Quirks and Quarks

Feb 18: Super-size penguins, planning a mission to Uranus, an Egyptian embalming workshop and more…

A sandwich inspired water filter and 19 ways of looking at consciousness.

A sandwich inspired water filter and 19 ways of looking at consciousness.

Three illustrations of penguin skeletons in a row, with the first one standing tallest.
Left to right: Skeletal illustrations of Kumimanu fordycei, Petradyptes stonehousei, and a modern emperor penguin shows the comparative size of the new fossil species. (Simone Giovanardi)

On this week's episode of Quirks & Quarks with Bob McDonald:

Gorilla-sized penguins once roamed New Zealand

Palaeontologists have identified 50 million-year-old fossil bones found on a New Zealand beach as the remains of a super-sized early penguin species. These waddling waterbirds would have likely been about a metre and a half tall and weighed in at 150 kilograms, according to Daniel Ksepka, the first author of the Journal of Paleontology paper that describes the flightless giants. 

Read more about the giant penguin fossils

The first dedicated mission to Uranus will investigate why it's tipped-over

NASA has made the exploration of Uranus a top priority and is making plans for a mission to be called the Uranus Orbiter and Probe, which will launch as early as 2032. Planetary scientist Kathleen Mandt from Johns Hopkins University helped author a US National Academy of Sciences report that identified a mission to Uranus as being of great scientific importance. The mission will answer outstanding questions about this so-far neglected planet, like why it orbits on its side. Her article on the new mission was published in Science.

Light blue planet against the black backdrop of space
This photo of Uranus was taken by the last spacecraft to visit the ice giant, Voyager 2 in 1986 (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Archaeologists decipher mummification secrets in embalming workshop

One of the most enduring questions about ancient Egyptian culture is how they mummified their dead for the afterlife. Some of these questions have been answered with analysis of a 2016 discovery of an embalming workshop, including containers which still had traces of their contents and instructions on how to use them. Philipp Stockhammer, a professor of archaeology at Ludwig-Maximilians-University, was called in to help with the analysis. The research was published in the journal Nature

This is an illustration of two Egyptians in a dark chamber applying a substance from a vessel to the dead person on a table where they're also wrapping him with cloth as part of the mummification process.
Embalming scene in the underground chamber of a workshop where ancient Egyptians mummified their dead that was discovered in Saqqara, Egypt. (Nikola Nevenov)

Engineered egg whites are the key element in a new water filter material

The inspiration for a new material for filtering salt and microplastics from water came to Craig Arnold, a mechanical and aerospace engineer at Princeton University, in the middle of lunch. The structure of the bread in his sandwich was exactly what he was looking for. After many experiments with recipes, it turned out that egg-whites, when freeze dried, then cooked at a very high temperature were surprisingly effective. His research was published in the journal Materials Today.

Slices of break on a platter
The idea for a new material for filtering microplastics from water started with a piece of bread (Katherine Holland/CBC)

A new book explores 19 perspectives on the problem of consciousness 

For years author and neuroscientist, Patrick House has been fascinated by the story of a girl with epilepsy whose doctor stimulated a part of her brain via implanted electrodes that not only caused her to laugh, but to also feel joy. This experiment is now the inspiration for a new book about the mysteries of consciousness. House explores the story through the lenses of biology, evolution, neuroscience and philosophy 19 Ways of Looking at Consciousness.

Read a Q&A with Patrick House

Two scientists sit in the foreground looking at brain imaging results.
Despite the many tools at scientists' disposal to study various aspects of the brain, the true nature of consciousness remains largely a mystery. (Jens Schlueter/DDP/AFP/Getty Images)