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Johann Joachim BecherPhlogiston,  in early chemical theory, hypothetical principle of fire, of which every combustible substance was in part composed. In this view, the phenomena of burning, now called oxidation, was caused by the liberation of phlogiston, with the dephlogisticated substance left as an ash or residue.

Johann Joachim Becher (left) in 1669 set forth his view that substances contained three kinds of earth, which he called the vitrifiable, the mercurial, and the combustible. He supposed that, when a substance burned, combustible earth (Latin terra pinguis, meaning “fat earth”) was liberated. Thus, wood was a combination of phlogiston and wood ashes. To this hypothetical substance Georg Ernst Stahl, at about the beginning of the 18th century, applied the name phlogiston (from Greek, meaning “burned”). Stahl believed that the corrosion of metals in air (e.g., the rusting of iron) was also a form of combustion, so that when a metal was converted to its calx, or metallic ash (its oxide, in modern terms), phlogiston was lost. Therefore, metals were composed of calx and phlogiston. The function of air was merely to carry away the liberated phlogiston.

Antoine-Laurent LavoisierThe major objection to the theory, that the ash of organic substances weighed less than the original while the calx was heavier than the metal, was of little significance to Stahl, who thought of phlogiston as an immaterial “principle” rather than as an actual substance. As chemistry advanced, phlogiston was considered a true substance, and much effort was expended in accounting for the weight changes observed. When hydrogen, very light in weight and extremely flammable, was discovered, some thought it was pure phlogiston.

The phlogiston theory was discredited by Antoine Lavoisier (right) between 1770 and 1790. He studied the gain or loss of weight when tin, lead, phosphorus, and sulfur underwent reactions of oxidation or reduction (deoxidation); and he showed that the newly discovered element oxygen was always involved. Although a number of chemists—notably Joseph Priestley, one of the discoverers of oxygen—tried to retain some form of the phlogiston theory, by 1800 practically every chemist recognized the correctness of Lavoisier’s oxygen theory. Edited from ia phlogiston

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This tree produces 40 different types of fruit


An art professor from Syracuse University in the US, Van Aken grew up on a family farm before pursuing a career as an artist, and has combined his knowledge of the two to develop his incredible Tree of 40 Fruit.

In 2008, Van Aken learned that an orchard at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station was about to be shut down due to a lack of funding. This single orchard grew a great number of heirloom, antique, and native varieties of stone fruit, and some of these were 150 to 200 years old. To lose this orchard would render many of these rare and old varieties of fruit extinct, so to preserve them, Van Aken bought the orchard, and spent the following years figuring out how to graft parts of the trees onto a single fruit tree.

Working with a pool of over 250 varieties of stone fruit, Van Aken developed a timeline of when each of them blossom in relationship to each other and started grafting a few onto a working tree’s root structure. Once the working tree was about two years old, Van Aken used a technique called chip grafting to add more varieties on as separate branches. This technique involves taking a sliver off a fruit tree that includes the bud, and inserting that into an incision in the working tree. It’s then taped into place, and left to sit and heal over winter. If all goes well, the branch will be pruned back to encourage it to grow as a normal branch on the working tree. After about five years and several grafted branches, Van Aken’s first Tree of 40 Fruit was complete.

Aken’s Tree of 40 Fruit looks like a normal tree for most of the year, but in spring it reveals a stunning patchwork of pink, white, red and purple blossoms, which turn into an array of plums, peaches, apricots, nectarines, cherries and almonds during the summer months, all of which are rare and unique varieties. Via This tree produces 40 different types of fruit

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The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game gets it European premiere at this year’s London Film Festival. It is a nail-biting race against time following Alan Turing (pioneer of modern-day computing and credited with cracking the German Enigma code) and his brilliant team at Britain’s top-secret code-breaking centre, Bletchley Park, during the darkest days of World War II. Turing, whose contributions and genius significantly shortened the war, saving thousands of lives, was the eventual victim of an unenlightened British establishment, but his work and legacy live on.

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Did defenders of castles really pour boiling oil down on attackers?

Siege of Orleans_0

It is a common image that springs to mind when thinking of medieval warfare, and there is evidence that it was used to deter attackers. The Jewish defenders of Yodfat in AD 67 poured hot oil on the Roman besiegers, and heated oil is also mentioned as being used against the English at Orleans in 1428-29. But oil was a valuable resource and it was probably too scarce to be anything other than an occasional weapon.

In fact, there was no shortage of other cheaper, and more plentiful, alternatives. Defenders would hurl down rocks, stones or even pieces of their own wall, or pour down boiling water or heated sand. Attackers might also be blinded with quicklime, a kind of medieval mustard gas that became caustic when it came in contact with anything wet.

