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.

The Science of Why Cast Iron Teapots are hot, Hot, HOT

I finally succumbed to the trend of cast iron teapots last Christmas, when I bought one for my boyfriend as a gift. Refusing to spend too much money I found a good deal for one that came with two cast iron cups. I’ll admit that cast iron certainly makes for a cool looking teapot, but besides the look there is nothing cool about these pots, except the tea inside – and I’m not talking fashion; I’m talking temperature.

Cast iron has a high thermal conductivity, meaning the rate that the high temperature of the water transfers its energy to the teapot’s surface is relatively fast. This means that within minutes of pouring the boiling water into the pot, the outside of your beautiful tea dispenser is well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit; not something you want to touch with your bare hands.

Well, the scorching high temperatures are not the only thing you need to be worrying about when you’re trying to drink your tea. The fact that the outside of the pot is hot means that it is radiating away all of that heat that is keeping your tea warm. So, instead of having hot tea longer, it’s actually cooling it at a faster rate than your ceramic tea pot would. Well, the obvious solution to that is a tea cozy. But, who wants to cover up a gorgeous teapot they have spent hundreds of dollars on? Lucky for us another solution was made. Teapot stores provide heating plates that will not only keep your tea warm but maintain the scorching temperatures of the teapot’s surface as well. Of course this heating plate comes as an additional charge, so you can spend more money to accommodate the primary function failure of something that is already overpriced.

Now, what about the cast iron tea cups? I know I’m not the only one who enjoys holding cups bare handed. It’s not a fetish, it’s just natural. But, with cast iron tea cups you must be patient and wait for the cup to cool down enough so that you can actually touch it. And, by the time that glorious opportunity roles around your tea is lukewarm; fantastic. Hey, look at it this way: you no longer have to blow on your drink and are guaranteed something that won’t burn your tongue. Just make sure you don’t singe your fingers by touching the cup before the opportune moment.

My boyfriend and I have used that teapot a total of four times since Christmas. I bought it for him because he always enjoyed looking at them when we went to the mall. So, all logic aside, I bit the bullet and now he has one that he does not use, which I don’t blame him for.

I have absolutely no idea why cast iron tea pots have become so popular, simply for the reason that I’m assuming people still enjoy hot tea. I asked my boyfriend the very question of why these teapots have become so trendy and his reply was “Because they look cool!” Well, there you go. A tea pot that is scorching to the touch, costs hundreds of dollars, cools your tea extremely quickly, and requires additional expensive equipment to keep your tea hot.

But aren’t they just so darned good looking?

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?

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.

You learn something new everyday.

Anyone who reads Discover Magazine online has most likely run into “Bad Astronomy” articles written by Phil Plait. Well, contrary to his awesome blog title, he writes on more than astronomy. And, to clarify, the astronomy he does consider is completely relevant and often informative and interesting. I recently came across a recent post of his titled “Homeopathy: There’s nothing to it”. I had no idea what homeopathy was so I read the little post and learned about a big problem. If you’re as curious about homeopathy as I was visit this article, which includes a youtube clip explaining the dangers of the placebo administering sugar pills.

Pronouncing it correctly won't cure you, either.

Fail.

Major protest on High St. this afternoon concerning the Egyption Government issues that I went to and got pictures and interviewed three people. Walking away feeling pretty proud I noticed that my recorder did not record any of my interviews. Somehow I must have pressed stop just as I started talking to my first guy. I’m so dissapointed!