Help To Discover ET

Due to the recent explosion of potential planetary systems released by Kepler earlier this year, scientists dedicated to the search for ET now have a better idea of where to look. With more than one thousand planets to choose from it may seem like a daunting task, but the most popular planets are the ones with properties similar to that of earth. Temperatures from around 0-100 degrees Celsius have caught the eyes of SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) scientists.

Since SETI’s Allen Telescope Array was (temporarily) shut down for financial reasons this past April, scientists are using different technology to continue in the pursuit for advanced life on another world. Earlier this month the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, the largest steerable radio telescope in the world, started to look at stars with potential planets around them. Once the scientists at UC Berkley have obtained a substantial amount of data, they will begin processing the information. And here is where you come in.

In 1999 SETI decided to take advantage of the growing technological universe by establishing an online download that anyone with a computer can access. This download actually allows SETI to use some of your computer’s power to conduct data analysis. It’s called SETI@home and with more than 3 million users it is considered one of the largest distributed computing efforts of today. This approach has successfully replaced the work of the supercomputer that SETI used before implementing SETI@home.

So, with all of the new Kepler data coming in, and SETI’s newly directed efforts the discovery of ET might be closer than ever. Becoming a SETI@home user, you could aid in earth’s first out-of-this-world experience with another life intelligent life form. I am not a current SETI@home user, but after I’m finished with this post I will definitely be looking into it.

For a more detailed article on SETI’s new mission using Kepler data see this article.

First Squid in Space

Bobtail Squid

Now that humans have had their fun, it’s time that our fellow cephalopods get a taste of space. Inky, as I have chosen to call him, is the first squid to ever be launched into space. He is a Bobtail squid and will be the main star in a rather interesting study. Strictly for scientific research, Inky will give scientists insight into how microbes within its body respond to space. In the past, microbes such as Salmonella were three times more destructive to their host mouse after being in space for a certain period of time.

My main curiosity is how they will keep the squid alive. Since water does that awesome globular trick in microgravity, how will the tank/box/bag the squid is in contain non-floating water? I suppose the solution will be to ensure the case has minimal air so the water has very little space to float. The squid won’t have to worry about this problem for too long (if it actually is a problem), since it will be getting the knife soon after it reaches space. Perhaps the astronauts will have some calamari for dinner in the next few days.

A nice way for the Endeavor to spend it’s last trip, giving new species a chance to view the Earth from afar. Although, I’m not sure how much Inky will appreciate the view.

The First Space Boat Ever!

I came across this article at Discover’s blog 80 Beats, and I thought it was really interesting.

Imagine sitting back with a glass of wine on your boat looking up at the lovely night sky presumably with the best view of Saturn you have ever seen.

Well, unfortunately this space proposal does not include any human passengers, but their is potential for NASA to send a space boat to Saturn’s moon, Titan. Just think, the first space boat ever to be constructed. Considering all other robots build to land on other surfaces such as the Moon and Mars have been designed for solid surfaces, I wonder how difficult it will be to design something that floats that can also survive the one billion kilometer journey and the atmospheric entry. Yes, Titan has an atmosphere. Actually, it is the only moon with a known atmosphere, and it’s atmosphere is more dense than earth’s.

Lovingly dubbed the Titan Mare Explorer, or TiME for short, this interesting contraption, if given the chance, will be able to calculate the temperature of one of the methane lakes while also mapping the bottom structure. How cool would that be to compare the bottom structure of a methane lake with the lakes here on earth. The lakes on Titan are believed to be around the size of the Great Lakes which are around 200 miles in width and length. Well, that will certainly give more than enough voyage opportunities for this space boat. Methane, as we know it, is the primary ingredient in natural gas.

However, before this little boat can steam along on another world entirely different from our own, it must compete with two other NASA proposals. So far scientists have received $3 million for their idea, and if they beat out the other two ideas, a seismograph for Mars and a comet hopping probe, they will have a total of $425 million to put towards science, technology, and construction.

Personally, a comet hopping probe sounds pretty awesome, but I really want to see a boat that floats on an ocean in another world within my lifetime. So, my vote goes to the boat.

A Paradox

To the best of my knowledge newspapers belonging to universities are always in short supply of science writers. For example, the university I attend does not have a science column and never has as far as I know. When talking with the people who ran the magazine, they seemed extremely interested in attaining a person who could provide the newspaper with a daily or weekly science column, but it seems that no one wants to take the job. This seems a bit paradoxical to me.

Primarily the paradox arises because universities, above all other places, are the primary institutes that lodge scientific research. Such prestigious universities as Harvard and Princeton are known for their research and are considered research universities. This means that faculty members are given high expectations to conduct research and output a certain number of papers per year in addition to their teaching responsibilities.

So, this begs a very important question. If universities have the largest volume of scientific research, then why on earth do university newspapers lack in science news? Some possible explanations include the following:

1) Not all scientific research is important and groundbreaking enough to be considered newsworthy in a newspaper’s eyes.
2) People who tend to major in communications and write for school newspapers generally are not interested in science, hence their focus in media.
3) Some science is difficult to understand even for a science major. Science writing requires writing in all fields of science, which requires some basic understanding for a lot of different and unrelated fields.
4) Usually someone who is interested enough in science will major in science, of which writing is not necessarily a major focus or desire. Undergraduate science majors enjoy solving problems as opposed to writing papers, I would imagine.

With all of these reasons going against the chances for science research to appear in university newspapers, I suppose it’s not a huge surprise you can’t find it. But, just think of all the wonderful research that is not being conveyed to some of the highest educated people in the country – college students.

