From an idea he had in middle school, the 14-year-old student Suvir Mirchandani did research using a software program to see if different fonts could lead to cost savings in ink. The answer was yes - the U.S. Federal Government could save $1.8 billion per year by switching to 12-point Garamond. Suvir said this would save 29% of ink costs, and published his results in the peer-reviewed Journal of Emerging Investigators. The Government Printing Office even said they would consider the printing suggestion!
Iron-rich hills in Australia hold the oldest piece of Earth's crust we have found yet. Earth is thought by scientists to have been formed around 4.5 billion years ago, and zircon crystals in the rocks were dated to 4.4 billion years old by radioactive dating back in 2001. Recently, scientists shaved off pieces of the zircon crystals, and found radioactive lead atoms inside that were trapped in lava as it solidified (the lead used to be uranium but decayed into lead). They were able to more accurately date the crystals to 4.374 billion years old (plus or minus 6 million years).
This article states two facts that I think are pretty amazing:
-the rocks formed about 160 million years after our solar system formed; and
-the rocks formed when an object the size of Mars hit Earth and created the Moon. This formed a world-wide lava ocean which cooled to form the early Earth's crust!
I used to be biased because I was uninformed, but before I finished college, I thought that every teenager should aspire to attend a four-year college to obtain a great career and become an educated member of society. In the past few decades, I think this has been a common belief, and it is what almost all teachers and parents are coming to expect from their students/children. From my fortunate, middle-class upbringing, I think everyone I knew my age or younger went to college, with the majority going straight to a university and the rest transferring to one after starting off at a community college. It wasn't until after college that I met some people who did not go to college, but went to a trade school instead or took an apprenticeship and became members of the skilled labor force. I started to hear mentions in the popular media on how, perhaps, college education isn't the best fit for everyone, and some people prefer to learn a trade, such as how to be a plumber, auto mechanic, construction worker, hairstylist, professional chef or baker, etc.
Currently, there is a lack of many types of skilled workers in the U.S., such as the article linked below from a few days ago discusses. There has been a sharp increase in the need for welders in the U.S. with an increase in manufacturing and industry, but there are not enough trained welders to fill the need. Experienced welders can even make pretty good money, and even more with further math education. "Some students can expect to make a lot more, particularly those learning trigonometry in Hobart's advanced pipe-layout class. The math will come in handy when they're welding pipeline along rough terrain or running pipe into a refinery or pump station at unusual angles."
The reason I decided to blog about this topic is due to a TED talk I heard with Mike Rowe yesterday, the host of the TV show "Dirty Jobs." In the show, he spends a day (or more) learning and working on the type of "dirty," hands-on jobs that many university graduates would never consider working in (for example, cleaning septic tanks). These jobs do need to get done, though, for everything in our modern-day world to work and run smoothly, and Mike Rowe has helped remove some of the stigma of doing these jobs and showcase the good people who do these for their careers.
I have always thought Mike Rowe seemed like a great guy, but I was surprised and excited to hear that he started his own foundation to provide scholarships for technical trades education. When I checked out his website, I saw that there was a post and press release about how the mikeroweWorks foundation will be creating a Skilled Trades Pavilion at the USA Science & Engineering Festival this April to promote skilled trades.
The president of the mikeroweWorks foundation said, “Innovation and entrepreneurship are also components of many great STEM careers, and we want people to understand the role of skilled labor in those areas as well. With the help of the many companies attending, including the trade schools that mikeroweWORKS has already partnered with, I think we can make a very persuasive case for a host of great STEM opportunities that start with mastering a useful skill."
This got me thinking about how a lot of our "big science" experiments could not be completed successfully without the help of skilled workers. Agricultural and restoration studies need equipment operators to plow and plant fields, oceanic research needs the many skilled workers that maintain and guide large research vessels, and even university laboratory space can only serve its purpose by having good plumbers and electricians and maintenance workers to repair it. Some of the skilled tradespeople involved in experiments may not think of themselves as having a STEM career, but they play very important roles, and with further education and training, some of these workers could become more directly involved in research, which I think is really cool.
At this point in my life, I am very supportive of teenagers going to a trade school if they would like to join the skilled labor force, and I think there are some great career opportunities out there for them.
