Friday, November 1, 2013

This Week's Sci-light!

Friday seems anticlimactic after having Thursday Halloween fun.  However, I thought I'd extend the festivities into today's Sci-light by looking for "spooky" animals.  And what better place to look than in the ocean.  Since the planet is 70% water by surface area and 90% of the living space is water, it's no wonder that diversity in species and adaptations abound in the depths.

Hairy crab, Photo courtesy of NIWA
My fun began with pictures of Odd Deep-Sea Creatures from  National Geographic.  These amazing organisms have been found at volcanos, canyons and deep sea corals.  The Trichopeltarion janetae  or "hairy crab" was first described in 2008.

Photograph by David Wrobel, SeaPics
Surfing the site, I found more  Deep-Sea Creature Photos.  I was scrolling through photos of the Pacific Viperfish (pictured to the right), the Atlantic Wolffish, and a Frilled Shark and reading short excerpts about these amazing organisms.  Then I came upon the Vampire Squid (below).  The volumonous glass-blue eye captured my imagination.  Indeed, it's eye is special because proportionally, it is the largest of any animal on Earth.  When googling for more information on the Vampire Squid, I happened across some videos imbedded in another blog by Jennifer Frazer.
 Kim Reisenbichler, National Geographic

What curious creatures will inspire you?  It doesn't matter. 
Just stay Sci-Curious!

Friday, October 25, 2013

This Week's Sci-Light

It's about 3:30 pm, and you're feeling sluggish.  While pumping a tank of gas, you decide you need something to keep you going.  You pick up a can of Coke and the Snickers bar catches your eye.  To tired to resist and a night of classwork to go, you pick it up.  

So what's the sugar content of your snack?  Coke has 39 grams of sugar and a regular sized Snickers bar has 30 grams.  What does that mean?  The average packet of sugar contains 4 grams.  So, with the two together, you've just taken in 17.25 packets of sugar.  

You may think I'm going to share research on the correlation of sugar and weight or diabetes.  I'm not.  In fact, the study that I'm highlighting excluded anyone that was overweight or had history of diabetes or pre-diabetes.  Author James Fenner in his article, "Blood Sugar Levels May Affect Hippocampus and Memory, Says Study," stated that individuals with elevated blood sugar levels are potentially at risk of developing memory problems.  The study published by the American Academy of Neurology in their online magazine, Neurology, was led by Dr. Agnes Flöel of Charté University Medicine in Berlin, Germany. 

Diagram showing the hippocampus in the human brain
As part of the limbic system, the hippocampus is responsible for processes associated with short-term and long-term memory.  To find out more about how the glucose interacts with the red blood cells and correlates to reduced recall, read the article.  And remember, this study provides the basis for more investigation.  Science works by taking small steps and retaking those steps in different ways to expand knowledge. 

But, in my thinking, this study provides yet another reason for me to reach for an apple (23 g of sugar), a banana (17 g of sugar) or a peach (15 g of sugar) instead.  If you're curious about the sugar content of your snack of choice, check out Sugar Stacks!

Friday, September 20, 2013

This Week's Sci-light

I love writing this blog--I get to search the internet for interesting and breaking news and then pass it on to an eager audience.  What could get better than that! 

Perhaps I've found an answer in an article on ScienceNews for Kids by Sid Perkins called Cool Jobs:  Repellent Chemistry.  As part of a STEM initiative funded by the Northrop Grumman Foundation, this article explores first nature's use of repellent surfaces through chemistry and physical structure and then highlights three scientists who are researching applications of nature's strategies. 
Photo credit:  iStockphoto
The lotus leaf is a perfect example of both chemistry and structure to accomplish the task of repelling water because of it's waxy leaves (that's chemistry) and the very tiny bumps on the leaf's surface (that's structure).  But reading on, I'm amazed at the potential applications and discoveries being made.  Whether you're a student of science or a teacher of science, this fascinating article will make you want to know more.  And knowing more is what Sci-curious is all about!

