Posts Tagged ‘Science’

Symphony of Science

January 14, 2012

I hadn’t visited Symphony of Science in a little while. The last video I watched was #8 The Big Beginning, and when I wasn’t looking John Boswell came out with four more productions:

  • Ode to the Brain (with Carl Sagan, Robert Winston, Vilayanur Ramachandran, Jill Bolte Taylor, Bill Nye, and Oliver Sacks)
  • Children of Africa (Carolyn Porco, Neil deGrasse Tyson, various presenters)
  • The Quantum World (Richard Feynman, Morgan Freeman, Stephen Hawking, Brian Cox, various presenters)
  • Onward to the Edge (Neil deGrasse Tyson,Carolyn Porco, various presenters

I like these videos because they highlight the wonder of the presenters’ words. They focus on the dreams that can be achieved with science, technology and innovation.

You can see the rest of the videos at the Symphony of Science website or the YouTube channel.

Gravity Stool – Art and Science

January 12, 2012

I found this link on Twitter from ThinkGeek. Jólan van der Wiel designed a machine containing magnets, that “grows” plastic embedded with magnetic material into these unique shapes.

Gravity Stool from Miranda Stet on Vimeo.

Image source

A Sad Day in the Science Classroom

December 2, 2011

I opened up the Star Tribune to a sad story. From the Star Tribune:

Thursday morning, ninth-graders in the second-hour science class at Maple Grove Junior High School had turned their desks toward the science table where teacher Matthew Achor conducted experiments for the class final.

The first time the teacher dropped a match into a jug of methanol, Neuberger said the experiment seemed to work. “It made a loud boom and a little flame,” he said. “Everyone thought that was cool and clapped.”

Neuberger looked down at his paper to begin writing down his observations. “I’m pretty sure he was starting it up to do it a second time,” Neuberger said. “And the next thing I know I’m on fire.”

Several students were injured during this science experiment. One of the students, Dane Neuberger, was severely injured with second degree burns to his face.  All of the students are expected to make a full recovery, and according to the article it doesn’t look like Neuberger will need skin grafts. Only minor damage was sustained to the classroom.

Details are slim in the article, but it sounds like the appropriate actions were taken after the explosion. A fire blanket was used to wrap Neuberger and an ambulance was called immediately. The room was evacuated and the fire department was called to investigate. The article doesn’t discuss the type of bottle or the amount or type of methyl alcohol employed in the experiment.

The science behind what was being taught.

The purposes of this experiment could be to demonstrate an exothermic reaction, oxygen supply in combustions (if a narrow-necked bottle is used as heat, flame and gas exits the bottle, fresh oxygen is sucked back into the bottle, re-igniting any remaining methanol vapor), detonation velocity, expansion of gases, etc.

This video shows the experiment as performed on four different alcohols:

The way it works is that liquid methanol is put into a bottle and allowed to evaporate, leaving methanol vapor in the bottle. Heat energy – a match, in this case – is added to the bottle, causing a combustible chemical reaction. Visible flame and a loud whoosh” is heard during the reaction. The methanol vapors are ignited, and liquid by-product (H2O) is left in the bottom of the bottle.

In the article above it’s mentioned that this teacher had been performing this experiment for years, and I found several online mentions of this as an acceptable high-school chemistry-level experiment. Some sites perform the study outdoors, some indoors. I do not remember this experiment performed when I was in junior high or high school.

Science teachers – Do you use this experiment in your classes? What safety precautions do you employ? For the rest of you – Do you remember this experiment from your days in the chemistry classroom? Did you have any larger-than-intended explosions?

Upcoming Show: Atheists Talk with Alex Rosenberg

October 27, 2011

I had (great intentions for conceiving and writing) an awesome post for yesterday, but instead spent most of the evening (you know, after cooking dinner, preparing lunch for today and eating dinner over some Mythbusters with the Hubby; I totally knew those breast implants weren’t going to expand at high pressures!) writing up my first-ever Atheists Talk radio program notes for the MN Atheists website! And then I had to muddle my way through navigating the website for the first time. I admit, there were a few frantic emails between me and the other administrators last night and this morning (frantic on my part, not theirs), and at least one header that included the plea “HALP!”. But I finally got all of the content in the right place and in a format that I’m almost happy with(dadgummed HTML!).

