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  • richardmitnick 11:23 am on January 4, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: “R1” institutions, Freshman Kaylee Yelk, How Does University Research Happen? It's Not All Lab Coats and Test Tubes, NPR, WUWM   

    From NPR via WUWM: “How Does University Research Happen? It’s Not All Lab Coats and Test Tubes” 

    NPR

    National Public Radio (NPR)

    1

    WUWM

    1/4/17
    Rachel Morello

    2
    UW-Milwaukee freshman Kaylee Yelk does research for an astronomy group right from her dorm room on campus.
    Rachel Morello

    It’s not uncommon to see UW-Madison or UW-Milwaukee named among the nation’s top research universities.

    State schools regularly appear on industry-compiled lists. And just last year, UWM joined an elite group of “R1” institutions – schools recognized for their research output.

    [My university, Rutgers, is on the R1 list, as it should be.

    Rutgers smaller

    How do undergrads contribute to the research work their campuses are doing?

    It’s not what you might expect – much like the site UWM freshman Kaylee Yelk has chosen as her “research hub.”

    Yelk has a pretty important assignment –the research team she works with has been part of an international effort to discover gravitational waves.

    But rather than a lab or classroom, Yelk works out of her dorm room, a single – barely the size of a closet. She’s surrounded by polaroids of her family and friends, and a mini-fridge stocked with leftover Christmas cookies.

    “I pretty much just get in pajamas, pull up my laptop and get an hour [of research] in a day,” Yelk describes. “Everyone has this idea in their head of, like, lab coat and chemicals. And…I’m just chilling on my laptop.”

    Different from the picture you might have in your head, right?

    That scenario Yelk described – grad students, wrapped in white lab coats, pouring liquid samples from test tubes — it definitely happens. But research takes many different forms at Wisconsin’s top universities.

    And it isn’t just relegated to the sciences — it happens in all kinds of fields.

    “We have students who are working with dance faculty on creating the choreography for new dance performances,” lists Kyla Esguerra, deputy director of UWM’s Office of Undergraduate Research. “We’ve had students help put together installations for exhibits. Things like that, where they’re working closely—kind of apprenticing with faculty.”

    While some students do research for credit and others get paid as part of a work-study arrangement, what Esguerra is describing – “apprenticing with faculty” – is one of the most important aspects of research.

    It gives professors the “hands on deck” needed to complete their work – and offers students hands-on experience, according to Nigel Rothfels, UWM’s director of undergraduate research.

    “I’ll show you how I do what it is I do, and how I create and do my work,” Rothfels explains, “and in that process of apprenticeship, you learn the process, and become a collaborator and colleague.”

    Students – especially undergrads – join research teams with relatively undeveloped skill sets. Faculty members train the students and give them small tasks at first, but after a few months of working on a project, students often don’t require as much oversight.

    That’s one of the reasons Kaylee Yelk is able to work from her dorm.

    She’s looking for pulsars – stars that emit radiation – to further explore the bounds of gravity. Now, after almost six months of solo work, she’s practically a walking textbook of astronomy terms.

    Yet Yelk says being involved in research could mean she’s doing much more than studying and learning.

    “It’s nice to know I’m working on something, and working toward something,” she says. “This is stuff that Einstein was theorizing and working on. It’s just cool to think I’m researching the same thing that Einstein was!”

    And perhaps someday, breaking new ground.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 2:46 pm on December 13, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NPR, Science and Donald Trump   

    From NPR: “Trump’s Election Leaves Scientists In A Climate Of Uncertainty” 

    NPR

    National Public Radio (NPR)

    December 13, 2016
    Christopher Joyce

    1
    The U.S. government is a major contributor to climate research. It funds missions like NASA’s 2010 ICESCAPE expedition to study the decline of Arctic sea ice. Kathryn Hansen/NASA

    Thousands of Earth scientists are in San Francisco this week to talk about climate change, volcanoes and earthquakes.

    And another tectonic topic: President-elect Donald Trump.

    As president, Trump will oversee a huge government scientific enterprise. Agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA have satellites collecting valuable data on the climate. Other agencies employ scientists studying that data, or modeling future climate shifts.

    Scientists attending the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting are worried Trump could have a profound effect on the effort to understand climate, and not in what they consider a good way. Peter de Menocal, dean of science at Columbia University, says he has heard colleagues express “feelings of rage, anger, confusion, fear — they’re all negative emotions.”

    “People are worried about — in extreme cases — their jobs,” adds Rob Jackson, an environmental scientist at Stanford University. But, he says: “They’re more worried about not being able to do their job the best way that is needed.”

    Trump has sent contradictory signals about how he regards climate science. He tweeted that climate change is a hoax. Many of his advisers and Cabinet picks, including his pick for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, doubt that climate change is a serious problem.

    On the other hand, Trump met with former Vice President Al Gore to talk about climate, and he has said he’s open to the Paris climate agreement.

    Margaret Leinen, the president of the American Geophysical Union, says that leaves many scientists confused about what Trump will mean for their work. “President-elect Trump didn’t have a big science agenda. That left a vacuum of uncertainty,” she says.

    Recent signals from the Trump transition team are not reassuring. Last week, it emerged they had sent a questionnaire to Department of Energy staff looking for people who’ve worked on climate science. Some fear agency scientists and officials might be targeted.

    And a Trump campaign adviser wrote that NASA should spend less on its armada of satellites that observe Earth — and more on exploring outer space.

    Former NASA climate scientist Drew Shindell says that would be a mistake.

