Thursday, February 15, 2018

Starman - Sparking the Exploration Imagination

What a fantastic and inventive way to highlight the launch of new space hardware! A red Tesla and a Starman going where no sports car has gone before! Epic! Whimsical! Totally fun! Way to go SpaceX!

When was the last time you got to use those adjectives when talking or writing about the U.S. Space program? A VERY long time I'll wager. 

I worked at Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX for 13 years at the beginning of the Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs. It was super interesting and we made history nearly every day, albeit incrementally. 

The senior scientists and engineers said it was not as exciting as the "good old days" of Gemini and Apollo when we knew very little about space and were exploring it with primitive and limited data processing capabilities. 

Now a forward thinking, early-adopter, inventor, billionaire has sparked our collective imagination with a visual we will never forget. The generations to come will have a positive benchmark in their push to the stars. Go science!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

NASA Remembers

Today NASA remembers the 17 daring and courageous  astronauts who lost their lives during America's space program. Several NASA centers including Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama and Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida are holding observances for employees, family, and the public. 

Strangely, the loss of NASA personnel all happened days apart in the winter of different years (e.g., Apollo 1 fire - Jan. 27, 1967; Challenger explosion after liftoff - Jan. 28, 1986; and Columbia breakup upon reentry - Feb. 1, 2003). 

I was working at Johnson Space Center during the Challenger explosion and knew well several of the crew. Ron McNair's children went to the same preschool as mine and we chatted often when dropping off and picking up. Others, I worked with on mission planning. As everyone involved in the space program can agree, these deaths were personal losses. We shopped with, went to church with, commuted with, and served with these NASA heroes. I was still living in Clear Lake, TX when the ill-fated Columbia spacecraft and crew were lost. Grief revisited - for me and the nation.

Unfortunately, we often forget how dangerous space exploration is, but the rewards are multiplied a hundred fold or more via NASA science, medical, materials, and engineering spin offs. To me, these lost colleagues lived extraordinary lives and deserve our thankful remembrance. Go science!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Scallops' Eyes are Amazing

It's known that scallops have dozens, sometimes hundreds, of eyes. In fact, their retinal design provides an elegant example of nature's engineering. However, these structures are difficult to study in a lab due to drying and other physical deterioration. 

So, Lia Addadi at the Weizmann Institute of Science and her team, including Benjamin Palmer and Gavin Taylor  decided to try a cryo-scanning electron microscope and the rapid freezing of samples to keep delicate and important structures intact. 

With this method, they discovered that scallops' eyes each have a segmented mirror that grows individually. They are made of square, flat, guanine crystals (a millionth of a meter wide) that link together into a grid. 

Stacked groups of grids (20-30) have liquid filling the spaces between them. The crystals and separating spaces are 74 and 86 billionths of a meter thick which works well at reflecting blue-green light in the ocean environment.

The group also noticed that the mirror crystal segments are not inactive, but seem to grow inside the cells of the scallop’s eye, filling them up. Then, they join together to form a uniform mosaic layer. 

So now that we know how scallops' eyes develop, the next research question is whether they all provide images individually or combine information into a single complex image? I can't wait to find out. Go science!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Arctic and Science cafe anniversary

You often hear the expression "down under" when talking about Australia. So when the Summit Station and Arctic are in the news, is it "up over?" 

This mind-worm question has me in its grip this Friday afternoon after the incredibly fun and successful Science cafe 10th anniversary event held on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017 at the Historic Arkansas Museum.

If you were there, you were treated to several mind altering hands-on virtual reality demos from the UALR Emerging Analytics Lab. The VR applications that encompassed medicine to archaeology were amazing. Plus we had tons of food, Stone's Throw Brewery beer, Loblolly ice cream, cake, food, door prizes, and an interesting virtual reality Science cafe discussion with Carolina Cruz-Neira, director/developer of all things VR. 

If you have a Science cafe in your area, find it and attend the interesting events on a variety of subjects. I started our SC in March of 2007 and it has been super great meeting tons of scientists and local experts talking about topics that they are passionate about. Go science!