Stories tagged Scientific World View

Dec
26
2009

GOCE Satellite: The Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer
GOCE Satellite: The Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation ExplorerCourtesy ESA
Can it be true? Yes, for a mere $5,544 dollars round-trip airfare to Greenland! In March 2009, the European Space Agency launched the Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) into orbit around our planet, which is now transmitting detailed data about the Earth’s gravity. The GOCE satellite uses a gradiometer to map tiny variations in the Earth’s gravity caused by the planet’s rotation, mountains, ocean trenches, and interior density. New maps illustrating gravity gradients on the Earth are being produced from the information beamed back from GOCE. Preliminary data suggests that there is a negative shift in gravity in the northeastern region of Greenland where the Earth’s tug is a little less, which means you might weigh a fraction of a pound lighter there (a very small fraction, so it may not be worth the plane fare)!

In America, NASA and Stanford University are also working on the gravity issue. Gravity Probe B (GP-B) is a satellite orbiting 642 km (400 miles) above the Earth and uses four gyroscopes and a telescope to measure two physical effects of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity on the Earth: the Geodetic Effect, which is the amount the earth warps its spacetime, and the Frame-Dragging Effect, the amount of spacetime the earth drags with it as it rotates. (Spacetime is the combination of the three dimensions of space with the one dimension of time into a mathematical model.)

Quick overview time. The Theory of General Relativity is simply defined as: matter telling spacetime how to curve, and curved spacetime telling matter how to move. Imagine that the Earth (matter) is a bowling ball and spacetime is a trampoline. If you place the bowling ball in the center of the trampoline it stretches the trampoline down. Matter (the bowling ball) curves or distorts the spacetime (trampoline). Now toss a smaller ball, like a marble, onto the trampoline. Naturally, it will roll towards the bowling ball, but the bowling ball isn’t ‘attracting’ the marble, the path or movement of the marble towards the center is affected by the deformed shape of the trampoline. The spacetime (trampoline) is telling the matter (marble) how to move. This is different than Newton’s theory of gravity, which implies that the earth is attracting or pulling objects towards it in a straight line. Of course, this is just a simplified explanation; the real physics can be more complicated because of other factors like acceleration.

Albert Einstein
Albert EinsteinCourtesy none
So what is the point of all this high-tech gravity testing? First of all, our current understanding of the structure of the universe and the motion of matter is based on Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity; elaborate concepts and mathematical equations conceived by a genius long before we had the technology to directly test them for accuracy. The Theory of General Relativity is the cornerstone of modern physics, used to describe the universe and everything in it, and yet it is the least tested of Einstein’s amazing theories. Testing the Frame-Dragging Effect is particularly exciting for physicists because they can use the data about the Earth’s influence on spacetime to measure the properties of black holes and quasars.

Second, the data from the GOCE satellite will help accurately measure the real acceleration due to gravity on the earth, which can vary from 9.78 to 9.83 meters per second squared around the planet. This will help scientists analyze ocean circulation and sea level changes, which are influenced by our climate and climate change. The information that the GOCE beams back will also assist researchers studying geological processes such as earthquakes and volcanoes.

So, as I gobble down another mouthful of leftover turkey and mashed potatoes, I can feel confident that my holiday weight gain and the structure of the universe are of grave importance to the physicists of the world!

Nov
29
2009

Wadena county, Minnesota
Wadena county, MinnesotaCourtesy wikipedia image
During the summer of 2009, I had the opportunity to spend four weeks in the field doing actual scientific investigation. From mid-June until mid-July, I was a participant in the University of Minnesota's archeology summer field school run by Professor Kat Hayes. The mission of the field school was to attempt to confirm the presence of a European footprint in this remote part of what would become a young Minnesota territory.

The site of Little Round Hill is located in Wadena County, Minnesota, part way between the towns of Staples and Wadena. Currently, it is part of a county park system. Located at the confluence of the Crow Wing River and the Partridge River, Little Round Hill is believed to be a historical site from the early French fur trading days.

