How Bill Nye is Saving the World

8b3956fb9b2603116f03ebb3c5b9d4105beb8b62

Bill Nye (the Science Guy!) is a mechanical engineer and active science communicator on television and in print. He inspired thousands of children with the use of science on his show, Bill Nye the Science Guy back in the 90s. Since then, he has written a couple books and done plenty of talks and interviews advocating science education and its importance. His new Netflix television series, Bill Nye Saves the World has more of a serious undertone, addressing the world’s leading problems such as climate change, vaccines, space exploration, GMO’s, over-population, and more.

Popularizing science and the discussion of these topics done by people such as Bill Nye and others are only contributing a positive impact on the world, one topic at a time. With every eye-opening or controversial-argument-brewing discussion or thought that takes place, we get closer to a better, more educated public. Despite difference in opinion, it’s vitally important to address these topics no matter how hard they are to think about. I 100 percent recommend the tv-show, or ones like it, to get you thinking about how you can save the world too.

billnye

What is Pseudoscience? -blog make up

There are a lot of misconceptions about pseudoscience. What is it, how do you identify it, and why is it important to distinguish from real science?

Quite literally the definition of pseudoscience is any belief or practice that has mistakenly been regarded as being based as factual or scientific, without any actual evidence or study with the use of real scientific method. Pseudosciences include creation science, astrology, the study of chakras, tarot cards, palm readings, and all other practices characterized to claim to do the impossible or unnatural.

The first example I’ll give would be Numerology. Numerology is also called pseudomathematics as well as a pseudoscience because it claims to be studying the numbers that are involved in historic events to come up with its conclusions about the divine and such. Numerologists claim there is a special relationship between numbers and coinciding events. The danger in believing such a pseudoscience is in the conclusions that are drawn, claiming to know when the universe will end or predict when a natural catastrophe will strike could potentially negatively effect a person’s life.

The reason pseudoscience is hard to get a grasp on is because it can appear in many places undetected to a non-scientist. From the more obvisous paranormal “sciences” to even some forms of social science such as some psychology practices, pseudoscientific claims have haunted the science community for centuries.

Even less detected, consumer products such as beauty or food products make claims that aren’t scientifically sound. Practices like this include what’s called “angel dusting” or putting in small amounts of a supplement or ingredient to claim that it is active in the product when there really isn’t enough to make any difference. Being a conscious buyer in a consumer market is vital when hearing these claims being made by a lot of corporate brands as well as the more “natural” companies trying to make a sale.7-ways-to-identify-pseudoscience-infographic

Machines Make Music? – Blog Make up

Machines have been made to create music for years now, but in an international study in Japan has made that music usable with an addition of probably the most important component of music: the response of the listener.

saso-tusar-181518

As the listeners hear music wearing an EEG headset, data of their brainwaves gets fed to the computer, telling them the emotional state of the listener. With this new data, the computers can recreate those emotions in a listener to produce more music for the human listener to enjoy. Realistic uses for this tech would be making music for depressed or anxious patients in need of motivation to keep moving or patients needing to feel motivated to exercise.

Recently, Google has taken up the project of machine-made music also using real human minds to teach robots how to compose music. Google is calling their machine “Al” and I’m sure they have plenty of ideas of how to use it in the future. I suspect this ground-breaking tech will be part of our musical future. Who knows what this will bring to human/machine culture?

Harvesting the moon?

Robert A Heinlein The Moon is a Harsh Mistress book cover (1966)

Robert A. Heinlein – The Moon is a Harsh Mistress book cover (1966)

Robert Heinlein called it back in 1966, three years before we put a man on the moon, that we could harvest resources off of the moon. That plan could today potentially be a reality under the Trump Administration.

In the intriguing novel by one of the most famous sci-fi authors of all time, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is a story of a lunar colony sent to its local to harvest resources off of our planets favorite satellite. Though the societal issues in the book are probably not in our future, along with questions of what it means to be alive, the use of that lunar colony may be. And with the Trump administration supposedly inquiring about the possibility of moon-mining, who knows? We certainly have the technology to do it, just as soon as the cost to get there and back is exceeded by the profits.

Regardless, Robert A. Heinlein’s predictions of the future of space travel are undeniably impressive and, to be quite honest, I would take any excuse to recommend a Heinlein novel on any given day. Being one of the most influential science-fiction authors in history, his books have inspired other writers and inquirers to think forward.

Robert A. Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein

How does education affect life expectancy?

The life expectancy of Americans has gone up by at least a decade for men and women since the 1960s. Life expectancy at birth for women now at an impressive 81 years and men 76 years. But what factors are going into this increased lifespan? Researchers have found a correlation with higher academic attainment and a greater lifespan. This can obviously be tied to other factors – but just how much of it has to do with simply being more educated? More people today are getting high school diplomas than in the past.

