Archive for the ‘Pure Science’ Category

Turtles Shell Helmets Courtesy of Sinking Ships

February 23rd, 2009
USS Mullinnix as it's getting sunk as part of naval tests in August 1992.  Photo courtesy of

USS Mullinnix as it's getting sunk as part of naval tests in August 1992. Photo by

The path to science discovery and application does not always follow a straight line.  This is one such example.

For years the U.S. Navy has conducted tests of the explosive variety in an effort to make ships stronger and bombs more potent.  I can only assume they’re succeeding in doing a very good job at both.

But since these tests tend to take place over open water, there’s collateral damage of the marine variety.  In particular, dolphins and turtles.

Read more…

Biology, Business and Politics, Engineering and Tech

Coffee v. Strokes: Coffee Wins

February 22nd, 2009
Does coffee help prevent strokes?  Photo courtesy of

Does coffee help prevent strokes? Photo courtesy of

Doctor David Liebeskind of UCLA et al. announced late last week at the International Stroke Conference an interesting finding with regard to the relationship between coffee consumption and…wait for it…strokes.

While previous publications have touted the seemingly beneficial effects of coffee drinking, how it relates to strokes was not established.

But after looking at daily coffee intake amongst a sample of over 30,000 individuals (of which, over 9,000 were coffee drinkers), they found lower incidences of strokes in those who drank more coffee.  In other words, those who imbibed at least 6 cups a day had fewer strokes than those who drank 3-5, who had fewer than those who drank 1-2, who had fewer than those who didn’t drink any.

If that wasn’t enough, the incidence of cardiac disease, diabetes, and hypertension was also lower for those who drank more coffee.

Right about now you might be asking why this is. Is coffee good for you? Should I drink more? The simple answer is, nobody knows.

Which implies that despite these findings, caution is in order.  The results represent correlations, not necessarily cause and effect.  The authors state that the mechanism behind these “benefits” is as yet unknown and more research is required.

For example, it is possible that those who drink a lot of coffee have greater wealth and thus better access to health care than those who drink less.  After all, last I checked 6 cafe mochas at Starbucks can easily set you back $20 a day. Which is about the cost of a very good PPO with a very good health insurance company here in California.

Source: International Stroke Conference Oral and Poster Presentations

Biology, Medicine

Shuttle Mission STS-119, Carrying Two Teachers, Will Not Launch As Planned

February 21st, 2009
Discovery on STS-119 at the Vehicle Assembly Building.  Photo courtesy of NASA.

Discovery at the Vehicle Assembly Building in January 2009. Photo courtesy of NASA.

The again-delayed shuttle mission STS-119 is supposed to be special for a number of reasons.  First, three of the would-be astronauts are first-timers, and of those two are former educators.  Joseph Acaba and Richard Arnold were both former high school teachers who were elevated to the ranks of Mission Specialists after undergoing NASA’s standard training for all astronauts.  The hope, of course, is to continue to spark the imagination of students everywhere and engage them on an academic level.

But this mission seeks to accomplish much more.  As the 10th-to-the-last shuttle mission ever (unless things change), STS-119 seeks to install the final set of solar arrays onto the International Space Station and fix the failed toilet to tap urine conversion system.

Of course there will be a wealth of on-board science experiments and ISS construction that will ensue over the 14 day mission.  But one interesting bit includes a one-off heat shield tile that will be placed under the left wing.  It will sport an irregular bump of 0.25 inches and will be monitored during re-entry at Mach 15 to understand the heating effects on that tile.  I can’t wait to catch the video on YouTube.

Oh, why is this mission delayed?  Endeavor’s flight in November 2008 was marred by a failure of a hydrogen flow control valve, one of three that adjusts the flow of gaseous hydrogen to fill the void of liquid hydrogen used during assent.  Fortunately, this particular failure was compensated for by the other two and the assent proceeded without a hitch.  But upon landing and an inspection of the valve, engineers were left with answering a basic question: Could this failure have led to catastrophe?

Well, it’s 6 days before the intended launch date of February 27.  And without a firm answer, NASA has wisely decided to postpone the mission.

More to come…


The $787 Billion Stimulus Package Gets Dissected

February 19th, 2009

Yesterday, Barack Obama signed the $787 billion stimulus package which narrowly passed the Senate just last week. And today, courtesy of The New England Journal of Medicine, we have a better idea of what that means to science and medicine.

