science

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You see two vertical spirals side-by-side, and you think "oh, DNA."  That double helix shape is THAT recognizable in our society.  Today. 

But it took a lot of hard work from quite a few scientists to reach the discoveries that led to that knowledge. 

Matthew Cobb lays out the story in his book Life's Greatest Secret: The Race to Crack the Genetic Code

sabinevanerp/Pixabay

Yikes, the recipe you got online calls for grams of flour, not cups.  How...?  Don't panic.  There are easy conversion charts, and you're already doing math in the kitchen anyway. 

True, as pointed out by mathematician Eugenia Cheng, whose goal is to rid the world of math phobia. 

She worked on us a few years ago with a lighthearted look at math/kitchen crossovers, How to Bake Pi

Gerald Schmitt/Wikimedia

Thank Heaven for zombie movies.  Now we're at least familiar with the concept of people eating brains. 

Jokes aside, cannabalism--eating your fellow creatures--is well-established across the animal kingdom, as we explored last year with zoologist Bill Schutt. 

He wrote the book Cannibalism: A Perfect Natural History.  And for some reason, we have a taste for hearing the discussion again. 

Trostle/Pixabay

Maybe you're not a big fan of eating just plain seeds.  But if you had a cup of coffee and a bagel this morning, there's a good example of the ubiquity of seeds. 

The coffee came from roasted seeds, and bagels are often enhanced with poppy or sesame seeds. 

And whatever flour the bagel is made of came from a plant that came from seeds. 

Thor Hanson has many more examples in his book The Triumph of Seeds

geralt/Pixabay

We understand that all things are made of atoms.  Quantum physics explains how atoms move and relate, but there still plenty of mysteries left for scientists to discover. 

And the approach to mystery-solving has changed over the years. 

Adam Becker, science writer with PhD in astrophysics, reports on the change in approaches in his book What Is Real? The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics.  Yes, Schrödinger's Cat makes an appearance on page 3. 

ESO/B. Tafreshi (twanight.org), CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21595070

The decades-long slide in church attendance prompts some people to think that we're not as moral as we once were. 

Michael Shermer, professional skeptic, begs to differ.  He says we're living in the most moral period in human history... and it's guided by science and reason, not religion. 

Shermer makes the case in his book The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom

Andreas Trepte, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16110627

It's not the most pleasant beach experience, picking up dead birds.  But it's an important task, one that can shed light on the health and mortality challenges to birds that live on and near the ocean. 

And it's not just for scientists: COASST, the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team, uses trained citizen scientists to collect data on seabirds for use by credentialed scientists. 

And yes, there's more to it than picking up bird corpses. 

Public Domain

"I am not a physicist and this is not a physics book." 

That's the statement from David Schwartz, the son of a physicist and the author of a new biography of Enrico Fermi, The Last Man Who Knew Everything

Schwartz figured it was time for a new biography, because Fermi's work (he died in 1954) continues to influence physics and its practitioners today. 

Dr. Mike Baxter/Wikimedia

Maybe you've taken one of those DNA tests that tells you where your ancestors lived.  They can contain a few surprises... for individuals, and for humans as a species. 

The science of genomics is ripping up some assumptions about the upright inhabitants of the Earth, and where they've lived and loved. 

Adam Rutherford explains in his book A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived

Well, this was predictable... after all the experiments with people in real time or "functional" MRI scanners (fMRI), somebody got a dog in there.  And a few other animals as well. 

Snicker if you must, but we now know more about what goes on in the brains of animals. 

And it's pretty fascinating stuff, giving us clues to the mind functions of individual animals. 

Gregory Berns lays out the findings in the book  What It's Like to Be a Dog: And Other Adventures in Animal Neuroscience

sharmanaptrussell.com

"Leave the science to the scientists," you may have heard.  But did you stop and think how many people are scientists? 

Not enough to research all of the interesting things about the world and the universe around us.  So to fill in the gaps, we need some amateurs in the field. 

Amateurs like Sharman Apt Russell, who knows more about tiger beetles than many scientists. 

She wrote Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World and joined us on the Exchange last year. 

Thomas Quine, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51708455

Star Trek did it.  Superman did it.  Even Woody Allen traveled through time in one of his movies (bonus points for knowing which one).  In short, we've been talking about traveling through time for a very long time. 

James Gleick, who writes about science and its practitioners, travels back in time to the origins of people thinking and writing about time travel. 

It's all on the table, from Jules Verne to the present day, from art to science to philosophy, in Gleick's book Time Travel: A History

It includes an examination of what the author calls the porous boundary between science fiction and modern physics. 

The Kind Of Light You CAN'T See

Aug 25, 2017
Wikimedia

Let's talk about light.  You know, flip the switch and the room gets brighter? 

But light is a much broader category than what we can perceive with our eyes.  And science writer Bob Berman reminds us about all the kinds of light we can't see in his book Zapped: From Infrared to X-rays, the Curious History of Invisible Light

Alena Kravchenko/Wikimedia

Regardless of your feelings, it is safe to say that the Trump administration takes a very different approach to science and the environment from the Obama administration.  Science has noticed. 

And so has the legal profession.  Professor Dan Rohlf at the Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland is one of several authors of a paper on how to defend science, specifically conservation science, against political attack. 

Wikimedia

"All science is either physics or stamp collecting," said Lord Rutherford, the nuclear physicist. 

A little harsh, perhaps, but Raghu Parthasarathy can probably relate.  Parthasarathy is a physicist at the University of Oregon whose work crosses over into biology, chemistry and neuroscience. 

His work includes researching the microbiome of the gut, which influences a person's overall health. 

contrailscience.com

This is our attempt at doing a Show About Nothing. Sam Kean's new book is about -- air. 

In Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us, New York Times bestselling author Sam Kean takes us on a journey through the periodic table, around the globe, and across time to tell the story of the air we breathe, which, it turns out, is also the story of earth and our existence on it. 

The author joined us for memorable chats about his previous books The Disappearing Spoon and The Violinist's Thumb

Penguin Random House

Isn't nature wonderful in how it allows creatures to adapt to their surroundings? 

Well, yeah, unless you're the creature who ends up host to a parasite or something else that wrecks your life. 

Examples abound, and WIRED science writer Matt Simon serves them up in gruesome detail in his book The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar: Evolution’s Most Unbelievable Solutions to Life’s Biggest Problems.

Ujjwal Kumar, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7406916

There's a level of curiosity about dangerous things, especially for kids. 

Like "what would happen if you went outside a spaceship without a suit?" 

Those are the very kinds of questions Cody Cassidy and Paul Doherty answer in their book And Then You're Dead.

It's not as macabre as it may sound, and there's no danger in reading the book itself.  We think. 

Wikimedia

Quick, what do you think is the greatest invention ever?  Wait... before you answer, we offer an alternative question: what is the WORST invention ever?  That might be a little harder, but it turns out there's stiff competition for that list. 

Think of some of science's stumbles, like frontal lobotomies, chemical warfare, and margarine.  Margarine?  Not good for the heart. 

Pediatrician/author Paul Offit narrows the list in his book Pandora's Lab: Seven Stories of Science Gone Wrong

ESO, http://www.eso.org/public/images/ann13075a

We grew up thinking about people living on other planets, thanks to the likes of Superman and Star Wars. 

But planets outside of our solar system (and outside science fiction) were really just a theory until the 1990s.  That's when telescopes and other detectors improved enough to find the first true "exoplanets." 

Now we know of thousands of them, and an overview is provided in Exoplanets: Diamond Worlds, Super Earths, Pulsar Planets, and the New Search for Life beyond Our Solar System

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