Simply getting a high school diploma greatly increases one’s projected lifespan by a very large amount, as seen in this graph created by the Population Bulletin.

Source: Jennifer Karas Montez et al., "Educational Attainment and Adult Mortality in the United States: A Systematic Analysis of Functional Form," Demography 49, no. 1 (2012

Source: Jennifer Karas Montez et al., “Educational Attainment and Adult Mortality in the United States: A Systematic Analysis of Functional Form,” Demography 49, no. 1 (2012)

What significance does this hold? Does education correlate with life expectancy directly, or more with reduced risky behaviors like smoking and drinking, lengthening their lifespans in that way? To reach a greater amount of academia might mean the person is wealthy, therefore can spend more of their wealth insuring a longer life. Does educating more people really lead to longer lives, and what should we be doing with that knowledge?

These are simply just some ideas, but I am curious at what people think about these numbers. How important do others think education is for our country, developing countries, the entire world? It could mean lower risk of war and possibly disease spread by ill education, such as STDs or other forms of preventable infection. In developing countries, giving the ability to have an education will significantly affect those populations.

Of course, other factors go into life expectancy, but maybe we should look at education as more of a right or necessity than a privilege given only to those “worthy” of getting it.

Momentum and Impulse

What is momentum? A lot of people use that word when talking about someone who is repeatedly doing something successfully such as scoring in a soccer game, saying they should ‘keep the momentum going,’ or something to that accord. In physics, momentum is the inertia of an object. You can find this object inertia by multiplying the products mass by their velocity. Momentum is written as a variable P, for absolutely no reason. Well, maybe there’s a reason, but I’ve never been told that reason. Either way, the equation for momentum is simply P = m*v.  This makes sense, its a lot worse to get hit by a giant truck going 25 mph than a smartcar going 5 mph.

This fits perfectly into impulse. The IMPULSE an object has is the net force exerted by an object over time. This is derived from the momentum equation, because impulse (represented as the letter J) is the change in momentum. Now when you think about this, mass is always constant, so

J = mass * change in velocity

NOW remember that acceleration is the change in velocity (lets make change in velocity mean an upper case V) over change in time (T), then

a = V / T 

so we can conclude that

V = a*T (CHANGE IN VELOCITY equals acceleration times the CHANGE in time)

Plugging that into the equation for impulse, J= m * a*T (V being the CHANGE in velocity, NOT VELOCITY, which is v).

Remembering the most basic fundamentals about force, NET Force (Fnet) equals the mass times acceleration of an object. If you notice, mass and acceleration are in the equation for impulse, so if Fnet = m * a , then

J = Fnet * T 

This simple idea is used a lot in real life to see how objects effect other objects in space (remember, we are ALL included in space, not just the vacuous pitch black “space” outside of earth’s atmosphere that we usually call space).

sport-basketball-momentums-movements-shifts-shifted-smb070514_low

Spring has Sprung!

March 20th was the spring equinox, the moment when the plane of the earth’s equator passes through the center of the sun. This occurs in March and September, so only two times every year. But what does this mean?

imgres

This means that the day and night are about equal in duration all over the planet. The word is derived from the Latin words aequus (equal) and nox (night).

The summer and winter solstice happens twice a year and is characterized by its either extra long day and shorter night or vise versa. It is when the sun is farthest away from the earth’s equator. An equinox, then, occurs at it’s closest points to the sun.

The classical names for this event is vernal equinox (Latin word ver meaning spring) and autumnal equinox (autumnus meaning autumn).

National Pi Day!

In 2008, March 14th became the official National Pi Day in the United States. National Pi Day is next Tuesday 3/14 (as in 3.14), and though usually many celebrate with a corny pi-themed dessert (typically pie) it can also be interesting to appreciate just how useful pi really is. On this day, NASA holds a competition every year for pi-enthused students from 6th to 12th grade to use pi like a real rocket scientist. Solve for the angle of impact using the craters left behind on Mars, discover the habitable zone of TRAPPIST-1 (the solar system with seven Earth-sized exoplanets!), calculate the size of the moon’s shadow as it creates total solar eclipse with the earth, and navigate a spacecraft to Saturn’s atmosphere! More info can be found on NASA and JPL’s websites.

Pi is an irrational number, going on forever and ever, never repeating. There have been competitions to see how many digits one can remember (the world record is 70,030!). But how many digits of pi do we really need to know? Decimals going on that far yield too minuscule to make any difference. A sixth grader, Marc Rayman, asked this very question and tested it. He found that the significant figures needed for accurate scientific uses of pi is 16, or 3.141592653589793. More than that is just unnecessary – the error from not using the rest of pi is 10,000 times smaller than a strand of hair. Marc Rayman is now a director and chief engineer at NASA.