To get all the details, you should jump straight to the source. In a nutshell, NIH funding increases by $10 billion, compared to a total budget of $29.5 billion last year. Plus, just over $1 billion will go to support various wellness programs and training for health professionals.

It’s clear that doctors and related scientists won’t be hurting any time soon, although the stimulus package mandates significant changes to the way doctors manage and safeguards patient information. But perhaps the biggest winner falls into an area you may have heard little about. Well, we suspect that will change shortly.

Read more…


THEMIS (Aurora research and more!) Update

February 16th, 2009
Photo courtesy of NASA.  Artists rendition of Earths magnetic field.

Photo courtesy of NASA. Artist's rendition of Earth's magnetic field.

If you recall, THEMIS is the awful name given to the amazing set of satellites charged with learning about how the solar wind affects Earth’s magnetic field, auroras, and shortages to our power grid.

Without getting into the nitty gritty, late last year initial results indicate that indeed our magnetic field is leaky as previously predicted.  However, what surprised scientists is the finding that more solar particle penetrate Earth’s magnetic field when it’s aligned with the sun’s magnetic field, not against it.

And it’s when the sun’s magnetic field switches orientation that ours tears open, ultimately wrecking havoc yet yielding amazing auroras.  For the science intense, you can go straight to the source.  For those looking for auroras, look no further than here.


A Few Favorite Aurora Pictures

February 16th, 2009

Science isn’t all about number crunching.  Sometimes physics is fun.  And as a follow up of an aurora article I wrote some time back with regard to the mission of NASA’s THEMIS, I thought about revisiting the set of probes to see if anything new has developed.  Well, new things have developed, specifically, a better understanding of how solar particles breach our planet’s magnetic field.  You can attempt to read and understand more about that here.

Once you’re done, enjoy the pictures that follow.


Photo by Joshua Strang. This image was taken over Alaska, and was voted Wikipedia Commons Picture of the Year for 2006.

Photo courtesy of NASA.  This image, taken from the International Space Station in February 2, 2003 shows green and red aurora.  Depending on conditions, the ISS can travel through, above, or below aurora.

Photo courtesy of NASA. This image, taken from the International Space Station in February 2, 2003 shows green and red aurora. Depending on conditions, the ISS can travel through, above, or below aurora.

Aurora as seen by the ISS

Photo by Don Pettit, ISS Science Officer in 2003.  Here’s another instance of the ISS going head to head with a green aurora.


Photo by Bud Kuenzli, courtesy of NASA.  This photo, taken over an Alaskan lake captures not just an awesome aurora, but a shooting star and the the Pleiades. You can find the original description here.

Interesting Pics, Space

Global Warming to an Extrasolar Extreme

January 29th, 2009
Extreme global warming, far, far away.  Photo courtesy of NASA.

Extreme global warming, far, far away. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Most climate experts believe a 3 degree Fahrenheit increase in out planet’s temperature over the next 100 years would spell disaster. 10 degrees would be catastrophic. What about 1000 degrees?

Ursa Major.  Photo courtesy of

Ursa Major. Photo courtesy of

There’s a Jupiter-sized planet that orbits a star 190 light years away located in the constellation Ursa Major, or what most of us recognize as the Big Dipper.

Read more…


Where’s Yo-Yo?

January 27th, 2009
Inaguration 2009.  Photo by David Bergman.

Inauguration 2009. Can you find Yo-Yo Ma? Photo by David Bergman.

This is what appears to be a blurry picture of the 2009 presidential innaguration.  In fact, it’s 220 images stitched together, taken with a Canon G10 and the Gigapan Imager by photographer David Bergman.  The Gigapan Imager is a robotic mount that moves a regular digital camera along  panoramic tracks while taking pictures along the way.  The result is what you see above – a very very very scaled down version of the final 1.47 gigabyte image.

Yo-Yo Ma with iPhone

Yo-Yo Ma with iPhone

While you can view and pan around this Gigapan image here, I’ve collected a list of some things I challenge you to find:

  1. President Obama (easy)
  2. Teddy Kennedy
  3. Tipper Gore
  4. Yo-Yo Ma with iPhone
  5. Newt Gingrich not paying attention
  6. Snipers(?) on the Capital
  7. Snipers on another building
  8. Tents lined up in an unusual place

Actually, I’ll show you what Yo-Yo Ma looks like.  What’s he doing?!  Good luck hunting!

Biology, Physics

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