Look, Up in the Sky. It's A Bird. No It's A Meteorite!

Most folks probably think of swallows and the ringing of the Mission bells when the words San Juan Capistrano are heard or seen. This is a popular tradition that celebrates the return of cliff swallows as they migrate north from their winter home in Argentina to their spring and summer home in southern California. The swallows' return typically ...

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Nuclides & Isotopes

An atom that has an unbalanced ratio of neutrons to protons in the nucleus seeks to become more stable. The unbalanced or unstable atom tries to become more stable by changing the number of neutrons ... Continue reading


Space Lasers Keep Earth's Air Clean

Space laser technology is coming to our smokestacks and automobiles. Leave it to NASA to take its inventions to another level, helping to keep our air clean and breathable. A recent NASA invention, ... Continue reading


Tobacco Mosaic Virus

We all know that AIDS, SARS and flu are all caused by viruses. Most people, however, don't realize that some of the earliest work on viruses was done on a common plant virus, Tobacco mosaic virus ... Continue reading


Diamonds Improved by Irradiation?

Besides hardness and texture, probably the most fascinating aspect of gems is their color. There are so many different and wonderful clear and foggy gems with colors that span almost the complete ... Continue reading


SARS: Mother Nature Strikes Again!

SARSMotherNatureStrikesAgainSARS, short for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, is big news this spring. By the middle of April 2003, over 2000 people had been diagnosed with it in China and Hong Kong, another few hundred in the rest of Asia, and over a hundred in the US and Canada. Over 100 victims had died.

SARS is a 'new' disease, which feels like a bad case of flu (fever, headache, bad cough). But it's not caused by the flu virus. Scientists aren't sure what causes it, but at present the most likely culprit is a new kind of coronavirus. Well-known coronaviruses cause colds in humans and severe illnesses in cats and dogs, but this is the first to cause severe illness in people. SARS is not the first new disease in recent memory, nor is it the worst. AIDS was first found in humans in the 1980s, and now infects millions. Modern airplane travel makes it easy to spread new diseases to all corners of the world in just a few weeks.

How does a 'new' virus happen? A virus is nothing but DNA in a protein capsule, hardly even worth being called alive. In order to make you sick, it must enter the cells in your body, splice itself into your DNA, and take over running the infected cell, forcing the cell to make more virus copies instead of going about its usual business. At various times in their travels from one host to another, viruses can pick up extra genes, including some that enable them to make people sick (when they couldn't before). This is Mother Nature at work, always coming up with something new!