The story goes something like this. In the mid- 1800's, William Warren wrote an account of Ojibwe life in a growing Minnesota territory. In his work, Warren interviewed an elderly Ojibwe man. This elderly man recounted days spent at a fur trading encampment while he was just a young boy. The encampment centered around the dwelling of a French fur trader and his handful or so of Coureur-des-bois . Staying with this trader were around ten Ojibwe hunters and their families. According to the account, Little Round Hill became the focus of contention between rival bands of Ojibwe and Lakota hunters. By oral recollection, there was an incident of more than 200 Lakota warriors approaching and attacking the outpost. The Frenchmen and Ojibwe held the attackers at bay with guns while barricading themselves into the main encampment. The attackers, with only a few guns and armed mainly with bow and arrow for projectiles, were unable to overcome the defenses and eventually retreated.

The site itself had been recognized for its historical implications for quite some time. For years, local residents have pondered that possible remains may lie buried at the Little Round Hill location. In 1992, Douglas Birk conducted an initial survey of the site. While artifact remains spanning several centuries were recovered in his explorations, they didn’t produce evidence of any of the structures described in the oral account.

The summer of 2009 excavations started out with a whimper. Rain and uncooperative weather hampered our beginning efforts. As the clouds passed, the field crew opened a handful of excavation pits and began searching for artifacts. The results were productive and encouraging. Items of distinct European influence started to appear in most of the test areas including musket balls, cut pieces of finished copper, small trade beads, a couple pieces of worked metal (still of undetermined nature), a few pottery shards and even a small ring (possibly silver).
musket ball: the first such item found and it came from my pit!
musket ball: the first such item found and it came from my pit!Courtesy K.Kmitch

Additional materials such as a stone arrowhead, lithic debris, and animal bones both broken and charred were recovered. After a month of work and close to a dozen open explorations, much more habitation evidence was revealed. While no sign was uncovered of the fortifications mentioned in the oral account, at least three of the excavation points did expose strong support for likely hearth locations. These may have been centered near the possible dwellings of the occupants.

Alas, the season of excavation is a short one in Minnesota. After a month of work, the crew retreated home with bags of evidence in hand. During the 2009-2010 academic year, the materials are being analyzed and cataloged at the University of Minnesota. A full report on the findings is expected this coming spring. While the preliminary data does not show conclusive evidence of the mentioned encampment, enough material was recovered to warrant further investigation. Plans are to return to the site next summer to resume excavations and expand exploration of the area. I, for one, can not wait and hope to have my hand in the dirt once again come summer 2010.

Nov
05
2009

A new exhibit featuring artwork by geologists, other earth scientists, and geoscience students is being presented this month at the Two Wall Gallery on Vashon Island, Washington.

Fabric art
Fabric artCourtesy Linda Hope Ponting
Geo sapiens, Geology and Art” could be the first-ever show of its kind, and will feature artwork from entrants from such places as the US, Canada, Great Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, and Okinawa. Artwork includes sculpture, painting, photography and fabric art.

Block print
Block printCourtesy Greg Wessel
Curator Greg Wessel, who co-owns the gallery - and is also a working geologist - put out a call for submissions to geo-science websites and magazines.

Meteor Crater
Meteor CraterCourtesy Mark Ryan
"There is a lot of potential to generate works of art that exhibit the wonder and beauty of nature,” Wessel said. “Most geologists take a lot of photos, for example. But in addition, I'm looking for connections both in the brains of the geologists and in their conscious application of geologic themes to the creation of artworks."

Stone Sculpture
Stone SculptureCourtesy Bill Laprade
Wessel received nearly twice as many entries than his small gallery can hold but he promised to show as many pieces as possible. And I’m happy to report that a photograph by yours truly is included in the exhibit.

Geo sapiens, Geology and Art” opens tomorrow and runs though November. Vashon Island is located in Puget Sound about 8 miles from Seattle.

