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Jennifer Ouellette

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    The Strange Physics of Tea Leaves Floating Upstream

    It’s been said that the true harbinger of scientific discovery is not “Eureka!” but “Huh… that’s funny….” That certainly proved to be the case for Sebastian Bianchi: a simple cup of tea led him to some intriguing, counter-intuitive insights into the surface tension of water. Back when he was an undergraduate physics major at the […]

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    What’s Your Story?

    The psychological power of narrative.

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    Looking Through Paintings to See What’s Hidden

    This post originally ran on Facts So Romantic in May, 2013. There is more to the world than meets the human eye, a fact that hit home for the 18th-century astronomer Sir Frederick William Herschel when he discovered infrared light—a wavelength of light that lies just outside the visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. We can […]

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    The Chemistry and Psychology of Turning Water Into Wine

    Penn and Teller famously skewered the bottled water craze on their myth-busting Showtime series, Bullshit, setting up a hidden-camera sting operation in a fancy New York restaurant. A fake “water sommelier” stopped at each table, offering diners a special selection of high-end bottled water at $7 a pop. The catch: All the bottles were identical, […]

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    Hearing Hadrons, and Doing Research by Ear

    Animation of data from collisions at the LHCCERN Several years ago, particle physicist Lily Asquith was hanging out with a few musician pals in London after a band rehearsal, doing impromptu impersonations of what she thought the various elementary particles might sound like, and encouraging the drummer to recreate them electronically. Another band member asked […]

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    Purest of the Purists: The Puzzling Case of Grigori Perelman

    Grigori Perelman became famous, despite his adamant opposition, for proving a conjecture from Henri Poincaré, pictured here. In November 2002, a Russian mathematician named Grigori Perelman posted the first of three short preprints to the arXiv (an online repository for drafts of academic papers in math and science), offering a proof for the famous Poincare […]

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    Finding the Concept That Is Jennifer Aniston in My Brain

    Are your neurons thrown off by this photo? Shutterstock Most of us have an uneasy love/hate relationship with celebrity culture. No matter how much we try to pretend we’re above it all, celebrities somehow seep into our consciousness, whether it’s Miley Cyrus’s cringe-inducing twerking at the VMAs, or our enduring affection for the ensemble cast […]

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    Unwinding the Mystery of Namibia’s Natural Crop Circles

    The Himba bushmen who inhabit the Namibian grasslands—a 1,200-mile-long swath of land running from Angola into South Africa—have come up with different stories over the years to explain the unusual circular bare patches, called “fairy circles,” dotted throughout the grassy expanse. These reddish-hued circles, sometimes several feet in diameter, are dubbed “footprints of the gods,” […]

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    The Quirky Muon Just Might Spur a Physics Breakthrough—Again

    Folks in the Midwest may have been surprised to see a massive electromagnet being towed up the Mississippi River and driven through the flatlands of Illinois in July. The electromagnet was on its way from its original home at New York’s Brookhaven National Laboratory to Fermilab, near Chicago. In 2016 it’s scheduled to be the […]

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    The Unlikely Rocks Found in Mosques, Siberia & Outer Space

    A Penrose tiling, a 2D pattern that shows a similar lack of repetition as a 3D quasicrystal.Wikipedia Back in June, researchers at Ames laboratory in Iowa announced the discovery a new group of rare-earth quasicrystals—an unusual class of crystalline materials where the atomic structure boasts regular patterns that never repeat themselves. They resemble the intricate […]