Stories tagged Scientific World View

Mar
15
2009

Learning about Ant Architecture at Cafe Scientifique
Learning about Ant Architecture at Cafe ScientifiqueCourtesy Shanai

Here in the Twin Cities we are lucky to have so many great museums and cultural organizations that celebrate science, but if visiting a zoo or museum to see the latest exhibit is not enough to satisfy you, where can you go?

You might not know it, but there are plenty of science events and programs going on across the Twin Cities RIGHT NOW (depending on when you are reading this). While none of these are actually a secret, they are all ways to learn new things, to meet interesting people and to take part in discussions on relevant science topics, something Science Buzz readers already do online!

Here is a quick list of some upcoming and ongoing science events that are unique to the Twin Cities. The things I've listed here are specifically for adults and young adults, so if you are a kid please plug your ears and close your eyes and patiently wait until it's your turn to rule the world.

Shanai's Favorite Science Events (Twin Cities Edition)

1. Electricity Party

The Bakken Library and Museum throws a monthly party called Bakken Evening Out. At this event adults can play with exhibits about electricity without worrying that the kid with the runny nose who just ran past in a sugar-induced frenzy is going to give everyone the flu. Plus there is live music, wine and appetizers.

2. Water World

The Science Museum is hosting a series of Thursday night lectures in conjunction with the water exhibit. While "lectures" might sound a little dull, knowing loads of information about the chemicals in our lakes or the impact of human development on the Mississippi is a great way to be an informed citizen and a well-known smarty pants.

3. Science on Tap

The Bell Museum's ongoing Cafe Scientifique series invites University of Minnesota researchers to the Bryant-Lake Bowl for informal science talks over dinner and drinks. This month's topic is the Political Virology of Bird Flu, which should go great with a grilled chicken sandwich.

4. Books with a Bang

The Big Bang Book Club is a new science book club being held at Grumpy's Bar & Grill in Downtown Minneapolis. Participants can come to discuss the featured book even if they haven't had a chance to read it. The folks from Magers & Quinn Booksellers do an excellent job of summing things up and asking the question we are all afraid to. Plus there are tater tots for sale, which is pretty amazing.

5. Science (Art) Studio

Leonardo's Basement, a strange and very awesome science/art/technology/design studio in South Minneapolis is always up to something cool. Their dedicated adult program Studio Bricolage lets adults mess around with things and build inventions. Or art. Or anything they can imagine.

6. Science Underground

Mill City Museum is all about the industrial history of Minneapolis, the flour milling capital of the world! In April they are offering what has to be the coolest tour ever. The title, Subterranean Twin Cities, pretty much says it all.

7. Down by the River

And while you are down by the river, you can always contemplate the engineering feat of St. Anthony Falls, which is also home to the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, which occasionally hosts public tours.

8. GO OUTSIDE!

Local park & recreation boards, as well as nature centers, are a great place to go for urban wildlife programs and nature tours. You can also check out Local Biology to see other upcoming events, or to make your own event out of the simple act of going outside.

Other events that I missed? Post them here on Science Buzz!

Mar
02
2009

I'm Radioactive Man!: The boots hide my ankle bracelet!
I'm Radioactive Man!: The boots hide my ankle bracelet!Courtesy whalt
Hey Buzzketeers! Welcome to the new week! Is it everything you imagined it would be?

So, if I said “Radioactive Man,” would y’all get the Simpsons reference? Bart’s favorite comic book hero is Radioactive Man, a guy who survived an atomic blast, and a lightning bolt shaped piece of metal stuck in his head.

Hey, guess what! There’s a real life Radioactive Man running around now!

Oh… but the radioactivity is potentially dangerous. And he’s some kind of sex offender, who has run away from the authorities.

So that’s a bummer, but the situation provides some opportunity for science education (which is, like, my favorite thing).

How does a sex offender get to be radioactive? Good question.

Not all sex offenders are radioactive. For the most part, you still don’t want to come in close contact with them, but not because of radioactivity.

This particular sex offender, Thomas Marius Leopold, is radioactive because he has an overactive thyroid gland.

The thyroid gland hides out in your neck, and it produces hormones that help regulate your metabolism. Too much thyroid hormone, and your metabolism goes nuts—you get weak and hungry, you can lose weight, and your heart rate becomes jittery. That sort of thing. Some thyroid conditions also cause your eyes to become protuberant, and your thyroid gland to swell, forming a goiter.

