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).


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?


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.


Can Woolly Mammoths Recover from Extinction?


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.

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).

Blog Post for the Week of Jan. 3

Happy New Year! Even though January 1st is an arbitrary date with no cosmic significance whatsoever, we humans like to celebrate the day by reflecting the 365 day-lap around the sun and by setting goals for the next swing around. This week I would like to look at the biggest milestone made in science during the year of 2016.

2016 was certainly a big year for physicist and astronomers all over the world. It was the year scientists finally proved the existence of gravitational waves. These are the ripples in spacetime that are made by giant objects in the universe. We can only now detect cataclysmic events, but some are already thinking of the practical uses of this discovery. When the first telescope was turned to the sky, we could observe our mysterious universe with the use of our eyes. Now that we have evidence of gravitational waves, we can observe the universe with our ears.

Einstein predicted that spacetime could move in reaction to the movement of objects with enormous mass. Since then, many have spent their entire lives trying to prove it. The long-anticipated finding of one of these “ripples” was met with great excitement when announced on February 11, 2016. This didn’t only confirm Einstein’s theory, but it also verified that two black holes can merge into one (that was the gravitational wave The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory or LIGO observed occurring over 1.3 billion years ago). Some say this will usher in a new era of astronomy, giving us a new way to look at our universe. Other space-administrations are now working to build their own gravitational wave observatories, fine-tuning the detection of fainter gravitational waves to help us better understand black holes and other cosmic phenomenon.1_122416_gravitational-waves_inline

The Science of Snow


Winter break starts next week, so of coarse I would like to write a post more centering this time of year. Issaquah has seen a little bit of snow this year so I thought I’d talk about the science behind the frozen white specks of winter magic that falls from the sky.

I suppose if you were talking to a scientist about it they wouldn’t call them “snowflakes” but “snow crystals.”

Obviously snow is created in the clouds and is made of water vapor that has evaporated, condensed, and frozen. If a really, really fancy microscope was used on a snow crystal, you would be able to actually see the ice nuclei at the center of them. The “seed crystal” is formed first and cloud droplets that form around it freeze into it’s individual shape, which by the way, is different from every other snowflake ever to have formed. Snow is NOT frozen raindrops — that is SLEET. HAIL is when sleet is clumped together as its falling to the ground.

One thing scientists don’t understand is why snow crystals create the certain shapes that they do. The main factors that go into the shaping of a single crystal is temperature and humidity. Water molecules hook up into patterns of crystalline structures called hexagonal lattices, which is how the familiar vision of what a snowflake looks like is formed. When you add humidity to the equation, however, things get a little varied. The crystals branch off to create more intricate patterns.

The way temperature affects snow crystals still stumps scientists today. The two most common shapes of a snowflake are plates (above) and columns (not pictured). As the temperature gets colder up in the clouds, the snow tends to form in plates, then columns, then plates and back to columns again as it decreases. The science is far from exact, and is very difficult to conclude from.

I am sure that everyone can agree, no matter what shape it is, snow is the most magical kind of water molecule structure that falls from our sky.


Information from

Newton’s Three Laws of Motion


If you are interested in physics, then you MUST get to know one very important person- Sir Isaac Newton.

Isaac Newton was an English physicist and mathematician who lived from 1642-1746. He played a revolutionary role in the scientific revolution in multiple areas of math and physics that supremely furthered our knowledge of the physical universe as we understand it today. He is considered by many as one of the smartest people to have ever lived. His work with physics mapped out the behavior of the planets orbiting the sun, pushing out the last lingering thoughts of a heliocentric universe (earth at the center), he made endless inventions that are still used today, things as universal as the reflective telescope and as random as a cat door (yes, Isaac Newton is responsible for preventing your pet from having an accident on your carpet). His mathematical ideas formed the first basic ideas of calculus and the beginnings of mechanics. He was a master of theology, astronomy, chemistry, and physics. This is but a few things Newton did in his lifetime. But I want to talk about one of his more famous ideas, his three laws of motion and universal gravitation. These laws map the basics of all movement in the universe.

1st Law- an object in motion will remain in motion, and an object at rest remains at rest. Imagine a pencil is rolling off a frictionless table. That pencil will continue to roll on until something else applies an outside force on the pencil. This law is describing INERTIA, and it is also the reason you involuntarily lean forward in the car when the driver applies the brakes. This can also be applied to other things then just pencils and cars. Inertia effects all things from beach balls to planets and even entire galaxies.

