The science of ice cream

Photo by Solitude
Photo by Solitude

Who doesn’t love ice cream? It’s sweet, delicious and refreshing. Frozen yet creamy. It’s no wonder that Americans consume more than 20 litres (about 42 pints) each a year(!).

I love ice cream. I’m the kind of person that would eat ice cream at any time, no matter the weather.  You could dunk me into a frozen lake and then ask me if I’d like some ice cream and I’d probably say yes. If I have to die of hypothermia, I might as well do it while eating ice cream.

But what is ice cream? What is it made of? And who invented it?

A short history of ice cream

Iced drinks and myths

We’re not entirely sure how ice cream was invented or by whom. The earliest evidence of iced food is from a couple of thousand years ago: the Persians used to eat grape juice mixed with ice. The ice was stored in specially built cooling evaporators the size of a small building called yakhchals.

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Vulcan – The (hypothetical) planet between Mercury and the Sun

How many planets are there in the solar system? If you went to school sometime before 2006 you’re likely to say 9. Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.

However, since then, Pluto has been demoted to “dwarf planet” due to the discovery of several other objects of the same size and composition beyond Neptune. One such object, Eris, is actually bigger than Pluto. If Pluto is a planet so are hundreds of other celestial bodies. Hence the reclassification.

Mercury - Photo by NASA
Mercury – Photo by NASA

Pluto was discovered in 1930, but 100 years or so before, there was another candidate to the planetary club. A planet called Vulcan, orbiting between Mercury and the Sun.

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The loneliest whale in the world

Humpback Whale – Photo by Whit Welles

This is not a happy story. This is a sad story. This is the story about a lonely, lonely whale.

Under the deep waters of the ocean it’s quite hard to see. It’s really rather dark. Molecules diffuse very slowly in water compared to air, so smell is also quite limited.

So whales and other mammals rely on sound. Sound waves propagate much faster in water than in the atmosphere at sea level (4 times as much).

Some marine mammals, such as dolphins, use sound for echolocation. They produce a series of high-frequency clicks to get information about their environment, in much the same way as SONAR.

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Why are chillies hot? And why do we like them so much?

Photo by Gerald Pereira
Photo by Gerald Pereira

There is an arms race going on. Farmers are competing to breed the hottest chillies ever, with terrifying names such as Trinidad Moruga Scorpion and Carolina Reaper. Sauce manufacturers are selling more and more potent hot sauces, some of which have to have “not for people with respiratory or heart problems” warnings on the label. It seems as though humanity’s quest for hot, searing pain is never ending.

But, why are chillies hot and why do we like them so much?

Chilies, or chilli peppers or chile peppers, are the fruits of a plant that originates in South America. Before the “discovery” of the Americas in the late 15th century, they were unknown to Europeans, Africans and Asians.

Chiles are known as peppers because when Europeans first encountered them they equated their effects to that of black pepper, which originates in southern India and botanically has no relation at all to chillies, whose proper scientific name is capsicum.

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Hummingbirds are hours away from starving to death

“If I don’t eat something I’m literally going to die,” says your friend.

Of course, even if you’re really hungry, in the vast majority of situations you are not literally going to die if you miss a meal (unless you’re diabetic with dangerously low blood sugar). In fact, more and more of us carry around quite a lot of extra energy around our bellies. A spare tire of fuel, if you will. But there is an animal that would die if it wasn’t constantly eating.

Golden-tail sapphire hummingbird - Photo by Marcial4
Golden-tail sapphire hummingbird – Photo by Marcial4

Hummingbirds are fascinating creatures. Found in the americas, they are some of the smallest birds in existence, measuring just 7 to 13 cm in length. A species of hummingbird, the bee hummingbird, measures just 5 cm in length.

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Why does rain smell?

It’s one of those days. You’re inside, reading a good book while drops of rain gently fall, the perfect soundtrack to a lazy day. Or maybe you’re soaking wet under the torrential rains down in Africa (insert Toto reference here). Whatever the case may be, I’m sure that you’re not only feeling or hearing the rain, you are also smelling it.

Photo by Edal Anton Lefterov
There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do – Photo by Edal Anton Lefterov

Why does rain smell?

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The great “natural” hoax — Is “natural” really better?

I hear it all the time. X is better than Y because it’s natural. It’s not full of chemicals. It’s herbal. It’s not artificial.

You know what else is natural? Cancer. Bacteria. The polio virus. Tsunamis. Mass extinctions. Malaria. Poisons. Natural disasters.


How come we give so much faith to nature, when in fact nature does not like us at all? Nature is not nice. Out there in the wilderness only the fittest survive. Are we watching the same documentaries? The ones where the weak gazelle gets eaten by the lion, the ones where animals die of thirst, illness, starvation. The ones where the scavengers are just waiting for you to die so they can eat your rotting carcass.

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