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Why are plants green?


Satellite photos such as the one above depict our precious planetary home as a roughly spherical object colored with some mix of white, blue, green and brown pigments. I’m fairly confident that pretty much all of us know that the white color comes from snow, the blue color comes from bodies of water on our planet, the brown color comes from dirt in various forms, and the prominent green color comes from plants.
Continue reading Why are plants green?

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An Introduction to genetic mutations in plain english

Thanks in large part to Stan Lee and the Marvel comic universe that he created, hearing the word mutant immediately brings heroic fictional characters such as Storm, Jean Grey, or the perpetually angry but loveable Wolverine to many of our minds. While the underlying story of the X-Men in the Marvel universe has a grain of truth to it, it is important to note that the word “mutant” isn’t synonymous with “super power”. In actual fact, when we call a living organism a “mutant”, it means that it has somehow acquired a slight variation in its DNA relative to the norm. At this point, you might want to read this article if you’re new to all this DNA stuff and would like to get a basic understanding of it before you continue. Continue reading An Introduction to genetic mutations in plain english

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Oil and water don’t mix. Except when…

closeup to white foam on blue water
In a previous article, we discussed the scientific reason behind why oil and water don’t mix. At the end of that same article, we noted that there is one special circumstance under which you can actually get water and oil to mix well with each other. In this article, we’ll explore the science behind this special circumstance that facilitates the mixing of oil and water… two substances that we all know typically don’t mix well with each other. Continue reading Oil and water don’t mix. Except when…

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Here’s why oil and water don’t mix… in plain english

Oil and water
A while ago, I was in the process of dressing a gorgeous looking salad with some olive oil, until I accidentally spilled quite a bit of the olive oil into my glass of water that happened to be sitting right by my salad bowl. As usual, the oil floated to the top of the glass of water, forming a distinct layer at the top. I shrugged and dumped my ruined glass of water into the sink and got another glass of water to enjoy with my meal. While eating, I wondered how many of us actually took time to ponder the following interesting questions about the relationship between these two fluids: Continue reading Here’s why oil and water don’t mix… in plain english

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How caffeine works… in plain english

Caffeine chemical molecule structure.
 
For the purposes of this article, brain cell = neuron = nerve cell.
 
The ancient drink also known as coffee has been around for centuries, with the earliest records of it found around 10th century Ethiopia. Its resilience as a popular drink is remarkable as many of us still drink it on a near daily basis till this very day, centuries after it was first discovered. It is worth considering why coffee has stuck around for so long and is loved by so many. After all, coffee doesn’t get you happy drunk like alcohol will, and strictly avoiding it won’t kill you like strictly avoiding water probably will. So why do many of us still drink this brownish black liquid so often? Well, with the right mixture of sweeteners and cream dialed in to suit each individual’s taste, it actually tastes pretty good. Also, it can give you an energy jolt of biblical proportions when you need to get something done. Continue reading How caffeine works… in plain english

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Malaria in plain english Vol II

Virus or disease transmitted by mosquito illustration conceptWelcome to Malaria in plain english volume II. Yep, you guessed it, this is the second installment of the “Malaria in plain english” series. It is highly recommended that you start with ”Malaria in plain english Volume I” if you haven’t already read it… it is a nice segue to this article, and will give you a generally decent historical understanding of the disease.

In this installment of the malaria in plain english series, we’ll discuss some of the important scientific concepts that are central to understanding how this lethal disease works. In line with the usual conversational tone that most of the articles on our blog are written in, we will convey most of this information as answers to frequently asked questions that everyday folks like us tend to have about malaria. Continue reading Malaria in plain english Vol II

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Malaria in plain english Vol I

Macro photo of biting mosquito
Macro photo of biting mosquito

Even as a young boy growing up in Nigeria, I have always been relatively fearless except when it came to two things: pissing my mother off, or suffering a bite from an anopheles mosquito. It is probably patently obvious to most people who have a close knit bond with a loving maternal figure why I avoided pissing my mom off… after all, hell hath no fury like a good mother scorned. However, the other major fear of my youth might be confusing to especially those of us who grew up in the western developed world. Let me explain myself… Continue reading Malaria in plain english Vol I

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In vitro fertilization (IVF) in plain english

Colorful 3d Illustration of a in-vitro fertilization of an egg cell
For the remainder of this article, I will use IVF and in vitro fertilization interchangeably.

One of our prime directives as human beings is to “go forth and multiply”. This natural urge is built into the vast majority of us and is probably the main reason why many of us like sex so much. Our urge to procreate is a good thing because the human race would have died out eons ago without it. Anyhow, even though we humans are wired to procreate, we aren’t always successful at it for a variety of reasons. Among these reasons are: a loss of feminine fertility with increasing age, low sperm count, etc. As we’ve seen many times throughout the history of mankind, we aren’t very good at accepting our limitations and are thus prone to fighting like hell to overcome them. In the struggle to overcome the limitation of poor fertility, we discovered what is known as “in vitro fertilization” which is the central theme of this article.