One of the treatments for hyperthyroidism involves the use of radioiodine. Radioiodine is an isotope of the element iodine. Iodine is number 53 on the periodic table, so it has 53 protons in each atom. Naturally occurring iodine has 74 neutrons in each atom, but iodine can have different numbers of neutrons (different isotopes). The radioiodine isotope has 78 neutrons, but the atom isn’t stable with that many neutrons, so they decay until there are just 74 left. These decaying neutrons give off beta emissions (electrons and positrons), and gamma rays (highly energetic electromagnetic radiation).

Normally we want to avoid this sort of radioactive stuff, but materials like radioiodine can be very useful when they’re targeted at certain cells or organs (sort of like how we blast tumors with radiation to treat cancer). It just so happens that the thyroid naturally traps iodine in our bodies (it needs iodine to make hormones), so when a patient is given radioactive iodine, the thyroid sucks it right up. When the emissions from decaying neutrons blast into thyroid tissue, the thyroid kind of gets worn out, and slows down—that’s why radioiodine can be good for a thyroid that was overactive in the first place.

Radioiodine is radioactive enough, however, that hospitals often recommend keeping extra space between someone who is on the treatment, like this sex offender on the lam, and folks who might be particularly susceptible to radiation, like small children, or arresting police officers.

The radioactivity isn’t super bad, at least, and it doesn’t last forever—radioiodine has a half-life of about 8 days. That means that after 8 days, half of the radioactive material is gone (turned into something more stable). And after 8 more days, half of what was left is gone (so there’s just ¼ of the original amount left). Eventually the amount of radioiodine left in the body is so negligible that you’re safe hugging pregnant women and handcuffing fugitives.

Wasn’t that interesting? We know about radioiodine now! So if you’re in Great Britain (where this story came from), and there’s a creepy-looking dude who seems to be ruining your film just by being around you, call the police!

Nov
19
2008

You may have read a couple weeks ago a NASA report stating that October 2008 was the warmest October ever on record. An enormous hot spot was observed over Siberia, an incredible 10 degrees warmer than normal, raising the global average.

However, the appearance of the words “hot” and “Siberia” in the same sentence made some people suspicious. A couple of bloggers took a closer look at the data, and they found that, for dozens of reporting stations in Siberia, the average October temperature was exactly the same as the average October temperature. That’s pretty much impossible. Clearly what happened is someone copied the numbers from the wrong column, leading to greatly inflated figures, which were then eagerly reported.

So, what can we learn from this little episode?

1) Even experts make mistakes. Though this particular expert, Dr. James Hansen, seems especially prone to making mistakes that support his views. That’s only human, I suppose, but it means we should pay attention to who is publishing a study, and whether they are pushing a particular point of view.

2) Weather is not climate. One sparrow does not make a spring, and one October does not make a global warming crisis. Especially when the October in question was not actually, you know, warm.

3) Read the fine print. Just like the item below, the headline told one story, but the pesky little facts told a very different one. (One of the most important things it tells us is that the folks in charge of monitoring the world’s climate don’t even bother to double-check their own data!)

Nov
13
2008

It's a new day in America: Where should our energy come from now?
It's a new day in America: Where should our energy come from now?Courtesy timsamoff
On January 21, 2009, there’s going to be a brand new administration in the White house. Defining the energy policy of the United States is going to be a big issue, and one that’s likely to get tackled early on.

The members of the Obama Administration are going to have their own ideas about how our country should get its energy, but what do you think?

Is green energy your one and only? Are you a coal man? A nuclear gal? Or do you fall asleep murmuring “drill, baby, drill”?

Some options are going to be more expensive than others, each will affect the environment differently, and some are going to take more time before they’re ready. So what’s it going to be?

Voice your opinion in Science Buzz’s new poll: Energy and the Obama Administration.

You might not have been able to vote on November 4, but you can vote now, and you can let everyone know why you think what you think.

Oct
15
2008

Dick and Laura are a young married couple. They've been having trouble conceiving a child. They go to a fertility clinic and begin the process of in vitro fertilization—have a "test-tube baby." The doctor tells them he can test the embryos and tell which ones will be boys and which ones will be girls. Testing an embryo entails a small chance of damaging it.

Oct
14
2008

Cats and dogs, living together: You need more proof?
Cats and dogs, living together: You need more proof?Courtesy darkmavis
Put a star on your calendars today, Buzzketeers, because science is taking a vacation! And I don’t know about y’all, but I’ll be celebrating by eating my own head and diving into a good book. Literally!