    “A shift away from focusing on data for this planet could really leave us in the dark on how to respond to climate change,” he says.

    Moreover, Earth observations contribute to public safety and the economy, he says. “The same satellites that look down and tell us about … climate, are the ones that tell us about storms and agriculture.”

    Shindell is a professor at Duke University now. He says researchers everywhere depend on scientists inside the government who gather data.

    And those scientists are vulnerable.

    Ecologist Jim Estes worked at the U.S. Geological Survey during George W. Bush’s presidency. He says in 2005, USGS suddenly decided that its scientists should submit their research to political overseers before sending it out to scientific journals.

    “It just smacked to me of scientific censorship,” Estes says. “It provided a vehicle by which the agency could control scientists. No one liked it, but none of them would stand up and resist.”

    Federal agencies have now adopted rules to protect their scientists. But Estes says under the Obama administration, government scientists haven’t always been encouraged to speak publicly.

    Estes says he is especially worried about Trump, though.

    “This guy is such a chameleon, you have no idea what the hell is going to happen,” he says.

    That’s what people at the AGU meeting are trying to figure out. AGU’s Leinen, who runs the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC, San Diego, says it’s worth noting that previous presidents have changed their minds. She was a senior official at the National Science Foundation when George W. Bush moved into the White House.

    “There were several things that he said on the campaign trail regarding the environment and climate which eventually … were moderated,” she says.

    Thanks in part to knowledgeable advisers, President Bush eventually acknowledged that humans are changing the climate.

    Leinen added a last-minute session here to talk about Trump. But she’d also like the opportunity to talk to Trump face to face about climate.

    Others here at the meeting have decided not to wait. They’ve organized something you don’t often see from scientists: a public demonstration later today to tell Trump not to interfere with climate science.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 9:52 am on June 15, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NPR, ,   

    From NPR: “Here’s Really Where Zika Mosquitoes Are Likely In The U.S.” 

    NPR

    National Public Radio (NPR)

    June 13, 2016
    Michaeleen Doucleff

    1
    Counties where Aedes aegypti was reported between Jan. 1, 1995, and March 2016. Counties in yellow recorded one year of A. aegypti being present; those shown in orange recorded two years; and those shown in red, three or more years. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    A few months ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a startling map that showed the parts of the U.S. that could harbor mosquitoes capable of carrying Zika.

    Many readers, including myself, thought, “Zika could come to my town! It could come to Connecticut! To Ohio and Indiana! Or to Northern California! Oh goodness!”

    The map made it look like a vast swath of the country was at risk for Zika, including New England and the Upper Midwest.

    Well, not quite.

    On Thursday, CDC scientists published another mosquito map for the U.S. And it paints a very different picture.

    The new map shows counties in which scientists, over the past two decades, have collected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes — the type of insect thought to be spreading Zika in Latin American and the Caribbean.

    “The new map is more accurate than the initial one,” says Thomas Scott, an entomologist at the University of California, Davis. “The distribution of the A. aegypti mosquito is much more restricted than the initial map showed.”

    In the map, counties colored yellow reported A. aegypti mosquitoes during one year between 1995 and 2016. Orange counties had the mosquitoes in two years. And red counties are the hot spots: Scientists there found A. aegypti mosquitoes during three or more years in the past two decades.

    This map represents “the best knowledge of the current distribution of this mosquito based on collection records,” entomologist John-Paul Mutebi and his colleagues at the CDC wrote in the Journal of Medical Entomology.

    Many of the hot spots for this mosquito aren’t surprising. They’re places that we already knew are vulnerable to Zika, including counties in southern Florida, along the Gulf Coast and southern Texas. These places have had problems with a virus closely related to Zika, called dengue. They’re already on high alert for Zika.

    But several hot spots are bit more unexpected — and concerning. “Perhaps the most concerning development for A. aegypti is its establishment in the Southwest, most recently in California in 2013,” Mutebi and his co-authors write.

    Other surprises include parts of the Bay Area, greater Washington, D.C., and the Dallas-Fort Worth region, which all have established populations of A. aegypti, the map shows.

    “The country is really a patchwork,” Scott says. “When you drill down into one particular state, you find that the mosquito isn’t found across the whole state. And when you drill down into a county, you find the same thing. The mosquito is found in just a small part.”

    So why did the first map from the CDC make it look like such an extensive part of the country was at risk for Zika?

    “The two maps show different things,” Mutebi tells Shots. “The first map showed where the climate is able to sustain populations of A. aegypti. This new map shows reports from counties where these mosquitoes were found in the last 20 years.”

    And the new map, Mutebi says, is not complete. “Not all counties have mosquito surveillance programs looking for mosquitoes,” he says. In places that do, they are often targeting the mosquito that causes West Nile virus, not A. aegypti.

    “So just because a county hasn’t reported having any A. aegypti mosquitoes doesn’t mean they’re not there,” Mutebi says.

    A. aegypti mosquitoes are nasty critters. They chase down people so they can feed on their blood, says virologist Scott Weaver at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

    A. aegypti lives in close association with people, feeds almost exclusively on people — not animals — and even comes into people’s home,” he says. “Its behavior and its ecology are almost ideal for a mosquito to transmit a human virus.”

    See the full article here.

    YOU CAN HELP FIND A CURE FOR THE ZIKA VIRUS.

