Cambridge Science Festival

Posted under: family, science, technology, travel.
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The girls had spring break from school this past week. I planned my vacation from work the same week as the girls’ school break so we could spend that time together, and perhaps take a short trip.

Brent had sent me an email several weeks ago with information about the Cambridge Science Festival, a celebration showcasing the leading edge in science, technology, engineering and math. The weeklong festival occurs every spring, with the purpose of making science accessible, interactive and fun. Brent suggested I take the girls down to attend this. I thought it was a great idea. After looking at the calendar of events, I decided that Wednesday the 23rd of April had the most activities that we would be particularly interested in. The majority of events were held on the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) campus in Cambridge.

My awesome daughters and me on the Downeaster ride home to Maine.

My awesome daughters and me on the Downeaster ride home to Maine.

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Comments (0) Apr 26 2014

Finding Truth Through Fetal Cells

Posted under: education, health, philosophy, science.
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I enjoy listening to Radiolab, a podcast about science, philosophy, and human experience. In the episode “Fetal Consequences” (which can also be read on the NPR blog), hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich discuss how fetal cells remain in the mother for decades, possibly having effects on her body. Originially it seemed that that fetal cells were solely beneficial to the mother. The hosts shared a story about sheets of fetal cells turning into healthy liver cells and healing the mother’s damaged liver. It was later proposed that perhaps fetal cells might actually be harmful to the mother in some cases due to a variety of causal factors.

I found the study about fetal cells fascinating, but what I thought was especially significant was what Tufts University professor and scientist Kirby Johnson said regarding his personal stake in the work:

Of course I wanted to help out, but if I find out that’s not the case [that my fetal cells made no difference when my mother was ill], well, that’s the truth. And as a scientist, I want to find out the truth; whether or not the truth is wonderful or the truth is horrible…at least I know what the truth is, and both as a son and as a scientist, that would be of value to me.

This is true science. The scientific method can, and should, be applied to all aspects of life. Too often people stop asking the questions when they find the answers they are looking for. Any new evidence or ideas that challenge one’s beliefs, or cause discomfort or uncertainty are discounted or completely dismissed. As skeptics, scientists base their opinions on good evidence, and are not afraid to have that evidence challenged.

The strength of the scientific method is found in its ability to detect error as well as its ability to detect truth. It describes a way of obtaining knowledge that is based on observation, repetition, transparency and correction. It would behoove everyone–individually and as a society–to value and engage in scientific thinking: Deep curiosity about the world, rigorous and critical examination and testing, unbiased and objective scrutiny, and openness to new ideas and perspectives–regardless of the palatability of the outcome.

Comments (0) May 28 2012

Book Review: Incognito

Posted under: book review, education, philosophy, psychology.
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Neuroscientist David Eagleman proposes in his book Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, that most of what you do, think and believe is generated by parts of your brain to which you have no access. His writing provokes thought and understanding.

The title of this book refers to its theme that we don’t really “know” ourselves. Eagleman describes how most of our thought processes are unconscious and not accessible to us, most of the activity going on without our being aware.

Almost the entirety of what happens in your mental life is not under your conscious control, and the truth is that it’s better this way.Incognito When consciousness meddles in details it doesn’t understand, the operation runs less effectively. One does not need to be consciously aware to perform sophisticated motor acts. We are not conscious of most things until we ask ourselves questions about them. The brain generally does not need to know most things; it merely knows how to go out and retrieve the data. It computes on a need-to-know basis. We are not conscious of much of anything until we ask ourselves about it. We are unaware of most of what should be obvious to our senses; it is only after deploying our attentional resources onto small bits of the scene that we become aware of what we were missing. Before we engage our concentration, we are typically not aware that we are not aware of those details. So not only is our perception of the world a construction that does not accurately represent the outside, but we additionally have the false impression of a full, rich picture when in fact we see only what we need to know, and no more. (p. 28)