On Sunday we’re interviewing the American philosopher Dr. Alex Rosenberg about his new book, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions. I’m currently halfway through it and I’m enjoying his writing style. It’s a lot of science and deep reading, but every so often Rosenberg will slip in some completely unexpected humor and I’m reminded that, oh yeah – this is actually really fun stuff! 

I’ll be interested to hear the interview because there are a few things in the book that I’m not completely on board with, and I’m excited to hear Dr. Rosenberg expound on his ideas. This will only be my second time hosting, so I’m still allowed to be a little star-struck about our guests, right?

If you want to learn more about the upcoming radio interview on this Sunday October 30th at 9am (and see my shiny write-up!) visit

Lyme Disease – Always Learning.

October 21, 2011

If you’ve ever been camping or hiking or hunting or had an outdoor pet or gone anywhere near a tree or have a TV or know anyone who fits any of these situations, you’ve probably heard of Lyme Disease. I live in Minnesota, land of forests and lakes, big-ass mosquitos and lots and lots of ticks. I think it’s only natural and healthy for me to have an interest in the subject.

Disclaimers: I am not a doctor, nor an infectious disease researcher, nor a specialist on Lyme Disease or post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PLDS). I do have experience with serological testing, immunoassays and laboratory science. This blog post was inspired by a press release about antibodies linked to long-term Lyme symptoms. I welcome and appreciate any comments, corrections or conversation that are expressed with respect, and in the case of claims, with references. Also, I hold up the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the gold standard for dissemination of accurate and reliable public information on infectious disease. If you think that the CDC or “western medicine” is misguided or intentionally evil, or that all American physicians are controlled by the mob (hat tip to an earlier commenter), you should probably stop reading here.

Continue Reading

Academic Animal Dissection, FY!

October 17, 2011

This morning I saw one of my Facebook Friends showing off a t-shirt that really annoyed me:

Image shows a cartoon frog with the words “cut class, not frogs!” and “Don’t dissect.” “peta2”

Of course it’s a PETA shirt, which is one mark against it, but it’s the joyous anti-intellectualism of the message that first slapped me in the face. The cutesy message about cutting class makes me want to take a shower. Remember this summer’s marketing disaster for  JCPenny –  the “I’m too pretty to do my homework so my brother has to do it for me” t-shirt? Same sort of thing, but more gender-inclusive; Everyone can be anti-learning with this shirt! 

I’m making a lot of assumptions in these next couple of sentences, but they’ve held true in my experience. Don’t skip class – you miss out on interesting, important information. I’ve found that when I skipped classes, it was harder to grasp the big picture, and so the subject seemed more out of my grasp. Once this downward spiral starts, it’s easy to just pretend that the material is boring or irrelevant because you’re missing an entire hour’s worth (at least) of facts or information! Also, whatever you’ve missed is probably going to be on the test, and you’ll feel a lot less stressed and like more of a superstar if you do well on the test…you know, rather than failing it.

Second – do dissections! It’s not gross, it’s not weird, it’s cool as hell! You are looking at the internal workings of the machinery that drives a living being! The National Science Teacher’s Association supports animal dissection and believes that it can help students develop skills of observation and comparison, discover the shared and unique structures and processes of specific organisms, and develop a greater appreciation for the complexity of life.

The wet lab portions of my high-school and college A&P classes were amazing! Seeing how fine the nerves were, how intricate the cardiovascular system, with all of the tubes going into and out of the heart and through the lungs, and understanding how long the small and large intestines really were as they moved through my gloved hands for a length of time that seemed to go on forever – these experiences fueled my interest in anatomy and inspired me to ask questions in ways that I doubt a computer program would have. So much of what we do these days is digital, and I suspect performing a necropsy on a computer screen would be just another game for me.

So, I was feeling a little grumpy about the “cut class, not frogs” shirt. But this morning on Twitter I found a perfect way to raise my spirits. A teacher at Gaffney High School in Gaffney, South Carolina is requesting donations to help fund dissections in her classroom:

My Anatomy and Physiology students attend a high poverty school that has limited resources and monies available. They are juniors or seniors who have identified their career path to be in the health science field. Some have set goals to be lab technicians while others strive for their doctorates. All of them want to learn and are interested in the structure and function of the human body. We have an enormous amount of fun learning and utilizing the limited resources we have.