    There is a new project at World Community Grid [WCG] called OpenZika.
    Zika
    Image of the Zika virus

    Rutgers Open Zika

    WCG runs on your home computer or tablet on software from Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing [BOINC]. Many other scientific projects run on BOINC software.Visit WCG or BOINC, download and install the software, then at WCG attach to the OpenZika project. You will be joining tens of thousands of other “crunchers” processing computational data and saving the scientists literally thousands of hours of work at no real cost to you.

    WCGLarge
    WCG Logo New

    BOINCLarge
    BOINC WallPaper
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  • richardmitnick 12:17 pm on June 13, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Jazz, NPR, ,   

    From NPR: “Scientist Stephon Alexander: ‘Infinite Possibilities’ Unite Jazz And Physics” 

    NPR

    National Public Radio (NPR)

    June 11, 2016
    Ari Daniel

    1
    Physicist Stephon Alexander shares his love of science with his students at Brown University, and his love of jazz with musicians around Providence.
    Courtesy Ari Daniel

    Stephon Alexander didn’t always love music. When he turned 8, his grandmother, who was from Trinidad, forced him to take piano lessons in the Bronx. His teacher was, in a word, strict. “It felt like a military exercise to rob me of my childhood,” Alexander recalls.

    Several years went by like that. Until one day when Alexander’s dad brought home an alto sax he found at a garage sale. “That became my toy. Music no longer for me was this regimented tedium,” he says.

    Alexander blasted away in the attic. He got good. In the 8th grade, his band teacher — who played the jazz scene by night — offered to help him get into the most prestigious music school in New York City. But he turned it down. “Because I wanted my music to be for fun,” Alexander says. “I didn’t want it to become a job.”

    And he never told his grandmother. Later on, in high school, Alexander discovered the subject that would become his career. Physics. He calls it the study of, “How the smallest things inform the largest things in our universe.”

    2
    The Jazz of Physics. The Secret Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe

    His passion for physics showed. He raked in the degrees, a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, fellowships in London and at Stanford University. The physics was mostly work. The music, mostly fun. But there were times when the two collided. Like this one night in Paris, Alexander was stuck on a problem concerning the early universe.

    “So I shipped myself to the jazz clubs. You have to create a solo on the spot while conforming to some kind of structure. Well, physics is like that, too,” Alexander says. “In between sets, I would play around with my calculations or just think very freely.”

    Sure enough, one night, he watched the audience applauding, which made him think about tiny charged particles slamming into one another – and the solution came to him. “The mathematics underlying that gave the properties that look like the origins of the Big Bang,” Alexander says.

    He got a publication out of it. But Alexander never mentioned his duality — his jazz-inspired approach to science — to his physics colleagues. He worried they’d stop taking him seriously. “Many times I’d be the only black person,” Alexander says, “and there was always that concern that because I was just different that, ‘this guy doesn’t have the chops.'”

    As Alexander became more established, his double life converged into a single one that fuses jazz and physics, using the lessons of each to inform the other. Take this question: How does a quantum particle get from point A to point B? A particle like an electron. In the strange world of quantum mechanics, it can actually take an infinite number of paths between points A and B.

    Alexander says it’s like improvising a jazz solo. Each time, he starts on note A and ends on note B. “We know that it’s starting and ending at those notes,” Alexander says. “But what happened in between are different possibilities, and there’s an infinite amount of possibilities.”

    3
    Stephon Alexander’s Trinidadian grandmother forced him to take piano lessons. His love for music€” and physics developed later. Courtesy of Ari Daniel

    These days, Alexander is a professor at Brown University. And his grad students all play instruments. And when they gather to discuss science, Alexander says it’s like a jazz session. “It feels like a quartet playing Miles Davis tune and everyone gets a chance to solo while the others support the soloer,” he says.

    Alexander does physics research every day, plays the Providence jazz scene at least once a week, and he’s merged his passions into a new book called The Jazz of Physics. And his grandmother is proud of him. Alexander says he understands now that the reason she foisted those piano lessons on him years ago was that to her — an immigrant from Trinidad — music was the doorway to a better life.

    “For black people in general and Afro-Caribbean people, one mode of economic freedom was music,” Alexander says. Alexander’s grandmother intended music to be a gift for her grandson. And it was…just a different kind of gift than she was planning on, one that allows him to answer the big questions about our universe.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 2:26 pm on May 13, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Look, Ma! No Mitochondria, , NPR   

    From NPR: “Look, Ma! No Mitochondria” 

    NPR

    National Public Radio (NPR)

    May 12, 2016
    Nell Greenfield Boyce
    1
    These mitochondria, in red, are from the heart muscle cell of a rat. Mitochondria have been described as “the powerhouses of the cell” because they generate most of a cell’s supply of chemical energy. But at least one type of complex cell doesn’t need ’em, it turns out.
    Science Source

    Scientists have found a microbe that does something textbooks say is impossible: It’s a complex cell that survives without mitochondria.

    Mitochondria are the powerhouses inside eukaryotic cells, the type of complicated cell that makes up people, other critters and plants and fungi. All eukaryotic cells contain a nucleus and little organelles — and one of the most famous was the mitochondrion.

    “They were considered to be absolutely indispensable components of the eukaryotic cell and the hallmark of the eukaryotic cell,” says Anna Karnkowska, a researcher in evolutionary biology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Karnkowska and her colleagues describe their new find in a study published* online Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

    1
    This is a light micrograph of the microbe that evolutionary biologists say lives just fine without any mitochondria.
    Naoji Yubuki/Current Biology

    Mitochondria have their own DNA, and scientists believe they were once free-living bacteria that got engulfed by primitive, ancient cells that were evolving to become the complex life forms we know and love today.

