Except to say that only the theory of evolution is a school of thought because clearly you’re a beer short of a six pack if you think it’s okay to stone people to death for eating shellfish. Instead, this blog is about evolution: the concept abhorred and spurned by religious zealots the world over.

I’ve always wanted to use “zealot” in a sentence. Winning!

What is Evolution?

Evolution diagram

Evolution comes from the Latin meaning for “opening” or “unrolling”… to unfold. In this way I suppose one might say (with a little creative license) that evolution is a story of change. In the context of life on Earth, evolution refers to the adaptation, change and diversification of the many millions of organisms that call our blue planet home, or any other planet in the universe for that matter. In fact, evolution is the REASON there are millions of organisms on our blue planet. This comes down to a concept called speciation; but first, let’s confuse you with an analogy about tuna.

It’s About Legacy, Not Heresy!

It is the goal of every single species, whether pachyderm or phytoplankton, to be successful and the hallmark of success in the animal and plant kingdom is propagating your genes. I.e. knocking up your girlfriend.

If you’re bad at it, there are tens if not hundreds more like you willing and eager to step in and you’ll simply exit this realm without a legacy. This is a terrible prospect for animal and plant species that have to fight tooth and nail or stem and stamen just to exist. Competition is fierce and no matter what habitat on Earth you call home, chances are there are at least 20 creatures that want to turn you into breakfast, lunch or dinner.

If you manage to not get eaten, then you’ve still got to worry about feeding yourself and surviving the elements. So, the next time you think you’ve had a rough day because you locked yourself out of your apartment, try to empathise with a minnow… one of the most preyed upon fish in the ocean.

The biological answer to incessant threat is to procreate like mad so that if you meet your maker sooner rather than later, which is almost always the case in the inherently hostile natural environment, it won’t really matter. To you as an individual, yes, but not to the species as a whole. As long as a species is reproducing and enough of those offspring are reproducing, that species can be viewed as successful.

Now, let’s provide a very simplistic and probably inaccurate analogy about tuna…

You’re a tuna fish and in order to survive, you need to swim fast to catch smaller fish. The larger your fins, the faster you’ll be able to swim (yes, a horribly simplified thesis, I know). The faster you swim, the more food you’ll be able to eat and therefore, the more time you can spend getting sexy with the ladies… i.e. propagating your genes. If you were born with smaller fins, you just wouldn’t be as successful at catching food and in sustaining yourself and getting laid.

What this means is that, in this particular example, the tuna with larger fins (Tuna A) is more successful and will probably produce more offspring than Tuna B: the dude with smaller fins. Please ignore the obvious reference to size being important. I know plenty of girls who would disagree. With Tuna A’s well-endowed fins being inherited by his progeny and with his progeny more likely to survive, the less endowed Tuna B would eventually become phased out of existence!

Tuna sushi with caviar held by chopsticks

Over the course of many, many generations, a gradual change occurs within the species that serves to phase out the less beneficial or successful biological traits – in this case, small fins – while encouraging the success of individuals within the species that exhibit the more beneficial biological traits (large fins). It’s a slow process that can take tens of thousands if not millions of years, but what we see is the species changing and improving – evolving – so that it becomes as successful as it can possibly be in its given environment.

I am almost certain that you have heard of the name given to this entire concept. The man behind its conception was Charles Darwin and he called it natural selection.

lamarck_giraffe Image Source: Miami University, College of Arts and Sciences

Jean-Babtiste Lamarck, one of Charles Darwin’s contemporaries and mentors was just as enthusiastic about the idea of evolution and, as we can see here, demonstrates a similar – and much better – example of it than the tuna analogy. The most successful (and well-fed) giraffes were those whose necks were ever so slightly longer and so could reach the more succulent uppermost leaves on trees. Over time and via a process of natural selection, they evolved with longer and longer necks and now they are the most vertically endowed creatures on the planet.

This is the horribly simplified version of Lamarck’s theory, which postulated that a giraffe would stretch its neck to reach the higher, more nutritious leaves on a tree and would then pass on its stretched neck to its offspring. This is just not true. If you get a tattoo of an anchor on your butt, your children will not be born with tattoos on their butts. In reality, the explanation Lamarck provided was quackery to say the least, although he was on the right track. Sort of.