AAPG Explorer article
More Geo sapiens info

Oct
30
2009

For me, the greatest mystery in the universe is Lindsay Price, and how she continues to find work.: Not that great a mystery, I guess…
For me, the greatest mystery in the universe is Lindsay Price, and how she continues to find work.: Not that great a mystery, I guess…Courtesy catechism

And, let’s face it, who hasn’t had the urge now and then? At the “Quantum to Cosmos” physics conference in Waterloo, Canada, seven physicists were asked, "What keeps you awake at night?" (Apparently, they meant “what issue in science” as opposed to love, money, or lack thereof.) The panel came up with some pretty heavy questions:

Why are the fundamental laws of nature the way that they are? There doesn’t seem to be any reason why they couldn’t be some other way. Are there, perhaps, other universes with other rules?

How does the Observer Effect work? This is a little deep for me, but apparently at the sub-atomic level, simply observing a particle over here can effect another particle thousands of miles away. How does nature do that?

What is the nature of matter, anyway? Especially the “dark matter” which is theorized to exist in outer space, messing up all our gravity calculations.

On a related note, will string theory ever be proven? String theory is the latest theory for how matter and energy interact at the sub-sub-sub-atomic level. And while it is very elegant and seems right on paper, no one has any idea how to conduct an experiment to prove or disprove it.

How do complex systems arise out of simple, basic particles and forces? You know, complex systems. Like life, the universe, and everything.

How did the universe begin, anyway? Physics can only take us back to a few fractions of a second after the Big Bang, a moment at which the universe was very small, very hot, and very dense. Before that, the laws of physics break down. No one knows how to describe the Bang itself, or how / why it happened.

Which brings us to, what are the limits of science? Science is based on observation and experiment. But, at some point, you run into ideas that can’t be tested. In theory, it’s entirely possible that there are other universes. But we’re stuck in this one—how would we ever know?

If anyone has answers to any of these questions, please send them to Canada ASAP. It sounds like there’s a bunch of scientists up there who could use a good night’s sleep.

Sep
03
2009

The Minnesota State Fair is in full swing this week, and lest you think it's just a band of hucksters pandering to a bunch of yokels, you couldn't be more wrong. Science is evident all over the fair, no matter where you look. I didn't capture everything but in my short amble around the fairgrounds I came across all sorts of examples of science and science in action, as the photographs illustrate. Of course, it's just a small sample of what's out there. The fair runs through Labor Day so there's still time to get there and discover for yourself all the fun science that can be found at the Great Minnesota Get Together.

Geology: The Geological Society of Minnesota booth in the Education Building.
Geology: The Geological Society of Minnesota booth in the Education Building.Courtesy Mark Ryan

Biology and nature: The Department of Natural Resources building is a great place to experience the call of nature.
Biology and nature: The Department of Natural Resources building is a great place to experience the call of nature.Courtesy Mark Ryan

Paleontology: Dinosaur World is a new exhibit at the fair this year. Inside are skeletons, fossils, and information about dinosaurs and other prehistoric life.
Paleontology: Dinosaur World is a new exhibit at the fair this year. Inside are skeletons, fossils, and information about dinosaurs and other prehistoric life.Courtesy Mark Ryan

Population and habitat studies: Determine the time it takes a species to fill its range.
Population and habitat studies: Determine the time it takes a species to fill its range.Courtesy Mark Ryan

Winds of change: If you're into controversial ideas like climate change, head over to the Eco building where you can see new innovations in sustainability. They've got electric cars, solar cells, and other new eco-friendly stuff. It used to be called the Technology building. What's up with that?
Winds of change: If you're into controversial ideas like climate change, head over to the Eco building where you can see new innovations in sustainability. They've got electric cars, solar cells, and other new eco-friendly stuff. It used to be called the Technology building. What's up with that?Courtesy Mark Ryan

Gravitation: Fair-goers can experience the persistent tug of gravity for just three bucks.
Gravitation: Fair-goers can experience the persistent tug of gravity for just three bucks.Courtesy Mark Ryan