Friday, September 13, 2013

This Week's Sci-light

On June 28, 2013 I wrote a Sci-light on the Voyager I--a spacecraft launched in 1977 the same year Star Wars was released.  This amazing spacecraft seems to share a common ancestor with the Energizer bunny. 
Image obtained from NASA 2002 shows one of twin Voyager spacecrafts, launched in 1977.
It's still going!  Where do you end up when you just keep going?  Apparently, "where no machine has gone before!"  Ok...I'm done.

But truly, Voyager has now gone where no machine has gone before.  In a news conference on Thursday, NASA scientists announced that on August 25, 2012 the month NASA's rover, Curiosity, landed on Mars, Voyager slipped out of the Sun's empire, the heliosphere, and passed into interstellar space.

While the New York Times article, "In a Breathtaking First, NASA's Voyager 1 Exits the Solar System" by Brooks Barnes introduces you to the Voyager 1, the NASA team, and what's next for the spacecraft, the stark comparison between the past and the present caught my attention.  In this story, a spacecraft with 8 track tapes, transmitters with the power of a refrigerator light bulb, and computers with a fraction of the memory in a low-end iPhone took us to where we have only imagined, and Lawrence J. Zottarelli, a 77 year old retired NASA engineer, wrote precise and expert computer coding to increase the amount of data we received at the boundary.

Sometimes it's easy in the search for the new and better technology to forget the steps taken before and disregard them as outdated.  But just as we would not be without our ancestors, so the technology of today would not exist with out the innovations from before. 

So my hat's off to the "imagineers" of yesterday who remind us of the ever circling spiral of time that brings the past to the present and into the future!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

TED talk UCSD Style

Just a quick post for today. 

Check out this talk "The Real Scientists of San Diego: Kathryn Furby at TECxUCSD," who highlights what it is to be a scientist and how scientists can communicate who they are and what they do more to increase effectiveness. 

Would love your comments on this one!

Friday, September 6, 2013

This Week's Sci-light

A New Twist on Place-based Education...

 I was surfing the internet for organizations that support students interested in STEM when I came across an article by Judy Lin entitled, "UCLA Engineers work to keep Watts Towers from cracking."  For those of you not from LA, the Watts Towers are an iconic monument in south LA, created by an Italian immigrant, Simon Rodia, between 1921 and 1954.  For more history about the artist and the tower, visit the Watts Tower website.  (Even reading the history of this website will be interesting.)
From UCLA Today, August 21,2013
The tallest tower rises to the height of 99.5 feet and all are an intricate lattice work of concrete and steel ornamented with broken glass, sea shells, and tiles.  But there are problems.  This is where art meets science.  The towers are cracking and some of the ornamentation is falling away.  Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), that preserves the towers, has been working on a solution.  But repairs have not held.  A grant from the National Science Foundation brought in a team of UCLA engineers, Robert Nigbor and Ertugrul Taciroglu along with undergraduate and graduate students, to collect data and analyze the reasons for the problems. 

The referenced article from UCLA Today outlines the instruments used and documented tremors detected in the structure as well as recorded changes in even the properties of the tower that occur simply from sunrise to sunset. 

Beyond the fascination with history and the science of conservation, this article reminds me that the application of science is not just for far away places like the Great Barrier Reef or Yellowstone National Park.  It is right in our backyards and neighborhoods, available for brilliant minds who like the coal miner and construction worker by day and artist by night, Simon Rodia, can see potential in the 'found items' of our environments.

Use your knowledge of science, engineering, technology or mathematics to advance and protect your place in the world!

Friday, August 30, 2013

This Week's Sci-light!

           Did you know?

Artist image courtesy M. Kornmesser, ESO
Richard Parker, astronomer at the University of Sheffield in the U.K., and his colleagues have discovered a massive star, currently 265 times the mass of our sun, in one of the Milky Way's satellite galaxies called the Large Magellanic Cloud.  Want to know more?  Read Andrew Fazekas' article Most Massive Star Discovered--Shatters Records on the National Geographic site.

Did you know?         

Credit: Yuri Beletsky, Las Campanas Observatory
Astronomers have designed and built a new camera that when fitted to the world's most powerful telescopes can take pictures with higher resolution than the Hubble telescope?  Author Andrew Fazekas explains how in Photos:  Sharpest Views of the Cosmos Ever.

