The US version of the comedy series, "The Office" featured a funny little nanotech reference on a recent episode.
The setup: The always ridiculous Dwight is trying to pick a health care plan and everyone is doing their best to sabotage their efforts with false medical claims....enter nanobots.
Nanotech is breaking its way into pop culture more and more every day. Its good to see someone lampooning the grey goo nano robots.
With this year's round of state quarters entering circulation, it's enlightening to see how many of the new coins focus on science and nature. The first three quarters of 2007 place wildlife in the spotlight, with a bison head on the Montana coin, a salmon on Washington state, and a peregrine falcon on Idaho. The menagerie of state coins also entails buffalo roaming on Kansas, wild mustangs running across Nevada, and full-bodied bison on North Dakota.
An oak tree takes center stage on the Connecticut currency, and there's plenty of plant life on other coins too. There's a Mississippi magnolia and a Georgia peach—just to name a few. Wisconsin pays tribute to its agricultural heritage, and it's hard to overlook the Rocky Mountains on the Colorado coin. Nature scenes decorate several other state quarters as well.
The 10,000 lakes on Minnesota's quarter have lots of company, with Crater Lake on Oregon, and the Great Lakes surrounding Michigan. Coining itself "The Ocean State," tiny Rhode Island pays homage to the enormous Atlantic, and water scenes flow over more state coins too.
Of the handful of state quarters highlighting people, California singles out conservationist John Muir, while the Missouri coin shows the Lewis and Clark expedition. Two states put money on the Wright Brothers' success, with North Carolina featuring the historic Kitty Hawk flight, and Ohio honoring the birthplace to Orville and Wilbur—along with astronaut Neil Armstrong. Transportation technology travels across many other state quarters, with Indiana giving credit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Just about every state quarter can have a scientific slant, with a little homework. That one-room schoolhouse on the Iowa quarter comes from an "Arbor Day" painting by Grant Wood. The U.S. Mint launched the first five coins in the 50 State Quarters Program in 1999. The final five coins will enter circulation in 2008.
Jon Miller, a professor at Michigan State University, has been tracking scientific literacy for nearly 20 years. He presented his latest findings recently at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The good news: the percentage of Americans with basic scientific literacy has almost tripled in the last two decades. We are now second in the world, ahead of Japan and most of Europe. Only Sweden beats us out.
The bad news: it's not so much that we're so good, but that the rest of the world is so bad. Only 28% of Americans have basic science literacy. As the article points out, citizens are asked to make decisions on issues such as nanotechnology, stem cell research, climate change, etc. We need a basic understanding of the science behind these topics.
However, I must take issue with the last point the professor makes:
Surveys he did starting a year before the 2004 election found that the frequent debates about [stem cell research] ... actually left more voters undecided than they had been before the campaigning began.
I don't think that's a bad thing. In fact, I believe there's a very simple explanation: politicians often take complicated issues and boil them down to simple "soundbite" solutions, designed to get people to agree (and vote) with them. Learning more about any subject makes you appreciate how complex it is, and how very often there are no clear-cut answers.
Watch this funny video to learn about where you should be coughing. Just say no to using your hands.
I have to say that I've started coughing and sneezing into my sleeve in the recent years and discovered that the only side effect is that every once and a while I get a little glob of snot on my sleeve. GROSS! But hey, who really washes their hands every time they cough, sneeze, or touch their face? So sacrifice a little snotty fabric and cough and sneeze into your sleeve.
You can design the next hazard symbol for nanotechnology. The entries will be judged by the ETC, a group interested in sustainable development of new technologies. You can see some of the initial entries in their hazard symbol gallery.
I don't want to get stuck on talking only about the potential negatives about nanotech. Whether we proceed safely or not there will be hazards that need to be addressed. I thought this was a fun way of thinking about involving the public.
University of Minnesota scientist David Y.H. Pui teamed up with Andrew Maynard, the Science Advisor to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, to call for more research into the safety of those who work in the field of nanotechnology. Their comments were published in the Journal of Nanoparticle Research.