In many of my posts, I don't throw my opinion in (unless I'm just stating how cool something is). However, in this post you are going to hear of my strong opinion that people shouldn't let their cats roam outside. They are too detrimental to the songbird and small animal populations, and this article brings up a new point I hadn't considered: cats also have the capability to spread several diseases to humans, and even more so after they have been spending time outside. I don't know if this article will change people's minds if they believe cats should be able to roam free and act on their hunting instincts, but I bet if outdoor cat owners noticed their cats coming to untimely, horrible deaths they might keep them inside, if only for their safety.
Some of the facts in North America:
-There has been up to a 68% decline in the 20 most common birds since 1967. This decline is not solely from pet cats, but they do play an important part. Let's break it down.
-There are 30-80 million feral and stray cats, and 84 million owned cats
-A conservative estimate is that annually, free-roaming cats kill 2.4 BILLION birds in the Lower 48 states, 12.3 billion small mammals, and 650 million reptiles and amphibians.
The author makes a point that his pet cat may have killed 33 birds and dozen of mammals each year and caused the animals a very slow, painful death.
Relating to human health: "Cats are three to four times more likely than dogs to carry rabies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They also share many other parasites or infectious microbes with humans, including roundworms, hookworms, giardia and campylobacter." Cats also are the primary host of toxoplasmosis and pass it on to humans (almost 30% of humans worldwide have it).
For those of you who still want to let your cat enjoy the outside, I have two suggestions: Keep your cat on a leash (okay, I know, it sounds ridiculous but I have heard of cats who will go on leashed walks), or build/buy your cat an awesome, elaborate cage for your backyard, such as these ones. Otherwise, I'm sure your cat will still enjoy your company staying inside, and will remain cleaner, safer and disease-free.
I believe in an earlier blog post I mentioned how much I like Emily Graslie and her YouTube channel, "The Brain Scoop." She is currently the Chicago Field Museum's first Chief Curiosity Correspondent, and stars in highly entertaining videos about the collections at science museums. I'm not going to give her full background here, but you can check out her Wikipedia page, this Robert Krulwich post (cohost of NPR's RadioLab) on why he likes Emily so much as well, and this article from the Chicago Tribune. "Like" The Brain Scoop's Facebook page to get updates on Emily's new videos, news stories and cool museum specimens.
I wanted to share this video she starred in for Mental Floss on 21 really awesome, extinct animals. You all know about the T-Rex, and Lucy (the fossil skeleton of Australopithicus afarensis), but I bet you didn't know about Eurypterids (giant sea scorpions up to 8 feet long), or the Helicoprion (shark with a spiral-shaped "tooth whorl"), and lots of other fun facts.
The Brain Scoop's YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/thebrainscoop
I find almost everything she shows fascinating, but I'll admit I'm too squeamish to watch her animal dissections or preparing animal museum specimens.
The MentalFloss video below:
Many of you may know that many factory-farmed animals are given excessive amounts of antibiotics. Did you know that the antibiotics are not fed to them solely to keep them healthier, but also to make them fatter? Soon after antibiotics were developed in the late 1940s, antibiotic-laced food was fed to chickens, pigs, sheep and cows. All of the animal species gained weight. However, at the same time, antibiotics were a new wonder drug for treating human infections, and it was too expensive to feed them to animals. Scientists found out that the leftover slurry used in making the drugs that used to be thrown away could be fed to animals, with the same effect.
The 1950s was a time when people held fat babies and big men in high regard, so people were starting to consider that antibiotics may also cause weight gain in humans. What shocks me is that Pfizer sponsored a competition to see which animal feed salesman could gain the most weight in four months by taking antibiotics, and it was a public spectacle to see the men weigh themselves on scales as part of the competition.
Not everyone thought this was a good idea. "In 1954, Alexander Fleming — the Scottish biologist who discovered penicillin — visited the University of Minnesota. His American hosts proudly informed him that by feeding antibiotics to hogs, farmers had already saved millions of dollars in slop. But Fleming seemed disturbed by the thought of applying that logic to humans. “I can’t predict that feeding penicillin to babies will do society much good,” he said. “Making people larger might do more harm than good.” "
More shocking stories have been exposed. Scientists fed antibiotics to Guatemalan schoolchildren for a year, and to mentally disabled children in Florida twice a day, and found they did gain more weight than control groups. Adult male Navy recruits also took antibiotics daily for seven weeks and gained weight.
Pharmaceutical companies began selling antibiotic feed supplements for farm animals, and when animals ate the feed, they also gained the ability to survive better than they used to in dirty environments. The animals started to be caged in factory farms.
