science

We know a few things about the birth of the universe.  Do we know enough to recreate the process? 

The question alone provokes thought.  But scientists have been pondering it for a while now, convinced that they could create small universes in laboratories. 

A Big Bang in a Little Room by Zeeya Merali considers both physical and ethical obstacles to lab-created "baby universes." 

Couleur/Pixabay

Science fiction movies and comic books made a lot of money by imaging parallel universes.  You know... the idea that there are multiple Earths, many with a Clark Kent (and so a Superman)? 

Sean Carroll says it's more than imagination.  Carroll is a theoretical physicist at Cal Tech, and he says new versions of us are splitting into separate universes all the time. 

The one on THIS Earth wrote a soon-to-be-published book, Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime.  It lays out his theory, and the general crisis he sees in physics and how it is understood and taught. 

Pixabay

"That's just me, that's who I am."  Ever say that?  Some of us are completely sure of who we are, some of us search all of our lives for a good answer to "why am I like this?" 

Scientist and author Bill Sullivan can help answer that question.  But it's a long-ish answer that includes things like DNA, environment, even microbes. 

felixioncool/Pixabay

Maybe it's not the best time in history to be a scientist--climate denial and all--but it beats the days of scientists hiding their discoveries from the church and authorities. 

Scientists from all over the western part of the country assemble in Ashland starting today (June 18th) for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Pacific Division annual meeting.  We have many questions for participants about the current climate for science (pun not intended) and the kinds of science represented at the meeting. 

GreenStar/Pixabay

Science makes mistakes, no question.  The Earth at the center of the universe?  Now THAT was a major goof. 

But science corrected it, and that's what science does.  Lee McIntyre, who researches the philosophy and history of science at Boston University, praises the reliance upon evidence in his book The Scientific Attitude: Defending Science from Denial, Fraud, and Pseudoscience

It's a handy book to have around in a time of climate deniers, flat-earthers, and other people who dispute the standing evidence. 

Oregon State University

Try to pronounce "per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances" in a hurry, and you soon understand why the usual tag for them is simply PFAS (pee-fass). 

They are chemicals found in many chemicals, from polishes to teflon cookware to food wraps.  And they are a source of concern, because they last a long time in the environment and in the human body. 

So bring on the zebrafish.  The Tanguay Lab at Oregon State University just got a major grant to study the toxicity of PFAS. 

skeeze/Pixabay

Ignorance, failure, and doubt would not seem at first to be good companions for science.  But think of how each of them sparks the process of scientific inquiry. 

Our desire to dispel ignorance is what leads us to doubt the orthodoxy, and try and fail to prove our hypotheses.  Stuart Firestein, who teaches neuroscience and runs a lab at Columbia University, speaks on this very subject this evening (May 15th) at Southern Oregon University. 

His appearance is part of SOU's campus theme for the academic year, "From Ignorance to Wisdom." 

NASA

The people who make acronyms outdid themselves with the naming of the Systematic Underwater Biogeochemical Science and Exploration Analog at NASA.  The letters spell out SUBSEA, which is the kind of exploration in question. 

At NASA?  Yes, because the agency aims to treat the exploration of the deep ocean similar to the approach to exploring deep space. 

Shannon Kobs Nawotniak is one of the staff scientists at SUBSEA, an expert on undersea volcanoes. 

TheDigitalArtist/Pixabay

Bones do so much for us.  Fossilized, they provide records of creatures from the past.  On labels and flags (think pirates), they provide effective warnings. 

Oh, and they keep our bodies from collapsing in a gelatinous heap on the ground.  Science writer Brian Switek celebrates these and many more uses in his book Skeleton Keys: The Secret Life of Bone

skysource.org

It just seems like magic.  A machine uses wood chips and a few other ingredients to pull moisture out of the air, to produce water.  30 gallons a day, in the smallest unit. 

The name is apt: Skywater; it just won the XPrize competition by perfecting a technology to provide fresh water to places that need it.  David Hertz is the co-founder of the Skywater/Skysource Alliance.

Wellcome Images

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

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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

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