This is Why … Campfire Smoke Follows You Around

They said someday you’ll findAll who love are blindWhen your heart’s on fireYou must realizeSmoke gets in your eyesJerome 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 your friend’s labrador retriever who really, really, really wants that wiener you just roasted. Of course, if there was no wind, if there were no complex…

Continue reading


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 of his coat and marvelled at its geometric beauty. Why does the snowflake always appear ‘six cornered’?, he wondered. Never five…

Continue reading


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 a bit like waving a red flag at a bull and I was definitely intrigued. So here’s the full clip and…

Continue reading


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

(campfire image from Shutterstock) 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! Although there are many who love the lingering smell of campfire in their hair and clothing, there is plenty of…

Continue reading


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 to load the dishwasher in that family!” You never know where the discussions will start or end, and mealtimes are often…

Continue reading


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 as often as I can. The other morning, after putting the gear away, I stood on the dock watching a swarm…

Continue reading


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 a bit of a refresher on the whole photosynthesis thing. Next thing I know, I’d fallen down a fascinating rabbit hole,…

Continue reading


This Is Why … Zebras Have Stripes

(“IMG_2095” by expat696969 is licensed under CC0 1.0) Ok, I’ll admit that I was more than a little skeptical when my 15-year-old daughter asked me to buy a zebra-print flysheet for her horse. I may even have scoffed, saying something along the lines of “Why would you want to make your horse look so silly?” When Hannah replied: “Because – SCIENCE!”, I knew that I had to do a little digging. Well played, Young Grasshopper, well played. Imagine my…

Continue reading


This Is Why …it’s good to be hard-headed, if you’re a woodpecker

The soundtrack to my walk in the woods last weekend was incredible. The forest was alive with creatures big and small, busy with the tasks of a new season: the spring peepers were cheerfully peeping, the partridges were drumming on hollow logs, tom turkeys were gobbling at full throat. And, above it all, the incredibly loud bursts of hammering from pileated woodpeckers carried through the treetops. When I stopped to listen, I was struck by…

Continue reading


This Is Why … physics leads to love for western grebes

(Photo by Keneva Photography) This elaborate courting display is known as rushing, a mating ritual that is unique to the western and Clark’s grebes (Aechmophorus occidentalis and Aechmophorus clarkii). In showing off for nearby potential mates, grebes in twos and threes run side-by-side across the water for 10 to 20 metres at a time, which is a pretty impressive feat for creatures weighing one to two kilograms. How do they accomplish it? It turns out…

Continue reading