From the loud chants coming from students for their favorite sports athletes in 1883, to the high extent of the first Liberty (stunt) in 1976. Cheer leading has went from loud chants to extreme stunts, which has increased the risk of injury. The increased risk for injury has came from the change in activity being done in cheer leading, because now they are starting to use more gymnastic like stunts which require a trained & stunt certified coaches. Without that the injury rates continue to increase.Cheer leading is the most dangerous female sport. The injuries range from fractures,broken bones, paralysis, & even sometimes death. It only takes one mistake to change someones life, so why not prevent it by taking every precaution to ensure safety & maintain all physical abilities. This teenage cheerleader suffered the pain due to the mistake of her teammates.I think there should be a regulation that prohibits bending the rules & regulations for cheer leading stunts because some coaches tend to bend them & that's how people get hurt. There should be rule that there needs to be more than two spotters because anything can happen.I personally stand by those who say cheer leading is more dangerous than football. Where do you stand? How is cheer leading a part of physics?Would you EVER take that risk of being thrown in the air?cheer or no cheer?
Courtesy Rick ElkinsAhoy! Random questions have been piling up on the poop deck of the HMS Puddleduck, and I’ve been too distracted (mostly by birds) to address them. And now… now there are so many that I can’t give them the attention they each deserve! But I will try to give them something, as quickly and succinctly as I am able. It pains me to do so, but I’ll need a more nimble vessel for this sort of mission, and so I must temporarily abandon the Puddleduck for an outboard motor-equipped dinghy and…
The starting bell?! Oh man!
Q: What’s the difference between regular food and organic food?
A: It’s all about how a food or its ingredients are grown. To be considered “organic,” the food has to be produced without the use of synthetic (man-made) chemicals. So that means that organic vegetables can’t have synthetic pesticides or herbicides used to keep bugs off them and other plants from competing with them. (Synthetic fertilizers can, however, be used.) Organic meat can’t come from animals treated with hormones or antibiotics.
When a food has a sticker on it saying “certified organic,” that means that it has passed the tests of a regulating agency. In the US, a product must be made of 95% organic materials to be labeled as “organic.”
Consuming organic food might reduce your exposure to potentially harmful chemicals, but, nutritionally, organic food isn’t really a whole lot different than non-organic food.
That answer was too long. I’ll never win the lightning round this way.
Q: Do you know why there are black holes in space? Are there any undiscovered plants [sic?] in space?
A: Black holes aren’t really holes in space, exactly. You might think of them as like really really really really heavy planets. Like, when a big star gets old, it can collapse on itself, getting small, but still having the same mass. (It’s like if you were to squish a marshmallow down into a little lump. It’d take up less space, but it would still weigh the same.) Even though they’re smaller, black holes still have lots of gravity—so much gravity, that they even pull light down towards them. So they look totally black.
Undiscovered plants? … Possibly? Undiscovered planets? Definitely. There are planets outside our solar system, but they're too small and far away to actually see. But there are other ways of detecting them, involving how a planet affects the way we see its star. But I can’t get into that, because this answer is already too long too.
Q: Have you found a dinosaur as big as a jumbo jet?
A: Me personally? No. Other people? Yes. Or… just about. So, the original jumbo jet, the Boeing 747 is about 70 meters long, and it weighs about 400,000 pounds empty The long necked, long tailed sauropod amphicoelias may have been about 60 meters long (196 feet), and it could have weighed as much as 135 tons. (That’s 270,000 pounds.) Not quite as big as a jumbo jet, but near enough that I think it should get the title.
Q: Why is the sky blue, and not green or black? It looks black from outer space.
A: The sky is blue because of all the methane gas in our atmosphere. The light reaching our planet has all wavelengths of color mixed together, but certain gases scatter certain colors more than others. Blue light gets absorbed by methane molecules and then scattered around, making the sky blue wherever you look. If you were to look at the sky from the moon, yeah, it would look black. That’s because there’s no atmosphere on the moon. No atmosphere, no gas, no gas, no light scattering. No blue. It’s explained better here
Q: Is your hair alive? If not, why is it always growin?
A: Nope, not alive. No nerve, no blood vessels, no activity. It’s always growing because structures in your skin called hair follicles are always making more of it. It’s like… like a string factory, making one long piece of string. There’s stuff happening in the factory, and the material the string is made of might once have been alive, but the string itself isn’t.
Q: How old is the oldest person in the world?
A: The oldest living person is Gertrude Baines. She’s one hundred fifteen years old.
Q: Where was the biggest snake that ever lived?
A: Columbia. 60 million years ago. Titanoboa cerrejonensis is extinct now, but it is estimated to have been about 42 feet long and 2,500 pounds.