    For decades, researchers have tried to find eukaryotic cells that don’t have mitochondria — and for a while they thought they’d found some. One example is Giardia, a human gut parasite that causes diarrhea. It was considered to be a kind of living fossil because it had a nucleus but didn’t seem to have acquired mitochondria. But additional studies on Giardia and other microbes showed that actually, the mitochondria were there.

    “It turned out that all of them actually had some kind of remnant mitochondrion,” says Karnkowska, who notes that mitochondria perform key jobs in the cell beyond just generating power.

    A biggie is assembling iron-sulfur clusters for certain proteins, which is thought to be a mitochondrial function that’s really essential. So even if a microbe powers itself in a different way and has a limited form of the organelle that isn’t the same as the mitochondria found in people, Karnkowska says, “it’s still a mitochondrion and it has some important function for the cell.”

    That kind of vestigial mitochondrion is what she expected to find when she was a researcher at Charles University in Prague and started investigating a particular gut microbe that had been isolated from a researcher’s pet chinchilla.

    After she and her colleagues sequenced the gut microbe’s genome, however, they found no trace that it made any mitochondrial proteins at all. “So that’s a great surprise for us,” she says. “That should theoretically kill the cell — it shouldn’t exist.”

    What they learned is that instead of relying on mitochondria to assemble iron-sulfur clusters, these cells use a different kind of machinery. And it looks like they acquired it from bacteria.

    The researchers say this is the first example of any eukaryote that completely lacks mitochondria.

    Michael Gray, a biochemist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, says the researchers have made a “compelling” case that they have a bona fide eukaryote without any vestige of a mitochondrion; he calls the finding “unprecedented.”

    “The observation is significant, in that it clearly demonstrates that a eukaryote can still be a eukaryote without having a mitochondrion,” he tells Shots via email.

    However, the results do not negate the idea that the acquisition of a mitochondrion was an important and perhaps defining event in the evolution of eukaryotic cells, he adds.

    That’s because it seems clear that this organism’s ancestors had mitochondria that were then lost after the cells acquired their non-mitochondrial system for making iron-sulfur clusters.

    “This is not the missing link of eukaryotic evolution,” agrees Mark Van Der Giezen, a researcher in evolutionary biochemistry at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom.

    Still, he says, it is an example of how flexible life is.

    “It lives in an area without oxygen and therefore can get rid of a lot of biochemistry that you and I would need in our cells to survive,” says Van Der Giezen. “This organism managed to adapt in such a way that it could lose an organelle, which every textbook will tell you is an essential feature of eukaryotes. That’s pretty amazing. It shows you that life is extremely creative in finding a way to eke out an existence.”

    *Science paper:
    A Eukaryote without a Mitochondrial Organelle

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 9:40 am on January 18, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Adult ADHD a Reality, , , NPR   

    From NPR: “Can’t Focus? It Might Be Undiagnosed Adult ADHD” 

    NPR

    National Public Radio (NPR)

    January 18, 2016
    Patti Neighmond

    Temp 1
    Katherine Du/NPR

    When Cathy Fields was in her late 50s, she noticed she was having trouble following conversations with friends.

    “I could sense something was wrong with me,” she says. “I couldn’t focus. I could not follow.”

    Fields was worried she had suffered a stroke or was showing signs of early dementia. Instead she found out she had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD.

    Fields is now 66 years old and lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. She’s a former secretary and mother of two grown children. Fields was diagnosed with ADHD about eight years ago. Her doctor ruled out any physical problems and suggested she see a psychiatrist. She went to Dr. David Goodman at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, who by chance specializes in ADHD.

    Goodman asked Fields a number of questions about focus, attention and completing tasks. He asked her about her childhood and how she did in school. Since ADHD begins in childhood, it’s important for mental health professionals to understand these childhood experiences in order to make an accurate diagnosis of ADHD in adulthood. Online screening tests are available, too, so you can try it yourself.

    Goodman decided that Fields most definitely had ADHD.

    She’s not alone. Goodman says he’s seeing more and more adults over the age of 50 newly diagnosed with ADHD. The disorder occurs as the brain is developing and symptoms generally appear around age 7. But symptoms can last a lifetime. For adults, the problem is not disruptive behavior or keeping up in school. It’s an inability to focus, which can mean inconsistency, being late to meetings or just having problems managing day-to-day tasks. Adults with ADHD are more likely than others to lose a job or file for bankruptcy, Goodman says. They may overpay bills, or underpay them. They may pay bills late, or not at all.

    For Cathy Fields, the more she thought about it, the more she realized distraction and the inability to focus was the story of her life. It was also the story of her mother’s life. My mother “never got things done,” Fields says.

    This is typical, according to Goodman; ADHD often runs in families. According to Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or CHADD, an advocacy group, the disorder can be inherited. If a parent has ADHD, the child has more than a 50 percent chance of also having it. If a twin has ADHD, the other twin has up to an 80 percent chance of having the disorder.

    But because many of today’s older adults grew up during the 1950s and 60s when there wasn’t much awareness of ADHD, many were never diagnosed. And increasingly, Goodman says, he’s seeing more and more patients who are concerned about dementia but actually have ADHD — just like Cathy Fields.

    Goodman also sees patients who are diagnosed after their child or grandchild gets a diagnosis. “That’s the genetic link,” says Goodman, “from grandmom to mom to daughter.”

    About 60 percent of children with ADHD go on to become adults with ADHD, says Dr. Lenard Adler, a professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. As these older adults weren’t diagnosed, they learned to work around the problem, Adler, says. They developed coping systems to deal with their inability to focus or pay attention.