They could be burned by Greek fire, a mixture of resin, pitch, sulphur and naptha, which was notoriously hard to extinguish. In 1216, the French defenders of Beaucaire Castle lowered a sack of burning sulphur, which drove off the attackers with its noxious fumes. However the prize for ingenuity has to go to the defenders of Chester who, in 905, are said to have inflicted a stinging defeat on the Vikings by dropping the town’s beehives on them. Via HistoryRevealed

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The 20 Amino Acids

amino acids

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If you fold a piece of paper in half a 103 times it is as thick as the Universe

britneyFolding paper in half over and over again is a whole lot harder than it sounds. The current record is 12 times, performed over a decade ago by American high school student, Britney Gallivan. Before she managed her twelfth fold, the record was just seven folds, and it was believed to be mathematically impossible to get any higher than that. The phenomenon is based on the exponential growth of the thickness of a sheet of paper when it’s folded in half – each time its thickness doubles and requires more and more energy to fold it. Dr Karl Kruszelnicki has done some awesome maths over at ABC Science Online with a standard A4 sheet of paper, measuring about 300 mm long and 0.05 mm thick:

“The first time you fold it in half, it becomes 150 mm long and 0.1 mm thick. The second fold takes it to 75 mm long and 0.2 mm thick. By the 8th fold (if you can get there), you have a blob of paper 1.25 mm long, but 12.8 mm thick. It’s now thicker than it is long, and, if you’re trying to bend it, seems to have the structural integrity of steel.”

According to Ethan Siegel at It Starts With A Bang, a paper folded in half 20 times will be 10 km high, which makes it higher than Mount Everest. But what if you kept going? Nikola Slavkovic has run through the maths of the Paper Folding Problem on his YouTube channel and has come up with this: If you fold a piece of 0.099mm-thick paper 103 times, the thickness of the paper will be larger than the observable Universe: 93 billion light-years, to be exact.

This of course assumes you can find a piece of paper larger enough and you have enough energy to fold it. Edited from A piece of paper folded 103 times is as thick as the Universe

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Aogoshima Island

This is an aerial view of Aogoshima Island, one of about a dozen volcanic islands south of Tokyo in the Philippine Sea, seven of which are inhabited. Aogoshima is the southernmost of these inhabited islands.

In the Western Pacific, the Pacific Plate is subducting beneath a series of plates, including the Eurasian plate to the North beneath Japan and the Philippine Sea plate here. That subduction leads to a linear series of volcanoes trending south from Tokyo where the Pacific, Philippine Sea, and Eurasian Plates meet.

The island shows a gorgeous set of volcanic structures. The outer ring of the island is a large collapsed caldera; a gap created when the volcano above erupted, clearing space in the magma chamber into which the peak collapsed. After the large eruption that produced the caldera, volcanic activity continued and a smaller peak has re-grown in the center.

Eventually, this peak may well grow large enough to dominate the island and collapse into a caldera again, a continuing cycle seen with many large volcanic systems. Via EarthStory

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Transplanting gene into injured hearts creates biological pacemakers

Cardiologists at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute have developed a minimally invasive gene transplant procedure that changes unspecialized heart cells into “biological pacemaker” cells that keep the heart steadily beating.

The laboratory animal research, published online and in today’s print edition of the peer-reviewed journal Science Translational Medicine, is the result of a dozen years of research with the goal of developing biological treatments for patients with heart rhythm disorders who currently are treated with surgically implanted pacemakers. In the United States, an estimated 300,000 patients receive pacemakers every year.

“We have been able, for the first time, to create a biological pacemaker using minimally invasive methods and to show that the biological pacemaker supports the demands of daily life,” said Eduardo Marbán, MD, PhD, director of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, who led the research team. “We also are the first to reprogram a heart cell in a living animal in order to effectively cure a disease.” Continue reading

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Is the universe a bubble? Let’s check: Making the multiverse hypothesis testable


Perimeter Associate Faculty member Matthew Johnson and his colleagues are working to bring the multiverse hypothesis, which to some sounds like a fanciful tale, firmly into the realm of testable science. Never mind the big bang; in the beginning was the vacuum. The vacuum simmered with energy (variously called dark energy, vacuum energy, the inflation field, or the Higgs field). Like water in a pot, this high energy began to evaporate — bubbles formed.

Each bubble contained another vacuum, whose energy was lower, but still not nothing. This energy drove the bubbles to expand. Inevitably, some bubbles bumped into each other. It’s possible some produced secondary bubbles. Maybe the bubbles were rare and far apart; maybe they were packed close as foam. But here’s the thing: each of these bubbles was a universe. In this picture, our universe is one bubble in a frothy sea of bubble universes. That’s the multiverse hypothesis in a bubbly nutshell. It’s not a bad story. It is, as scientists say, physically motivated — not just made up, but rather arising from what we think we know about cosmic inflation.