2nd Law- Acceleration occurs when a force is applied to a mass. This law also says that the magnitude of that mass has a direct relationship with the force needed. We all are probably familiar with this fact. It’s much easier to move a lighter object than a heavier one. The more STUFF (mass) an object has, the harder it is to make all of that stuff go in the direction you want it to. This law also introduces a vital equation used in physics constantly: Net Force = Mass * Acceleration.

(Net Force is the total force on an object after all the forces are added together)

3rd Law- Newton’s third law is popularly stated as: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Even a book just sitting on a table has forces acting on it, even if you wouldn’t think there’d be. The weight force of the book is pushing down towards the earth due to gravity, but because the book is not falling downward, there has to be some other force on the book to keep it from accelerating. In this case, the book has a constant velocity of 0. The force is from the table and it’s pushing up on the book at an oppositely equal magnitude, so the book stays still. This force is called the Normal force, because this force is always pointing perpendicular to the surface the object is resting on.



The Kinematic Equations – 1D Motion


Two weeks ago I started talking about physics in one dimension. I left it at the importance of position, velocity, and acceleration and their relationships. Position (commonly called DISPLACEMENT in the science world) is where you are in relation to where you’ve been (or where an object has been) Here’s an example: If a car moves 20 meters away from a stop sign, its total displacement is 20 meters from the stop sign, or the final position (20 m) minus the initial position (0 m).

Displacement (position) is written in equations as X or d, the change in position is in the photo above, DELTA X. Delta means change, so delta(x) is change in position.

Acceleration is the CHANGE IN VELOCITY. NOT POSITION. Acceleration can be 0 even if you are still moving. The amount your speed is changing is acceleration, it tells us if something is speeding up or slowing down. If your acceleration is zero, your velocity must be constant (this could mean that your velocity is CONSTANTLY ZERO, but it could also be constantly 100 miles per hour and your acceleration would also be zero) If your velocity reaches zero however, it can still keep moving, because of acceleration. Your velocity will begin to speed up IN THE NEGATIVE DIRECTION. I’ll talk more about this when I talk about falling objects.

The equations physicists use to answer these questions with these variables are called the kinematic equations! In the photo above, you can see how these relationships can be manipulated with algebra to create formulas that are easy to use. I won’t bore you with all of the algebra, but you can use whatever equation if you know all but one of the variables and want to figure out one, like acceleration, initial or final velocity, or time. In some of the equations, you can see two values for velocity, one with a base 0 and one without. Velocity base 0 is your INITIAL velocity, the other is your FINAL velocity.

Remember, you can only ADD values that have the same units. When you multiply or divide, however, you combine them. If you’re dividing displacement by time, you would be getting a value in m/s, or velocity. Looking at the units of your answer can clue you in one what value you are getting.

That’s all for this week! We’ll talk more about the father of physics next week, Sir Isaac Newton!


Black (Hole) Friday!

I had planned on continuing to write about basic physics in the 1st dimension this week, but there was a science pun I could NOT pass up — Black Friday! (or should I say Black Hole Friday)

A black hole is a extremely large (I’m talking unimaginably large) mass that is immensely dense, so dense that it’s gravitational pull is so intense that light cannot even escape from it. Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity predicted black holes back in 1916, but the first black hole wasn’t found for another 55 years. They weren’t called “black holes” back when Einstein thought of them though, that name was thought of by an American astronomer John Wheeler in 1967.

We know black holes exist because of the way they react with matter in outer space. We cannot look directly at them because light doesn’t reach inside a black hole (that is why they are called black holes). But observing the radiation they emit can help us find them. Another way to see a black hole is by looking for the objects that orbit or ricochet off of them. Sometimes, when something is moving fast past a black hole, it won’t fall inside the event horizon (the edge of the black hole that we can’t look past), it will just sort of bounce off. This occurrence can be seen from great distances, as it creates some of the brightest reactions in the universe. 322ef7c600000578-0-image-a-14_1457971439771

THIS YEAR we discovered a gravitational wavelength depicting to be two black holes colliding, the event echoed throughout the universe. We have found that our own Milky Way galaxy has a Supermassive black hole right at it’s center.

Past a black hole’s event horizon is the singularity: a single point in space-time where the mass of the black hole is concentrated.

I would really like to keep talking about black holes because they are so extremely interesting! But in order to do that, we need to talk about space-time, quantum mechanics, and about a million other things that go along with them. So we’ll save it for another post.


The Way Things Move – Introduction to Velocity and Acceleration

Hello, organisms of the 3 dimensional universe! I have been obsessed with understanding physics lately and how the universe moves. Starting with the basics, let’s talk about movement on a single plane, one line, 1D motion. I’m actually going to start off really slowly and just talk specifically about velocity and acceleration in one dimension.

