This is Why … Falling on the Ice May Have Saved My Life

On an icy cold morning at the end of February, I tentatively headed down the slope behind our house, on my way out for some daily exercise. As I stepped off a retaining wall down to the walkway below, my foot went right out from under me and I crashed down, hard. The small of my back came down on the edge of the six-inch high concrete step as the rest of me landed on the lower level − I experienced the most intense pain I have ever felt. And that includes the drug-free labour and delivery of our first child.

This Is Why … Rainbows Have Nothing to Hide

A few weeks ago during dinner there was a sudden burst of sunlight in the midst of a rain shower. Knowing that these were ideal rainbow-making conditions, we jumped up from the table and ran out to investigate. Sacrificing our meal was entirely worth it: this photo was taken just a few hundred metres downContinue reading “This Is Why … Rainbows Have Nothing to Hide”

A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to the Lecture Hall…

As I strode across campus to meet my second-year physics students in our Electricity and Magnetism class a few years ago, it suddenly struck me that I had the makings of a fantastic opportunity tucked under my arm. My teaching assistant had returned their last assignment of the semester to me, so I quickly formulatedContinue reading “A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to the Lecture Hall…”

This is Why … Campfire Smoke Follows You Around

They said someday you’ll find All who love are blind When your heart’s on fire You must realize Smoke gets in your eyes Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach, 1933 (“Watching the Campfire” by Mr Moss is licensed under CC BY 2.0) Despite legions of campers swearing to the contrary, campfire smoke does NOT actually follow you around like yourContinue reading “This is Why … Campfire Smoke Follows You Around”

This is Why … The Snowflake is “Six-Cornered”

Image: https://www.shutterstock.com/g/Bobkov+Evgeniy Back in 1611, Johannes Kepler, court mathematician to the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, found himself flat broke in the lead-up to the holiday season. (Apparently Rudolf didn’t pay his court all that regularly.) As he wandered across the Charles Bridge in Prague, he noticed a delicate snowflake attached to the lapel ofContinue reading “This is Why … The Snowflake is “Six-Cornered””

This is Why … The Beautiful Game is Beautiful Physics

(Image of football/soccer player in the rain under stadium lights, from Shutterstock.com) A few days ago, my football-obsessed cousin, James, commented on Twitter on a video of an incredible header by superstar athlete Cristiano Ronaldo, concluding that the “laws of physics don’t apply to [Ronaldo]”. It wasn’t intentional, but a statement like that is aContinue reading “This is Why … The Beautiful Game is Beautiful Physics”

This is Why … campfire smoke may have played a surprising role in our evolution

Like me, you may have spent a significant amount of time around a campfire this past long weekend. Singing songs, roasting marshmallows, debating the optimal wood configuration, discussing the connection between campfire smoke and eating placenta …. No? Not the last one? Well buckle your seatbelts, kids, let’s dive right in!

This is Why … Whales Nap in the Upright Position

Our younger daughter, Mara, loves to read things like Weird But True! – filled with tons of interesting facts about the natural world. Mealtime conversations are often peppered with such declarations as “elephants drink 800 glasses of water a day!”, to which I would typically respond with something like “I’m glad I don’t have toContinue reading “This is Why … Whales Nap in the Upright Position”

This is Why … Water Striders and I Are Kindred Spirits

(Shutterstock.com ID 1724117857) A couple of summers ago I signed up with the Wellington Sculling Club for their Learn To Row* program. Coached by an amazing group of people, I successfully completed the course and joined as a full member, but I still have plenty to learn so I head down to the lake asContinue reading “This is Why … Water Striders and I Are Kindred Spirits”

This Is Why … Microscopic but Mighty Cyanobacteria Deserve Our Respect

Science Twitter is a great place – for education and entertainment. This ‘cyanobacteria meme’ was tweeted by Jaida Elcock, also known as @soFISHtication, on June 15, 2020, and quickly racked up more than 1000 retweets and 5000 likes. As a physicist with a somewhat sketchy memory of first-year biology, I felt like I needed aContinue reading “This Is Why … Microscopic but Mighty Cyanobacteria Deserve Our Respect”