Cosmic inflation isn’t universally accepted — most cyclical models of the universe reject the idea. Nevertheless, inflation is a leading theory of the universe’s very early development, and there is some observational evidence to support it. Inflation holds that in the instant after the big bang, the universe expanded rapidly — so rapidly that an area of space once a nanometer square ended up more than a quarter-billion light years across in just a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second. It’s an amazing idea, but it would explain some otherwise puzzling astrophysical observations.

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The Detail In This Hummingbird Photograph Is Unreal

Scotland-based photographer Chris Morgan captured this remarkable macro shot of a hummingbird while visiting Bosque De Paz Nature Reserve in Costa Rica. In case you were wondering: Yes, that is Morgan’s reflection in the hummingbird’s eye.

Morgan tells io9 the key to capturing this photograph was patience:

My main method of taking the pictures was patience. I used a canon 100mm macro lens and sat near to some hummingbird feeders that were suspended just above head height. I kept the camera [close to] my face, as I have always felt animals are sensitive and usually alarmed by faces. I gradually got closer and closer. To get this shot I was there nearly an hour. The birds fly in and out so fast you have to practice holding the shutter just on the point of release, and then react as fast as you can.

More incredible, still, is that Morgan only moonlights as a photographer – he’s actually in the catering business. Via The Detail In This Hummingbird Photograph Is Unreal.

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These microbes have a truly ‘shocking’ diet

Electric bacteria ‘eat’ electricity. So far researchers have found that Shewanella and Geobacter love to feast on electric power, and they are searching for more species. As shocking as this diet may sound, microbiologist Kenneth Nealson from the University of Southern California in the US thinks this shouldn’t come as a surprise as life is basically a flow of electrons. He told New Scientist: “Life’s very clever… It figures out how to suck electrons out of everything we eat and keep them under control.”

These astute bacteria source their electrons from minerals. And if we were to compare them to humans it would be the equivalent of us shoving our fingers in a DC electrical socket to recharge, Nealson told New Scientist. Nealson and his team have hooked bacteria to electrodes in the lab to see how the microbes work. Harnessing the power of these bacteria could lead to the development of self-powered devices and biomachines that can clean contaminated groundwater and sewage. Via These microbes have a truly ‘shocking’ diet

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Rare apple mutation found in Kingston


When Mel Staples asked her eight-year-old son to pick apples from a tree on their property she was baffled at the small harvest he returned with.

“I picked up one and it was a like a granny smith apple and a red delicious apple had both been cut in half and then joined together. “It was just this perfect line right through the middle of the apple and it was just the weirdest thing,” says Ms Staples. The apple was grown on Ms Staples’ property in Kingston, southern Tasmania, and after posting the photo to social media she says her friends simply couldn’t believe it. “They thought that I’d been having them all on and painted this apple and put it on Facebook as a joke,” she says. Former specialist apple grower Bob Magnus says until now he’d never seen an apple like the one found by Ms Staples. “One like hers is very rare but there’s plenty of mutations happening in apples all the time,” he says.

The former apple guru explains that ‘apples mutate very readily’ and the original gala apple would be almost unrecognisable from the ones today because of the mutation that has occurred.

“Someone selected a red mutation here or another mutation there and the one that you see pretty much every day in the shops is royal red gala. “That has a propensity to try and revert back to be the old gala because of the genetic instability and that is how these genetic mutation occur,” he says.

Half red and half green apples are rare, but not unheard of. A fruit grower in the UK found a golden delicious in 2009 that was split in colour just like Ms Staples’ apple. Via Rare apple mutation found in Kingston

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New material puts a twist in light

Scientists at The Australian National University (ANU) have uncovered the secret to twisting light at will. It is the latest step in the development of photonics, the faster, more compact and less carbon-hungry successor to electronics. A random find in the washing basket led the team to create the latest in a new breed of materials known as metamaterials. These artificial materials show extraordinary properties quite unlike natural materials.

The work is published in Nature Communications. “Our material can put a twist into light – that is, rotate its polarisation – orders of magnitude more strongly than natural materials,” said lead author Mingkai Liu, a PhD student at the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering (RSPE). “And we can switch the effect on and off directly with light,” said Mr Liu . Via New material puts a twist in light.

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Behind the scenes of Lewis Hamilton’s ‘skydive’!

Watch how BBC Sport’s opener for the British Grand Prix was made, which saw Lewis Hamilton ‘skydiving’ onto the Silverstone circuit.