Q: How long were the dinosaurs alive?
A: Dinosaurs lived during the Mesozoic Era, which lasted from about 251 million years ago to about 65.5 million years ago. The first dinosaurs didn’t appear until the late Triassic period, though, and that was about 230 million years ago. That means dinosaurs were around for about 165 million years, give or take a few. That’s a looong time, especially when you consider that humans have only been around about 2 million years (and, really, we modern humans have only been around for maybe 200,000 years.)
Q: How long can turtles live?
A: Oooh. I like this one. Large tortoises have been known to live well into their second century (one in a Calcutta zoo was actually reputed to be around 250 years old, but it died a few years ago). But how long could they live? Most animals (including people) start to automatically break down after a certain period. Cells don’t regenerate like they used to, and organs slowly deteriorate and fail. But turtles… apparently this doesn’t happen to them. They don’t seem to have this automatic shutoff built into them, so they don’t age like other animals—a hundred-year-old turtle could have organs as fresh as a teenage turtle. Unfortunately, they can still succumb to disease, or predators, or Foot Soldiers, and eventually the odds add up and they die. From something. Neat though, huh?
Q: How do you tell butterflies and moths apart?
Q: Where do elephants live?
A: Africa, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, China, Southeast Asia, Sumatra, Borneo. And maybe some other places. And zoos.
Q: What are hiccups made of?
A: Hiccups are caused by the diaphragm muscle twitching spasmodically, causing your lungs to suck in air so quickly that your epiglottis (a little thing in your throat that keeps you from breathing in the food you swallow) snaps shut, halting the breath. But what are they made of? Babies’ dreams.
Q: How many explosions have you made while working.
A: It depends on your definition of “explosions.” Somewhere between zero and thousands.
Q: Does the science museum ever get boring?
A: No. Never. I have the scars to prove it.
Q: Can people put rabies in guns and shoot us with it?
A: Probably not in a normal gun. When a bullet is fired, it becomes very hot, and I think that could destroy any rabies viruses the in the projectile. But rabies is generally transimitted through saliva, so I wonder if one could put a sample of contaminated saliva in a ballistic syringe and fire it from a tranquilizer gun. It seems reasonable. I’d watch out for this, if I were you.
Q: Why do people cry?
A: Because living in the world can be very difficult and painful, and the frustration at our inability to cope with this sometimes manifests itself in our lacrimal apparatuses going bonkers.
Q: Do you catch snakes?
A: Not frequently, but sometimes, yes. In my last house, I had lots of holes in my bedroom floor, and sometimes garter snakes would come into the room through those holes. Considering how my room was on the second floor, I figured making the trip up to my bed wouldn’t be a big deal for them, so capture and release was necessary.
Here’s my fail-proof snake capturing strategy:
1: Spot snake in bedroom
2: Retrieve used pair of underwear from bedroom floor
3: Throw underwear over snake
4: Grab snake and underwear
5: Go downstairs, throw snake outside, keep underwear
This method is nice, because it temporarily gets rid of snakes, and it sends across the message that anything you don’t want in your room is going to get hit with your undies. (Some snakes, though, are perverts, and this may backfire on you.)
Hmm. That was a pretty weak lightning round. Real lightning is way faster than that, and it makes a stronger point. I’ll keep practicing.
Until next time, Buzzketeers, always keep dirty underwear on your floor, and not in your hamper, just in case you need it for snakes.
Courtesy Mark RyanI watched the Aquatennial's Milk Carton Boat Races today at Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis. One of the early heats included an entry from the Science Museum.
Courtesy Mark RyanI don't know who was sailing the ship but dang if science didn't prevail!
The boat looked sea-worthy enough on land but once it was placed into the water, it just didn't want to remain upright. But the hardy crew never despaired, and instead re-engineered the ship (ala Apollo 13) on the spot by removing the entire pesky bottom half and using only the deck to complete the race.
Courtesy Mark Ryan
They didn't win by any means, and at times it looked like they weren't using a boat at all, but they worked together to solve problems and got to shore safely.
Want to hear the most exciting chemistry news for the month of June?? Yes…? All right then.
A few weeks ago, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (or IUPAC if you’re feelin’ lazy) officially recognized the element 112, discovered at the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung, as the newest element to be added to the periodic table. That’s right kids, the periodic table is gettin’ a makeover.
The new element is approximately 277 times heavier than Hydrogen, making it the heaviest element to hit the periodic table since roentgenium (which coincidentally, was also discovered by GSI). It’s been a long road for 112. Way back in 1996, Professor Sigurd Hoffman and a team of 21 scientists at GSI created it with an accelerator. Six years later, they were able to produce another atom. Finally confirming the discovery, accelerator experiments at the Japanese RIKEN produce more atoms of 112.