Evolution and Speciation

We can now see that evolution is about change via adaptation to an environment, but sometimes this change happens to such an extent that a whole new species is born. “Speciation” is the mechanism by which this happens and we shall take a closer look at this in a moment. But first, what exactly is a species?

Female ostrich next to the fence of the farm

If you put an ostrich in a cage with a finch, they will not make little fostriches, or ostrinches. Even if you put two very similar-looking, yet separate species of finches in a cage, they will not likely find each other sexy enough to bonk and make babies. This is really the defining principle behind the word “species”…

“A group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding”

Thank you online dictionary.

This is how you can tell one species apart from another. They will not bonk and even if they were so inclined, they would not be able to reproduce. Obviously, it’s easy to see that an ostrich is a totally different kind of bird to a finch, but if you’ve consulted a bird book recently (I’m guessing you haven’t), you’ll see that groupings of birds like finches, sparrows and sandpipers are made up of a staggering diversity of species that look remarkably like each other. In spite of this, they will not interbreed. If they do, it’s the exception and not the rule. A House Finch is not biologically programmed to shack up with a Cassin’s Finch, even though – to the uneducated eye – they look virtually the same.


Photo credit: “House Finch” by John Benson. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons


Photo credit: “Cassin’s Finch (male)” by http://www.naturespicsonline.com. Licensed under Copyrighted free use via Wikimedia Commons

Why do different species of, for example, dogs breed then? Because they’re not different species. With the help of a stepladder perhaps, a Chihuahua could mate with a Great Dane and she will conceive and give birth to puppies with extraordinary identity issues. But a human being could not reproduce with a sheep. Thank goodness for that or there would be some pretty weird creatures running around America’s notoriously redneck south.

So how does one species become two or a different species all together? Evolution, that’s how! But, to be more precise, differential evolution. To rephrase in English: one species is split into two or more groups – through any of a number of mechanisms – and they evolve differently and to such an extent that they no longer want to bonk each other.

For the sake of simplicity (and the fact that your boss is beginning to notice that you haven’t actually typed anything in a while), we shall focus on only the most common of these mechanisms. It bears the unfortunate name of “allopatric speciation” which makes it sound far more complicated than it really is. Here’s how it works…



A species of, for example, butterfly becomes enormously successful in a topographically voluptuous environment complete with soaring mountains and plunging necklines. These butterflies, as a result, spread out to inhabit both the cooler upper mountainous regions and the warmer deep river valleys between them. The ones that hang out in the mountains rarely, if ever make the journey south to visit their relatives and the same applies to the valley dwellers.

Over time and successive generations, the single species splits into two distinct groups. The mountain flutterbies become adjusted to life in the clouds and develop a unique set of traits that enable them to be successful in high altitudes… such as tiny crampons, oxygen cylinders and thermal booties. The flutterbies that hang out in the river valleys also evolve and develop their unique set of traits, including sweatbands, beer-making and fire dancing.

Eventually, these two groups become so different to one another that they no longer recognise each other as potential partners and they will cease to reproduce. What began as a single species becomes two thanks to geographical separation, differential evolution and eventual genetic drift.

Allopatric speciation helps us to understand why very similar species of prehistoric animals have been found in completely different parts of the globe. Owing to the shifting tectonic plates, populations were separated from each other (just like in the movie The Land Before Time) and evolved in order to be successful in their particular environmental context.


Evidence of Evolution in Humans: Wisdom Teeth

A fantastic example of evolution and how we humans have changed as a species is the wisdom tooth. Many moons ago, when we were still living in caves and clubbing women over the heads in order to impress them, our diets were composed of a great variety of foods, such as grains, fruits, leaves, grasses, nuts and other tough and fibrous things. In order to manage these foods, our jaws were larger and more robust. Our wisdom teeth would emerge sometime in our early adulthood and they were very useful in helping us to chew.

Then we discovered fire or rather harnessed its power. And instead of foraging and hunting for food, we began growing it and farming it ourselves. Our diets shifted to one of softer, more processed foods and there became less and less of a need to have such big, strong jaws, although Ronn Moss from that inane soapie the Bold and the Beautiful clearly missed the memo at some stage. With smaller and more gracile jaws, there became less space for wisdom teeth, which is precisely why their emergence in our early 20’s causes so much trouble for us, including over-crowding, impacted wisdom teeth and revolting oral abscesses.