Usually the problem with science writing is that it must be extremely simplified so that an average person of average intelligence may understand it. This usually means that the level of vocabulary and writing used is at a 6th grade level. But, with college newspapers people may afford a slightly higher level of writing and explanation, simply because the audience is of a higher intelligence. Students can understand the scientific method and various other logical thought processes that go into solving a problem, simply because they are subjected to it on a daily basis. Even a history essay still requires logical thought and written execution of events in an original and interesting style, and lectures are a prime example of logical explanations and ordering of complex material.

Perhaps university newspapers don’t advertise their need for science writers. Maybe, if they emphasized how much they desire a science column, people would be more willing to voluntarily contribute. After all, science research can be extremely interesting. Maybe even more so than the football team’s win over the weekend, but probably not.

New Scientist Magazine Article Helps With Dilema

Now that the initial shock of bin Laden’s death has worn off, the controversies are beginning to arise. One of the main problems growing within the White House is the media’s desire to post photos of bin Laden’s corpse across the news. Feelings towards the release of these photos, which are said to be extremely graphic, are extremely two sided. There is an argument for both sides, and which one wins is just a matter of time. Currently, it seems that President Obama is very adamant on restricting the release of the photos.

When I heard about the photos and the controversy surrounding their release my initial feelings were conflicted. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to see the photos or not. I thought about the moral and political issues that would arise if the photos were released, and I also considered what type of arguments and reasons would arise if the photos were not released. Well, my dilemma was officially resolved after I came across this article in New Scientists magazine. It’s well written and provides scientific evidence for why the photos should not be released. Thank you Andrew Silke for a great article that attacks a sensitive concern in an unbiased and informative manner.

No Smoking Policies May Present Challenges to Treatment Centers

New story I have published. I must admit the research of this story was extremely interesting, and I loved talking to the people about their various projects. Going against convention is one of the first steps towards change. As always, I’ve added some pictures I found on google images to the post.

No Smoking Policies May Present Challenges to Treatment Centers

COLUMBUS, Ohio – When a new tobacco-free policy was instituted at an Ohio women’s substance abuse treatment center, both smokers and non-smokers were more likely to leave treatment early in the first few months after the policy change, a new study found.

The results don’t mean treatment centers shouldn’t try smoking bans, according to the researchers, but they do highlight the challenges involved with implementing a new policy that goes against years of conventional thinking.

Researchers found that the number of patients who completed a program at the women’s treatment center decreased 28 percentage points – from 70 to 42 percent – following the center’s implementation of a tobacco-free policy.

“Following the implementation of the new policy, clients were significantly less likely to complete treatment than they were prior to the adoption of tobacco-free policies,” said Thomas Gregoire, co-author of the study and associate professor of social work at Ohio State University.

This treatment center was the first to go tobacco-free in Ohio, Gregoire said. Tobacco-free treatment facilities began in New Jersey during the 90’s and they are now making their way to other parts of the country.

“Despite the growing body of research about the problems of smoking in treatment facilities, the use of tobacco still retains a protected status in the addictions community and is largely untreated,” said Gregoire.

The study appears in the current issue of Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions.

Treatment facilities tend to allow patients to smoke because many officials believe that treating a person for smoking in addition to other substance abuse would be too difficult and most likely result in failure, Gregoire said. Treatment centers may also fear that a smoking ban could cause them to lose business.

Many patients use cigarettes as a crutch to help them cope while trying to defeat other addictions, although smoking may be just as much of a problem.

“You behave very similarly with a cigarette as you would with any other drug,” said Gretchen Hammond, who works for Amethyst Inc. in Columbus, Ohio and collaborated with Gregoire on the research. “So, for example, if I’m having a bad day I’ll try to smoke it away verses talking to someone or going to therapy and working on the problem.”

“Just like any other substance abuse, smoking is more than just a habit – it’s an addiction. But, cigarettes are still commonly used today by treatment facilities as a means of maintaining sobriety within patients,” Gregoire continued.

“In our study, 78 percent of the patients were tobacco-users,” said Hammond. “The leading causes of death in chemically dependent persons are tobacco-related illnesses, which is why it is so important that treatment facilities offer treatment from all substance abuse, including smoking,” Hammond said.

Looking at past records in a sample of 401 women, 147 of them admitted within the first 18 months of the study — when tobacco was allowed — and 214 women admitted within the last 18 months — when tobacco was banned from the premises – the researchers found that success rates dropped within the first 3 months after implementing the policy.

The center had an average success rate of 70 percent over the first 18 months, and this dropped to an average success rate of 42 percent by the end of the first 90 smoke-free days, Gregoire and Hammond noted. Not only did success rates drop, but the average number of days that patients remained in the program fell from 61 to 48 days. The center allowed a maximum of 90 days stay for their patients.

Gregoire and Hammond found that the rate that smokers checked themselves out before successfully completing the program increased after the tobacco-free policy. But the number of early checkouts for nonsmokers also increased after the center instigated the policy.

They noticed that 20 percent of smokers and 7 percent of non-smoking clients checked out early when the facility allowed tobacco. Those numbers increased to 42 and 22 percent respectively after the policy was issued.

In addition to client-initiated discharges, the rate of staff-initiated dismissals also experienced an initial increase during the first 90 days following the policy’s implementation – increasing approximately 5 percentage points regardless of whether the patient used tobacco.

After the first 90 days, the staff-discharge rate decreased close to its original rate before the policy, while the client-initiated discharge rate remained unusually high.

“General climate and the sense of dissatisfaction in the treatment agency at the time of the initial implementation could pose as a possible explanation for the higher rate of staff-initiated discharges,” said Gregoire.

This initial increase in program failure rates may discourage facilities from implementing a tobacco-free policy because of the loss of revenue, said Gregoire. However, past research has proven that treating patients for tobacco and other substance abuse is most likely the best choice for the patient in the long run.