The Mystery of the DeYoung Diamond

A mystery red gemstone is in front of you on a table.  Is it a ruby?  Is it a garnet?  Is it a red diamond? 

The DeYoung Red Diamond, held in the Smithsonian’s National Gem Collection in Washington D.C., presents a perplexing case.  Observers originally thought the deep red 5.03-carat gem was a garnet. The large stone was set in a pin and purchased by a Boston jeweler at a flea market.  The jeweler, S. Sydney DeYoung, noticed that stone held up better over time than a garnet should. After some testing, he realized that his stone was actually a rare red diamond. He extracted it from the pin and willed it to the Smithsonian, where it is now on display. Continue reading “The Mystery of the DeYoung Diamond”

It’s 2018. How is Cancer Still a Thing?

Cancer is such a scary word. It comes in many different types, and chances are, it has touched your life in some way, whether through you or a loved one. The lifetime odds that you’ll end up with cancer are about four in ten, and the odds that it takes your life are about one in five. It feels like cancer is everywhere these days, not only in personal stories, but in the fundraisers, celebrity spokespeople, and political speeches on our televisions. In a general sense, this disease can seem daunting to tackle. But on a personal level, one thing is sure – we’ve all seen the toll cancer has on our families and loved ones, and we all aim to prevent it in our own lives. Continue reading “It’s 2018. How is Cancer Still a Thing?”

Are We Prepared for a Large Asteroid Impact?

asteroid near earth object
The astroid (light green orbit) passed very close to Earth (blue orbit). Click to enlarge.

On December 16, 2017 at about 5:00 PM CST, the asteroid 3200 Phaethon passed within 64 million miles of Earth. That’s about 27 times the distance to our Moon. While this may sound like a long distance (indeed, it would take on the order of one million hours to drive that distance in a car!), this particular approach will be our closest encounter with the asteroid for another 75 years. Continue reading “Are We Prepared for a Large Asteroid Impact?”

The Reason Sugar Tastes So Darn Good

Sugar is everywhere. Kids crave it, pastry chefs live by it, and dieters avoid it like the plague. It comes naturally in our fruits, it’s added to our drinks, and it’s found in some form in virtually every packaged item at the grocery store. Some of us live by it, and for many of us, it does not love us back. But no matter what you say about it, sugar and its relatives are important for our health and well-being. Continue reading “The Reason Sugar Tastes So Darn Good”

How a Pile of Uranium Changed the World

On December 3rd, 1942,  under the stands at the University of Chicago’s Stagg Field, scientists produced a breakthrough that would change the course of history. There, on that day, physicist Enrico Fermi and his team from the university achieved the primary objective of the top secret Mahattan Project: they initiated the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear reaction, bringing forth the dawn of the nuclear age.

Continue reading “How a Pile of Uranium Changed the World”