What’s the use of wisdom teeth if all they do is cause us trouble? The good news is that this once useful biological trait is being phased out via evolution! More and more people are being born with only two wisdom teeth or with none at all! If this applies to you, you can congratulate yourself on being more evolutionarily advanced than your contemporaries. The bottom line here is that wisdom teeth are a biological remnant of a time when we needed stronger and more robust jaws. The fact that our diets have changed, as well as our jawbones, has rendered them largely redundant and unfortunately a bit of a pain in the neck *snort*.

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

Redwood forests California

Natural selection, speciation, evolution, genetic drift… these may all sound like intimidating concepts, but in reality they are totally logical and – with the help of some ridiculous analogies – easily understood. By understanding these mechanisms for diversification and change, we are offered a very special insight into the history of life on our planet and just how it is we came to share it with an extremely beautiful and varied biosphere.

While a number of hypotheses have been put forward to explain the diversification of life on Earth, the theories published by scientists, perhaps the most well known of which is Charles Darwin, make the most sense. Or at least to those in possession of an enquiring mind and critical thinking skills.

We Are Star People!

No, that is not a Bob Sinclair song. It is a revelation of divine proportions. Only, THIS concept, which is grounded in the soils of the Big Bang Theory, bears more gravity than Creationism. A lot more.

What Exactly ARE Stars?

Space Nebula

Stars are actually tiny, tiny little fireflies trapped against a velvety blanket of night.

Bet they didn’t teach you THAT in Astronomy 101!

Seriously though… stars are aggregations of mass bound together by gravity. Immense gravity. Let’s take a look at our own Earth: the deeper you dig, the hotter it gets. Why do you think that is? The incredible amount of pressure exerted by the millions upon billions of tonnes of soil, rock and Kim Kardashian’s bum on the Earth’s core have actually rendered it so hot that it’s become a giant oozy ball of molten magma.

If the Earth was bigger, MUCH bigger – bigger even than Jupiter – the pressure exerted on the core of the planet would be so immense that it would initiate spontaneous nuclear reactions. Yes, as in atomic bomb-sized explosions. But instead of the singular blast that wiped out Hiroshima and instantly incinerated 70,000 people, these reactions would be continuous, with the prodigious amounts of heat generated by one nuclear explosion feeding several others in a chain reaction of fire and brimstone that would make Lucifer green with envy.

The Sun

And this is a star! Stars are giant accumulations of mass, just like a planet really. The key different is that they are far more massive than planets. And because of the incredible gravity, heat and pressure exerted on the core of the star, it initiates spontaneous and unending nuclear reactions, generating all that delicious light and heat we feel when we walk outside into the sun.

Here’s a fun fact: While our planet TOTALLY bombed out on its stellar exam, Jupiter only failed by a margin. Jupiter and Saturn, the gas giants in our solar system, could have been stars if they were a little heavier. But alas. Can you imagine that, though? Three suns? Norway would be stoked!

In the Beginning…

Alright, so you know what stars are and that a summer vacation on the Sun wouldn’t be all the tourist brochures paint it to be. But, how does this explain where we come from?

When the universe was formed a couple of seconds after the cataclysmic boom started the ball rolling, there was hydrogen and helium. The first thing you need to know is that protons, which are positively charged particles, occupy mass. So, as ridiculously small as they are, they do weigh something and therefore, the more protons an atom has, the heavier it will be.

With only one proton, hydrogen is the lightest element in the universe. Helium is the next in line to the throne with only two protons. Lithium is next with three and then beryllium with four protons and so on and so forth. Here, we come full circle. At the formation of the universe, there was hydrogen, helium and trace amounts of lithium and beryllium (and yes, God, there was light. Lots of it.)

But there weren’t any other elements, certainly not the heavier ones we know are necessary for life, like carbon and oxygen. Where did these come from?

Einstein Drops the Bomb (Metaphorically Speaking of Course)

Atombombe_Little_Boy“Atombombe Little Boy”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

On August 6th 1945, a 4,000 kg bomb sadistically dubbed ‘Little Boy’ was dropped on a city in southwest Honshu, Japan. Of the bomb’s 4,000 kg (8,900 lbs) mass, only 64 kg (141 lbs) consisted of uranium, a notoriously radioactive element coveted by innumerable comic book villains. But get this…

Of the 64 kg of uranium, only 0.7 kg (1.5 lbs) actually underwent fission. And of the 700 grams of super critical uranium, only 0.6 grams of matter got converted into pure energy. It was this energy – not ANYTHING ELSE – that instantly disintegrated 70,000 people, flattened the city and, as a result of injury and radiation, claimed a further 70,000 lives.