    That was the case with 65-year-old Kathleen Brown, a retired nurse who lives in Maryland. She was never diagnosed as a child but she “knew something was wrong,” she says.

    Brown didn’t learn to read until she was 12. And, she says, she had to work a lot harder in school than other kids did for the same grades. When she went to nursing school, Brown made sure she sat in the first row during lectures so she wouldn’t miss anything or be distracted. And when it came to testing, she says, she literally set her desk up in the back of the class, facing a corner.

    When she finally got diagnosed and prescribed medication Brown says the change was “stupendous.” She’s not scattered, and can start projects and finish them. “I wish I had it when I went to school 25 years ago,” Brown says. “It would have helped me for sure.”

    Like children with the disorder, adults with ADHD are treated with medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of treaments. ADHD medication works just as well for adults as it does for children, but there is a word of caution. Older adults often have other health problems like high blood pressure and heart disease. So doctors need to be careful when prescribing ADHD medications, which are typically stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin.

    For older patients, an ADHD diagnosis can be a huge relief. If you’ve spent your whole life with a disorder for which people said you were lazy, stupid, incompetent, says Goodman, “It’s liberating to realize the impairments are the result of a treatable disorder and not a character weakness or intellectual inadequacy.”

    So for older people with memory and focus problems, Goodman says, it’s important for doctors to check for ADHD. While it could be cognitive decline, there’s growing awareness that it could also simply be the symptoms of a lifelong childhood disorder.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 1:25 pm on October 10, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , I F*cking Love Science, NPR, ZY   

    From NPR via Today’s Ozy: “Elise Andrew F*cking Loves Science” 

    NPR

    National Public Radio (NPR)

    Temp 1
    OZY

    10.10.15
    Barbara Fletcher

    Temp 1
    Elise Andrew

    Elise Andrew has to put up with a lot of sh*t. And why? Because she’s young, she’s a woman, and she f*cking loves science. So much so that she created a Facebook page that now boasts an audience of over 7 million.

    Andrew is the driving force behind the insanely popular “I Fucking Love Science” page. The 24-year old British blogger who now lives and works in Canada, created the page back in March 2012, while still at university. There was no big plan; she started the page “in a fit of boredom” as a collection of the cool science stories she had read. The next day, the page had 1,000 likes. Sixteen months later, that number has skyrocketed into the millions and there’s still really no plan. In an interview with ScienceWorld she explained her approach, “I just keep sharing things I think are amazing, and people keep agreeing with me.”

    And fans think it’s pretty amazing, too. Taking a look through the timeline photos, you begin to realize just how popular IFLS posts are, with many images seeing “likes” and “shares” in the tens of thousands. Take, for example, a cute little representaton of hydrophobicity or how kittens illustrate concavity and convexity. The vast collection of cartoons, news snippets, photos and other tidbits all work to make science fun and humorous. Even the IFLS cover photo spells it out with a quote by Isaac Asimov: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny.’”

    Andrew told World News Australia that her aim is to keep the site surprising and entertaining. “I try to keep it light,” she said. ”I try to keep it acceptable and interesting to everyone on all levels.”

    2
    Screen capture of the IFLS Facebook cover photo (September 28). Source: I F*cking Love Science Facebook page.

    It’s this personal, all-inclusive approach that makes the page so irresistible. ”Elise has an excellent eye for funny, quirky items, and that’s why I think so many people like IFLS, ” says Fred Guterl, executive editor of Scientific American.

    And, of course, there’s the site’s ”unapologetic” title. Aerin Jacob, a PhD candidate in biology at McGill University, thinks this helps fuel curiosity about the page. “The idea of scientists as geeks playing with test tubes or stodgy old people writing equations on blackboards is still pervasive in popular culture, so having someone say that they f*cking love science really makes a statement.”

    But not everyone thinks IFLS is so amazing or funny. And this brings us back to the “shit” part. In recent months Andrew has been the target of a barrage of misogynistic comments and other forms of backlash – most of which have nothing to do with science.

    Popular posts include a cute little representation of hydrophobicity or how kittens illustrate concavity and convexity.

    It all started when people found out she was, in fact, a woman (gasp!). Earlier this year while at a conference, Andrew mentioned her Twitter account on IFLS. Why did that become such a big deal? Because her profile featured a photo. At last (for many), the face behind the popular science site was revealed. Nobody expected what followed. The next time she checked the page, there were over 10,000 comments below the posts – many of which, as Andrew puts it, exclaimed, “Oh my god, you’re a girl.” Worse comments followed.

    So did all this vitriol cause her to hang up her virtual lab coat? Hell no. Andrew brought her unique IFLS approach – cheeky humor and cleverness in spades – to the situation. She started to call them out, regularly posting a Crazy of the Day to Twitter, calling out a particularly strange or nasty comment on Facebook, and inviting the public to comment.

    Despite all the “crazy” she continues to update the site daily and even invites people into her personal life via her personal social media pages. Like when she bought a pair of Catwoman pumps and when a creepy guest showed up to her Sept. 13 wedding.

    Andrew continues to move at the speed of light, with a path of science-hungry followers in her wake. In August, she teamed up with Discovery Digital Networks to bring some of her Facebook phenomenon to online video, with a new series for the network’s Test Tube channel. The weekly show has covered topics such as supporting ugly animals (and not just cute pandas), listening for traces of Big Bang, a car-melting building, tracing the ginger gene, and turning sewage into power.