Food science: Sometimes experiments go awry, but it's all just part of the scientific process.
Food science: Sometimes experiments go awry, but it's all just part of the scientific process.Courtesy Mark Ryan

Evolution: Transitional fossils? Sure, there are plenty to see in museums around the world, but who needs them? Fair-goers can witness for themselves one species evolving into another.
Evolution: Transitional fossils? Sure, there are plenty to see in museums around the world, but who needs them? Fair-goers can witness for themselves one species evolving into another.Courtesy Mark Ryan

Space exploration: To boldly go where a lot of people have gone before.
Space exploration: To boldly go where a lot of people have gone before.Courtesy Mark Ryan

Electromagnetism: The wonder of it all!
Electromagnetism: The wonder of it all!Courtesy Mark Ryan

Angular momentum: P = mv. Oh boy!
Angular momentum: P = mv. Oh boy!Courtesy Mark Ryan

Orogeny: Mountain building at its finest.
Orogeny: Mountain building at its finest.Courtesy Mark Ryan

Immunology: It was reported today that 120 4-H'ers were sent home from the fair as a precaution because 4 members tested positive for the H1N1 flu virus. But assistant state health commissioner John Stine said "it is perfectly safe for people to come to the State Fair."
Immunology: It was reported today that 120 4-H'ers were sent home from the fair as a precaution because 4 members tested positive for the H1N1 flu virus. But assistant state health commissioner John Stine said "it is perfectly safe for people to come to the State Fair."Courtesy Mark Ryan

Probability: See if you can scientifically calculate if this guy's girlfriend goes home with a giant Sponge Bob Squarepants.
Probability: See if you can scientifically calculate if this guy's girlfriend goes home with a giant Sponge Bob Squarepants.Courtesy Mark Ryan

Aug
27
2009

Getting the Facts

Today we are all experiencing a global food crisis. Food prices are inflating, families are food poor. Some of the deaths due to hunger or hunger related causes can be avoided. Many children are malnourished but The most damaging micronutrient deficiencies in the world are the consequence of low dietary intake of vitamin A. In the world, the largest dietary eaten is rice, over 80 percent of the world's population depends on rice as their staple food. Although rice tastes awesome with chicken and with everything else, many people around the world do not get enough β-carotene (provitamin A, the form before vitamin A is converted) to help produce Vitamin A in what they are eating or able to afford to eat. Vitamin A is necessary, without Vitamin A our eyes would be unable to function properly. According to the World Health Organization, 250,000 to 500,000 children to go blind every year due to the lack of Vitamin A deficiency (VAD). Every year it has has claims the lives of 350 000 or more, people who are VAD become blind and 60% of those who become blind will die. 400 million rice-consumers may lead to fatal health problems, some are impaired vision; impaired epithelial integrity, exposing the affected individuals to infections; reduced immune response; impaired haemopoiesis (and hence reduced capacity to transport oxygen in the blood) and skeletal growth; and measles infection. MAP
MAPCourtesy Wikipedia

The science behind

Golden rice is a genetically modified (GM), it is made through genetic manipulation. The gene responsible for the yellow color like the daffodils is inserted into the rice genome, and causes rice to produce large quantities of β-carotene.

The purpose of golden rice was made to to produce B-carotene, In the location where people eat the most, the endosperm. β-Carotene is composed of two retinyl groups ( the animal form of Vitamin A, which is different from the plants who are able to perform photosynthesis for their Vitamin A), and is broken down in the the mucous membrane of the small intestine by B-carotene to retinal, a form of vitamin A. Carotene can be stored in the liver and body fat and converted to retinal when it is needed, thus making it a form of vitamin A for mammals like us. SCIENCE
SCIENCECourtesy Wikipedia

for more details on the science behind golden rice you can check out this website:

http://goldenrice.org/Content2-How/how1_sci.html

But Why Is This Not Happening?

