Set the World on Fire: Chlorine Trifluoride

Anyone who thinks science is boring is either lying or just hasn’t done their research. Not only can science explain the world in a way that no other philosophy can, it can also reveal some truly insane things that seem not to fit in our otherwise mundane experience of the reality. Case in point: Chlorine Trifluoride (CTF), a substance so far outside the realm of crazy that even Nazis  through in the “putting it to…

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A Game of Cat and Mouse… and Human: Toxoplasmosis and how it messes with your mind

Are you a cat lover? If so, you are not alone. Over the eons, cats have worked their way so deeply into human society that they are rivaled only by dogs in terms of their pervasiveness. Even if you’re not a fan, it is virtually certain that you have come into contact with Felis catus at some point in your life. Estimates vary but it is generally accepted that there are between 400 million and…

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Forcing a White Christmas: Can humans control the weather?

When I was a kid, I can distinctly remember going to bed on December 24 – on more than one occasion – feeling anxious that there would not be snow for Christmas. Ultimately, I ended up having pretty good luck and the majority of my Christmas mornings included a fresh layer of powder in the yard, even if the day before had been greener than a sack of unripe bananas. But what if we didn’t…

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Sensory Deprivation: Not as boring as it sounds

Living in the 21st century can often feel like being constantly poked with a thousand blunt sticks. The minor (and major) stresses we face every day – noisey neighbours, traffic congestion, the constant stream of pings and vibrations from the small rectangular ball-and-chains we carry around in our pockets – can really where a person down. You may be familiar with the sensation of coming home exhausted at the end of the day in spite…

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Altitude Sickness: How mountains tell you they don’t want to be climbed

Mountains are a wonderful thing. In fact, they are the preferred geological formation of the Sketchy Science team. That is why we have spent the past several weeks on and recovering from a research expedition to some of the highest peaks North America has to offer: the 14,000 foot peaks of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. While peaks in Alaska, B.C., and the Yukon attain higher elevations, none can rival Colorado for sheer accessibility.Accessibility is what you…

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Getting Biblical on CO2: How to turn your enemies to stone

Wouldn’t it be nice to have the power to turn your enemies into stone? It sounds like something out of the Old Testament or Greek myth, but it’s pretty darn effective. Unless they are careening down a hillside, at whose base you happen to be sitting, stones are relatively inert and harmless. Sadly, despite what religious texts or Tolkien books tell us, this probably isn’t a realistic strategy in the face of conflict. Happily, no…

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Blinded by the Sea: How eye glasses (and eyes) work

The ability to see is something we often take for granted. Every day, those of us with sight experience a range of shapes, sizes, colours, and movements that we only really appreciate when we are asked to – when watching Olympic gymnasts or when we’re confronted by something atypical, like a sunset or a mountain range. Most of us only really begin to appreciate the little things our eyes take in when they can no…

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Does your Dog Like Hugs? Truly Sketchy Science and the Value of Critical Thinking

As we all learned a few weeks ago, courtesy of John Oliver, sometimes the media misrepresents scientific findings. Things get blown out of proportion and the result can be total confidence in ideas that are totally wrong or frustration leading to mistrust of science in general. Fortunately, humans are equipped with an ability that few other animals demonstrate that allows us to sift through the nonsense. In school you may have learned about it as…

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Fort McMurray and the Roots of Human Kindness

Humans are full of surprises. If you watch the news, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that humans are the worst animals on two legs. We can be petty, selfish, mean, and violent. We wage wars, pollute the environment, and oppress one another for financial gain. But every so often something happens that allows us to glimpse the real nature of what it means to be human, and the results are among…

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Death from Below: Supervolcanoes and What Makes Them Tick

A couple weeks ago we learned about how rocks from space can destroy cabins, cities, and even civilizations with little to no warning. Very few things in nature hold as much destructive potential as a wayward hunk of solar system leftovers on an unlucky path, but there is one other event that comes close and you don’t need to look far to find it. Approximately 30 km (18 miles) beneath you right now is a…

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