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Comments (0) Aug 06 2011

Book Review: Packing For Mars

Posted under: book review, education, science, travel.
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Packing For MarsOK, so I didn’t read this book thoroughly cover-to-cover. I read Roach’s first book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, which I really enjoyed. So I figured this book would also be pretty good; and since Brent was going to the NASA Tweetup to watch the final shuttle launch, I wanted to learn more about space flight and behind-the-scenes astronaut life. Although I skimmed over parts of the book (Brent read it too, and he caught me when he tried discussing certain parts of which I wasn’t familiar), I did learn a lot of interesting things and enjoyed Roach’s writing style. She gets actively involved in her research and incorporates humor in clever and unexpected ways. I like how she explains gravity:

Gravity is the prime reason there’s life on Earth. You need water for life, and without gravity, water wouldn’t hang around. Nor would air. It is Earth’s gravity that holds the gas molecules of our atmosphere–which we need not only to breathe but to be protected from solar radiation–in place around the planet. The term “zero gravity” is misleading when applied to most rocket flights. Astronauts orbiting Earth remain well within the pull of the planet’s gravitational field. Spacecraft like the International Space Station orbit at an altitude of around 250 miles, where the Earth’s gravitational pull is only 10 percent weaker than it is on the planet’s surface. Here’s why they’re floating: When you launch something into orbit, you have launched it so powerfully fast and high and far that when gravity’s pull finally slows the object’s forward progress enough that it starts to fall back down, it misses the Earth. It keeps on falling around the Earth rathe than to it. As it falls, the Earth’s gravity keeps its tug, so it’s both constantly falling and constantly being pulled earthward. (p. 86)

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Comments (0) Aug 06 2011

Book Review: Death’s Acre

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Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson take their readers inside the real Body Farm, recounting how it was created and some of Bass’ more interesting forensic cases in his long career.Deaths Acre

Dr. Bass is a forensic anthropologist who founded the University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Facility (aka The Body Farm) where Bass and his colleagues monitor the decomposition of human corpses in various environments. He spent much research on studying human decomposition and identifying human remains. He explains in his book how the bones of the pelvis, knee, and jaw all play a part in determining race or gender while the cranial sutures can determine age.

Warning: The following quotes describe the changes through which the human body goes in a fire:

The human body undergoes dramatic changes in an intense fire. The arms and legs are the first to go. Relatively thin and surrounded by oxygen, they’re like kindling, easy to ignite and quick to burn. At temperatures of only a few hundred degrees, the skin quickly blackens, the fat beneath the skin starts to sizzle, and within a matter of minutes the skin splits open and the flesh begins to burn. Then the limbs begin to move–the hands and feet clench, the arms curl up toward the shoulders, and the legs spread slightly apart with the knees flexed. It’s function of biomechanics and muscle strength: The flexors, the muscles that cause our arms and legs to bend, are stronger than the extensors, the ones that cause our limbs to straighten. As a fire cooks and dries out the muscles and tendons of the body, they shrink, just like a steak on the grill, and the flexors overpower the extensors. The resulting position is very much like a boxer’s stance in the ring; for that reason we call it the “pugilistic posture.” If, on the other hand, the arms are ties or pinned behind the back, they won’t be able to curl up, so finding a burned body whose arms are straight can be an important clue that the victim was somehow confined or restrained. (p. 76)

The other truly dramatic change that occurs is to the head. The skull is basically a sealed vessel, filled with fluid and moist brain tissue. It doesn’t take long for that moisture to reach the boiling point and create pressure in the cranium; the hotter the fire, the greater the pressure. If there’s an outlet for that pressure–for example, a bullet hole in the skull–the pressure vents harmlessly. If there isn’t, the skull can literally burst, fracturing the cranium into numerous pieces. (p. 77)

I will spare all you squeamish readers the details Bass and Jefferson share about differential decay, putrefication, adipocere, autolysis, green bone, or any of the other grotesque terms related to human decomposition. For me, I must admit, it is all very fascinating. :-) It reinforces my desire to study forensic anthropology.