Some of you (the sassboxes) might point out that natural laws apparently still apply, and that scientists the world over continue to fiddle around with their science-tools to learn things about the world. But the day I start paying attention to scientists is the day I give up my lifelong dream of eating my own head.

No, I’m listening to the people who have a more direct influence on my day-to-day life: bookies.

See, it seems that a bunch of bookies are concerned that there’s some chance that an alien spaceship will be landing today in the American desert. And so I’m concerned too.

The idea… Nay, the fact of the impending landing came from the Australian psychic, Blossom Goodchild.

—A little side note: I can’t believe it! My name used to be Blossom Goodchild too! I just changed it to JGordon in junior high. I can’t believe we were both born “Blossom Goodchild”! Amazing!

Anyway, Blossom Goodchild, Aussie supernatural, delivers the secrets of love, light, and laughter by channeling “a native American spirit energy” by the name of White Cloud. I’m not entirely clear on why a native American spirit energy would go to Australia for channeling, but who am I to question the ways of the spirits?

Goodchild, presumably with the help of White Cloud, has started a wave of Internet-enthusiasm by predicting the imminent arrival of a massive space ship full of aliens (or “light beings”), which will supposedly be happening today!

The enterprising residents of Earth, not wanting to be caught with our pants down by light beings, have rushed to prepare… by betting on the arrival! Betting so much, in fact, that bookmakers have had to suspend further all wagers.

There has been no evidence of the coming aliens—no radio transmissions, no detected incoming spaceships, and no precedence—except for the word of an Australian good child, and her wandering spirit. And so it would make sense that the odds are set up against the landing. Yet human gamblers aren’t into odds (who ever won something by betting on a sure thing?) or evidence, and they stand to make a lot of money if (when) the ship arrives. See, we shoot from the hip, and we follow our guts, and the bookies know it, and they’re afraid to take any more bets on the spaceship.

So today’s the day, Buzzers. Try to do something impossible. You won’t be the only one.

Oct
06
2008

Do you often find yourself watching those prime-time crime dramas on TV asking yourself, "Wow! I didn't know they could figure out whom the killer is based on a single carpet fiber sample found on the sidewalk outside of a crime scene! Can they really do that?!?" Well, some of the processes we see on TV may not be quick as quick and easy, or even possible compared to real life crime investigation.

Lisa Smith, of the University of Leicester School of Psychology, is doing some research to see how these portrayals of forensics on TV are affecting how jurors view forensic evidence in actual court cases. Jurors make their decisions based upon their knowledge, perceived understanding, and beliefs regarding forensic evidence. So the next time you are watching some evening television or even hear a news story regarding some forensic evidence, think twice about the validity of what you see!

Oh, and if you like, there is an online questionnaire for the study!

http://www.survey.bris.ac.uk/leicester/evidence

Oct
03
2008

Take your time and think it through, guy: But don't worry about the MMR vaccine.
Take your time and think it through, guy: But don't worry about the MMR vaccine.Courtesy paul+photos=moody
Let’s be careful how we put our words together, everybody.

I mean, when I get dressed in the morning, I know that I want to get underwear, socks, pants, and at least one shirt onto my body. However, if I were to forgo all rules of dressing order and arrangement, I might give off the wrong message: i.e., I’m crazy, and possibly dangerous to be around.

Why would I take any less care with my precious, precious words?

Because I’m pretty lazy, I don’t generally read most (any) of the articles on science that I come across every day. Instead, I read only the headlines. Or, better yet, I have them read to me—that way I can rest my head on my desk while I’m taking in the news. It’s very important, then, that all headlines are clearly worded. Otherwise I could dictate a Science Buzz post that is even more factually inaccurate than my posts normally are. That’s dangerous territory.

Survey confirms parents’ fears, confusion over autism.”

I looked at that headline, saw the word “vaccine” in the body, and thought, “Oh, snap! Vaccines do cause autism?” Because, that’s what parents’ are afraid of, after all.

Nope. The existence of parents’ fear and confusion over autism is what has been confirmed here. The actual connection between vaccinations and autism remains non-existent.

A recent study found that a significant percentage of parents still believe that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine can cause autism, or are at least uncertain and fearful that such a connection does exist. This is despite the fact that scientists can establish no connection between early childhood vaccines and the development of autism.