My Project: Future nurses, health care professionals, and doctors will be inspired to pursue their dreams by having hands on experience with preserved specimen dissections. Dissection tool kits, virtual dissection tutorials, and basic specimens of sheep eyes, hearts, and brains will create a curiosity of the structure and function of the human body that will last a lifetime.

Science is a difficult and intimidating subject to many teenagers. My goal is to remove these obstacles by providing lessons that motivate my students to learn and strive for a college degree. Hands on activities and labs are the pathway to see my students excel not only in science, but also in their life.

If you can spare $5 (or a few $5!) and you’re feeling sentimental about your old frog dissection days, why not stop by her website and help out? At the time of this posting, Mrs. Greene is only $109 away from meeting her goal.

Do not fear the science!

May 16, 2011

Like many people, my gateway drug introduction to skepticism as a vibrant, evolving community was The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe. If you listen to podcasts and like science and skepticism with occasional side of snark, you absolutely MUST give SGU a try.

This was the end-of-show quote from episode #303 (5/4/11), and it’s stuck with me for over a week now. I really enjoy it as a persuasive statement about the use and beauty of science.

“I love science, and it pains me to think that so many are terrified of the subject or feel that choosing science means you cannot also choose compassion, or the arts, or be awed by nature. Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and reinvigorate it.”

-Robert Saplosky

Science: Why I <3 Coffee?

April 18, 2011

A quick coffee post seems like a good way to start a Monday.

Yay! Another personal bad habit that I can blame on genetics that may potentially be explained by science!

Today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune reprinted an article by an LA Times reporter, Karen Kaplan about a press release entitled “Genetic variants associated with caffeine intake identified”.*

From the LA Times article:

A team of researchers from Harvard, the National Cancer Institute and other esteemed institutions of biological science reports that our need for caffeine is in our DNA.

As if there were any part of our lives that weren’t subject to genetics in some form or fashion.

But back to the so-called caffeine genes. There are two of them, according to a report published Tuesday in PLoS Genetics. The first is CYP1A2, which had already been known to have something to do with caffeine metabolism, and the second is AHR, which plays a role in regulating CYP1A2.

Everyone has both of these genes, of course, but we don’t all have the exact same kinds. Those in the study who had the most caffeine-seeking version of CYP1A2 drank an average of 38 milligrams more of the stuff each day than those with the most caffeine-indifferent version. People with the most caffeine-dependent version of the AHR gene consumed an average of 44 mg. more per day than their counterparts with the least caffeine-seeking version.

That works out to about the same amount of caffeine as is found in a single can of Coke or Pepsi or in a cup of tea.

Which reminds me…Need. Moar. Coffee!

The original paper has a really long, sciency name** and was e-published in PLoS Genetics on April 7th, 2011.

**Oh fine, if you really want to know: Genome-Wide Meta-Analysis Identifies Regions on 7p21 (AHR) and 15q24 (CYP1A2) As Determinants of Habitual Caffeine Consumption.

Social Science – Party with the Pharaohs

April 1, 2011

How much fun was the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Social Science: Party with the Pharaohs on Wednesday?


When the Hubby and I first arrived, I was little worried. We found parking as soon as we entered the ramp (not a good sign – where was everybody?), and when we arrived in the lobby at 6:45pm (15 minutes prior to doors opening), we sauntered in, flashed our IDs at the ID-checking dude at the door and walked right up to an available ticket salesman. Ack! Was anybody but us going to show up for this thing? Three of our friends had arrived around the same time and were hanging out on one of the couches. We grabbed some wine from the cash bar and waited for the rest of our group to arrive. A few people trickled in over the next 15 minutes or so, but the music from the DJ was still echoing around in the mostly empty, large, open space. Ohhhh dear.

And then it happened – the tipping point. Around 7:15 pm people started POURING into the lobby.

People queued up to buy tickets – excellent! HUGE crowd = More events like this in the future!

The Hubby and some of our friends took over the plush couch area. Behind them you can see the ticket line extending out of the lobby doors and all the way back to the elevators! Yipee!

I hung around in the lobby to see if anyone else from our group was going to arrive while the others headed downstairs to try out some of the good from Crave, Golden Fig and TeaSource. It was reported back that the food was all interesting and tasty, and while there was enough food to handle the crowd, the lines were tremendously long.

