Update

A new photo gallery in New Scientst provides seven gorgeous photos informing its readers of the most recent updates in astronomical research. It starts off with the largest Moon the Earth has witnessed since 1933. On Saturday of mid-March of this year, the Moon’s perigee (when it is closest to the Earth) was the closest it has been for nearly eighty years. I remember seeing its gorgeous presence looming in the sky a couple of weeks ago. Now, we must sit and watch our massive satellite shrink as it moves along its elliptical orbit towards apogee (when the Moon is furthest from the Earth). The variation in our Moon’s angular size is due to its elliptical orbit. All satellites follow elliptical orbits, which can be expressed through Kepler’s Second Law. Before Johannes Kepler, astronomers/astrologers believed that any satellite revolved on circular paths. Kepler gets the credit for discovering satellite’s elliptical paths, but this counterintuitive behavior was not explained until Isaac Newton and his apple came into the physics scene.

Can we surpass nature?

I recently spoke with a research scientist at Ohio State who said something I found very interesting. He told me that the way he approaches his research is by attempting to mimick nature, “and then we want to surpass nature by producing a better product,” he said.

How fascinating to think that human beings could produce something that out performs nautre. For example, he discussed how Geco lizards climb vertical surfaces of varying material, glass or concrete for example, by attaching and unattaching their very hairy feet. Geco lizards have an average of 3 billion tiny hairs on their feet, which makes them the spidermen of the animal kingdom. Scientists are currently working on reproducing this tiny hairy approach nature has taken to create climbing robots that can mimick a Geco’s sticky skills.

Another material this researcher is looking at is reproducing shark skin. I had always bleieved that it was the powerful tail and aerodynamic shape that allowed sharks to move smoothly through water, but in fact it’s more subtle than that. The secret lies within the large animal’s skin. “Nature works very well on a microscopic scale,” the scientist said, “which is why it is so difficult to mimick,” he continued. In the shark’s case, nature has provided its skin with a microscopic filtering process which allows the water to smoothly flow across the skin, thus reducing friction and drag, which would hinder the predator’s speed.

I wonder how one measures whether an aritficial Geco or shark is better than the real one. I’m guessing that artificial Geco’s can climb higher, faster and that fake sharks can swim faster. But, what does it matter if our inventions are better than nature? In my opinion we’re just the copy cats. Nature is the true inventor and always will be.

Let us not forget that our brains, one of nature’s many architectural masterpieces, is still one of the most complex and misunderstood biological systems. Remembering this comforts me that there will be no artifical intelligence so intellectual that it may develop its own diabolical plan to enslave (or destroy) the human race. Until that day comes, nature is still our superior.

A Child’s Dream

When asking an ambitious child of their aspirations in life some may say they want to become a doctor or a lawyer, or maybe the brave ones will say a fireman. However, I wonder how many children of the twenty-first century would say they wanted to be an astronaut? Becoming an astronaut is still as commendable and difficult an accomplishment as ever, but how many children of future generations will strive for this goal?

I wish that I could compare the number of “I want to be an astronuat when I grow up,” responses during the 1960’s and 1970’s to today’s children. The problem is that space travel is not as publicized as it used to be. Today, astronauts are launched a mere 2,000 kilometers from Earth’s surface to their destination: the International Space Station. Compared to the average 380,000 kilometer journey the Apollo missions embarked upon during the 1960’s and 70’s, the International Space Station is like taking a step onto Earth’s front porch.

Space travel does not provide nearly as much excitement for the public today as it did forty years ago. I wonder how many people know of the ISS and know that they can see it wit their naked eye. Being the largest artificial satellite to ever orbit Earth, the ISS is a marvelous masterpiece of engineering. However, I can’t help but feel dissapointed. It seems to me that space travel took one step forwards and then two steps back. Why are we hovering thousands a of kiolometers above our home planet? Shouldn’t we be traveling to Mars and cultivating other worlds by now?

One of the ISS’s research areas is studying the human body’s reaction to antigravity. One of an astronaut’s greatest challenges is to maintain their muscle strength in the antigravity environment in space. This is because the human body uses far less muscle in zero gravity than on Earth. Anyone who has quit a sport and not sustained an active life style knows that when a muscle is not being exercised on a daily basis it will shrink. This problem is a major concern for sending astronauts to Mars because they may not survive the landing once they’ve reached their destination because their internal muscles, such as their heart muslce, will not be strong enough to keep them alive once they’ve returned to the strong gravitational pull of a massive surface.

I recently came across an article writtein in 1995 congratulating a Russian astronaut for his return from space. Valeri Polyakov made the record for the longest stay in space of any man before him, and he still holds the record. An impressive 437 consecutvie days orbiting the Earth must have certainly challenege the Russian both physically and mentally. However, upon his return he was able to walk to a chair, which was considered an incredible achievement. The average time it would take a manned space craft to reach Mars is 500 days. So, I wonder. If it was proven that a man could remain in space for close to the time it would take to reach Mars, why haven’t we sent a manned aircraft to our red neighbor?