How does an accelerator make an atom, you ask? Well, zinc ions are fired towards a lead target with the help of a 120-meter long particle accelerator. Once they hit, the zinc and lead nuclei merge in a nuclear fusion to form the nucleus of a new element.
Courtesy A. Zschau, GSI
And now for the fun part. Over the next few weeks, the scientists from the discovery team will deliberate on the name of element 112. After its been submitted to IUPAC, it will be assessed and then officially be crowned the newest member of the periodic team.
Courtesy Myriam ThyesA… hoy.
This heat. Am I right? Am I right? Here on the HMS Puddleduck, triviaship, we haven’t been spared from the heat you feel on land. If anything, it’s worse out here at sea.
The heat has made Captain JGordon listless. In my weakened state, I don’t feel fit to hold a pen or operate the keyboard of a computer. Therefore, I am dictating this entry from the Puddleduck’s crow’s-nest. My crew, having been born and raised in such sweaty, squalid conditions as I now find myself in are more accustomed to this heat, and I have ordered them to paint my words in meter-wide letters on the deck of the ship. This way, the answers to today’s random questions can be easily read from my perch, and transferred to the Internet at a later time. The crew will scrub the deck clean again tomorrow afternoon.
On with it, then. These questions were obtained from the galleries of the science museum, but the answers were divined by yours truly from the movements of the stars.
Question: How come you can see reflections in mirages if they aren’t really there?
Answer: How timely. The questioner is wise to bring up mirages—please, Buzzketeers, be certain of the veracity of all bodies of water might find in front of you on hot days like today before you go chasing after them.
Mirages, it should be noted, are “really there.” They aren’t figments of your imagination, they’re real natural phenomena. And it’s not exactly a reflection that you see—it’s a refraction. In reflections, light bounces off of something to go in a new direction. In a refraction, light bends passing through something. This happens because light travels at slightly different speeds when traveling through different materials. Light that passes from air to water, for example, has to slow down when it moves into the water. If the light enters the water at a non-perpendicular angle, the direction of the light usually changes.
When you see a mirage, you’re seeing a refraction light of the sky (which looks watery), or of an object on the other side of the mirage (like when you see “reflections” of other cars in mirages on the road). The light is refracting because it’s passing through a couple different “mediums.” Instead of air and water, in this case, the light is passing though cooler air and warmer air. When the ground or pavement is very hot, the air immediately above it is going to be hotter too. Because hot air is less dense than cool air, light travels at a different speed through it. So… light moves from cooler air a little ways above the ground to hotter air immediately above the ground, and it gets refracted—it sort of bends away from the ground without ever actually touching it. And that light zooms up to your eyeballs, and it looks kind of like a reflection. Ta-da.
Question: Why does my butt hurt?
Answer: You know, this question comes in kind of a lot. Seriously. Almost as often as “I like cheese,” and “I like pie,” which aren’t really questions. Go figure. Usually I pass it over, but I think you deserve a real answer this time.
Anyway, a common cause of butt-hurt is hemorrhoids. I’m afraid I can’t link to that, because the picture is icky. But I’m guessing you have hemorrhoids. What’s happening to you is the veins in your anus are becoming swollen and inflamed. (And very sore, I’m sure!) This is probably happening because the stress and strain on those blood vessels has recently increased. Have you been suffering from diarrhea or constipation recently? Because that can to it. Don’t worry, though—usually hemorrhoids go away in a few days, and your butt should stop hurting at that point.
Question: What in the brain triggers kids/people to not be considerate & waste paper that is actually set out for writing questions instead of “Hello” “Hi” “Stupid” and more?
Question: Could the storm on the sun destroy Earth?
Answer: Huh. Probably not?
For clarity, Junior Buzzketeers, the sun doesn’t have storms like Earth. But from time to time, things up there do get a little dicey now and again. There are occasional events called “solar flares” in the sun’s atmosphere, where a huge amount of energy from deeper in the sun very suddenly explodes into space, and similar events called “coronal mass ejections,” where a bunch of energy and matter are shot out of the sun. I suppose these things are sort of like storms, in that they’re sort of violent events in the outer layers of the sun, but they’re not like Earth storms, seeing as how nearby space rarely has to worry about being pelted by rain and lighting during one of our thunderstoms.
As for danger… hmm. If you spend a lot of time out in space, or on another planet with a less robust atmosphere and magnetosphere than Earth (like Mars, or the moon), one of these solar events might cause you a lot of trouble. See they release a tremendous amount of energy. What reaches other planets isn’t the sort of energy that blows you up or fries you like an egg, though. It’s the sort of energy that passes through your body and gives you radiation poisoning, or cancer. If an astronaut didn’t have sufficient shielding during a big solar flare, the dose of radiation could be fatal. It’s something to consider if you’re planning a trip to the moon or mars (which we are).