But behind this great discovery and invention people are bound to have their own reason's why they would like it or not. Many have responded with Golden Rice with rage and the desire for those to stop making the golden rice. Many of whom wish for those who do have VAD to receive naturally grown food instead of humans modifying. Those who feel this way feels that other's deserve to eat real food instead of man made. How do you feel towards genetically modified food? Is it still food or something else? With this conspiracy going on the Golden Rice is being stored in a building in Europe because of those who angered about the Golden Rice. Not only do people feel that way other's also said that it will effect the economy worldwide, if golden rice keeps going around the world for free people will stop buying rice and the rice industry would fall apart and the two largest rice exporters ( Thailand and Vietnam ) economy would fall apart and possibly even worse.

My view on this is that Genetically modified food is still food and is made for the better. If we waited for naturally grown food to grow I think it will take way to long for it to be ready for animals and humans to eat, in the world the food consumption is rising and more people demanding food. For example, in 1985 the average Chinese
consumer ate about 20 kg (44 lb) of meat a year, and now consumes over 50 kg (110 lb). Genetically modified food can help feed those who need it. And I understand that there are many people in Europe who do not support GM food, but don't you think we should send food those people who are dying from hunger and save them as soon as possible?

Jul
24
2009

University of Wyoming's S.H. Knight Geological Museum: Big Al, the Allosaurus, awaits the crowds.
University of Wyoming's S.H. Knight Geological Museum: Big Al, the Allosaurus, awaits the crowds.Courtesy Mark Ryan
The recent closing of the University of Wyoming’s S.H. Knight Geological Museum due to budget constraints resulted in an uproar of protest from paleontologists, geologists, others in the scientific community, and the public. On June 30, 2009, the museum closed its doors and the job of the museum’s director, paleontologist Brent Breithaupt, was terminated along with that of a part-time employee. Sure, times are tough all over. But we’re talking about a museum with an annual operating expense of only $80,000. In today’s world of massive bailout mania this amounts to less than nano-diddly-squat.

As the protests heated up, an online petition was created (garnering over 2600 signatures), bloggers gnashed their teeth, and the disgruntled public sent a barrage of emails to university higher-ups, and letters to the editors of local newspapers. A non-profit group known as Friends of the SH Knight Museum was also set up to gather donations to reopen the museum.

It appeared many people thought the university president, Tom Buchanan, and the UW board of trustees could have come up with a better solution than closing the museum doors.

Well, suddenly they did.

No doubt feeling the pressure from the public outcry, the mucky-mucks at UW have now reversed their decision and announced on July 18th that the museum would be reopened (but only part-time) starting August 24, 2009 with private funding from the UW Foundation.

BUT (and as you can see it’s a big but) - instead of reinstating Dr. Breithaupt or hiring another qualified director/curator to run the museum, the university plans instead to have a security guard oversee operations. Yes, you read it correctly - a security guard!! With all due respect to security guards (we have plenty of great ones here at SMM), this is a huge mistake on the university’s part. It makes no sense. What’s the point of having a scientific institution if there’s no qualified scientist running it?

This stunt will do nothing but diminish science everywhere. If an academic institution such as UW (the only 4-year public university in Wyoming by the way) considers a security guard qualified enough to explain the intricacies of evolution, plate tectonics, dinosaur cladistics, and the Permian Extinction to visiting youngsters, then what’s the point of attending such a university to become a degreed scientist? You might as well get a job at the local mall and save on the tuition.

This proposed move makes as much sense as replacing a university president with an unqualified janitor. No one would seriously consider doing that.

But in this case maybe that’s not such a bad idea.

LINKS
Previous Buzz story on closing
Society of Vertebrate Paleontology statement on closing

Jul
17
2009

Mysterious creature invades local lake: Local woman seen fleeing for her life. Is anyone safe?
Mysterious creature invades local lake: Local woman seen fleeing for her life. Is anyone safe?Courtesy Mark Ryan
There have been recent reports of sightings of some sort of sea monster on Lake Harriet in Minneapolis. I don't live far from the lake so I thought I'd go see if I could spot the so-called "Lake Creature" or at least debunk the sightings. Rumors of mythical creatures are common in the area, like I've heard there's an elf living in a tree trunk on the south end of the same lake. I've seen where he supposedly lives but I've never seen the elf himself. So when I went to investigate, I wasn't expecting to see anything other than a large piece of driftwood or a massive floating blob of something like they saw in Alaska this week. But I got to tell you, this lake creature thing is for real. I saw him with my own eyes on the east side of the lake. The sight of it was so startling, I was afraid to stop my car to take a photo so I just snapped one as I sped by. Let's hope this thing hasn't already destroyed the bandshell.

