From Our Own Borealis Blog

Visionary science fiction after Star Trek

Image: DasWortgewand, Pixabay CC0

Robert Gooding-Townsend, Science in Society Editor Earlier this month, Star Trek turned 50. This was a time for celebrating the […]

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Wild Helpers in the Brussels Sprouts Patch

by Jan ThornhillBrussels sprouts look ridiculous! (Wikipedia)The first time I saw Brussels sprouts clinging to their stems on the back of a truck in Holland in 1977, I was shocked. Up until then, I’d always thought they were baby cabbages. I still can't believe no one told me how they grew.Cabbages, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and kohlrabi are all the same species.We’ve had a large organic vegetable garden for over 25 years. For most of those years we’ve tried to grow various brassicas—broccoli, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, cauliflower, and, yes, Brussels sprouts.A pretty pest—the cabbage white butterfly (Wikipedia)Every year, though, we’ve been inundated with cabbage butterflies and their progeny—cabbage-loving green caterpillars. The common Cabbage White Butterfly (Pieris rapae) is native to Europe, Asia and North Africa. There were none here until it was accidentally introduced to Quebec in 1860. Because there are plenty of wild Brassica species in North America, it spread like crazy.…

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What’s for lunch? #fieldeats

During our recent outreach events with the Kingston Field Naturalists and the Kingston Frontenac Public Library, we noticed that people were really interested in our eating habits. The what’s, where’s, and how’s of eating during fieldwork were questions that kept coming up. If your fieldwork entails living in isolation from the public for many weeks, how do you get the food there and store it properly? If you have no access to refrigeration, what do you eat? These are all valid questions for such a necessity in life that you don’t really take into consideration until you are removed from the luxury of everyday life. I’m sure anyone who has been camping is nodding in agreement. Normally, since field biologists are already carrying a lot of equipment, food in the field tends to be pretty basic. However, believe it or not, food can change your mood. What you eat that day could…

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Windows in Swiss trains are about to combine mobile reception and thermal insulation

A Sept. 2, 2016 news item on Nanowerk announces a whole new kind of train window, EPFL [École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne; Switzerland] researchers have developed a type of glass that offers excellent energy efficiency and lets mobile telephone signals through. And by teaming up with Swiss manufacturers, they have produced innovative windows. Railway company BLS is about to install them on some of its trains in order to improve energy efficiency. An Aug. 26, 2016 EPFL press release, by Anne-Muriel Brouet, which originated the news item, Train travel may be fast, but mobile connectivity onboard often lags behind. This is because the modern train car is a metal box that blocks out microwaves – in physics, this is called a Faraday cage. Even the windows contain an ultra-thin metal coating to improve thermal insulation. But EPFL researchers, working with manufacturing partners, have developed a new type of window that…

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Right Turn: “Comic” twist on CRISPR

There’s nothing really funny about the patent debate on CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing. It’s been a contentious and expensive court battle, that has thankfully steered clear of mud-slinging (mostly). Which is good, since there’s more than enough of that in the U.S. these days, thanks to the Donald. For those who have followed the CRISPR patent battle closely, there’s plenty to read, a good deal of it conjecture about which side, Doudna/Charpentier or Zhang, deserves what will certainly be a massive, career-altering license. But for many who have only heard snippets (pun intended) of information, you might wonder exactly what the CRISPR-Cas9 technology is, its potential, and how the patent battle emerged in the first place. Andy Warner of the Nib recently published a fantastic comic, “Bad Blood,” that explains the basics of CRISPR and the patent debate in 45 crisply-worded panels. I’ve included two of them here as a teaser…

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