Earth’s magnetic field, however, does a pretty good job of protecting all of us from these solar blasts. They can interfere with radio transmissions, but generally they don’t cause much trouble. But really big events, like interplanetary coronal mass ejections, can be followed by a shock wave of solar wind (again, not like wind here—solar wind is mostly protons and electrons flying through space) which can temporarily disrupt the Earth’s protective magnetosphere, and affect the ionosphere (the topmost level of our atmosphere). Still, the biological affects on the residents of Earth aren’t much to speak of. The danger lies more in the affect these storms can have on our infrastructure. When crazy electrical fields are created around power lines, they can do crazy things to the whole electrical system; components can break, protective devices trip, and power gets disrupted. Events this severe are very rare though.
I seem to recall reading an article recently that discussed the cyclical nature of powerful solar events, and the author was of the opinion that we are coming up on a particularly active period for the sun, and if we don’t prepare our electrical and communications systems, we are going to be in serious trouble. He also mentioned that it was going to coincide with the 2012 apocalypse, however, at which point I sort of tuned out.
But, in answer to your question, no, storms on the sun won’t destroy the Earth. But there’s a chance that they could make modern life here a lot more difficult.
Question: What’s the most valuable rock?
Answer: Weeellll… this sort of depends on who you ask and what you want if for. Generally, though, you can’t go wrong with higher quality Led Zeppelin.
Now I must return to my air-conditioned cabin. It seems cruel to have the men cranking on that generator if I’m not even going to be in there.
Wait, you say, fractionally raising your heads from your overstuffed couches and baths full of tepid water. Didn’t John Snow actually die in June? And, like, didn’t he die on June 16, not on the 17th?
Well, yes, June 16, 1858, was in fact the day John Snow died. But I only just made up Snow day, and I wasn’t paying attention yesterday. Plus, do y’all even know who John Snow was?
Oh, John Snow was the most marvelous man! He drugged queen Victoria! He deprived thirsty communities of pump handles! He saved London from tiny invisible monsters! Oh, what a man!
John Snow was the sort of guy that posthumously gets the Cleverboots Award for Correct Thinking. Sort of like how I will surely be recognized with a Cleverboots Award years after I die, for how strikingly accurate my public ranting on the subjects of invisible lasers, lizard people, and “stay away from me, wizards!” will prove to be.
Snow was one of the first people to study the used of ether and chloroform as anesthetics. Which is to say, people had used those compounds as anesthesia before, but Snow calculated doses that would leave you somewhere between horrible pain and drugged to death. That was important. Everybody’s favorite queen of England (Victoria, duh) had Snow personally administer her anesthesia during the births of her eighth and ninth children. Once people saw Victoria doing it, everybody wanted in on anesthesia.
Snow’s greatest achievement, perhaps, came in an episode I like to call “Johnny Snow vs. Cholera.”
See, in the middle of 19th century in London, people were sort of split into three groups. There was the “Cholera is caused by poisonous gases” group. Most everybody thought that theory was the best, and it was called the “miasma theory.” There was also the “Cholera is caused by something tiny or invisible in water” group. This was pretty much what we call “germ theory,” and most everybody was all, “Germs? That’s stupid. Check your head!” And, finally, there was the “Hey, we’re actually dying of cholera over here” group, and most everybody thought they were gross.
But not John Snow! Instead of arguing and making up theories based on what seemed reasonable, he actually went out and looked at stuff. Gasp!
Without knowing for certain exactly how cholera was being transmitted (germs or miasma, or whatever), Snow began to record who in London was getting the disease, and he plotted cases on city street maps. He saw clusters of the disease in certain areas of the map, and so he looked for common elements. In the case of one outbreak, Snow realized that the majority of infected people were getting their water from one of two water companies, both of which were pulling water from a dirty (read: full of sewage) section of the Thames river. In another outbreak, Snow found that most of the victims of the disease were getting their water from a particular public pump. When John Snow had the handle of the pump removed, so that nobody could get water from anymore, the outbreak ended.
Snow’s discoveries from studying the cholera outbreaks added to the evidence for germ theory, and, perhaps more importantly, constituted a huge stride forward in the science of epidemiology. Snow wasn’t just figuring out how to cure diseases, he was tracking down where they start, and learning about how they move through populations. These are the same basic principles behind the actions health organizations still take today when dealing with outbreaks in the much larger population pools (or pool) of the 21st century.