Nanotechnology allows us to manipulate materials at the atomic and molecular scale, a billions of times smaller than a meter. But what does this mean for the lab and factory workers who will build these new materials? "Workers are society's canaries-in-the-coal mines when it comes to the environmental, health and safety effects of new materials--and nanoscale materials are no different," said Maynard.
People are researching the safety of nanotech manufacturing, but it isn't enough. According to Maynard, "little is known about potential risks in many areas of nanotechnology--and funding for risk-focused research is a small fraction of the nearly $10 billion spent annually by governments and industry on nanotechnology commercial applications."
This article is a good step in prodding the industry and our government to put more money toward nanotech risk research. However, I wonder at what point these calls for more focus will result in more action. We have seen some advances in 2006 with the city of Berkeley, California creating municipal regulations on nanotech. And, the EPA decided to regulate the use of nano silver in the environment.
It remains to be seen if this will continue to be a trend. So when you hear about a new nanotech breakthrough, continue to ask: Will it be safe?
Are you getting bummed out reading about doom and gloom predictions? Edge asked 160 'thought leaders' to share with us their answers to this years question, "What are you optimistic about? Why?"
The 160 responses to this year's Edge Question span topics such as string theory, intelligence, population growth, cancer, climate and much much more. Contributing their optimistic visions are a who's who of interesting and important world-class thinkers.
Edge asked its hand-picked list of 'thought leaders' to reassure each other and the rest of us that we have reason to be optimistic. Edge.org
Kurzweil, who authored The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, explains how when things keep doubling at a regular rate they approach infinity or zero. Computer's increasing ability to "figure things out" will lead to answers for our many problems. The cost of solar energy, like the cost of calculators, will drop to levels cheaper than oil. Our new mastery of biology will allow us to "turn off" diseases and aging.
I'm Confident About Energy, the Environment, Longevity, and Wealth; I'm Optimistic (But Not Necessarily Confident) Of the Avoidance Of Existential Downsides; And I'm Hopeful (But Not Necessarily Optimistic) About a Repeat Of 9-11 (Or Worse) Ray Kurzweil
Please consider reading some of the 160 contributions.
The British charity Sense About Science is encouraging celebrities to make sure they have their facts straight before they go talking about scientific issues. A lot of people enjoy reading and hearing what celebrities have to say. Unfortunately, a lot of what they say is nonsense.
Sense About Science has issued a list of especially silly celebrity statements. And while most of these stars are British, I don't think we'd have any trouble putting together a list of Bad Science spouted by American celebs -- or any country's, for that matter. Any nominations?
On Wednesday the Make It Team from the museum's Youth Science Center talked about research using animals.
The teens watched four short videos:
After watching the videos, teens used the Democs Game to talk about the pros and cons of animal testing. Democs is a role playing activity where teens are assigned different view points and then asked to debate issues from those view points.
According to recent Washington Post articles, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is close to approving the sale of milk and meat from cloned animals, perhaps by the end of this year. Stephen F. Sundlof, the FDA's chief of veterinary medicine, was quoted: "Our evaluation is that the food from cloned animals is as safe as the food we eat every day." However, this pending approval has drawn criticism from both consumer and certain religious groups. The potential approval was a topic at a Washington conference sponsored by Michigan State University and the nonpartisan Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology. Speakers with expertise in biology, philosophy, ethics, and theology said that scientists must be part of an "implicit social compact" to use ethical means to solve societal problems. Paul Thompson, W.K. Kellogg Endowed Chair in Food, Agricultural, and Community Ethics at MSU, provided an overview of animal ethics to conference participants. Besides the impending authorization of cloned milk and meat, the topic of whether these products will carry a label designating them as such is an issue of current debate. Barb Glenn of the Biotechnology Industry Organization was quoted in another Post article:
"We feel like the average consumer is going to accept this technology as we move forward. There will not be a label that will indicate this is anything other than healthy meat and milk."
To view the Post articles, see the links below. (You may have to register with the Post to view them.)
What do you think of cloned milk or meat? Would you buy these products? Should they be labeled as originating from cloned animals?
"Religion a prominent cloned-food issue"