Think about that: 600 milligrams – 0.6 grams of matter – when converted directly into energy just about punched a hole in the face of the Earth.

How? How it is possible for this tiny amount of mass to liberate enough energy to level an entire city in Japan? And how does this bring us closer to understanding where we come from and that ridiculous title about being star people?!

 Because E = mc^2. That’s why.


It doesn’t take very much matter to create explosions that even at a distance of 150 million kilometres could leave you looking like a boiled lobster. Just ask anyone who has ever fallen asleep in the sun.

Einstein’s famous equation explains this. The mass of matter multiplied by the square of the speed of light equals the amount of energy contained by that mass. In the case of the atom bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima 30 years ago, the mass that was converted into energy only weighed 0.6 g. But use Einstein’s equation to calculate the corresponding amount of energy and you’re effectively multiplying this mass by 90,000,000,000,000,000 m/s (the speed of light squared.)

The Answer: 54,000,000,000,000,000 Joules.

Holy CRAP that’s a lot!

nuclear bomb with skull

This brings us back to stars. In the very bowls of a star where these nuclear reactions are taking place, hydrogen atoms are smooshed together by pressure to form a helium atoms. But if you look closely at the atomic mass of these elements – their weight really – you’ll see that this equation doesn’t work out exactly. For every four hydrogen atoms mashed together to form helium, there is a tiny amount of excess mass and it is this that gets converted into pure energy via Einstein’s famous equation.

This is the energy that we see as light, feel as heat and, if we were within earshot of a star, would hear as sound too. Unfortunately space is a vacuum and sound doesn’t travel in a vacuum. So there goes that idea.

Honey, We’re Outta Gas!

Forget what happens in a single fusion reaction of 4 hydrogen atoms = 1 helium atom. Our star, the sun, is a main sequence star (middle-aged) that fuses 620,000,000 metric tons of hydrogen EVERY second! The equivalent amount of energy just boggles the mind and the zeros required to write that number down would occupy an entire book.

Now what happens? Well, the amount of hydrogen contained in a star is finite. Eventually a star will run out of fuel. Via the hydrogen fusion reactions we discussed, a star accumulates vast oceans of helium throughout its lifetime, which it will start to burn when it runs out of hydrogen. And via the same kind of fusion reaction, the immense heat and pressure in a star will mash together atoms of helium to form heavier elements, such as iron, oxygen and carbon.

Eventually, however, a star will burn out and when it does, it implodes upon itself. Then, depending upon its size, it goes supernova, which is science speak for “shit hitting the fan.” The dying star, in one last melodramatic gesture of sheer awesomeness, explodes outwards, sending a shower of heavy elements into the cosmos.

Crab Nebula

Supernova: Ka-BOOM!!

Class Dismissed: Your Take Home Message

Hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, calcium and magnesium and so on… these are the elements from which we are made. All of these elements were forged in the hearts of stars over the millennia via nuclear reactions.

This is why we are star people: literally created from the guts of exploded stars.

Your homework is to watch this video. If it doesn’t make you smile then you were born without a limbic system. Now take it away, Neil!

Video Source: “We Are Star Dust” by Symphony of Science on YouTube channel https://youtu.be/8g4d-rnhuSg

Getting Back On That Horse

Funny horse picture

Watch me whip, whip! Watch me neigh, neigh!

This blog has been somewhat of a beautiful, yet tumultuous relationship for me. We’ve seen more breaks than Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez and yet, undeniably, my life’s compass keeps pointing me back in the direction of science writing. Hopefully it won’t all end with us breaking up for good and me being arrested in Miami for drunken driving and assault.

Some of my more dedicated followers, fans and stalkers will recall that at the beginning of the year, I initiated a transition from “Why? Because Science” to a new entertainment website. This was to be a collaborative effort between a group of us with the end goal of creating a virtual space people could go to kill time by perusing our coffers of funny pictures, blow-your-mind videos and – of course – my awesome science blogs. However, upon viewing the vapid virtual fodder my colleagues were incessantly posting, I began experiencing mental allergies that had very real physical manifestations. The symptoms of this allergy included eye twitches, brain farts, hot ears and a tendency to channel great strings of obscenities at my phone every time I checked my news feed.