It’s pretty interesting stuff. Check out this Snow-stravaganza: UCLA’s comprehensive page on John Snow and the cholera outbreaks.
Now enjoy what’s left of your Snow day.
Courtesy Public domainIn 1901, inventor and electrical visionary Nikola Tesla began building a laboratory near New York’s Long Island Sound complete with a gigantic 18-story radio tower that he hoped would not only broadcast wireless communications to the world but also supply free electricity for everyone. His grand schemes, however, never really got off the ground. Before the year was out Guglielmo Marconi (using seventeen of Tesla’s patents) would claim to send the first radio signal across the Atlantic, and soon after, Tesla’s investors - including steel magnate J. P. Morgan - began to lose faith in the project and withheld further funding. Eventually mounting debts, lawsuits and loss of patent income began to take their toll on Tesla and his visionary plans.
Known as Wardenclyffe, the site was designed by noted architect Stanford White. It operated for a few years in the early 1900s, even serving as the inventor’s main laboratory for a time. But by mid-decade Tesla himself abandoned the site, and for years it sat unoccupied falling to ruin. Inner machinery and equipment were salvaged and sold to satisfy monetary obligations, and the massive tower was dismantled for scrap during World War I leaving only its foundation. But the main building still stands today and, despite its dilapidated state, has the distinction of being the only remaining worksite of the brilliant Gilded Age inventor.
Now a group of Tesla devotees are pushing for the site to be preserved and designated as a historical site and memorial to a man they say is worthy of a monument.
Courtesy WikipediaTesla contributions were certainly monumental. The Serbian-born inventor held over 700 patents and introduced to the world such things as fluorescent lighting, the first remote controlled robot, x-ray photographs, and wireless communications. One invention, the Tesla coil, is still used in today’s radios and television sets and other electrical devices. One of his greatest contributions, the development of alternating electrical current (AC) technology, went against his former employer Thomas Edison's big push for direct current (DC). The threatened Edison went so far as to hire a man to electrocute dogs, old horses, and even a rogue elephant(!) to show the public the dangers of AC current. But AC’s superior technology proved more efficient and cheaper, and near the end of his life, Edison admitted Tesla had been right.
Courtesy Public domainTesla was a bit of a showman when it came to promoting his inventions and theories, often portraying himself in composite photographs sitting peacefully in a display of electric current. During the height of his career he was a wealthy and dapper household name who hobnobbed with the scientific, artistic, and political elite of his day, and had several laboratories in the New York area. In the late 1890s he set up a lab in Colorado Springs to supposedly “transmit a radio signal from Pikes Peak to Paris”. With funding from Colonel John Jacob Astor (who later went down with the Titanic), Tesla built an 80-foot tower on the prairie for that very purpose. Whether or not he achieved his objective remains a mystery, but he and his assistant did manage to put on quite a lightshow for Colorado Springs residents. Reportedly, the tower discharged a high-voltage flurry of 145-foot sparks in every direction that subsequently blew out the power for the entire town. After nine months of experiments, he abandoned the lab and returned to New York to continue his experiments at Wardenclyffe. The Colorado Springs facility was eventually torn down and sold for scrap and no sign of it remains today,
A consortium of science enthusiasts, preservationists, and plain old fans of Tesla’s genius want the Wardenclyffe facilities preserved as a national monument and museum. The group includes Tesla biographer Marc Siefer who helped pen a letter to President Obama asking for the necessary funds to purchase the 10,000-square foot brownstone structure and surrounding acres from the Belgium-based Agfa Corp, which is eager to sell the property to soften the effects of the present economy.
But Siefer and his colleagues think Tesla’s many accomplishments warrant its preservations. For one thing the group contends it was Tesla - not Marconi - who was the true inventor of wireless radio. The issue of who owned the patents for radio broadcast has gone back and forth since the early 20th Century. In 1904 the US Patent Office ruled in favor of Marconi for the patents even though it had ruled in Tesla’s favor in the prior year. Marconi’s many powerful investors may have been the reason for this. After Marconi won the Nobel Prize in 1909 the furious Tesla sued him for infringement and lost again. But in 1943, the US Supreme court proclaimed Tesla was the inventor (probably because the Marconi Company was suing the US government for infringement of the same patents). Unfortunately, for Tesla, this final designation came two months after his death.
Even today, Tesla still seems to elude proper recognition, but Marc Seifer and his colleagues hope to change that by acquiring and preserving Wardenclyffe, a site they say has great historic significance as the last remaining trace of the eccentric inventor’s once grand vision.
“It’s hugely important to protect this site,” Seifer said. “He’s an icon. He stands for what humans are supposed to do — honor nature while using high technology to harness its powers.”
Watch a YouTube video detailing Tesla's life and accomplishments.
