The science of spice


When you take a bite of a hot pepper, your body reacts as if your mouth is on fire — because that’s essentially what you’ve told your brain! Rose Eveleth details the science and history behind spicy foods, giving insights into why some people continue to pay the painful price for a little spice.

Lesson by Rose Eveleth, animation by Flaming Medusa Studios Inc.

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Go to Harvard, learn Cooking Science from Top Chefs


Top chefs and Harvard researchers explore how everyday cooking and haute cuisine can illuminate basic principles in physics and engineering, and vice versa.

If you’re a budding cook, a foodie, or would like to know more about how recipes work, as well as basic physics and engineering principles, this course is for you. Classes are an hour long and held twice a week. Instructors include: Michael Brenner, José Andres, Nathan Myhrvold, Joanne Chang, David Chang, Wylie Dufresne, and many more.

About the course:

During each week of the course, you will watch as chefs reveal the secrets behind some of their most famous culinary creations — often right in their own restaurants. Inspired by such cooking mastery, the Harvard team will then explain, in simple and sophisticated ways, the science behind the recipe.

Topics will include: soft matter materials, such as emulsions, illustrated by aioli; elasticity, exemplified by the done-ness of a steak; and diffusion, revealed by the phenomenon of spherification, the culinary technique pioneered by Ferran Adrià.

To help you make the link between cooking and science, an “equation of the week” will capture the core scientific concept being explored. You will also have the opportunity to be an experimental scientist in your very own laboratory — your kitchen. By following along with the engaging recipe of the week, taking measurements, and making observations, you will learn to think both like a cook and a scientist. The lab is also one of the most unique components of this course — after all, in what other science course do you get to eat your lab?

Register for the free course here, which begins on Tuesday, October 8, 2013.

How Nuclear Power Plants Work


Maggie Koerth-Baker at Boing Boing wrote an excellent piece on how nuclear power plants work. With the devestation of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the Japan nuclear power plan situation, this is a great read to get up to speed on the basics of a nuclear power plant.

For the vast majority of people, nuclear power is a black box technology. Radioactive stuff goes in. Electricity (and nuclear waste) comes out. Somewhere in there, we’re aware that explosions and meltdowns can happen. Ninety-nine percent of the time, that set of information is enough to get by on. But, then, an emergency like this happens and, suddenly, keeping up-to-date on the news feels like you’ve walked in on the middle of a movie. Nobody pauses to catch you up on all the stuff you missed.

As I write this, it’s still not clear how bad, or how big, the problems at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant will be. I don’t know enough to speculate on that. I’m not sure anyone does. But I can give you a clearer picture of what’s inside the black box. That way, whatever happens at Fukushima, you’ll understand why it’s happening, and what it means.