I don’t work very well in teams as a rule… but to share this virtual space with religious zealots, cute yet vacuous animal videos and puke-worthy inspirational quotes smashed through my tolerance boundaries. I want to write about science and the content I strive to share with my audience has got to be exceptional. Unfortunately, the intellectual standards I aspired to uphold were not compatible with those of my teammates and so, after transferring to this new website much of the amazing content I have worked on lovingly for years, I faced the rather embarrassing and depressing fact that it really wasn’t worth it.

I then flung myself into my daytime job, because I have this annoying habit of becoming Oprah when I go out on weekends and someone has to pay for the damage: “You get a tequila, YOU get a tequila, EVERYBODY GETS A TEQUILA!!” Now… all these months later, I feel the calling to pollute the virtual ether with my sciencey musings returning with a vengeance.

Here’s how it’s going to work…

I’m slowly, day by day, going to transfer all the content I sacrificed to that entertainment website BACK onto Why? Because Science. To many of you, these blogs will be familiar, but that’s okay… you’ve probably forgotten my bad tunafish analogies and crude Mexican food night jokes anyway. I will concurrently be working on some new material (Sweet Jesus!) so there will be ample entertainment for one and all. And, of course, I encourage you to share, comment, like and make your blog topic suggestions as always!

Until the next blog post drops, here’s something to keep you entertained…

Funny science pictures

Hot Damn, Your Weekend Reading!

Easter fail awkward

If the prospect of a long weekend with the extended family (including dodgy uncles and nattering aunts) sends your brain spiralling into shut-down, better take this reading list with you! Our combination of scintillating videos, laugh-out-loud science jokes and thought-provoking blogs will keep your mind sharp and ready to metabolise your father’s verbal diarrhoea.

Here’s what you can look forward to…

Science Blog Roll

The Placebo Effect: Learn about this fascinating phenomenon as it influences our physical well-being in the total absence of any legitimate treatment.

Ode to Wine: Wine, glorious wine! In this funny science blog, we explore the chemistry and alchemy that goes into the making of our favourite social lubricant.

All Things Bright and Beautiful, Evolution Made Them All: Need I say more? Evolution is the mechanism by which life on Earth is able to change, adapt and diversify.

 Amazing/Interesting/Fascinating Science Videos

baffled boxer dog picture

Epic Rap Battles of History # 4: Technology giants Bill Gates and Steve Jobs go rhyme-to-rhyme in this amazing science video taken from the hilarious Epic Rap Battles of History.


The 10 Most Unreal Places on Earth: Take a journey through Earth’s 10 most surreal landscapes and unreal places, from a pink lake in Australia to the mammoth crystal caverns of Mexico. The is a MUST-SEE.

TED Talks with Adam Savage: One half of the genius behind Discovery’s “Mythbusters” spends a few minutes explaining how some of history’s most profound discoveries were made with just a spoonful of rationality, for example, the circumference of the Earth.

Driving Instructors Get Epically Pranked by Nerd Girl: If you have a thing for nerd girls, hard core female race drivers or watching innocent people get epically pranked, this video is for you! It had me in stitches.

When Earth and Space Collide: A Compilation of Meteor Footage – Need we say more? Actual footage of meteors, meteorites and one hypothetical scenario involving major asteroid impact. You WILL be entertained.

Meteor asteroid picture

50 Orgasms a Day Has Girl on Her Knees in Pain: Meet the sufferers of a rare medical disorder that has them experiencing persistent and powerful sexual arousal and orgasm. What, at first, sounds pretty awesome turns out to be horrifying.

World’s Largest Cave Revealed: Take a journey through the world’s largest and most spectacular cave (Hang Son Doong, Vietnam) on the back of a remote controlled drone.

10 Amazing Photographs That’ll Blow Your Mind: 10 Amazing photographs of Earth and nature that you’ve probably never seen before, from the tongue under the microscope to a massive dust storm from the safety of the ocean. Prepare to “ooh” and “aah!”

Beautiful Black hole

Daily Dose of Funny Science

Funny Science picture