give me the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance every time - Douglas Adams

Natural Philosophy

is what science was called before the word science had caught on. I think it an apt description of what science is really all about. The word philosopher is from Greek origins and literally means "lover of wisdom." 

To use reason, logic and testable experimentation to arrive at a better understanding of the "Nature" of the world, universe, or even multiverse that we inhabit and then to share those insights with everyone, is one of the great things that a human being can do. I am not a trained scientist, I am a total amateur, but for me one of the great joys of my life is "finding things out."

The world we live in today is full of complex technology, and tomorrows world is just around the corner. You don't need to know the principles behind the internal combustion engine to be able to drive a car, or know anything about magnatrons to cook food in a microwave oven, or know anything about the theory of evolution to enjoy the beauty of nature. But to not know any of these things is to be impoverished, like living with badly diminished senses. To see the first flight of the Green Emperor Dragonflydragonfly thm emerging from my garden pond on a summer's morning is a joy and for me that joy is enhanced by the things I have learned about the life cycle of this truly amazing creature. For this knowledge I thank each person who has spent their lives expanding the sum of human knowledge by being that much misunderstood person, "The Scientist."




Back Garden Science

raindrop lenses thmThis picture of raindrops on an iris leaf (mouse over picture for larger image) made me wonder how and why surface of the leaf throws off the water so effectively? Seems the answer is nanoscale biotechnology! The iris growing in ponds and swamps and generally very mucky environments has evolved to be self cleaning, which allows the plant to receive the full benefit of the light falling on its leaves. At first glance you may consider that the leaf surface is just waxy, which it is, but the way the water forms into balls on the surface like it is scared of touching the leaf requires more than just a little wax. This type of surface is called super hydrophobic, literally "very scary to water!" The leaf surface as well as being made of lipids (fatty molecules) is covered in nanoscale bumps. Air between this bumps means that water can only contact the leaf surface at the tips of the waxy bumps. Any particles of dirt on the suface of the leaf are much more attracted to droplets of water than they are to the leaf surface, so get picked up by raindrops that roll off the leaf carrying away the dirt. Hey Presto! Self cleaning leaves. This neat trick is now being imitated in man-made coatings to glass and other surfaces for use on buildings where cleaning is difficult.


Frog with fly on eyeThis picture is of a common frog (Rana tempararia) (mouse over pictures for larger images) resting in the small stream that flows between the ponds in my garden. It shows that not all common frogs are green! If you look carefully you will see the fly that is sitting on the eye of the frog. The picture was taken on a particularly warm summer day and I guess the frog was seeking refuge in the stream from the risk of dessication in the heat. The life cycle of the frog has been studied by biologists and school children for generations. DSC03173 thmThis means a great deal is known about their development from spawn through tadpoles to mini frogs. Amazingly we know much less about what adult frogs get up to when they are not breeding. Watching adult frogs outside of breeding time has resulted in the conclusion that they mainly find somewhere damp and sit there. Wasting as little energy as possible and waiting until lunch just happens to turn up, and trying not to become lunch for some predator. Each year usually during a mild spell in February my garden comes alive to a gentle chorus of male frogs croaking a mellow tune in the hope of attracting a female. The frantic efforts of breeding in the depths of winter is often too much for older adult frogs and is their last hurrah. Whatever the cost for the individual frog the species is doing OK, common frogs are truly common. The popularity of garden ponds has done much to help!

Indoor Science

icepalmOn the Velux roof window that is above my computer I opened the blind on a frosty morning to be greeted by this wonder of nature. Backlit by the morning sun this collection of ice crystals had me spellbound. I stood and looked and started to wonder why does ice on a window form into shapes that are similar to leaves? What process is occuring here? I remember reading that ice crystals often form more readily with the aid of a tiny spec of dust known as a seed. No shortage of dust on my windows! icepalm2 thmIce crystals confined to two dimensions then grow outward from their tips. This growth from the tips which then seed more crystals in the surrounding water is similar in form to plant cell growth and division. Ice Palm 2The growing tips of plants grow by cells stretching out and then dividing into two and stretching and dividing. This superficial similarity of the growing tips of plants and the spread of ice crystals on glass is why the resulting structures have a similar appearance. One a complex biochemical living organism, the other a little dust, water and cold weather. An example of a simple repeated operation with tiny variations that results in patterns and complexity. Marvellous!