So, enjoy National Pi Day! There will most certainly be some really lame pi jokes all over the internet, but at least you get to eat pie.

images

Habitable Worlds Outside of our Solar System

One of NASA’s telescopes in space, the Spitzer telescope, has revealed a star with SEVEN earth-like planets orbiting it! Planets that are outside our own solar system are called “exoplanets,” and THREE of them are within a “habitable” orbit from its sun – just the distance from the sun that would allow a rock planet to have water. This is an incredibly promising find being because water seems to be the most essential for a planet to harbor life.

The system is called TRAPPIST-1 and is about 40 light-years from Earth (this means that if we were to get in a spaceship that travels at the speed of light – which, as far as we know, is impossible – we would arrive at the TRAPPIST-1 system in 40 years). Surprisingly, this isn’t that far away compared to other systems. Some stars in the night sky are millions of light years away, and probably already gone, but we are viewing this star only from 40 years ago, respectively.

More work is being done to study the exoplanets, to hopefully find out what kind of atmospheres these planets have, or whether or not they are rock planets.

Artist concept of a possible surface of one of the TRAPPIST-1 exoplanets.  Credit: NASA

Artist concept of a possible surface of one of the TRAPPIST-1 exoplanets.
Credit: NASA

Can Woolly Mammoths Recover from Extinction?

WoollyMammoth_1

Is it really possible to bring back a species that hasn’t been around for 4,500 years? I am here to talk about a relatively recent emergence in science – the ability to change genes. DNA editing is a more accurate description actually. And the science of it has been fine-tuned since 2012, when the CRISPR/Cas9 technique was first introduced. This technology, developed by Harvard professors here in America, is the best known way to edit DNA and makes the prospect of de-extincting woolly mammoths a very realistic goal. Scientists say this could be done within the next two years. Technology that was just 5 years ago being done in the most prestigious laboratories in the world can be done today in a high school biology classroom. Now that this technology is much better understood, the possibilities of genetic modification are endless.

What CRISPR does is find the undesirable gene strand in an organism’s DNA and can “cut and paste what we want the DNA to say. We know that modern elephants are close relatives to woolly mammoths, so scientists are just modifying an elephant embryo to change it into a mammoth.

CRISPR/Cas9 is already being used for medical purposes – it’s tech can be used on newborn babies to change a human’s DNA. It is now being used to fight cancer – some  say it is a promising cure – but it could also be used for a number of things. If you wanted your child to have perfect pitch, for example, or prevent them from premature balding, or want them to be tall, it can all be modified using this technique (mind you, it still is undergoing development). That’s right, it is now possible for us to create a genetically “perfect” person.

Another use for this technology would be for extinction prevention. If a species is endangered due to not enough gene diversity, we could add modified animals to their gene pool with some small modifications. Current elephants today could also benefit from this tech – integrating a trait that allows elephants to be more resistant to the cold (using a gene from a mammoth) could raise their chances of thriving in the wild. CRISPR is going to change the future as we know it – whether that is a good or a bad thing, we’ll have to find out.

The Evolution of Human Language

The Tower of Babel

The Tower of Babel

The Tower of Babel is in the Jewish Tanakh’s first book of Genesis and explains the origin of all languages. As the story goes, a society of humans that speak all the same language plan to build a tower “tall enough to reach heaven” and at first, their god is not worried. But after observing how efficient and successfully the society builds this tower, god scatters them around the world and makes all of their languages different from each other. This story, and many others like it, takes a notable question and gives it a simple, defined answer.

The mysteriousness of the world can be answered by a folklore like this one, or can be answered with rational research and logical thinking. Nowadays, we know that humans populated much of the earth as early as 50,000 years ago. Humans found the bridge to the Americas about 15,000 years ago. You can imagine people that are as far apart as Africa and California aren’t going to speak the same language. Like gene pools, language can evolve due to isolation from another group. The more recently a civilization split off from one another, the more similar the language will be. You can see this in the romance languages – Spanish, French, and Italian – they are all in close proximity to each other. Those languages are much more alike in contrast to Japanese and Mandarin. Even inside one language you can see variants based on location. A great example is in our own country – the English language has many accents across the U.S. alone. Not to mention other English speaking countries. Because Americans are far away from those other countries, our language is ever-drifting apart today. If you’ve ever tried to watch a British film that uses their cultural slurs and thought “what the heck is going on?” you understand the evolution of language. Eventually, our speech will be so different you won’t be able to classify it as the same language at all.