So… what the heck does “in vitro fertilization” mean? Well “in vitro” is latin for “in glass” and back in the day, laboratory utensils and equipment were made of glass. So in vitro fertilization is the technical term for a procedure that allows for the fertilization of a human egg in a laboratory dish rather than in the female reproductive tract. Having read that, you might be thinking whoa! Really? I’m here to tell you yes… really. The next logical question that is probably bouncing around in your head is – so how does all this medical/scientific voodoo work? Fair question… grab a snack and a glass of wine (if you’re old enough) and let’s see if we can make sense of this in vitro fertilization thing. Continue reading In vitro fertilization (IVF) in plain english

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Diabetes type II in plain english

DiabetesThe human body in its structure and function is a marvel of engineering. It’s dexterity and adaptability are more or less unrivaled throughout the annals of time. In order for the human body to keep running smoothly, there are a number of vital signs that must be maintained and tightly regulated from moment to moment. A good example of one of these vital signs is your body temperature. Believe it or not, there are processes within your body that constantly work to ensure that its temperature remains between 97.8oF (36.5oC) and 99oF (37.2oC) regardless of how high or low the ambient temperature around you is. Among the other vital signs that must be tightly regulated to ensure that you and I keep functioning properly is the amount of sugar we each have in our bloodstream and that my friends is a major theme of this article.

As mentioned in a previous article related to this topic, glucose (commonly known as sugar) is released into your bloodstream each time you eat. This is a good thing because glucose is a rich source of fuel for the cells that make up our bodies. That being said, glucose molecules have to find a way to get into the interior of our cells in order to actually serve as fuel. A hormone called insulin plays a critically important role in granting glucose molecules access to a cell’s interior. Having read that last sentence, you might be wondering if you have to take insulin after every meal. The answer to that question is a resounding yes and nature in her infinite wisdom, automated that process for a lot of us. So even though you don’t have to think about it, your body secretes insulin after each meal to help with the absorption of sugar/glucose provided your blood sugar system is in good shape. Thank goodness for mother nature because a lot of us would probably forget to take insulin after each meal and suffer the consequences (degenerating eyesight, kidney malfunction, etc). Speaking of which, how does the body automatically produce insulin when needed? Continue reading Diabetes type II in plain english

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Type I Diabetes in plain english

My first memory of diabetes was at about the age of ten while attending a wedding with my family in my native Nigeria. The grown ups at the time were busy enjoying the wedding festivities while me and my cousins spent the entire day running all over the place engaged in a bunch of games, the names of which I can no longer remember. Our intense play sessions got broken up by the adults a bunch of times that day but the play interruption that I can still clearly remember was when we stopped to eat lunch. Like the rest of the children, I got ushered to one of the many tables in the “crockpot” restaurant at the Sheraton in Lagos and started work on the plate of Jollof rice, chicken, and fried plantains placed in front of me by one of the servers. As I attacked my rice dish, I noticed out of the corner of my eye as my aunt Stella pulled out a syringe from her purse. I was puzzled as to why she had a syringe in her purse in the first place… even doubly confusing was why she would need to bring it to a wedding. I sat there completely bemused as she nonchalantly injected herself, completely emptying the contents of the syringe into her bloodstream before she began her meal. In my youthful innocence, I blurted out “Why did you bring that to a wedding Aunt Stella”. She looked over in my direction and said in her usual elegant voice “Agwu agwu (one of my nicknames)… it‘s because I need it for my diabetes”. My super short 10 year old attention span at the time got the better of me before I could follow up with clarifying questions. I wouldn’t really understand what Aunt Stella was doing and why she was doing it until almost two decades later when I developed an interest in the biochemistry of the human body. Continue reading Type I Diabetes in plain english

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Anatomy of the human knee

The remarkable human knee is one of the most complex and important joints in the human body. It is built to simultaneously embody the attributes of strength and flexibility and is put to near constant use to facilitate the performance of a myriad of actions. Your knee has to be sturdy enough to support the impact of your upper body weight while walking or running, yet flexible enough for you to fold yourself into the lotus position for a meditation session for example. The knee joint is mostly made up of components like bone, muscle, ligaments, tendons, cartilage… and each of the component parts of the knee serves a distinct function. The bones of the knee joint provide support, the surrounding muscles furnish the human with the ability to control his/her movements, the ligaments and tendons within the knee joint provide stability, and the cartilage provides cushioning to absorb the shock from the constant pounding associated with daily movement and exercise. When healthy, the components of the knee work together so that we can walk, run, jump, and change direction instinctively. As a matter of fact, the knee works so well when healthy, that many of us do not fully appreciate its importance until something goes awry. I can say that with confidence because I for one certainly didn’t appreciate the benefit of having two perfectly functional knees until I injured one of them. Continue reading Anatomy of the human knee

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Speculations on the impending era of artificial intelligence

Robot_AI

The relationship between man and machine has been a very fruitful one for our species mainly because it has empowered us to transcend many of our limitations. I remember coming across a Scientific American study a while ago that nicely illustrated how well humans have been empowered by our technology. The study measured the efficiency of locomotion for various animal species on the planet. In that study, the condor was found to be most efficient… using the least amount of energy to travel one kilometer. Comparatively, we humans came in with a rather abysmal showing somewhere way down the list… not exactly the most flattering result for the supposed crown of creation. However, when some brilliant person at Scientific American had the insight to test the efficiency of locomotion for humans on bicycles, we blew the condor away, climbing to the very top of the “efficiency of locomotion” charts. Thinking deeper, we start to realize that in an analogous way, our technology has served as a metaphorical bicycle for our limited physical and mental abilities. For example, the advent of the internal combustion engine and the automobile has reduced what would have been a multiple month long journey 100 years ago to one of just mere hours as I type this. Also, the next time you open up a spreadsheet on your computer to do some quick calculations at work, think about how much longer that would have taken if you had to use a slide rule or an abacus. It is likely that the same task would have required a ton more effort and probably taken 10 to 100 times longer if you had to do it in say the 1930’s when computers didn’t exist. These kinds of miraculous time savings have allowed us to be more productive while simultaneously conserving more mental cycles to devote to things at the higher echelons of mental function. Continue reading Speculations on the impending era of artificial intelligence