    ”There was a natural fit for us to work together,” says Ryan Vance, Senior VP of Programming Development for Discovery. ”Not only does she have a huge audience, she has a very smart audience. We felt there was a natural match between the people who follow her and our audience on the Test Tube network.” Plus, she’s “extremely nice” and a “joy to work with.”

    When her photo went public, there were over 10,000 comments on the site – many of which, exclaimed, ’Oh my god, you’re a girl.’

    A month into the series, IFLS is already one of the most popular shows on Test Tube. Vance credits this success to Andrew’s role as a “super curator” in which she spends ”just about every waking moment finding content” to share with her audience.

    Most recently Andrew has been taking the IFLS show on the road, participating in a Science Week event in Australia with other ”Internet science rockstars” and hosting a sold-out, adults-only event at the Ontario Science Centre.

    But despite popularity of the video series, the Facebook page, and her guest appearances around the world, Elise Andrew is a reluctant celebrity. After seeing that she made Cosmopolitian’s list of “Girls making geeky stuff cool,” she Facebooked: “I feel oddly conflicted by this.”

    Well, 7.2 million Facebook fans might beg to differ.

    See the full article here.

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    We are reporters in Washington D.C., and in bunkers, streets, alleys, jungles and deserts around the world. We are engineers, editors, inventors and visionaries. We are Member stations around the country who are deeply connected to our communities. We are listeners and donors who support public radio because we know how it has enriched our own lives and want it to grow strong in a new age.

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  • richardmitnick 2:31 pm on September 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , NPR,   

    From NPR: “Quantum Physics And The Need For A New Paradigm” 

    NPR

    National Public Radio (NPR)

    September 27, 2015
    Ruth E. Kastner

    1
    iStockphoto

    Quantum physics, celebrated for its predictive success, has also become notorious for being an inscrutable mass of paradoxes.

    One of the founders of the theory, Niels Bohr, stated that “those who are not shocked when they first come across quantum theory cannot possibly have understood it.” Nobel laureate Richard Feynman said, “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.”

    The shocking aspects of quantum theory can be summarized by three issues: uncertainty; nonlocality; and the measurement problem (or the problem of Schrödinger’s Cat).

    The first issue consists in the fact that the tiny objects described by quantum theory, such as the constituents of atoms — protons and electrons, for example — cannot be pinned down to definite locations and speeds at the same time. If one of these properties is definite, the other must be in a quantum superposition, a kind of “fuzziness” that we never see in the ordinary macroscopic world of experience.

    The second issue arises in certain kinds of composite systems, such as pairs of electrons, in a so-called “entangled” state. If you send two such electrons off to the opposite ends of the galaxy, quantum physics tells us that they are still somehow in direct communication, such that the result of a measurement performed on one of them is instantly known to the other. This seems to be in conflict with another very successful theory, [Albert] Einstein’s theory of relativity, which tells us that no signal can be transferred faster than the speed of light.

    The third issue comes from Erwin Schrodinger’s observation that quantum physics seems to tell us that measuring instruments become “entangled” with the quantum objects they are measuring in a way that dictates that even macroscopic objects, like cats, inherit the “fuzziness” of the quantum world. In this case, the famous unfortunate cat seemingly ends up in a superposition of “alive and dead” based on the superposition of a radioactive atom in an uncertain state of “decayed and undecayed.”

    3
    Schrödinger’s cat: a cat, a flask of poison, and a radioactive source are placed in a sealed box. If an internal monitor detects radioactivity (i.e., a single atom decaying), the flask is shattered, releasing the poison that kills the cat. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics implies that after a while, the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. Yet, when one looks in the box, one sees the cat either alive or dead, not both alive and dead. This poses the question of when exactly quantum superposition ends and reality collapses into one possibility or the other.

    It may come as a surprise to learn that there is a way to make sense of all three of these seemingly paradoxical features of quantum mechanics. However, there is, of course, a price to pay for that solution: a paradigm change as startling as the one that accompanied Einstein’s theory of relativity — which told us, despite our intuitions, that there is no such thing as absolute space or time. Quantum physics requires that we “think outside the box,” and that box turns out to be space-time itself. The message of quantum physics is that not only is there no absolute space or time, but that reality extends beyond space-time. Metaphorically speaking, space-time is just the “tip of the iceberg”: Below the surface is a vast, unseen world of possibility. And it is that vast, unseen world that is described by quantum physics.

    This is not a wholly new idea: Another founder of quantum theory, Werner Heisenberg, stated that a quantum object is “something standing in the middle between the idea of an event and the actual event, a strange kind of physical reality just in the middle between possibility and reality.” Heisenberg called this potentia, a concept originally introduced by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. It turns out that if we apply Heisenberg’s insight to an intriguing interpretation of quantum theory called the Transactional Interpretation (TI), we gain a unified understanding of all three paradoxical aspects of quantum theory.

    TI was originally proposed by John G. Cramer, professor emeritus at the University of Washington. Its key feature is that the process of absorption of a quantum state is just as important as the process of emission of a quantum state. This symmetry is nicely consistent with relativistic quantum theory, in which quantum states are both created and destroyed. But it comes with a counterintuitive feature: The absorption (or destruction) process involves quantum states with negative energy. For this reason, TI has generally been neglected by the mainstream physics community.

    However, it turns out that if you include this “response of the absorber,” you get a solution to the so-called “measurement problem” — the problem of Schrödinger’s Cat. A clear physical account can be given for why the cat does not end up in a “fuzzy” superposition of alive and dead. We even get a natural explanation for the rule used to calculate the probabilities of measurement outcomes (the so-called “Born Rule” after its inventor, Max Born).

