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cover of May 30, 2015 issue

Emily Sohn's Articles

  • Explainer: What is Acoustics?

    Stop reading for a moment and listen to the sounds around you. What did you hear? The whirr of a computer fan, people talking, the noise of cars going by? When scientists want to understand more about how sound moves and behaves, they study acoustics [uh-KOO-stix].

    When you drop a rock into a pond, you can see waves move across the surface, away from the rock. The sounds that you hear are also made of waves, except that sound waves can travel through air or through solids. In fact, sound waves travel faster in solids like wood or plastic than they do in the air.

  • Underwater racket

    Swimming can be as peaceful as it is fun. Underwater, no one can tell you to do your homework or clean your room. Everything sounds muffled, quiet and peaceful.

    To the ears of a whale or dolphin, though, the underwater world is getting less peaceful all the time. Noisy ships are more common than they used to be. Sound travels faster and farther underwater than it does in air. In some cases, a single sound can travel all the way across the deep ocean. Changes in the environment are making the oceans louder, too.

  • Bullying is an everyday problem

    Colorful posters line the halls of Anwatin Middle School in Minneapolis. Scattered among announcements and artwork, these student-made signs all carry this message: “Be Kind. Respect Others. Stop Harassment. Keep Anwatin a Bully-Free Zone.”

    Bullying is a problem at Anwatin, but it’s not just Anwatin’s problem. In schools around the world, kids make life miserable for other kids. Middle school, in particular, is a time when bullying gets out of control.

  • Better living from scorpion venom

    When a scorpion attacks, its victim rarely has time to fight back. First, the clawed creature grabs and pins down its target — maybe a cricket, grasshopper or spider. Using a stinger in its rear end, the scorpion jabs the victim’s flesh. Then, the true suffering begins.

    After an initial shock of severe pain, the prey might start to feel burning and tingling sensations. Shaking and trembling ensue, followed by paralysis. If the victim doesn’t die from the venom, the scorpion will probably just eat it alive.

  • New waves for safe flying

    On December 21, 1988, hundreds of passengers boarded Pan Am flight 103 at Heathrow Airport in London. Travelers included families, musicians, businessmen, hair stylists, teachers and dozens of college students flying home for the holidays. Their destination was New York City.

    The flight took off around 6:30 pm, just a little behind schedule. About half an hour later, a bomb exploded onboard. The plane broke apart. Chunks of metal showered a small Scottish town called Lockerbie. The accident, now known as the Lockerbie Bombing, killed all 243 passengers, all 16 crewmembers, and 11 people on the ground.

  • What the appendix is good for

    It was a Saturday morning in 1991 when 12-year old Heather Smith woke up feeling nauseous. Spring break was just beginning, and her parents were planning to take her skiing the next day in Flagstaff, Ariz. — two hours from their home in Tempe.

    A stomachache was not how Smith wanted to start vacation. “I was hoping I would get better,” she says, “So I could go ski.”

    As the day progressed, things worsened. A sharp pain developed in her lower right side. She couldn’t swallow the soup her sister warmed up for her at lunchtime. By the time she saw a doctor later that afternoon, she was hunched over in pain.

  • Island of Hope

    Shark in Fiji. Credit: Jeff Yonover

    A pod of dolphins play in the bay as we hop off a small motorboat into knee-deep water. Back home, it is Thanksgiving, cold and gray, but here in Fiji, the air is windless and steamy. This country of tropical islands speckles the Pacific Ocean near the equator, several hours by plane from Australia and New Zealand.

  • Got milk? How?

    We put it in cereal. We drink it with cookies. And we eat tons of foods that are made from it, including yogurt, cheese and even some crackers, breads and granola bars. For most of us, milk is a staple that would be hard to live without.

    Thousands of years ago, though, only babies drank milk — and that milk came from their mothers. Now, scientists are investigating the beginnings of mankind’s long-lasting love for daily products. They are looking back thousands of years, to the days when people first squeezed milk out of cows and other animals for use as food and drink.

  • Penguin pressure

    Dee Boersma was studying penguins in Argentina when a local official announced a new plan.

    “He wanted to build a boardwalk over 197 [penguin] nests right before hatching,” says Boersma, a conservation scientist at the University of Washington, Seattle. She knew the project would scare the birds and harm their babies. “That was upsetting to me and to others.”

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