Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Leonid Meteor Shower

When I was a kid, we used to spend two weeks in the summer camping at a nearby reservoir. My brother and I often slept in the ski boat that was anchored out. We entertained ourselves by counting meteors as they flashed by in the dark sky. 

I credit those exciting observations with my subsequent interest in science and eventual work at NASA-Johnson Space Center. So cool.

Tonight, the Slooh Community Observatory, an astronomy broadcast service, will host a live webcast (Nov. 16) showing live views of the Leonid meteor shower. 

The livestream will host live meteor feeds from the observatory at the Institute of Astrophysics in the Canary Islands, as well as live streams from the United Kingdom, and Slooh’s HQ in Connecticut. Go science!

Leonid Meteor Shower

When I was a kid, we used to spend two weeks in the summer camping at a nearby reservoir. My brother and I often slept in the ski boat that was anchored out. We often entertained ourselves by counting meteors as they flashed by in the dark sky. 

I credit those exciting observations with my subsequent interest in science and eventual work at NASA-Johnson Space Center. So cool.

Tonight, the Slooh Community Observatory, an astronomy broadcast service, will host a live webcast (Nov. 16) showing live views of the Leonid meteor shower. 

The livestream will host live meteor feeds from the observatory at the Institute of Astrophysics in the Canary Islands, as well as live streams from the United Kingdom, and Slooh’s HQ in Connecticut. Go science!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Leeuwenhoek - Father of Microbiology

If you love science, technology, and engineering, chances are you are like me and an "early adopter." An early adopter is defined as, "a person who uses a new product or technology before it becomes widely known or used." Early adopters are often innovators as well. They recognize the value of a new invention or process, try it and then improve it, apply it in a more effective way, or try it in a completely different application.

This was especially the case several hundred years ago when early scientists and engineers had to conceive of and then construct their equipment before using it to seek answers to puzzling questions.

Early Dutch scientist, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632 – 1723) was highlighted this week with a Google doodle for his discovery in 1676 of "little animals" (microorganisms) in rainwater. He saw these through his improved (i.e., he ground and polished his own single lens) version of Robert Hooke's microscope. With this DIY improvement, van Leeuwenhoek went on to study muscle fibers, bacteria, spermatozoa and blood flow in capillaries.

As a scientist trained in microbiology, van Leeuwenhoek is my hero. His improved lens could magnify objects by a factor of about 200 – 300, while Hooke’s compound microscope magnified only by a factor of about 40 – 50. 

Just another example of old school ingenuity and innovation in action. Go science!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Celebrate National Fossil Day

It's finally here! National Fossil Day! Hurray! A special day for dinosaurs (every child's and many an adult's secret wish come true)! It's the perfect time to celebrate your favorite fossil and chat with similarly minded folks about the cool things your favorite dinosaur can do (or did). 

Mine is the Triceratops, with three impressive horns and bony frill around the head. I've always imagined it as one of the solid, hard working dinosaurs. Kind of the bull dog of the plant-eating dinosaur set. 

Today on National Fossil Day a major Tyrranosaurus rex question has been answered by researcher, Mary Schweitzer, Ph.D., who discovered that "Bob" the T. rex was really a pregnant female from dinosaur medullary bone cells found in recovered bone tissue. Medullary bone, also found in modern birds who lay eggs, is a temporary bone tissue that stores calcium for eggshell formation. Without it, the needed calcium would be pulled from the mother's bones (never a good thing, but particularly tricky in light, delicate bird bones.)  Anyway, this is the first time a female gender designation has been found for T. rex

As always, it's exciting to discover big science news after much time (68 million years) has passed. Go science! 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Science and Technology Meet Design to Monitor High RIsk Pregnancies

I'm always interested in new and ingenious ways to improve health for everyone, but especially pregnant moms and children. So, I was particularly excited to hear about research on wearable sensors that give physicians a heads up on early labor and baby movement.