    In TI, the “collapse of the quantum state” is called a transaction, because it involves an “offer” from the emitter and a “confirmation” from the absorber, much like the negotiation in a financial transaction. When these occur, we get a “measurement,” and that allows us to define what a measurement is — and explains why we never see things like cats in quantum superpositions. But, in the new development of TI, the offers and confirmations are only possibilities — they are outside the realm of ordinary space-time. In fact, it is the transactional processes that creates space-time events: “Collapse” is the crystallizing of the possibilities of the quantum realm into the concrete actualities of the space-time realm. So, collapse is not something that happens anywhere in space-time. It is the creation of space-time itself.

    The preceding is just the barest introduction to this new, updated version of TI that I call “possibilist TI” or PTI. (The details appear in peer-reviewed publications and in my books.) But if we accept the idea that quantum physics is describing possibilities that exist beyond space-time, then it can begin to make sense that those possibilities are “fuzzier” than the objects we experience in space-time and their correlations are not subject to relativistic “speed limit” that applies to the space-time realm only. And we gain a clear account of measurement that explains why Schrödinger’s Cat is never alive and dead at the same time.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 7:41 pm on May 19, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NPR   

    From NPR: “‘Playing Around With Telescopes’ To Explore Secrets Of The Universe” 

    NPR

    National Public Radio (NPR)

    May 16, 2015
    Joe Palca

    1
    The 200-inch Hale Telescope, a masterpiece of engineering at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory, was the world’s largest telescope until 1993. Scott Kardel/Palomar Observatory/Courtesy of Palomar Observatory/California Institute of Technology

    Shrinivas Kulkarni, an astronomy and planetary science professor at the California Institute of Technology, is a serious astronomer. But not too serious.

    “We astronomers are supposed to say, ‘We wonder about the stars and we really want to think about it,’ ” says Kulkarni — in other words, think deep thoughts. But he says that’s not really the way it is.

    “Many scientists, I think, secretly are what I call ‘boys with toys,’ ” he says. “I really like playing around with telescopes. It’s just not fashionable to admit it.”

    2
    Shrinivas Kulkarni is one of the world’s foremost astronomers, but he also raises rabbits, is fascinated by the history of economic collapse — and dreams of being a bartender. Bob Paz/Courtesy of California Institute of Technology

    Make no mistake, Kulkarni says by “playing” with toys like optical telescopes, radio telescopes and space telescopes, astronomers have made measurements that reveal the age of the universe, the fact that it’s expanding and that there are lots of other solar system besides ours out there.

    Many of those fundamental discoveries — including measuring the rate at which the universe is expanding and determining the composition of stars — were made using telescopes at the Palomar Observatory, which Kulkarni now directs. He invited me to visit so I could get a sense of the wonder astronomers feel when working at the observatory.

    On a Wednesday morning earlier this year, I picked Kulkarni up from his home near Caltech’s Pasadena campus. The drive from Pasadena to Palomar in the mountains north of San Diego takes about 2 1/2 hours.

    Kulkarni was born in India in 1956. He has been an astronomer his entire professional life. But look at the whole person and you’ll see a man of contrasts. He loves Brazilian music. He raises bunny rabbits. And he says one of his deepest passions is the exact opposite of astronomy: It’s the history of great economic collapses.

    “Something like astronomy is terribly important because it’s about the universe,” he says. “We are learning something totally fundamental — how where we live comes about. But it’s not something immediate. It really doesn’t matter if the Big Bang happened 13.7 billion years ago or 13.75 billion years ago. On the other hand, economics, it sure is actually unimportant in the long run, but it surely matters today.”

    3
    The dome at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory, shown in a long-exposure nighttime shot, houses the 200-inch Hale Telescope.
    Courtesy of Palomar Observatory/California Institute of Technology

    As we approach the observatory, the road starts climbing through a forest on the side of a mountain. A little farther ahead, a large dome appears, stark white against the blue sky.

    “Now you can see the 200-inch or sometimes called the ‘Big Eye,’ ” says Kulkarni.

    For nearly 50 years, the 200-inch Hale Telescope at Palomar was the largest in the world. It’s a masterpiece of engineering. Even though it’s aging, Kulkarni says it can still be used for good science. Besides, he loves it here.

    When the dome slides open, the view of the sky is breathtaking.

    To stand here with Kulkarni is to bring together the past and the future. For as much as Kulkarni delights in this place, as inspiring as it is to be here, he says actually visiting a telescope is soon to be a thing of the past.

    “The best way to do astronomy is to get the astronomers out of the dome,” he says. “And the human in the loop becomes monotonous. If a machine can do it, honestly, I think everyone is happy.”

    Machines are good for studying the sky because they have no preconceived notions about what they’ll find. Astronomers, Kulkarni says, just don’t have the imagination to know what to look for.

    “The sky is so much richer and so much more imaginative than the imagination that you should always approach it with a certain sense of openness,” he says.

    Kulkarni says you look at the information the machines collect and try to figure out what it’s telling you. That’s the way you make discoveries.

    Kulkarni is 58. I asked him if he thought he’d ever get tired of playing with his toys. He said not really — but he knows someday he’ll have to try something different.

    “My wife’s been on me about what I’ll do after I retire. She said, ‘You’re always running around and doing things.’ And I want to be a bartender.”

    A bartender?