Our first stop was the 8pm showing of Mummies at the OmniMax theater. The movie went through some of the history of Egyptian dynasties and the discovery of the royal tombs in the 1800s. It was entertaining, and visually amazing as always. At one point the picture was so crisp and we were seated at such a perfect angle that I had an odd sensation of being in the on-screen crowd. Fun!

After that we went to the 5th floor – the Mississipi River Gallery. All of the normal exhibits were open, and there were special live animal exhibits for the Social Science event. We saw an American Kestrel, snakes and other reptiles from the Minnesota Herpetological Society, and tarantulas from a Bugs exhibit.

After browsing around up here, it was time to go see the King Tut exhibit. I have a confession: I’m not a huge history buff. Not only do I not know a lot about history, I usually am not interested in it. I like to know leasons learned from history, but start going on about time lines and processions of leadership or rule and I have to work really hard to stay focused. That’s what a lot of the King Tut exhibit was about. There were some very interesting relics in the rooms we walked through – I liked looking at the statues, the jewelry, the stones and realizing that I was standing a few feet away from something that was thousands of years old – that was awe-inspiring.

But my favorite part of the exhibit was the room where the replica of King Tut was stored. Here there was a panel presentation of the medical and imaging technology that has been used in the last century to infer how, why and when King Tut met his early demise. Now, that’s cool! *shrugs* Specialized nerdery.

Afterwards we bummed around in the King Tut gift shop, and then we saw the Medical Quackery devices and the other fourth floor exhibits.

The Hubby tried on a Pharaoh’s head dress earlier in the evening at the lobby gift shop.

Me with LOLpharaoh kitty and LOLpharaoh dog.

Chris poses in front of the medical quackery devices.

A piece from the SMM’s permanent collection – an actual mummy (not a replica). This  was not part of the Tut exhibit.

Flying fossils!

Next we went to my favorite areas – the general science exhibits! I like the biology and medicine areas the best (of course), but the physics and chemistry areas also have a lot of fun hands-on activities. It was at this point in the evening when we discovered we had made a mistake. If you’re going to go to the museum to enjoy the benefits of no kids – skip the Omnimax and go play in the routine exhibits! Kids are pretty well behaved in the theater and in the solemn, respectful atmosphere of the special exhibits; it’s in the “play areas” that they run wild! Plus, by the time we had finished up with the mummy stuff, everything was shutting down; I missed the DNA lab and the interactive presentations at the activity areas! Ah well, next time we’ll know.

Back-lit slice o’ human. Sweeeeet.

Chemistry activity station

Hanging mural; part of the light and color exhibit.

Help, I’m trapped in a crystal ball! I’ve got a bit of a “Face of Boe” thing going on, don’t you think?

Dino fossils seen from the fourth floor – entry to the paleontology area.


That pretty much wrapped up our evening. We had just decided that we were too old/responsible to be up past 10pm on a school night when the “Get the hell out of the museum” announcements started playing over the intercom. I had a lovely time, and it was a really neat treat to see so many people in their 20s and 30s enjoying the museum. I can’t wait for the next Social Science!

Party with the Pharaohs – and Biodork!

March 23, 2011

The Science Museum of Minnesota is hosting an event called Party with the Pharaohs next Wednesday evening, and it sounds INCREDIBLY fun and nerdy. They’re going to have food samplings from Crave, the Golden Fig, and TeaSource, a DJ, film screenings, adult pictionary, presentations from local science groups, Science Live theater, and live insects, reptiles and an American Kestrel.

And we get the WHOLE MUSEUM TO OURSELVES! I’m so happy that parents and schools take kids to the museum to get them interested and educated in science, but they always hog all of the cool demonstrations! I want to put the golgi apparatus in the life size cell and play in the smoke tornado, too! And next week I can.

I thought this would be a great chance to get together with all of my nerdy friends who like and appreciate science.  I threw the idea of going out to the twitterverse and Facebook last week and got back some positive responses (and trust me folks – one good pat on the head was all I needed), so I went ahead and made an eventbrite page for the evening. You don’t have to sign up through the eventbrite page to join us next week, but if you do I’ll get super excited and come up with all sorts of nifty ideas for the evening.

Wednesday March 30th – 7pm to 11pm
Science Museum of Minnesota – St. Paul, MN

Go…now…do it…you know you want to.