Community Remote Sensing

I recently came across a very interesting article from EARTH magazine discussing the new and growing field of community remote sensing. Erin Wayman, the author of the story, discusses the importance of community remote sensing and how its presence is contributing useful information via technology that otherwise could not be delivered.

Community remote sensing is the community’s action of using technology to communicate important information to individuals, organizations, and companies that need it. For example, using modern cars’ monitoring sensors that track a vehicle’s temperature and performance could provide weather and driving conditions for certain areas. Using the technology that is already built into most recent car models, weather forecasters could receive one hundred times the amount of information they currently have concerning weather conditions. This could save thousands of drivers from unsafe roads or weather while driving.

No one will argue about technological advancement of the twenty-first century. With the invention of social networking and the ability to communicate vast amounts of information over long distances at the touch of a screen or the click of a mouse, technology has brought the human race together in more ways than one. Community remote sensing is a way people can come together and improve society as a whole by simply utilizing their technology savvy skills they use daily to chat with their friends.

On second thought…

Upon further recollection of my previous post on laser cat bowling and its apparent disconnect from science, I started to realize that this little eighteen second post could make for a great high school physics test question. I remember that my physics teacher in high school always went for the questions that would inevitably elicit a giggle during testing.

So here’s my attempt at producing a question for this awesome game:

A 2.0 kg cat chases a laser across the floor. As he pounces on the green dot, seemingly victorious in his pursuit, he finds himself sliding across a recently waxed wood floor on a fuzzy blue rug maliciously placed there by his diabolical foe, Garfield! The coefficient of friction between the rug and the floor is 0.20. The cat looks in terror as he quickly approaches a pyramid of neatly stacked purple solo cups strategically positioned in his direct path of motion 2.0 meters away. If the force needed to completely demolish this architectural masterpiece is 2.0 Newtons, at what initial velocity must the cat be traveling on the rug to produce a cascade of cups?

Strike!

This really has no connection with science, but I felt compelled to post it. I found this on my best friend’s Facebook wall. It was posted by the girl who bought me my first bar drink; a regrettable double shot of Bushmills whiskly. Couldn’t stand it then and still hate it today. All grudges aside, she has a pretty great sense of humor.

If you have a cat I beg you to try this, record it, and post it online. The world could never have enough of cat laser bowling. Enjoy!

Photo Gallery for the up and coming inflatable space station

How many generations until we send our children to space?


The New York Times has recently featured a photo gallery of the Bigelow Aerospace’s privately owned space station. What makes this space station so interesting is that it is inflatable. This structural design holds many practical applications, the most prominent being its compact storage capabilities. The station can be fit into a far smaller area during launching, and then once in space it can be inflated to its full capacity. For photos and descriptions of Bigelow’s Inflatable Space Station click here.

Privately owned space stations and relatively low cost rides into space is a fast approaching reality. For more information on the future of commercial aerospace flight visit this New York Times article.

Education


For two of my four main projects for my multimedia class, I have chosen an issue on education. While interviewing my voice of authority today, I realized how different schools’ approach to education is. I know that it’s highly contingent upon environment and the general behavior of students, but it’s amazing how different Pickerington middle schools will be in a year compared to KIPP middle school.

Pickerington school district recently underwent a devastating budget cut of $13 million that will cost nearly 100 teachers their jobs. These budget cuts will include shortening the length of the average school day and decreasing the areas that buses will reach.

The reason I was able to conduct my interview today is because KIPP has Saturday school during certain times of the year. KIPP also has a longer school day running from 8-5 each day. Honestly, I my child was attending Pickerington at the moment and they asked to be enrolled at KIPP I would admit them without hesitation. What Pickerington is doing is academic suicide, and only time will show the detrimental effects it will have not only on the students but on the economics status of Pickeringon as a whole.

Philosophy, Physics, and People

Taoism


One Asian philosophical tradition, Taosim, emphasizes that humans should strive to connect with reality. Too many people battle reality, which is why they experience frustration and disappointment. By releasing yourself from your agenda and expectations, it is possible to attain a connection with nature and the cosmos.

Upon listening to a podcast audio interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson I heard something that took me back to the my morning lectures of Asian Philosophy.

Tyson made an inquisitive comment concerning mathematics and the traditional disconnect people tend to have with it. Mathematics and physics is the language of the universe, Tyson explained. Yet, these two subjects seem to be the most intimidating and loathed topics people encounter in their academic studies. Why is the universal language of mathematics, the language that links us to nature and the cosmos, the language that humans have such a difficult time understanding and accepting?

Imagine if our ancient ancestors had not developed agriculture thousands of years ago and humans were still roaming Earth as hunters and gatherers. Technology would never have developed and our knowledge of the physical forces that drive our solar system, galaxy, and universe would still remain unknown.

How ironic that the language which has brought us a deep understanding of nature has also managed to separate us from it. Watching National Geographic on our televisions is the closest to nature that some of us will ever achieve.