Category Archives: Science

If I Be Waspish, Beware My Sting

Now that it’s about time to start big works in the garden and yard, it’s time to start worrying about bees, wasps and mosquitos.

Just this morning I read that according to a new study that just came out, they’ve determined that wasps can use a form of logical reasoning to figure out unknown relationships from known relationships. What this means is that wasps can determine that if X is greater than Y, and Y is greater than Z, X is greater than Z. For most of history we have thought this was something unique to humans. In just the past 30 years, scientists have discovered that some vertebrate animals (monkeys, birds, fish) can reason like this, but wasps are the first invertebrate that shows this ability.

This news means I am really hoping not to have to spray any wasp nests this summer.

How do you co-exist with all the little critters?

Redeeming Science

I swear more than I like; as a child I fully succumbed to my father’s theory that people who swore just didn’t have good enough imaginations to choose better words.  But I am, in the heat of the moment, a potty mouth.  I’ve always kind of wished that I were a sailor; as I understand that sailors and longshoremen are the best swearers . Then maybe I’d have a bigger swearing vocabulary and wouldn’t need to feel my father’s disapproval from the great beyond.

So lo and behold, I see online today (SciShow) that it turns out that swearing can confer stress release, pain amelioration and increased social bonding.  This backs up a Mythbusters episode I saw a few years back in which they tested pain response (iced water) in volunteers who either had to stay silent or could swear to their heart’s content.  The swearers were able to hold their hands in the iced water longer and recorded a less intense level of pain.

Apparently the social bonding is based on the perception that you are more open/forthright if you swear, as opposed to “holding something back” by not swearing occasionally.  There is apparently science to back this up along with the stress relief aspect of swearing as well.

I don’t know if having this knowledge will make me swear more or if I will always hear my father’s voice in the back of my head.

What bad habit would you have that you’d like to be redeemed by science?

Big Splash

We live very near to an important geologic area called the Hell Creek Formation.  It covers parts of western North Dakota, Western South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming. It contains some of the richest fossil beds from the Cretaceous period, the era that ended with the death of the dinosaurs.

Recently, two paleontologists published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences  titled “A seismically induced onshore surge deposit at the KPg boundary, North Dakota”,  outlining just what happened in what is now North Dakota in the minutes following the crash of an asteroid in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. This was the asteroid that is thought to have killed all the dinosaurs.

Based on what they found in a grey/ black layer near the top of a butte on a ranch near Bowman, ND, about 80 miles from my town, they estimate that in minutes after the asteroid crashed in Yucatan, seismic waves of water and molten rocks smashed into what is now the Hell Creek Formation.  Molten glass particles filled the air, choking any living thing.  Fish (salt water and fresh water), trees, rocks, dinosaurs, and beads of molten glass were swept up into a jumbled mass, preserved in the mud and debris for the modern paleontologists to find.  The fish fossils in the KPg boundary dig  were so well preserved that they could see that their mouths were open, gasping for air.  It triggered fires within 1500 miles of the impact and formed a plume of fire that rose halfway to the Moon.  They estimate 70% of the world’s forests burned.  Almost all life on the planet died.

Well, I find that pretty awe inspiring and amazing.  I like it when scientists can make things real and exciting.  Yucatan is a long way from where I live. That must have made a really big splash when it hit.

What has amazed you recently? Would you want to be a paleontologist? Did you ever do cannon balls?

 

Science and Me

Today’s post comes from Steve Grooms.

I grew up thinking some people are born with science and math competence, but many are not. I long ago concluded I am stuck in the “not” group. Not surprisingly, I performed badly in the two science courses my high school forced me to take.

When I went to college I honored my mother’s fervent wish by declaring a pre-med major. That didn’t last long. In my freshman year I got a D in inorganic chemistry, a “gentleman’s D” that should have been an F. I switched my major to American Studies. I instantly felt relief because history and literature classes were fun and almost easy for me. I regretted being such a dunce in science classes, but it seemed obvious that I was never meant to be a scientist.