        One last thing...Did you know?

There is a scholarship specifically for students who are transferring from a 2 year college to a 4 year school?  Read all about the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship and shoot for the stars!

Friday, August 23, 2013

This Week's Sci-light

My mother loved birds.  I don't know why, but I spent many hours of my childhood looking through binoculars, traveling to wild life refuges, and filling the bird feeder in the backyard.  Even these many years later, I can't see a blue heron without thinking of her and the excited look on her face.

Enough nostalgia (or perhaps too much!), today's Sci-light is about Crowdsourcing, for the Birds.  What caught my eye about this story by Jim Robbins in the New York Times was not the scientific discovery that orchard orioles are not one but two genetically distinct populations or the migratory patterns of the chimney swift, but rather how this was discovered.

Emma Rose Burgess/Associated Press
An estimated 6,000 Vaux Swifts entering a chimney in CA
A project called eBird uses volunteers to report bird sightings electronically.  One such observer was Mr. Martinka, a retired state wildlife biologist who several times a week travels to mountains and grasslands (even the city dump) near his home to watch birds.  He then reports his sightings to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a nonprofit organization based at Cornell University.  According to author Jim Robbins, "such bits, gathered in the millions, provide scientists with a very big picture: perhaps the first crowdsourced, real-time view of bird populations around the world."  Further in the article, Steve Kelling, the director of information science at the Cornell bird lab, reminds us of the importance of studying birds "because they occur in all environments.” So studying changes in their populations can help us understand environmental impacts. 

There are questions posed about the validity of the data and the computer used to analyze and learn about it.  Don't be confused by this section of the article.  This is how scientists challenge and improve their methods and understanding.  Read and look at the many sides of the story.  Perhaps you have a few suggestions or questions of your own.

In fact, that is the hook of science--someone trying a new method to answer a puzzling question.  I have often spoke to students who are interested in science about the importance of participating in science.  It is imperative for a variety of reasons, the most important of which is for you to discover your passion.

If it's birds or whatever look for a way to engage in discovery. And when you do it, take someone along.  That's what mom did and look at me now!  :)

Friday, August 16, 2013

This Week's Sci-light

I have often challenged students to recognize that our designations of Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Geology, etc. are categories that simply enable us to more easily understand the world around us.  Nature knows no such boundaries. 

Mojave Desert tortoise.  Photo by Michael Tuma.
Today's Sci-light also crosses boundaries.  Perhaps the picture of a Mojave Desert tortoise doesn't inspire you to imagine boundary crossing, but the story behind the picture should help you get there.  The natural habitat for this Tortoise is not limited to the California Mojave; it spans into Utah, Arizona and Nevada interacting with humans, business, as well as other desert dwellers.  Michael Tuma, USC Dornsife graduate student in Integrative and Evolutionary Biology, is trying to understand the behavior of this species who can withstand as little as 2 inches of rain a year and temperatures greater than 140 degrees Fahrenheit. (You did notice how integrated his field of study was, right?)

So far, this story sounds like a scientific investigation.  How do animals live and survive in extreme environments.  But here is where the story shifts.  In Emerging From Their Shells, Amber Dance writer for USC Dornsife explains that it is not only the natural environment that this tortoise must adapt to.  In fact, it is the impact of humans in their environment.  As businesses like BrightSource Energy, Inc, a solar energy company, move into the desert to build a solar plant, the tortoise faces loss of habitat.  And people live in the desert, too, creating roads, homes, and trash that attracts the tortoise's predators.  This is why Michael works with SWCA Environmental Consultants in Pasadena, California to help clients minimize harm. 

Michael's work is not just done in the field.  He primarily uses a computer model.  Curious about how?  Read the full article and find some great Tortoise Tidbits at the end.

Let's review.  We've touched on biology, evolution, business, environment, sociology, and computer science.  In my opinion, the Mojave Desert tortoise has crossed many boundaries!

Friday, June 28, 2013

This Week's Sci-light

"Nature is far more imaginative than we are.