Image result for language map of the world

The Big Three – Humans, Chimpanzees, and Bonobos

 

(from left to right) Chimpanzee, Bonobo, Human

(from left to right) Chimpanzee, Bonobo, Human

There are about 20 species of apes categorized into two major groups: the Lesser Apes and the Great Apes. Apes such as gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos are in the Great Apes category. Humans are also part of the Great Apes family. We are closely related to all of the Great Apes, less related to Lesser Apes (what does that say about our ego, huh?) and even less related to animals like worms and fish. I’d like to write an entire post about Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and the incredible amount of evidence that verifies it, but let’s save that for another post.

Just for a run down, if you aren’t familiar with his theory, when I say “related” I mean that we all have common ancestors. How long ago our common ancestor broke off to evolve into whatever species you are talking about let’s you know just how related you are. We can find this by also looking at our DNA. Every living thing has the same DNA code, the genetic instructions that make you, you – and the slight variations inside that code tells the story of it’s organism. From fish to humans – we all have DNA, and we are all related.

_88647288_bonobo-14

A female bonobo holding her child

Bonobos (Pan paniscus) and common chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) are both just about equally related to us humans, sharing 99 percent of our DNA. Our common ancestors broke off to become chimps, bonobos, and humans about 4 to 7 million years ago. (new estimates are saying maybe the break-off could have been as far back as 12 million years ago, while some have found evidence of a chimp-human common ancestor from 4 million years back. When thinking about this far in the past, it’s obviously hard for us to tell exactly.) Bonobos and chimps share 99.6 percent of their DNA, research suggesting their species broke off from each other about 1 million years ago. The behavior of bonobos, chimpanzees and us have a crucial relationship with the definitive split off from each other.

 

Information: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2012/06/bonobos-join-chimps-closest-human-relatives

Neuroscience of Music

In life, you are constantly processing the world around you. Sound is an influential sensory mechanism not only for our survival but for our emotional state. The cognitive processes and reactions that the brain undergoes while listening to music can be analyzed by neuroscientists in MRI’s and CAT scans. Some doctors dedicate their lives to researching the cognitive neuroscience of music, incorporating the most methodical and the most beautiful aspects of the human experience.

If you haven’t noticed, when listening to music, your body reacts as much as your brain does. Your blood pressure can rise and pupils can dilate. But why does the rarefaction and expansion of sound waves through the air effect us so much? Some speculate that music activates the cerebellum part of the brain, the part associated with body movement, and impulses your blood to flow downwards towards your feet, causing us to tap our feet and feel like dancing when music plays.

Source: WIRED

Source: WIRED

In a study preformed by neuroscientists in Montreal, they found that music first and foremost will release dopamine, the neurotransmitter most associated with pleasurable stimulus. The study also found that the brain is most active just before the subject’s favorite part of a song, and experience similar anticipation to receiving food. It’s weird, I know, but in a way it sort of makes sense. Especially when you look at music today, DJ’s and composers always try to manipulate the listener’s experience just before the pinnacle moment you’ve been waiting for (the “beat drop” if you will).

What is Fear?

friday_13th_1_poster_02

If you haven’t guessed already, today is January 13, 2017– Friday the 13th. So naturally I have decided to write a blog post about the science behind fear and it’s evolutionary function.

Essentially, fear is just your brain responding to some sort of threat. Research shows that the brain’s reaction to danger has little to do with the type of threat, and this discovery transcends species. Different species (for example, rats and humans) demonstrate similar brain activity when afraid because the reaction is instinctual. Having a preprogrammed response to danger is extremely advantageous from an evolutionary perspective because it allows you to react quickly and with greater performance. The symptoms of fear (increased breathing rate, heart rate, and pupil dilation) are all byproducts of an adrenaline rush, designed to help you fight or run from your threat.

Long-term anxieties also have a purpose; they are meant to deter you from potentially hazardous situations. The fear of the dark is so widespread because many predators hunt at night. Ans as relatively feeble primates, it’s probably not the best idea to go romping around the savanna when big cats are looking for a midnight snack. So, if you are still anxious about turning off your night light, congratulations! You have an evolutionary advantage.

People like to simulate these experiences (ex. horror films) because they give an adrenaline rush for the person to experience while still knowing in the back of their mind they aren’t in any real danger. Most people in modern times live sheltered, low-risk lifestyles and never experience any real fear. The natural processes of “Fight or Flight” are never used; horror movies and haunted houses exercise these processes. The next time you roll your eyes at a scary-movie fan or a thrill-seeker, remind yourself that they may be better prepared for a real-life threat than you are.