Jun
30
2009

NOVA - MUSICAL MINDS at 8PM ET/PT (please check local listings)

Can the power of music make the brain come alive? Throughout his career Dr. Oliver Sacks, neurologist and acclaimed author, whose book Awakenings was made into a Oscar-nominated feature film starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, has encountered myriad patients who are struggling to cope with debilitating medical conditions. While their ailments vary, many have one thing in common: an appreciation for the therapeutic effects of music. NOVA follows four individuals—two of whom are Sacks’s case studies—and even peers into Sacks’s own brain, to investigate music’s strange, surprising, and still unexplained power over the brain.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/musicminds/

NOVA scienceNOW hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson at 9PM ET/PT (please check local listings)

The fast-paced science magazine series NOVA scienceNOW returns on
June 30 on PBS with a new, 10-week season full of fresh new perspectives, fascinating
scientists, cutting-edge innovations, and provocative stories from the frontlines of science,
technology, and medicine. Hosted by renowned author and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse
Tyson, the series also introduces a brand-new correspondent this season, Ziya Tong (former
host and producer of Wired Science).

www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/

Jun
22
2009

The titans close on each other: Look at how much bigger they are than that house! But how do we know that's a werewolf and not just a normal giant wolf?
The titans close on each other: Look at how much bigger they are than that house! But how do we know that's a werewolf and not just a normal giant wolf?Courtesy JGordon
JK. The war has already been fought, Bigfoot totally won, you missed it, and remarkably little blood was spilled. Go figure.

A professor of the history of science at Kean University in New Jersey is arguing that Bigfoot, in fact, killed the werewolf. Not for really real, but in the collective mind of our society. However, Bigfoot had a secret weapon: Charles Darwin. (I’m assuming it was a silver-tipped Charles Darwin, at least.)

See, everybody has to be afraid of something, pretty much. And for a long time we were all, “I have to be afraid of something, huh? Well… I’m already sort of afraid of wolves, so why don’t we throw in this unnatural wolf/man mix thingy. I’ll be afraid of that.” And because we were too dumb to know about stuff like flesh eating disease and giant crocodiles and cancer, we were pretty satisfied being afraid of werewolves.

But then, says New Jersey science historian Brian Regal, then along comes ol’ Charles Darwin (and his silver tongue?), and begins to popularize evolution with On the Origin of Species. People start thinking, “Hey… wolf-man? Why did I ever think that was scary? That’s old, magicky nonsense. No, what makes sense is an ape-man. I’ll be afraid of that now.”

Science gave the supernatural a little boost of legitimacy, in a roundabout way. And at the cost of poor, dear wolf-man.

Or so says Brian Regal. Take it for what it’s worth; he’s an assistant professor, after all. I don’t trust assistant anythings. Especially not dental assistants. Regal will be presenting his theory to the British Society for the History of Science in Leicester, UK in July. He’s going to show how period artwork also reflects this werewolf to Bigfoot transition, which sounds pretty neat. So if you can make it to Leicester and into the British Society for the History of Science sometime in the next month, maybe you should check it out.

A brutal win!: Look—the wolf has pants. Case closed. Oh, right... this drawing isn't appropriate for more delicate viewers.
A brutal win!: Look—the wolf has pants. Case closed. Oh, right... this drawing isn't appropriate for more delicate viewers.Courtesy JGordon
I’m more than a little disappointed in the lack of an epic, bloody monster-on-monster battle here, though. So I’ll be drawing one for y’all just now, on the back of some paper I pulled out of my trash.