Stamatios M. Krimigis, scientist at the John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

Image obtained from NASA 2002 shows one of twin Voyager spacecrafts, launched in 1977.

  "We were planning, and it really paid off."

Dr. Edward C. Stone, NASA 

These quotes seemingly contradict each other and yet are offered by fellow scientists following a 35-year project into our solar system and hoping the beyond. 

Voyager spacecrafts (there were two) were launched in 1977 to explore Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.  Today, both crafts are still going with key instruments on board still functional.  Voyager 1 traveling at 38,000 miles per hour is reaching the outermost boundaries of the solar system, the last frontier for the empire of our Sun (heliosphere), as called by NY Times writer Kenneth Chang in his article Going, Going, Still Going?  Voyager 1 at Solar System's Edge.

Scientists expected that two things would happen once the Voyager 1 reached the heliopause, the actual boundary of the solar system.  First they anticipated that the solar wind would cease--a stream of charged particles blown out by the sun.  The second sign of the solar system's edge would be a shift in the magnetic field.

As I was reading the story told by the data sent back from Voyager 1, I realized two things--how much we know and how much we are surprised by what we didn't know.  To think that scientists from the 1970's could have built instruments to survive in space for 35 years and counting, far longer than they anticipated, is amazing.  Those instruments are collecting data that we are using to expand our understanding.  And as the article explains, those instruments are recording data that we never anticipated.  

So, both quotes by the scientists involved in various parts of this process are descriptive of the process of science and, in a larger sense, the process of life.  Planning and amazement are all part of the act of living.  

Perhaps Albert Einstein said it best, 

"The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination."


Friday, June 21, 2013

This Week's Sci-light

Photo courtesy of Don Arnold
If you've been following this blog, you may wonder if I'm becoming obsessed with glowing green.  If you're confused, scroll down to last week's Sci-light and you'll understand.  I'm not going to ask you what you see.  I'll just tell you instead--this is a neuron actively engaged in making memories.

Let's consider the picture.  The large yellow and green sphere is a brain cell called a neuron.  From it you see branches stretching out called dendrites.  Signals pass between neurons by electrochemicals that pass between the dendrites at junctions called synapses.  So what are the small bright spots?  They are the synapses that excite as electrochemical signals pass between the dendrites.  What Drs. Arnold and Roberts observe is the change of those spots that indicate how "synaptic structures in the brain have been altered by the new data," according to author Robert Perkins.

Scientists Don Arnold and Richard Roberts at the University of Southern California have been researching how memories form in our brains using mice as model organisms.  Robert Perkins author of "Memories Illuminated", describes how "the team has engineered microscopic probes that light up synapses in a living neuron in real time by attaching fluorescent markers onto synaptic proteins."  This process doesn't inhibit the cell's ability to function; it does enable the scientist to observe the physical changes in the brain.

The article goes on to talk about how the proteins that fluoresce are selected and used as well as the implications of this research for the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative. 

This Sci-light is almost a memory and I can now imagine my synapses firing away and altering the synaptic structures of my brain.  What about yours?  My guess is that you, too, are restructuring.  After all, you're Sci-Curious!

Friday, June 14, 2013

This Week's Sci-light


Ryoko Ando and Atsushi Miyawaki

I started with this picture by by Dr. Ando and Dr. Miyawaki to get you curious.  What is this?  In some ways it looks like a beetle to me--those kind that have brown colored stripes on their body and show up when you're playing in the dirt.  Of course, it's not.  Rather, pictured is a transverse section of a muscle in a fresh water eel with a activated protein that is glowing green.

Let me explain.  In the article, "An eel's glow could illuminate liver disease," Rachel Ehrenberg describes the discovery of the scientists working for the RIKEN research institute in Japan.  They were trying to understand the mechanism that turned on the protein in the eel and it's importance.  

Let's switch gears for a minute.  When hemoglobin in human red blood cells breaks down it produces bilirubin.  Perhaps you've had a blood test done where this was measured and was reported to you along with your cholesterol, triglycerides, and potassium levels.  What you may not have understood is that bilirubin levels indicate liver function.  Why?  It's part of the liver's job to keep those levels in normal ranges.  