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520-Million-Year-Old Sea Monster Unearthed in China

A spectacularly well-preserved sea monster that once prowled the oceans during the Cambrian Period has been unearthed in China. The 520-million-year-old creature, one of the first predators of its day, sported compound eyes, body armor and two spiky claws for grabbing prey. The fossils of the new species were so well preserved that the nervous system and parts of the brain were still clearly defined. [Cambrian Creatures: Photos of Primitive Sea Life]

Before the Cambrian Period, which lasted between 543 million and 493 million years ago, most life resembled simple algae and stationary jellyfishlike creatures, but during the Cambrian explosion, a period of rapid evolution when biodiversity exploded, swimming sea creatures with compound eyes, jointed legs and hard exoskeletons emerged. The period also saw the rise of an iconic group of shrimplike creatures known as anomalocaridids. These ancient sea monsters were the top predators of the Cambrian seas, and sported bladed body armor and a cone-shaped mouth made of concentric plates. Some of the biggest of these bizarre creatures could grow to be up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) long. Via 520-Million-Year-Old Sea Monster Unearthed in China

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Periodic Table Clock

For periodic table enthusiasts like Prof. Martyn Poliakoff  this clock is pretty amazing!

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Giant hole appears at ‘the end of the world’

A mysterious crater has appeared at the “end of the world” in Siberia, leaving a pit 80m wide and so deep it has not yet been measured. Researchers are being dispatched to investigate the hole, which has confounded scientists with its dramatic appearance. Some have speculated it could have been made by a meteorite striking earth, an underground explosion, or is a sinkhole caused by collapsing rock, the Siberian Times reported. One imaginative online commenter claimed it could even be evidence “of the arrival of a UFO craft” to the planet.

The area’s name, Yamal, translates as the “end of the world” and the remote peninsula reaches into the Arctic Ocean. It holds some of Russia’s largest gas reserves and the crater appeared less than 20 miles from the biggest gas field, Bovanenkovo. The dark colour of the crater’s sides was said in a Zvezda TV report to indicate “temperature processes” or burning. Via Giant hole appears at ‘the end of the world’ in Siberia

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Devils Tower


Devils Tower is anigneous intrusion or laccolith in the Black Hills near Hulett and Sundance in Crook County, northeastern Wyoming, above the Belle Fourche River. It rises dramatically 1,267 feet (386 m) above the surrounding terrain and the summit is 5,114 feet (1,559 m) above sea level.

Devils Tower was the first declared United States National Monument, established on September 24, 1906, by President Theodore Roosevelt. The Monument’s boundary encloses an area of 1,347 acres (545 ha). In recent years, about 1% of the Monument’s 400,000 annual visitors climbed Devils Tower, mostly using traditional climbing techniques.

devils tower2The Arapaho, Crow, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Lakota, and Shoshone tribes had cultural and geographical ties to the monolith before non-native Americans reached Wyoming. Their names for the monolith include: Aloft on a Rock (Kiowa), Bear’s House (Cheyenne, Crow), Bear’s Lair (Cheyenne, Crow), Daxpitcheeaasáao, “Home of bears” (Crow), Bear’s Lodge (Cheyenne, Lakota), Bear’s Lodge Butte (Lakota), Bear’s Tipi (Arapaho, Cheyenne), Tree Rock (Kiowa), and Grizzly Bear Lodge (Lakota).

The name Devil’s Tower originated in 1875 during an expedition led by Col. Richard Irving Dodge when his interpreter misinterpreted the name to mean Bad God’s Tower, which then became Devil’s Tower. All information signs in that area use the name “Devils Tower”, following a geographic naming standard whereby the apostrophe is eliminated. Continue reading

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Lenticular Clouds

This is a photo of the small island of Litla Dimun which is situated between Suouroy and Stora Dimun in the Faroe Islands. It is the smallest of the Islands being less than 100 hectares (250 acres) in size and it is uninhabited.

The island is often covered by lenticular clouds. Lenticular clouds, also known as altocumular standing lenticularis clouds, are formed when a current of moist air is forced upwards as it travels over elevated land. This elevation and subsequent decrease in temperature causes the moisture in the air to condense and form a cloud.

Lenticular clouds appear to be perfectly stationary but in fact this is not the case. These clouds only appear stationary because the flow of moist air continually resupplies the cloud from the windward side even as water evaporates and vanishes from the leeward side. Lenticular clouds can look like they are hovering for hours or days, until the wind or weather changes and the clouds disperse. Via EarthStory

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Fire Rainbows

‘Fire rainbows’ are a rare phenomenon that only occur when the Sun is higher than 58° above the horizon and its light passes through cirrus clouds made of ice crystals. Via Facebook.

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