Courtesy Ed FitzgeraldAhoy, Buzzketeers! Captain JGordon here, waltzing on the poop deck of the HMS Puddleduck, pride of the Science Museum’s little navy, and harvester of the juiciest, richest random questions.
See, when I answer random questions, it generally goes something like this: I grab the stack of question cards and shuffle through them, “Good, good, garbage, good, garbage, garbage, garbage, good, delightful, garbage.” It’s not that I think any of your questions are garbage, of course, it’s just that many of the cards consist of vulgar personal attacks against celebrities, some are illegible, and a few are just too greasy for me to touch. And sometimes there are simply too many of them for me to address, so I select the choicest questions, to construct an enjoyable and inclusive didactic experience.
But it’s springtime, and the Puddleduck is currently taking a leisurely cruise up the coast of Knowledgarnia. (Knowledgarnia is the union of the formerly independent states of The Republic of Knowledge and Narnia. Think about Czechoslovakia, only in reverse.) The water here in the warm seas off Knowledgarnia is so shallow and clear that you can see the facts swimming lazily just beneath the surface. It is… glorious. And it suits a much more lackadaisical attitude toward question selection.
Last night, in the grips of a wild upswing of Springmania (the union of the two formerly independent psychiatric disorders spring fever and bipolar disorder) I was firing my captain’s revolver randomly into the ocean. When I woke up on the deck the next morning and crawled over to the rail, I saw that a good handful of truly random questions had been shot and killed by my… enthusiasm. Perhaps an angel guided those bullets, or perhaps it was pure chance. Either way, here they are, just as I found them:
Q: Would you eat the moon if it were made of ribs?
A: Yes, but I would eat only some of it. This is partly because I would want to leave some of the moon for people to look at, but also because the moon is too big for me to eat by myself. The mass of the moon is 7.3477 x 10^22 kg. That’s… let’s see… 73,477,000,000,000,000,000,000 kg, or 161,649,400,000,000,000,000,000 pounds. Now, if a rack of ribs weighs about 2 pounds, that means that the moon should be made of about 80,824,700,000,000,000,000,000 racks of ribs. Now, if I were to live another 60 years, and eat 2 racks of ribs a day, every day, I’d be able to eat only 43,830 racks of ribs. This would not make any appreciable dent in the mass of ribs that is the moon. Plus, I think most of them would go bad before I even got there.
Q: Why are flamingos pink?
A: Ooh! Okay! Flamingos are actually born (hatched?) gray. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this ridiculous little creature. It’s the flamingos’ food that eventually turns them pink. Flamingos eat by getting beaks full of water, and then straining out all the liquid until just little shrimp and algae are left. The shrimp and algae (which are eaten) have lots of the vitamin beta carotene in them. Beta carotene is a colorful vitamin (eating too much of it can turn your skin a little bit orange), and it makes the flamingos’ feathers pink. Viola! (In zoos, though, where flamingos might not get all the beta carotene they would in the wild, the birds are sometimes fed the pigment additive canthaxanthin, which has the same effect.)
Q: The “swine flu” was named H1N1. Why did they decide to call it H1N1?
A: Another good one! We’re all about the swine flu here at the museum (It’s interesting! Really! Look here!) so I was ready for this one. See, the “swine flu” is a form of the disease influenza, which is caused by viruses. There are a bunch of different viruses that cause influenza. They’re all related, but each variety, or strain, of virus has some subtle differences in the molecules that they’re made of. Scientists use two molecules in particular to identify different strains: hemaggluten (that’s where the “H” comes from), the molecule that allows the virus to stick to our cells and infect us, and neuraminidase (that’s the “N”), the molecule that allows viruses to exit a cell to spread the infection throughout more of the body. The numbers after H and N correspond to different variation of the two molecules. So this year’s swine flu is H1N1. The bird flu, or avian flu, in Asia that people have been concerned about for the last few years is H5N1. Does that make sense?
Q: How long can you tread water before drowning?
A: Hmm. Well, if you’re asking me, the answer is about 30 seconds. I have a narrow, dense body, and I’m not very strong, so I sink like a glass rod. I suppose it sort of depends on the person, and on the water. See, salt water is more dense than fresh water, so objects in it are more buoyant—they float better. So treading water in the ocean is easier than treading water in a lake. Also, if the water is cold, your body is going to use up more energy to keep you warm, and you’ll have less energy for treading water. A powerful swimmer can tread water for hours on end, and even after your energy is gone, you could always float on your back, keeping your face above water. I suppose, at that point, it’s just a matter of staying awake and fending off the sharks.
Q: Why is it 3 levels? I spend 11 dollars for this bull ****.