What scientists at the RIKEN research institute discovered was bilirubin had the ability to turn on the protein causing the eel to glow.  While the application to human health is still a ways off, it's not hard to imagine a use for this protein to indicate an increase of bilirubin in a blood sample. 

Before you click on the link to the article to understand more about this discovery and perhaps even read the scholarly article linked to the bottom of the webpage, I want to focus your attention on the cross over from fundamental questions (what turns on the protein) to applied science (liver functioning).  For this to take place, scientists from different disciplines collaborate.  

One more thing before you go, in looking for today's Sci-light, I stumbled across an NIH sponsored site called, "Team Science Toolkit."  The opening paragraph of What is Team Science states, "Team science is a collaborative effort to address a scientific challenge that leverages the strengths and expertise of professionals trained in different fields. Although traditional single-investigator driven approaches are ideal for many scientific endeavors, coordinated teams of investigators with diverse skills and knowledge may be especially helpful for studies of complex social problems with multiple causes."

Learning across disciplines and working collaboratively is the path of many scientists.  Don't you want to be a part of the team?

Friday, June 7, 2013

This Week's Sci-light

I must confess, this week's Sci-light made me do a double take.  Gold as a delivery mechanism for medicine or as the article put it 'drug-delivery vehicle?'  I'm curious.

First, look at this picture.  These are gold nanoparticles.  To refresh, nanoparticles are 10-9 in size.  Another way of saying it--there are 1,000,000 nanometers in 1 millimeter.  What's this size in the natural world?  The width of a strand of DNA is 2.5 nanometers according to The International Society for Optical Engineering. (link downloads a poster)
But let's get back to the concept of 'drug-delivery vehicles.'  A team of scientists from the Institut Laue-Langevin in France, the University of Chicago in the US and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization have been working on how gold nanoparticles affect the cell membrane and possible biomedical applications. 

What have they discovered?  Author Belle Dume tells us in her article, "Positive or negative?  Nanoparticle surface charge affects cell membrane interactions" that "positively charged particles can penetrate deep into cell membranes while negatively charged particles do not enter the cell wall at all, but instead prevent it breaking down under certain conditions."  That means that positively charged gold nanoparticles can get inside the cell membrane--the cell's powerful line of defense. -->

Curious?  Good!  That's what this blog is suppose to encourage.  Click the link and learn more. 

Just a closing thought.  What we understand about our world takes us both to macro level and the micro level of discovery.  Where do you want to discover!?! 

Friday, May 24, 2013

This week's Sci-Light

Some of you as readers of this blog are considering careers in STEM fields.  Maybe you're interested in biology or ecology, or perhaps others think in terms of applied medical science or engineering.  My guess is that you're long term goals are 10 years down the road at most.  Allow me to introduce you to a researcher who has been asking questions and making discoveries since the 1950s.  She's  a pioneer, in many ways, who changed the way we think about the brain and neurophysiology.
Photo credit:  Owen Egan
Dr. Brenda Milner's work with a patient known for years as H.M. changed the view that the brain functioned as a whole and recognized the importance and roles of different regions of the brain.  H.M., now known to be Henry G. Molaison, suffered from amnesia after a brain surgery to treat epilepsy.  He could not form new memories, so although Dr. Milner worked with him for decades, she would have to reintroduce herself daily.  Mr. Molaison died at the age of 82, but Dr. Milner, almost 95, continues her work still taking post-doctoral researchers. 

While her research is remarkable, it is the remarks at the end of the article by Claudia Dreifus called "Still Charting Memory's Depths" that provide the context for the work.  Ms. Dreifus asked, "Did you like him?" to which Dr. Milner replied, "We all loved H.M. Yet it was very strange, psychologically, because when he died we all felt as if we’d lost a friend. And this is funny because one thinks of friendship as a bilateral thing. He didn’t recognize us or know us, and we felt we’d lost a friend."

For more about Dr. Brenda Milner, visit The Great Canadian Psychology Website.  Some of the simple tests that H.M. was given are posted there under Dr. Milner's links. 

