Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Super Massive Black Holes Explained (so anyone can understand)

 Most of you know how much I love all things space. Combine that with the brilliant cartoon artwork of Jorge Cham, several astrophysicists talking about their work, and my day is made! 

When it comes to astrophysics and phenomenon like black holes, most of us think we have the topic covered. After all, the television and film industry has devoted a huge amount of reel space to presenting dangerous scenarios concerning black holes and their ilk.

It turns out there is a lot of straight forward science that is not well understood like black holes don't actually suck material in. (The word "hole" probably threw the scriptwriters off.)

Anyway, check out the video or read the explanation at PhD Comics. Both make it easy to explain to friends at a bar, baseball game, or during speed dating. Go science!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Nanotechnology & Q-carbon Diamonds

Diamonds are not only a girl's best friend, they are important in many industrial applications. Recently, scientists from North Carolina State University found a way to make another form of carbon (besides graphite, graphene, and diamond) at room temperature/pressure in the air. 

Too simple to be true? Well, it is if you have a laser that can heat  a substrate like glass, sapphire, or a plastic polymer to over 3,727 degrees Celsius (6,740 degrees Fahrenheit) for a few seconds and then cool it super fast. The result, called Q-carbon, is 20-500 nanometers thick depending on how many times you do the laser-pulse/cooling process. The internal diamond structure can also be controlled by changing the duration of the laser pulse.

Diamond nanoneedles, nanodots, or large-area diamond films, drug delivery applications, industrial processes, and high-temperature switches and power electronics are all possible, explains Jay Narayan, the John C. Fan Distinguished Chair Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at NC State.

Like a lot of super small nanotechnology materials, Q-carbon has cool and unexpected properties. It glows in low levels of energy and can be magnetized. Since it is also inert, Q-carbon can be used in the body to fight disease,  repair/replace damaged joints, and as artificial retinas. 

Since Q-carbon can be formed on a silicon substrate, it has important applications in electronics and communications too. 

So next time you think about diamonds, you may have an entirely difference reference than the faceted gem of romantic fame. Go science!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Google Science Fair

Did you know Google has a science fair? Yes! Another in a list of cool things Google is up to. Well, just a heads up... They are accepting submissions again (February 21, 2016 to May 18, 2016) on the Google science fair website. They even have a place to "Hangout with Science Superstars" where you can tune in to hear leading scientists talk about their work and take part in virtual field trips. Very cool. 

They have scientists on duty in a Google group help forum to answer questions about your science fair project. Always a plus! 

So, what are you waiting for? Submit your work. Join the science conversation. You just might win a $50,000 educational scholarship. Go science!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Brain Folding 101

 If you're like me, you don't really think about your brain. Well, maybe when you see brain coral or a crazy brain-like cactus, but those are special occasions.

Did you know that just like the rest of your body, the brain starts out all smooth and pretty? Then, as it grows, it folds and refolds to accommodate all the connections and memories and brain stuff that needs to go in there. 

Also, scientists have noticed that the higher the intelligence an organism has, the more its brain is folded. [And before you ask, we don't have the most folded brain. Dolphins have more folds than humans. Of course they do! They get to swim and play all day long. No dolphin cubicles on the horizon.]

Anyway... Check out this super great explanation of brain folding by PhD Comics. My brain just folded a little more taking it all in. Go science!