Life has ways of challenging our prejudices. As an outdoorsman and outdoor journalist I was a passionate advocate for intelligent management of the planet and all things that live on it. And guess what? I couldn’t fight for sound wildlife management without considering the science used to defend different management programs. When thoughtful people began dreading climate change, I realized that ignorance about science was a luxury our society cannot afford.

Writing about wolf management obliged me to confront tricky science issues. The state of Alaska has long been enthusiastic about lethal wolf management. Alaska’s game managers claim scientific research proves that killing wolves will boost populations of caribou and moose. Many wolf biologists disagreed. I was forced to consider whether Alaska’s wolf studies were sound science or just excuses to kill wolves.

At about the same time, I met wolf researcher Dave Mech, the most dedicated scientist I’ve known personally. Dave helped me see the dangers of sloppy science. After working with him I realized (to my astonishment) that I respect the scientific method. It is an intellectual discipline that makes it possible to test ideas about the world we live in.

My personal odyssey of coming to admire science has been boosted enormously by the way so many politicians have decided that science is their enemy. The current occupant of the White House hates science. He dismisses the wisdom of genuine experts, favoring the whims of his “gut.” As recently as 1990 many Republican politicians supported science research, but that seems like a distant memory now. I’m convinced that the anti-science culture so prevalent today is anti-intellectualism in a form that threatens all the values I hold dear.

I once would have cheerfully admitted to “hating science.” No more. I dream of a time when science and its rigorous style of problem solving is respected again. If we are to make America great again, that would be a smart place to start.

Does science touch on your life now? Do you have feelings about science?

MMR

There was a small blurb  in our local paper yesterday about an outbreak of mumps in our city’s middle school. The city Facebook page has a number of antivac and provac responses to this crisis, as crisis it is, as there are several immune compromised students who cannot go to school because they are at risk for terrible infection.

I remember having Rubella, Mumps, Roseaola, and Chicken Pox. Husband had all those and Scarlet Fever as well.  Both our children had the Chicken Pox.  There are many individuals receiving Developmental Disability services in our region because they had mumps or measles or some other childhood illness in the 1950’s that resulted in intellectual disabilities.   Our grandson is now recovering from RSV, and I am thankful his parents are confirmed vaccinators.

What memories do you have about childhood illnesses?  How do you feel about vaccinations?

Surfing Pluto

It’s amazing what happens sometimes when you’re surfing the internet. I started with my daily dose of Sci Show Space, which led me to Gustav Holst’s Suite of Planets.  I realized that Holst wrote The Planets before Pluto was discovered, so he can’t be blamed that after 1930, he was missing a planet (of course now he’s OK again if you want align yourself with the Astronomer’s Union).  Over the years composers have “added” to Holst’s work with various songs about Pluto.

There are serious attempts like Pluto, the Renewer by Colin Matthews):

and very silly (yet funny) pieces, like For the Planet Pluto by the Music Tapes:

And I particularly like this one, Plutonian Nights by Sun Ra:

Then my lunch break was up and I had to get back to work!

Any unsung heroes in your life?

Cookie Mathematics

Wednesday night I made a second attempt at Schwarzweiss, German checkerboard cookies.  The ones from my first attempt  tasted good but I just didn’t get the process by which they miraculously look like checkerboards. They looked like mutated chocolate and vanilla strips.  I found another recipe with better instructions, and they actually turned out.

I never liked math very much. I really disliked geometry. The process to make checkerboard cookies is mathematical and geometrical, requiring the ability to visualize the process (which I could sort of see) and the patience to carry it out (which I really lack). I had to stack the two different colored layers, cut the stacks in half lengthwise, cut them again in half lengthwise, stack them again,  cut the stacks  in four slices lengthwise, stack them again, then slice the stacks into cookies.

It was intriguing to see a recipe that used three different colored doughs, as that seemed to make the process easier with fewer cuts and stacks. I am sure there is a mathematical explanation for that, but it makes my brain hurt to try to figure it out.

What are your feelings toward and experiences with mathematics? What makes for a good mathematics teacher? Is algebra or geometry easier for you?