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Robert L. Wolke
Robert L. Wolke is a scientist, journalist, satirist and author.
With a Ph.D. in nuclear chemistry from Cornell University, he is currently professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh, where his satirical monologues earned him the title of “Comic Laureate.”

He has taught in Spanish at universities in Puerto Rico and Venezuela. He has served as academic dean on Semester at Sea, an around-the-world academic voyage; as an education consultant for UNESCO and the USIA in Bangladesh; and as a resident fellow at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France.

In addition to his many research publications in scientific journals, he is the author of Impact: Science on Society, Chemistry Explained, What Einstein Didn’t Know, What Einstein Told His Barber; What Einstein Told His Cook, and What Einstein Told His Cook 2. The last two were nominated for both the James Beard Foundation’s and the IACP’s awards for best technical or reference book. His “Einstein“ books have been translated into more than 20 languages.

From 1998 to 2007, he wrote the syndicated food science column "FOOD 101" in The Washington Post. His journalism awards include the James Beard Foundation award for best newspaper column, the IACP’s Bert Greene Award for best newspaper food writing, and the American Chemical Society’s 2005 Grady-Stack Award for interpreting chemistry to the public.

He lives in Pittsburgh with his wife and colleague Marlene Parrish, a food journalist, and their Siamese cat, Alex.

Entries by Robert L. Wolke

Jack and the Bean Stocks

(0) Comments | Posted July 7, 2014 | 8:40 AM

Once upon a time, there was a poor little boy named Jack who lived with his poor little mother in a poor little cottage on a poor little farm. (Boy, were they poor!) Their only possession was a poor little cow that had stopped giving milk.

One day, Jack's mother...

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Fit to Be Fried. But Boiled?

(7) Comments | Posted July 16, 2012 | 7:20 PM

In 1532, Henry VIII of England decreed that anyone convicted of poisoning another person would be put to death by being boiled alive in a cauldron of hot liquid. This form of capital punishment had been all the rage during the Middle Ages, so he had plenty of precedent.


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That Infernal Equinox

(54) Comments | Posted June 8, 2012 | 8:22 PM

Is it true, as some people claim, that during the vernal equinox it is possible to stand an egg on end?

Yes, it's true. And during the autumnal equinox, as well. And on Tuesdays in February, and any time during the fourth game of the World Series when the...

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Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, How Come You Don't Invert at All?

(0) Comments | Posted June 5, 2012 | 6:22 PM

When you look into a full-length mirror and raise your right hand, your image raises its left hand. And yet both your heads are still on top. So how does a mirror reverse things right to left, but not top to bottom? Does the mirror somehow know horizontal from vertical?

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Why Does Asparagus Do That?

(196) Comments | Posted April 2, 2012 | 6:00 PM

Have you ever noticed something "strange" after eating asparagus -- that is, after leaving the table and retiring to the small, private room? Well, it's not just you. The phenomenon has been observed for thousands of years, yet scientists still can't explain it completely. The question: why does your urine...

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Sorry I'm 1.8 Microseconds Late, Boss... I Was Delayed by an Earthquake

(14) Comments | Posted March 1, 2012 | 5:12 PM

When I was a kid in Brooklyn, I and a couple of other nerds would wonder about crazy things. Here's one: if every person in China climbed up on a six-foot ladder and then jumped off at the same time, would it nudge the Earth into a different orbit?


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The Five-Second Rule Is Baloney!

(151) Comments | Posted February 5, 2012 | 2:29 PM

Whoops! You've dropped your sandwich, drumstick, lollypop or Twinkie on the floor. But don't worry. If you pick it up within five seconds, it'll still be safe to eat. Right?

That's the Five-Second Rule. Or maybe you've heard it as the Ten-Second Rule or, in some more permissive and less...

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Bobbing For Pumpkins: The Science Behind 'Will It Float?'

(55) Comments | Posted January 19, 2012 | 1:57 PM

Bobbing for apples is one of the silliest games played by humans, and I won't glorify it by describing its rules (if any) here. But it does raise the compelling scientific question, "Why do some fruits float and others don't?"

On the "Late Show With David Letterman," a pair...

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Hot Water Really Can Freeze First!

(8) Comments | Posted January 9, 2012 | 10:31 AM

The whichfreezesfirst enigma has been debated since at least the 17th century, when Sir Francis Bacon wrote about it. Even today, Canadians claim that a bucket of hot water left outdoors in cold weather will freeze faster than a bucket of cold water. Scientists, however, are still unable to explain...

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