Valentine’s Day – festival of love

valentines

Valentine’s Day originates from the ancient Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia, which was celebrated on 15 February in honor of the gods Lupercus and Faunus, as well as the legendary founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. During the festival, young men would draw the names of women from a box, and each couple would be paired until next year’s celebration. Often they would fall in love and marry.

At around 270AD Rome was facing battles and civil uprising. The men were not keen to join the army. Emperor Claudius II believed that the men did not want to leave their loved ones and summarily canceled all marriages and engagements. Two priests, Valentine and Marius, disobeyed the decree and secretly performed marriage ceremonies. Read more…

The 22 million digit number … and the amazing maths behind primes

prime numbers

It is a quite extraordinary figure. Dr Curtis Cooper from the University of Central Missouri has found the largest-known prime number – written (274207281)-1. It is around 22m digits long and, if printed in full, would take you days to read. Its discovery comes thanks to a collaborative project of volunteers who use freely available software called GIMPS (Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search) to search for primes.

A number which can only be divided by itself and 1 without a remainder is called a prime number. Here is a list of the primes less than 100: 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59, 61, 67, 71, 73, 79, 83, 89, 97. Read more…

How to vet nonprofits before you give

detective

Charity solicitations are as much a part of the holiday season as decorations. If you give, it’s a good idea to know what the nonprofit organization does with your money. Here’s one way: use ProPublica’s Nonprofit Explorer, a tool for researching the financial details of nonprofits.

Organizations that receive a tax exemption from the Internal Revenue Service and take in at least $50,000 a year have to file an annual report, called a Form 990, which can serve as a guide to how they operate and what their programs are. Read more…

11 body fluids we couldn’t live without

A_barber-surgeon_extracting_stones_from_a_woman'_ head_J._Cats_after_B._Maton

How is a human being like a fish?

Just as a fish never stops to think about the water in which it spends its entire life, so do many human beings rarely pause to consider the body fluids that make our lives possible.

Though not always fit for polite conversation, even the less pleasant among them play a crucial role in maintaining health. By learning a bit more about 11 of these body fluids, we can develop a deeper appreciation for the beauty and complexity of our own biology. What exactly are these fluids, and what often unheralded contributions do they make? Read more…

A dozen interesting facts about roses

Juliet rose

There are over 100 species and thousands of cultivars of roses. They vary in color, shape and size and all but one rose species have 5 petals.

Here are a dozen interesting facts about roses.

1. Black roses are an illusion of the mind

There are no roses that are black in color, although there are a few species of roses that come close. The Turkish Halfeti rose, also known as “The Black Rose of Turkey”, is an extremely rare breed that appears pitch-black to the eye, but in fact is a dark reddish-crimson color. Read more…

Is it really OK to eat food that’s fallen on the floor?

cake fell

By Paul Dawson, Clemson University

When you drop a piece of food on the floor, is it really OK to eat if you pick up within five seconds? This urban food myth contends that if food spends just a few seconds on the floor, dirt and germs won’t have much of a chance to contaminate it. Research in my lab has focused on how food and food contact surfaces become contaminated, and we’ve done some work on this particular piece of wisdom.

While the “five-second rule” might not seem like the most pressing issue for food scientists to get to the bottom of, it’s still worth investigating food myths like this one because they shape our beliefs about when food is safe to eat. Read more…

Steam power and Jell-O

Jell-O girl

Heron of Greece invented steam power in 50 BC. But the leaders of the day thought that it would cause unemployment and the invention ran out of steam.

The steam engine reappeared in the 1600s in Ferdinand Verbiest’s steam car and then years later again, in 1804, when English inventor Richard Trevithick introduced the steam locomotive in Wales.

In 1815, George Stephenson built the world’s first workable steam locomotive. Read more…

How we showed ‘sleeping on it’ really is the best way to solve a problem

sleeping smiley

By Padraic Monaghan, Lancaster University

Have you ever struggled to finish a level of Candy Crush or complete a Sudoku puzzle in the evening but breezed through it the following morning? The reason may please anyone who’s been told they spend too much time in bed asleep.

We tend to think of sleep as a period of recuperation, giving us enough down-time to enable our muscles and thought processes to operate effectively. However, sleep can also have an active function. As far back as Aristotle, the fact that we dream has suggested to people that sleep could enhance the mind’s self-communication. And, more recently, there’s been a surge of research into the consequences of sleep as an active process, rather than just a rest. Read more…

The most famous watches and clocks in history

Grand Central Terminal Clock

We all need to tell the time – but some watches and clocks have gone down in history as devices or monuments that do that little bit more. From showpiece devices that dominate a city’s social and cultural landscape, through to the watches sported by film heroes and villains, to the real-life icons, these are timepieces that do far more than just tic along.

These are the most famous watches and clocks in the world. Read more…

How the digital age has changed our approach to death and grief

In the days and weeks leading up to the death of Leonard Nimoy, the actor and director most known for playing the gravel-voiced Vulcan Mr Spock in Star Trek, knew he was dying. He used Twitter as a means to make peace with this fact, and to say goodbye to his friends, family and fans around the world with sayings, poetry, and wise words. Read more…

Bankers have a moral compass, it just may not look like yours

HSBC

We’re getting rather used to revelations about sharp practice in the banking sector. The row about HSBC’s tax services to rich clients has raised, yet again, crucial questions about the business culture which allows such scandals to emerge. One common idea is that those involved have lost their “moral compass” and succumbed to the imperative of pure greed as they employ subterfuge to do things which end up doing harm to the general public. Read more…

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