A: Sir! Well I never! Perhaps you should have saved those eleven dollars to spend on soap for your filthy mouth! Seriously, though, those three levels are jam-packed. You explored the mysteries of the human body. You floated a ball on a jet of air, and watched a tornado form from steam. I mean, did you not see the dinosaurs? Realtalk, bro: what more could you ask for?
Q: Do you know anything about Area 51, or its space objects?
A: Well… is the government watching? No? OK. Let’s do this.
“Area 51” is a nickname for a military base in Nevada. It’s part of the huge piece of land that is the Air Force’s “Nevada Test and Training Range.” Civilians generally aren’t allowed on it, and the airspace around it is restricted. There are a lot of conspiracy theories surrounding Area 51 involving time travel technology, New World Order junk, energy weapons development, etc, etc, etc. The most popular theory, of course, involves “space objects,” as you put it. Or, more specifically, space aliens. Some folks are convinced that Area 51 is used to study the remains of an alien spacecraft that crashed in Roswell, NM in 1947. Unfortunately, the argument that this is Area 51’s real purpose, or if there ever actually was alien material at Roswell, is pretty much based on conjecture, some creative interpretation of government documents, and a few personal accounts of people that claimed to have worked there. It’s not a lot to go on, and an Internet search for “Area 51” will tell you as more than I can here. I just wouldn’t write any school papers on it.
But “space objects” or no, Area 51 is a pretty interesting, sneaky sort of place. And there’s probably plenty of science (of a sort) happening there, because area is used for development and testing of new weapons and aircraft. Several stealth fighter and bomber planes got their start there, and those are pretty neat, even if aliens didn’t invent them.
Q: What do you foresee in the future for humanity in regards to our evolution, and what role might technology play in that?
A: Huh. Well, how a species evolves depends on the natural pressures that are placed on it. And evolution takes place on a huge timescale—it can be millions of years before enough changes accumulate in a species for another species to emerge from it.
But what natural pressures will humans face over the next million years? Modern humans haven’t even been around that long so far (we’re a pretty young species, at about 200,000-years-old), so saying where we’re going to end up in millions of years is awfully tricky. As the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins puts it in this MSNBC article on the future of human evolution, “it’s a question that any prudent evolutionist will avoid.”
But that’s a boring answer. It’s not an answer at all, I suppose. If you want to predict how we’ll evolve, I’d learn about the principles of evolution (time, natural selection, adaptation, etc), then imagine what the world of the future will be like, and then try to think how we’d need to be different to fit into that world. Will the climate be dramatically different? If we haven’t got technology to protect us from the elements, maybe our skin will change to better protect us from solar radiation, or we’ll be harrier to deal with the cold. Maybe, on average, human body types will be taller and more slender to get rid of the heat, or shorter and thicker, to reduce mass to surface area and conserve heat. Maybe we’ll have to adapt internally to deal with more or less oxygen in the air, or our digestive systems will change to eat different kinds of foods (try eating everything a goat eats—you couldn’t, because you don’t have a four-chambered stomach). Or maybe the Earth will change faster than we can, and we’ll die out altogether. It’s a creepy thought, but mass extinction events have happened over and over again in Earth’s history, eliminating thousands of species before they even got the chance to evolve.
But your mention of technology is a good point. It seems likely at this point that people might influence their own evolution through technological means. This concept is sometimes referred to as “participant evolution.” The rate at which we’re figuring out how to integrate technological components into our bodies seems to be moving a lot faster than any natural adaptations we might be undergoing. Prosthetics are getting awfully sophisticated, as are the ways we’re able to interface them (and other technology) with our brains. I mean, we’ve got monkey brains controlling robot legs and people posting to twitter using just their brains (and some fancy equipment). It seems pretty reasonable to assume that this stuff is only going to get more advanced and more common.
But participant evolution wouldn’t be restricted to just computer chips and electric motors. There’s also biotechnology; we’ve mapped the human genome, and we’re constantly advancing our genetic engineering abilities. So augmenting human evolution with technology might not necessarily lead to dudes with robot eyes and laser fingers so much as populations that have genes that protect them from cancer, allow them to live far beyond our current lifespan, and fart clouds of lavender. (I’m hoping for the lavender thing most of all.)
It’s all sort of sci-fi stuff, but when you’re dealing with what’s going to happen thousands or millions of years in the future… why not?
Q: What shampoo do you use? Why?
A: I, um, don’t really use a lot of shampoo. Why? I ran out a couple months ago, and decided it wasn’t a huge priority.
Q: How much wood can woodchucks chuck?