Comments (0) Aug 06 2011

Book Review: The Grand Design

Posted under: book review, education, science.
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In their book The Grand Design, Hawking and Mlodinow explain the way theories about quantum mechanics and relativity came together to shape our understanding of how our universe (and possibly others) formed out of nothing.The Grand Design

Hawking is eloquent in the way he describes and explains the workings of the universe.

Orbital eccentricity is a measure of how near an ellipse is to a circle. The degree to which an ellipse is squashed is described by what is called its eccentricity, a number between zero and one. The earth’s orbit has an eccentricity of only about 2 percent, which means it is nearly circular. Circular orbits are friendly to life, while very elongated orbits result in large seasonal temperature fluctuations. On Mercury, for example, with a 20 percent eccentricity, the temperature is over 200 degrees F warmer at the planet’s closest approach to the sun (perihelion) than when it is at its farthest from the sun (aphelion). (p. 150-151)

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Comments (0) Aug 06 2011

Summer Reading 2011

Posted under: education, philosophy, psychology, science.
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I had half the summer off from school, so naturally I took this opportunity to do some leisure reading. I read some interesting books, all covering my favorite subjects: Neuroscience, psychology, forensics, economics, and science in general.

For nearly every book I read, I take copious notes in Evernote so that I can refer back to the most significant and fascinating things I learn and want to remember. I’ve selected some excerpts from my notes for the books I’ve read the past couple of months, and will post them with reviews for each book.

I enjoy reading. I especially love when my reading prompts further questions and inspires me to study a subject further. I still have a stack of books to tackle before classes start. Yes, I’m a book nerd. :-)

Comments (0) Aug 06 2011

Book Review: Endless Forms Most Beautiful

Posted under: book review, education, philosophy, video.
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Endless Forms Most Beautiful
Brent has been participating in a science book club. I love reading books about science; however, going to school in addition to working full time makes it difficult for me to find the time for leisurely reading. Fortunately I had a week of vacation from work scheduled simultaneously with a break between semesters of nursing school. I eagerly picked up this month’s assigned book, Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo from the library.

Author Sean B. Carroll discusses evolutionary developmental biology which is the relationship between embryonic development and evolutionary changes. He explains how “tool kit genes,” a small number of genes which emerged 600 million years ago, are the primary components for building all animals. He discusses how the amazing diversity in the world is controlled by “genetic switches” which instruct these tool kit genes where to act and what to do.

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Comments (0) Jan 08 2011

A New Direction

Posted under: school.
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I wasn’t accepted into the nursing program at USM. The number of nursing applicants is increasing substantially everywhere. The academic advisor of nursing at USM informed me that the program is highly competitive; they only accepted 90 applicants for this year. Many were already matriculated, which gave them an edge. She said that the applicants who had already taken many of the courses required in the nursing program also had an advantage. Finally, my 4.0 GPA from last semester probably did not bring up my GPA from Ricks College (now BYU Idaho) quite enough. I’ll always regret that I was so lackadaisical back then. I expect to have a 4.0 again for this past semester, which will boost my GPA for the future.

The news disappointed me, of course. But as it prompted me to consider different options, I saw it as an opportunity to pursue a career in science and research. This is something with which I’ve always been fascinated. Sure, I could see myself as a nurse, making good money and having job opportunities everywhere; however I don’t think I would be truly happy. I could be passionate about science and research, and that is ultimately more fulfilling.

I will probably pursue an undergraduate degree in biology. I am interested in toxicology and pathology (possibly with a forensics focus), marine biology, oceanography, and geology. Brent has been incredibly supportive. I appreciate his love and encouragement, and I know he just wants me to be happy. He is especially excited about marine biology. However, he warned me that if I go into pathology and work in a morgue he will NOT come visit me for lunch. :-)

OK, so I need to narrow it down a bit, but I’m excited to go after my dream.

Comments (0) May 10 2009