Supported by the National Science Foundation, electrical/computer engineer Kapil Dandekar, industrial/fashion designer Genevieve Dion, and OB-GYN physician, Owen Montgomery have added radio frequency identification (RFID) technology into their “belly bands” for women with high-risk pregnancies. The wearable sensor constantly tracks movements and signals the physician via the Internet if a patient begins early contractions. A petite sensor band is in the works for babies at risk for sleep apnea.

Combining engineering, medicine and fashion design, this trifecta of human-centered technology offers simple-to-use, yet critical tools for better healthcare. Go science!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Curiosity and The First Day of School

Most of the time, people are resistant to change. We like the comfortable, "I have this down" feeling that comes with time and repeated experiences. 

I was thinking about this aversion to change while sitting in the slowed traffic that comes with the start back to school. I drive past 2 schools on my way to work, so I get to see eager students in their new clothes saying good-bye to caring, committed, and/or harried parents trying to get to work on time.

Well, okay maybe the older students are not so eager. Maybe not some at the middle school either. But mostly, the young ones are excited to see friends who they may not have seen over the summer months. 

Why aren't they all equally excited?

I believe young children are still mostly information sponges. They ask why a million times a day (or so it seems). Change is their watchword, their motto, their way of life. It isn't until much later when they have had a few failures or someone older has explained an idea is impossible that curiosity dims and change becomes something to be avoided. 

So the next time you talk with friends, parents, and colleagues, think about that. Curiosity is important and one we need to nurture and celebrate not just on the first day of school, but every day. Curiosity and asking why are the foundation of the scientific method. Go Science!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Microbiomes Explained Simply

As many of you know, my science training centered around biology and more specifically, microbiology. Microorganisms fascinated me the first time I looked in a microscope and my interest continues today in the form of microbiome research and the even smaller natural realms of nanoscience and nanotechnology. 

So you can imagine my excitement to find a new video,  The Hidden World of Microbiomes, by scientist, founder of PhD Comics, and illustrator, Jorge Cham, Ph.D. If you have never seen Jorge's science cartoons and videos, you are in for a science treat. They are simple to understand, brief, and fun!

I'll be revisiting my favorite videos/animations about science and exploration during these hot summer days on the YouTube PhD TV channel. Stay cool and Go Science!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Asteroid Day

I was out-of-town for the celebration, but just to catch up, June 30th was designated as Asteroid Day. It was created in 2015 to "bring together scientists, artists and concerned citizens to raise awareness of the hazards of asteroid impacts and build support for solutions that might avert disaster from the skies."

Museums and science centers around the globe host a ton of events and use the associated publicity to highlight STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and art events concerning the Earth and environment.

The June date aligns with the 40 meter wide asteroid that hit Tunguska, Siberia in 1908 and leveled 2,000 km of forest. The energy released has been estimated at 185 times that of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima. Not trivial, but by comparison Krakatoa's 1883 eruptions (4 over four hours) were so loud, they could be heard 3,000 miles away in Perth, Australia. The final blast was 10,000 times more powerful than the one unleashed by the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima. 

So, fingers crossed, only asteroids of the smaller, gentler kind will feel the gravitational tug to visit Earth anytime soon. In the meantime, we will keep working on ways to dissuade them and their larger cousins. Go science!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Building Body Parts from Fruit

Yes, I know it would be a sweet deal if it could easily be done, but think about cellulose and the structural parts of an apple. All the stacked cells offer a scaffold for cells to grow into whatever structure is required.

Andrew Pelling, Ph.D., an experimental biophysicist at the University of Ottawa, Canada, is interested in genetic and architectural controls of health and disease. Using different fruits for in vitro 3D cell culture in his Laboratory for Biophysical Manipulation, Pelling found that mammalian cells grow and expand into the structure provided (once the fruit cells were removed). 