A: Very little, possibly none. I guess it sort of depends on what you mean by “chuck.” If “chuck” means to, like, stand next to, then I guess a woodchuck could potentially chuck lots and lots of wood. But if “chuck” means to eat, or chew, or throw, or whatever, then I’d have to stick with “very little” as my answer.
See, the name “woodchuck” probably comes from the Algonquian (a Native American language) word for this big North American rodent, “wuchak.” It sounds a little like “woodchuck,” doesn’t it? But it’s got nothing to do with wood or chucking.
One of the animal’s other names, groundhog, is maybe a little more fitting. If you were to have asked, “how much ground can a groundhog hog if a groundhog could hog ground?” I’d have said, “A groundhog actually can hog ground, and when digging a burrow (they live underground, not in trees), groundhogs have are estimated to move about 700 pounds of dirt. So 700 pounds is your answer!”
But that’s not what you asked.
Gosh. All things considered, I think that random question session went pretty well. I’ll have to do it this way more often. Until then… avast. Or whatever. It’s lunchtime.
Remember on TV's Star Trek how Captain Kirk's impossible requests were always put off by his chief engineer, Montgomery Scott? Scotty favorite excuse for avoiding work was to claim it just wasn't physically possible. This from the guy whose engineering skills could propel a starship across the universe at Warp Factor 10 using a couple lousy dilithium crystals. Or maybe he just had better things to do. Whatever the case, it looks now like Scotty's favorite work shirk excuse may no longer be valid. At least not in the world of nanoclusters.
While exploring strange new worlds using computer modeling and nanoclusters made up of several hundred atoms, researchers in Japan have observed tiny clumps of atoms that seem to break the second law of thermodynamics. Don’t think crime is rampant in the nano-world. Most of the atoms observed were law-abiding. When the nanoclusters collided at just under 12 miles per hour, most of them either clumped together like sticky mud, or bounced off each other and went on their way at a slower speed.
But a small percentage of nanoclusters (less than 5%) bounced away at an increased speed, acting as if they picked up an extra boost of energy.
It’d be like dropping a golf ball on the sidewalk and instead of it gradually losing energy (as absorbed heat) and eventually coming to a dead stop, as expected, it just went higher and higher with each successive bounce until it finally bounced into orbit. That just doesn’t make sense. Or as Scotty’s cohort Mr. Spock would say: “Logic and practical information do not seem to apply here.”
According to the researchers, Hisao Hayakawa, of Kyoto University, and Hiroto Kuninaka, of Chuo University in Tokyo, the so-called super rebound resulted from random internal changes of motion in the nanocluster’s atoms, some of which can give the collision an extra boost, like jumping on a trampoline.
Sounds like we got ourselves the makings for some sort of perpetual motion machine here. Well, not quite. Apparently, this scofflaw behavior can only take place in very tiny systems. When the researchers increased the cluster’s atoms from hundreds to thousands, the behavior disappeared completely.
Besides that, the system as a whole still followed the letter of the law. The second law deals statistically with millions of atoms, so even though some nanoclusters picked up extra energy, the clusters overall dispersed energy and headed towards increased entropy just as the law prescribes, and in the end all is well with the universe.
So far the phenomenon has only been seen in computer simulations. But Hayakawa expects it won’t be long before it’s observed in real world experiments. The research findings appeared in the March issue of Physical Review E.
Courtesy anjouwuEver stand on a sidewalk and wonder about the concrete beneath your feet? Where did it come from, and how did this hard grey material get to be pretty much everywhere? Though you may not think about it at all, concrete is used more than any other building material in the world. In fact, concrete is so ubiquitous that the production of concrete contributes 5% of the world's human-caused carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere.
Add it all up and it starts to look like concrete is more than just the stuff of sidewalks and building blocks. Concrete is a V.I.P. (which is how I like to refer to Very Important Polluters).
While concrete is a huge contributor of CO2, it also has loads of potential to be an innovative and important "green" material that helps us to build stronger and more environmentally friendly roads, bridges and buildings. This really great article from the New York Times science section explains the basics of concrete chemistry, and how new concrete mixes are being developed that are not just stronger and better for buildings, but that also can scrub carbon from the air.
Here in the Twin Cities we have our own example of cutting-edge concrete in the I-35W bridge, which was built to replace the bridge that collapsed in 2007, killing 13 people. You might not realize it as you pass over this bridge, but it's made of many different mixes of concrete, each developed to do a particular job.
Some of the concrete in the I-35W bridge was mixed and cured (that's what they call the hardening process) to be strong and stable, others to resist the road salts and other effects of weather and climate in Minnesota. The wavy concrete sculptures on the bridge even scrub pollutants from the air, In fact, they stay white because of a chemical process that uses the sun to help break down staining pollutants. Who knew concrete could be so fascinating?!
More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Concrete