We know everything moves one way or another, right? If not obviously, then because of the planet’s rotation or the solar system’s drift through its galaxy. But when talking about the basics, you have to make some assumptions that are a little more cut and dry. Let’s agree that things like the ground, walls, and other things like poles and desks are “immovable objects” that will never move no matter how hard you push on it and basically everything else is “free bodies” that will move about the world in a pattern that scientists can predict with physics. We’ll get back to this idea later, but I just want to make sure that we agree on that.

Velocity and acceleration are in my opinion the key to understanding the way things move on the most basic level. Other things like position are also a part of these values, but I think of them as more of a product of the movement of objects (and force, but we’ll get into that later!). Things like distance travelled and time elapsed are called scalar values, things that are fixed and don’t specify any direction. Speed is a scalar, because it doesn’t matter what direction you are going in, but velocity does, so it is called a Vector. That is why velocity can be a negative number and speed cannot. Same with time, something can’t happen in the negative time!

Velocity is the change in position over time, and is put into meters per second. The most important thing to learn when discussing velocity and acceleration is to know the difference between them. Acceleration is the change in velocity over time, meters per second per second (and is also a vector). Velocity is m/s (meters per second) and acceleration is m/s/s (meters per second per second) or m/s^2.

I’ll dig more into 1D physics next week, it’s important to understand the relationships between position, velocity and acceleration before I get into the calculations. Have a great weekend!



Carbon in the Earth’s Mantle

I plan on doing more posts about climate change; it is a formidable problem we face in modern times. To introduce the topic, I wanted to start by looking at new findings in the science community over carbon and it’s behavior on earth. Learning the basics of the carbon cycle at a microscopic level can clue us into how carbon is affecting the planet on a larger scale. Scientists have been researching how carbon exists inside the earth’s mantle. Many university scientists at schools including the George Washington University and the University of Chicago are conducting meticulous experiments to simulate carbon dissolving in water under the earth’s surface. They are still extrapolating theoretical conclusions from the evidence, but let’s look at what they’ve found so far.


Carbon in the form of carbonate and bicarbonate ions Credit: Prof. Giulia Galli

Carbon in the form of carbonate and bicarbonate ions.
Credit: Prof. Giulia Galli

They believe that there are much more carbon ions present than previously thought. The fact that carbon exists as active ions instead of carbon dioxide molecules suggests that H2O and CO2 are reacting at an incredibly fast rate – a trillionth of a second. If the water is reactive, that means carbon could be collecting underneath the earth’s surface. But because the experiment is extremely difficult to perform and conclude from, the theory is still being considered.

The reason this relates to the rest of the planet is because if we can understand how carbon behaves and transfers, we can find out how much of it is in the earth. If carbon is moving as reactive ions, then it is more likely that there is more, since it can move at a faster rate, leading them to developing in reservoirs. These findings will change the way scientists look at the carbon cycle and the study of the earth’s mantle.


Analysis of the Teenage Brain

November has begun! Now, before the rest of the year is totally lost to the mercy of the holiday season, I would like to talk about science. This week, I am looking into the human brain. Particularly the brains of teenagers.teenbrainunderconstruction 

The human brain is growing very fast during the period of time between the ages of 13 and 20. Just like most of our body, the brain grows in separate parts. The prefrontal cortex, the decision-making part of the mind, matures later in life, while the striatum (the reward center) develops considerably earlier. The striatum is where the brain recognizes rewards, which is why teenagers are usually more likely to respond well to a reward system than a punishment-based system.

While the striatum is forming, teenagers find themselves attracted to recompense, but their organizational skills are still deficient – leading to frustration in schools and in students. But just because teenagers don’t learn the same way adults do because of their unevenly developed brains, it doesn’t mean they can’t learn just as well, or better, than an adult.

Studies have shown that a teenage person can remember things better when tied to a positive reinforcement than an adult can. Studies have been done on the connectivity of the striatum and hippocampus, the learning and memory part of the brain, on adults and teenagers. The scientists found that both centers lit up in the younger brains much more than the adults. When the participants were asked about the test afterwards, the teenagers had a greater memory about the portions of the test involving positive reinforcement than the adults.

Honing this knowledge of how high school students learn can help schools better teach their kids. This might also be a nice studying technique for younger people to try out. Further testing must be done to understand more about the differences in how adults and teens learn, but there is a consensus that adolescents are more sensitive to rewards than adults or even pre-teen children are. This should be used when mapping out the future of high school education.

See you next week,