For those still forming their own career goals, remember that research is asking questions.  The answers to those questions may take you to places you've never imagined.  Dr. Milner's took us all there.

Friday, May 10, 2013

This Week's Sci-light

Elephants are large but gentle and intelligent creatures.  Have you ever wondered how they communicate with each other? Biologist and conservationist Joyce Poole and husband Petter Granli have begun to decipher their sophisticated sign language. Poole and Granli founded a charity called ElephantVoices, which advocates research and conservation of elephants in Africa. While aiding pachyderms in Africa, they thought it would be helpful to pick up on their mannerisms, and turn that into solid information about how they interact.
They created a sort of catalogue of the different elephant gestures and behaviors so that the information could be readily available to everyone.  The database includes different categories: attentive, aggressive, ambivalent, defensive, social integration, mother-offspring, sexual, play and death. Through their observing they have matched certain gestures and movements with emotions.  Ear spreading translates into aggression, sniffing signifies attentiveness, a group advance shows defensiveness and caressing demonstrates loving and comforting usually between a mother and her offspring. Read the whole article at NationalGeographic to learn more about how elephants have a sense of humor, how they deal with death and more.

Friday, May 3, 2013

This week's Sci-Light

A culture of dreams...

I was scanning the internet for today's sci-light and found the story of Bertrand Piccard and the solar plane he conceived of and partnered with André Broschberg of the Swiss Institute of Technology to build.  Read all about the plane powered by 12,000 photovoltaic cells in Diane Cardwell's NY Times article Cross-Country Solar Plane Expedition Set for Takeoff. 

Photo credit:  Jim Wilson/The New York Times
It wasn't the description of the plane, the expedition or the applications that struck me although they were fascinating.  It was the culture that Mr. Piccard described in his home as a child.  His grandfather, Auguste Piccard, was a physicist and friends with Albert Einstein and Marie Curie.  He designed a capsule for a balloon allowing he and a partner to be the first to fly into the stratosphere.  Father Jacques Ernest-Jean Piccard traveled with US Navy Lt. Don Walsh almost 7 miles in a pressurized bathyscaphe called Trieste to the deepest point on Earth--Challenger Deep of the Marianas Trench.

Son/grandson Bertrand Piccard said this in the article, "I thought this [incredible things] was the normal way to live and I was very disappointed to see that there are a lot of people who are afraid of the unknown, afraid of the doubts, afraid of the question marks."

Perhaps you're feeling that way--not knowing your next step, not getting what you wanted for the summer, unsure of how to find a job or where to even begin looking.  If so, this article is for you.  Life is not a series of knowns; it is a series of unknowns.  It is in the adventure of living--the highs of success and the depths of dispair and everything in between--that we actually experience the fullness of living.

Take a deep breath.  Don't try and map out the next year, the next month, the next day.  Live in this one.  Think about what you enjoy and find a way to experience it today.  Be open to the opportunities that come and grab them.  Study hard.  Learn much.  Do your work.  Explore your dreams.  Do what is to be done.  Live. 

For me, that means I write a blog...

...what is your culture of dreams.

Friday, April 26, 2013

This Week's Sci-light

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture
          Oranges are turning green? A disease called citrus greening is damaging the groves where Florida grows their state fruit. The disease involves bacteria that prevent the tree from getting the proper nutrients, and in turn affect the ripening of the fruit. Citrus greening is said to have originated in China, and has since made its way to trees in Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Asia and Brazil.  When asked what the result would be if the disease was ignored, Florida Senator Bill Nelson replied, “We’ll end up paying $5 for an orange – and it’ll have to be one imported from someplace else.”
          The disease is transmitted by an insect called the Asian citrus psyllid. Washington State University molecular biologist and biochemist David Gang, along with a team, is working on a way to alter the insect and create a ‘nupsyllid’. Nupsyllid is another way of saying ‘new psyllid’, which refers to an insect called a psyllid that leaps and feeds on plant juices. The nupsyllid is believed to defeat and get rid of the disease all together. For the full article go to WSU News Center.