The fear that early childhood vaccinations lead to an increased risk for autism originated from a 1998 study that linked autism to a particular mercury-based preservative in the MMR vaccine. It was later revealed that the study was based on bad research, and it was retracted by most of its authors and disowned by its publisher. In 2001, manufacturers of the MMR vaccine began removing the preservative from their vaccines anyway—and that’s probably not a bad thing, but it hasn’t led to any decrease in the occurrence of autism. And people are still worried about the vaccine anyway.

This confusion wouldn’t be such a big deal, except that the better-safe-than-sorry attitude towards not having children vaccinated has led to a resurgence in diseases that had essentially been eradicated in areas where the vaccine is available.

Science Buzz has had a lot of conversation on this subject already, and, if you’re interested, I’d recommend you check out some of the other posts on autism and vaccinations.

Sep
17
2008

A big pyramid: Of pathetic, antiquated, and useless thought.
A big pyramid: Of pathetic, antiquated, and useless thought.Courtesy Pygo
Y’all know what a scientific paradigm is? Me neither. But I took a class about it once, and I seem to remember that it has something to do with the whole mindset with which we approach scientific questions. A paradigm frames how we might look at the whole of a scientific question—indeed, it doesn’t just determine how we ask questions, but what questions we ask in the first place.

When a paradigm shifts, something has occurred or been uncovered that completely changes the approach to the problem. With a new scientific paradigm, we don’t just ask questions that couldn’t be answered before, we ask questions that we never even considered before.

Let’s examine... oh, say, toilet paper. Thin. Usually white, or whitish. Used for wiping stuff. Two ply (sometimes one-ply, depending on the venue). What more can be done with it? Oh, I suppose we could make it softer somehow. Or make it rougher, maybe. Could we make it whiter? Larger squares? No, the discipline is dry; there is nothing new to be discovered in toilet paper now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.

Wrong answer, chumps! How about… 3-ply toilet paper!

3-ply? 3-ply? There’s no such… Aaaaaaaaaahhhaaaaaaaaaaaahh!!!!

No, pull it together… I can get my head around this… 3-ply…Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhaaaaaaaaaahhhh!!!!

Okay… Let’s just not think directly at that for a little bit.

So, “toilet paper researchers” in Wisconsin have created toilet paper that has… three layered… They’ve made two-ply toilet paper with one more ply.

It’s like the axis of the world has shifted so that it’s running right through my brain.

The new generation of toilet paper is being touted as “extra-soft,” although, industry analysts are skeptical, pointing out that an extra ply should only make TP tougher, not softer. Not to mention that it just plain seems impossible.

Nonetheless, the Wisconsin futurnauts fully intend to pursue this new three-layered science. The target market is reported to be women 45 and older who view their bathroom as a "sanctuary for quality time."

And so I salute you, 45+ female demographic. You dare what the rest of us can hardly imagine.

Jul
22
2008

Hey, wait a second...: How could you ever balance one of those on a pencil? Bad science!
Hey, wait a second...: How could you ever balance one of those on a pencil? Bad science!Courtesy Matthieu :: giik.net/blog
All y’all up on graphene?

I knew you were. You’re Buzzketeers, the best of the best, the biggest of the brains, the coolest of the cids.

There’s no need to explain graphene to this team (the Lil’ Professors), so it would be totally unnecessary for me to point out that graphene is a fancy material made of a single layer of carbon atoms attached to each other in a honeycomb pattern. It’s about as flat as can be, and when you roll it up you get those little things Science Buzz is so crazy about: carbon nanotubes.

Nanotubes are awesome, and if you click on the link above you can learn about all the awesome things they can do. But graphene…graphene itself may be pretty awesome too. The problem with testing just how awesome graphene is is that it has been exceptionally difficult to a) make a piece of graphene so small that it hasn’t got any of the imperfections that naturally come in large chunks of things, and b) make a device to actually hold the itty bitty graphene well enough to really test the stuff out.

But science has now done those things! Using a tiny sheet of perfect graphene (about 1/100s the width of a human hair) and a really tiny diamond…poker-thing (about 10 billionths of a meter wide), scientists have finally been able to find out exactly how strong graphene is.

So, how strong is it? It’s the strongest! That is to say, the strongest material measured so far. It’s about 200 times the strength of structural steel, or, says Columbia Professor James Hone, “It would take an elephant, balanced on a pencil, to break through a sheet of graphene the thickness of Saran Wrap.”

This statement, of course, wins professor Hone July’s “Awesome explanation, Scientist” award. That’s a good mental image, and it shows a non-scientist like me how strong graphene is.

So…awesome explanation, Scientist! More of that, please!