    Well, a man can dream.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 10:55 am on February 3, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NPR   

    From NPR: “Hunting For Big Planets Far Beyond Pluto May Soon Be Easier” 

    NPR

    National Public Radio (NPR)

    February 02, 2015
    Nell Greenfieldboyce

    temp
    Stars over the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. Sheppard and Trujillo used the new Dark Energy Camera (DECam) on a telescope there to find the distant dwarf planet 2012 VP 113.

    On a mountaintop in Chile, excavators have just started work on a construction site. It will soon be home to a powerful new telescope that will have a good shot at finding the mysterious Planet X, if it exists.

    “Planet X is kind of a catchall name given to any speculation about an unseen companion orbiting the sun,” says Kevin Luhman, an astronomer at Penn State University.

    2
    The discovery images of 2012 VP113, which has the most distant orbit known in our Solar System. The dwarf planet’s movement suggests its orbit. 2012 VP-113 Source: Carnegie Institution of Science
    Credit: Scott Sheppard

    For more than a century, scientists have observed various things that they thought could be explained by the presence of an unknown planet lurking at the edge of our solar system.

    “There’s a huge volume of space in the outer solar system,” says Luhman. “We know almost nothing about what might be out there.”

    Some conspiracy-minded folks even think that Planet X has already been discovered. “There are a lot of these people on the Internet,” says Luhman, “who think that, for instance, NASA knows about an unseen planet, but it’s on a collision course with Earth and it’s going to destroy us, but they don’t tell us about it.”

    Finding a major new planet would be big news. While dwarf planets like “Sedna” haven’t exactly become household names, a planet the size of Earth or Mars might get added to the list of planets students have to memorize.

    “If you put an object twice as far away, it becomes 16 times fainter. So things get very faint, very fast.”
    Scott Sheppard, astronomer, Carnegie Institution for Science

    Luhman recently went hunting for planet X using WISE, a NASA space telescope that detects infrared light.

    NASA Wise Telescope
    NASA/WISE

    It would have found anything the size of Jupiter or Saturn, because gas giants like these are big enough and warm enough that they produce a lot of infrared light. But last year, Luhman reported that they didn’t see any planet like that.

    3
    Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution of Science. Courtesy of Scott Sheppard/Carnegie Institution of Science

    Still, there may be smaller, cooler planets out there — until recently, scientists had no way to look for them. “Up until a year or two ago, we just didn’t have the technology to do this, because we didn’t have large cameras on large telescopes,” explains Scott Sheppard, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C.

    Any planet that far away would be very faint, because light would have to travel billions of miles from the sun to the planet, bounce off, and then travel all the way back to our telescopes. “And because of that, if you put an object twice as far away, it becomes 16 times fainter,” Sheppard says. “So, things get very faint, very fast.”

    Sheppard and his colleagues have been searching for very faint objects using a massive camera on a powerful telescope in Chile. Last year, he and Chad Trujillo, of the Gemini Observatory, announced that they’d found a dwarf planet that they nicknamed “Biden,” since its temporary name is 2012 VP113. It’s a little pink ball of ice that’s far beyond Pluto.

    There’s a framed photo of the dwarf planet hanging on the wall of Sheppard’s office; if he has his way, there soon will be more photos up there.

    “Part of this search for these planets in the outer part of the solar system is trying to find out about the neighborhood. I think to find out more about our neighborhood is just really a cool thing.”
    Scott Kenyon, astrophysicist, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

    “We believe there are probably a lot of objects bigger than Pluto still out there,” Sheppard says, “and there could easily be objects as big as Mars or even Earth, out beyond in the very far distant solar system.”

    He’s already found hints of something big: When he looks at the orbits of his dwarf planet and some other small icy bodies, he sees a pattern. “And you wouldn’t expect that,” Sheppard says. “You’d expect the orbits to be completely random.”

    One possible explanation is that the array of objects are all being influenced by the force of a large, unknown planet. “I think, like all new discoveries, this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Trujillo told NPR via email. “And it will probably be quite a while until someone can explain things and most people accept their explanation.”

    In Trujillo’s view, if a large planet is out there, astronomers are unlikely to find it until the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope comes online.

    LSST Exterior
    LSST Interior
    LSST Camera
    LSST

    The device is designed to scan huge swaths of sky for faint objects; the building site for it is already being prepared on top of a mountain in Chile, and construction will begin in earnest this year. The telescope is expected to start operations in the early 2020s.

    “But, we could get lucky,” Trujillo notes — somebody might find the distant planet sooner than that.

    Others agree that the chances of finding something sizable are good.

    “With the next generation of telescopes, or if we’re lucky with the current generation of telescope, it will be possible to detect the light from this planet,” says Scott Kenyon, an astrophysicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass. “If we can see it and pinpoint its position, then everybody will get excited.”

    Finding a big new planet would be like meeting a new neighbor, says Kenyon.

    “You like to know people on your street, or in your apartment building,” he says. “I think that part of this search for these planets in the outer part of the solar system is trying to find out about the neighborhood. I think to find out more about our neighborhood is just really a cool thing.”

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.
    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Great storytelling and rigorous reporting. These are the passions that fuel us. Our business is telling stories, small and large, that start conversations, increase understanding, enrich lives and enliven minds.

    We are reporters in Washington D.C., and in bunkers, streets, alleys, jungles and deserts around the world. We are engineers, editors, inventors and visionaries. We are Member stations around the country who are deeply connected to our communities. We are listeners and donors who support public radio because we know how it has enriched our own lives and want it to grow strong in a new age.

    We are NPR. And this is our story.

     
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