Of course, now there is alarm that humans are taking too many antibiotics, especially due to drug resistance. (Although we do not take in antibiotics from the meat we eat, it is prescribed frequently for infections.) Scientists are investigating if antibiotics contribute to our obesity epidemic, and are altering our natural microbiomes in our bodies that are beneficial.
Poor Martha. The last passenger pigeon that we know of in existence died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914, after living her last four years alone and barely moving in her cage. I have been fascinated with extinct North American animals since I was a child, and the passenger pigeon was no exception. I had heard the stories of how their flocks used to darken the skies because they were so large, and how humans hunted them to extinction in a very short time. This article is not about some of the other passenger pigeon stories in the news lately (including efforts to resurrect the species through de-extinction, or how the abundant chestnuts they ate were threatened by the outbreak of chestnut blight in the first decade of the 1900s). Instead, the article is about how passenger pigeons such as Martha ended up in captivity at a time when there was no conservation movement like there is today to save endangered species.
There were only three captive flocks of passenger pigeons being bred by 1900, raised under very different conditions. Only one flock was ever studied by scientists. The Cincinnati Zoo had one of these flocks with possibly 22 birds when they opened to the public in 1875, and although the pigeons reproduced successfully at first, they all eventually died until Martha was the only one left, and the zoo could not find any more over the years to add to their flock.
Joel Greenberg wrote a book about the passenger pigeon's extinction, and wrote this shorter article adaptation.
A stuffed Martha at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
On Signy Island off the coast of Antarctica, moss grows so thick that scientists drilled moss cores of moss growing on top of moss growing on top of moss growing on top of permafrost (permanently frozen soil) with older moss frozen in it. In warmer climates, the buried moss would simply decay into brown, mucky peat, but that doesn't happen in very cold locales. The moss in the permafrost was over 1,500 years old (determined by carbon dating), and when scientists sliced the core open and incubated some moss from the core, new moss grew! Peter Convey, the study co-author, said, "We can't be certain there is no contamination, but we have very strong circumstantial evidence. Under a microscope, you can see the new shoot growing out of the old shoot. It is very firmly connected."
This is the first time any plant or mammal has survived more than a couple decades being frozen, and the finding may mean that ice could possibly survive under a glacier until it retreats or melts, and then recolonizes the bare soil that is left.
Photo credit: P. Boelen
I figured this blog needs to cover what is being called very big news, but I didn't really understand it myself when I first read about it. I will try to break it down.
This big story is about how new evidence was found that confirms how the Big Bang happened. There are several theories about what is called the Inflationary Big Bang. Some theorists had thought that during the big bang, the universe inflated and grew huge in a very tiny fraction of a second, seemingly faster than the speed of light. An experiment at the South Pole called BICEP2 found evidence of gravitational waves from the Big Bang, and after three years of analysis confirmed this specific type of inflation model. Electromagnetism and nuclear force united to become a "super-force" when the universe was created.
The implications are huge - our universe may only be one in a multiverse of many universes forming over time!
Scientists are waiting to hear if these results are confirmed with data from the European Space Agency's Planck mission, but are optimistic that this finding could be true and could very well lead to a Nobel Prize.
Update 3/21/14: I think this PhD Comic explains what happened a lot better than my feeble attempt at putting it into paragraphs.
This post is not meant to just brag about the graduate student services that Michigan State University (MSU) offers and make students and former students at other universities feel like they missed out. However, the focus of this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education is about MSU's Graduate School's programs that attempt to reach graduate students throughout their time in grad school (and not just when they are about to graduate) with various resources to help them make the most of their research and careers. I have noticed over my five years at MSU that the Graduate School has constantly been increasing their resources available to grad students, and I have taken advantage of them as much as I could.
MSU has held quite a few discussion panels and workshops on looking for jobs outside of academia, which is something that many professors either do not support or do not have the experience and knowledge to inform their graduate students about. There are workshops on how to stay productive and manage your time well, and recently I attended others on sleep (not just the importance of sleep but misconceptions and techniques to help get better sleep) and emotional resiliency. I have been very happy with the free graduate student fitness classes that have been offered the past couple years, which include cardioboxing, zumba, yoga and cycling, because I didn't exercise often enough before they were offered and did not feel as healthy. (Being a cheap graduate student, I didn't want to pay to use the gym or take normal fitness classes.)
I do hope, for graduate student health and wellness everywhere, that many more universities follow MSU's example and fully support their graduate students throughout their time in graduate school.
I'm an ecologist in Michigan, but I'm interested in lots of other types of science, too. I'll share what I find interesting in this blog.