This type of research is being done elsewhere, but not with the basic materials found in the kitchen. Not only is it fun to think about, but a great chance to discuss STEM (science, engineering, technology, and mathematics) applications and careers with students. Plus, Dr. Pelling advocates "play" as a crucial part of inspiring his research. Go science!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Robotics - Then & Now

I have long been interested in the various ways robots and mechanical arms add value to nearly every process. In fact, some people worry that robots will eliminate thousands of jobs in the decades to come.


But as an early technology adopter, I'm willing to take the chance. In fact, I'm ready to have a self driving car! After all, I trust aircraft equipped with automatic pilot, so why not robotics on the daily commute? After driving at a crawl for years in the super congested Houston traffic, I KNOW robotics could perform better than a lot of those drivers. 

Progress in robotics science and technology over the past 50 years has led us to today's robo vacuums and flying robots that act like birds. Check out the video link to see how far we've come. Have a great weekend and Go Science!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Emotional Contagion

I learned a new expression today, emotional contagion. I thought it sounded like a "misery loves company" kind of thing, but it turns out it is more related to unconsciously picking up on emotional cues via the eyes.

Officially, Emotional contagion is the tendency for two individuals to emotionally converge. 

Still a bit confused? Me too, until I read research done by Univ. of Tennessee, Assistant Professor, Garriy Shteynberg, Ph.D. on the "psychological impact shared attention (also referred to as shared experience) has on culture and the mind." They basically study how shared attention affects another person's memory, emotion, and goals.

Christine Fawcett, Ph.D., of Uppsala University, Sweden studies emotional contagion by recording the changing a person's pupil size in response to seeing another person’s pupils dilate or contract. Working with 6-9 month-old babies, Fawcett's team showed infants black circles of different sizes designed to look like pupils. They recorded how the infants’ own pupil sizes reacted to these. and also showed the infants images of black squares as a control.

Their results were not super surprising (i.e. babies pick up on your mood), but the fact that they did not respond to the different sized black squares was interesting. 

So if you subscibe to the old saying, "the eyes are windows of the soul" you might be closer to correct than you thought. Go science!

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!

Monday, January 25, 2016

NASA Asteroid Redirect Program

Scientists believe the dinosaurs were wiped out from the collision of an asteroid (about 7-8 miles wide) with the Earth. The resulting volcanic activity and dust cloud blocked sunlight and plants/animals died. A planet killer would be around 60 miles wide.

However, a half mile wide asteroid would also ruin your day as its impact would be roughly that of 100 billion tons of TNT and cause wide-spread earthquakes.

If you're like me, an asteroid colliding with the Earth is not on your DVR list of scheduled events anytime soon. Ditto for Netflix coverage in the next several thousand years. Hopefully, we will be vacationing on Alpha Centauri by then. Anyway, it doesn't look like there are any likely planetary colliders in the neighborhood.

But even if there were, NASA has a new program called the Asteroid Redirect Program that will land on a large asteroid, grab a boulder to study and then redirect the asteroid into a stable orbit around the moon. Although it seems like a new Bruce Willis or Matt Damon film, this mission is set to launch by 2020. 

Sounds like the operational outcome of all the work astronomers have been doing for years. Now instead of just shouting, "Incoming!" We'll soon have correctional space technology and a plan to divert disaster. Go Science!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Off Switches for Killer Bacteria

Genetically engineered (GE) bacteria are not just the stuff of science fiction novels. They can be used to carry biomarkers and treatments to cancer tumors as well as to control and eliminate oil spills.

But how do we get rid of these helpers once their task is complete? 

Off switches.

Clement T Y Chan, Jeong Wook Lee, D Ewen Cameron, Caleb J Bashor & James J Collins, (researchers at MIT's Institute for Medical Engineering & Science, Cambridge, Massachusetts) have created synthetic gene circuits that act as "OFF Switches" that kill GE microbes once their job is done. Two circuits, described in the Dec. 7th issue of Nature Chemical Biology, increase the safety of diagnostics, therapies, or environmental remediation strategies based upon GE bacteria. They are called appropriately called "Deadman" and "Passcode." Its good to know folks are thinking ahead. Go science!