30 April, 2013

A To Z Challenge: Zoology And Zebras

Zoology, a branch of biology, is the study of animals. It is a wide-reaching field and includes--but is not limited to--biochemistry, biological systematics, ecology, embryology, ethology, evolution, genetics, molecular biology, morphology, and physiology.

Looking up a recent development involving animals and zoology was a strange experience. Almost all the articles I found were depressing pieces about animal abuse or some other horrible cruelty (and I found out I'm apparently not human, since I don't have any special attachment to cute pictures), so I hope you won't mind if I repeat what I did last year and this year for Lepidopterology: Post images. Because it's the last day of the A to Z Challenge (so okay, partly because I'm worn out), it doesn't wear at one's faith in humanity, and who doesn't like good pictures? (Even if they're not really "cute".)

I sort of lied. Kittens and puppies don't affect me, but I would
vote for Frogmouths as one of the cutest animals in the world. Seriously.
Image via Wikimedia Commons.




What is your favorite animal? Or do you just like a certain category of animal, like birds or reptiles or insects?

-----The Golden Eagle

29 April, 2013

A To Z Challenge: Y Chromosome And Your Ancestors

Human telomere structure, via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain image
Like "W", there are no corresponding scientific fields that begin with the letter "Y". Hence, I'm posting about another specific section of study (a repeat from last year, I'll admit).

The Y chromosome is one of two sex chromosomes and contains over 59 million DNA base pairs, constituting almost 2% of total DNA in human cells. Sex chromosomes determine gender, of course--in normal cases, everyone has a pair of chromosomes, either XX (female) or XY (male). Occasionally there are cases of 48,XXYY (an extra pair of XY), 47XYY (extra Y), and 46,XX (fetus is male despite having female chromosomes due to an abnormal exchange of DNA).

A recent development involving the Y chromosome is the discovery that the most recent common ancestor of the Y chromosome--of which all current male genes are descended from--is thought to have lived 338,000 years ago. This is significantly before the oldest dated human fossils. The Y chromosome can be tracked because of the way it's transmitted, since it doesn't exchange as much genetic material with other chromosomes. Female XX sex chromosomes swap information; male XY chromosomes cannot since X and Y are limited in their compatibility.




I can't believe it's the penultimate day of the A to Z Challenge. Are you looking forward to the end of the month? Will you miss the Challenge?

And what fascinates you the most about human history?

-----The Golden Eagle

27 April, 2013

A To Z Challenge: Xenobiology And XNA

Xenobiology, also known as astrobiology and exobiology, is the study of alien life, including how life may have originated on Earth. It encompasses physics, astronomy, chemistry, geology, and biology. Technically, xenobiology has nothing to study other than Earth itself--planets are continually being discovered, but they're very far away. However, research into the history of development of life on this planet has begun to yield possibilities for how it may have formed on others.

A new development in the field of xenobiology is XNA. DNA is the fundamental building block of life on Earth, so messing with it is obviously an idea with some risks involved. XNA, a synthetic material that stands for xeno nucleic acids, could be an interesting solution toward designing new life and preventing damage to existing DNA. It can store information the same way DNA can, and has the potential for being the basis of new life--but if two organisms, one with DNA and the other XNA, interacted, they could come into contact without affecting the other's genetic material, acting as a so-called "genetic firewall".




Would you be comfortable with synthetic organisms existing alongside natural ones? Do you think humanity will ever come into contact with alien life?

-----The Golden Eagle

26 April, 2013

A To Z Challenge: Wave-Particle Duality

Unlike almost every other letter of the alphabet, W has no corresponding scientific field of study. So I kind of sat in front of my computer for an hour trying in vain to come up with some kind of subject--and ended up going with wave-particle duality. Again. Because it's a somewhat recent development (physics-wise) and a fascinating subject.

Double-slit experiment, with the interference pattern on the right
and the two vertical slits in the center as S2. CC BY-SA 3.0,
via Wikimedia Commons
Wave-particle duality, which I touched on in my post Quantum Physics, is when a particle acts as both a wave and a particle; light had long been thought to be a wave until certain experiments demonstrated particle-like qualities. One of the more famous experiments is the double-slit experiment, which demonstrates light's wave properties.

Richard Feynman came up with the following analogy: Imagine you're shooting at a wall, but between you and the wall is a sheet with two vertical slits. The logical assumption would be that the bullets would hit the wall in two corresponding vertical rows--but that isn't what happens with light. Instead, when you shine light at two vertical slits, it builds up in an interference pattern (several bright and dark bands), which is a characteristic of waves, not particles.




When you think about light, do you tend to think of it as a wave or a particle? 

-----The Golden Eagle

25 April, 2013

A To Z Challenge: Volcanology And Volcanoes Building Up Steam

Volcanology, also known as vulcanology (though it has nothing to do with Spock), is a branch of geology that studies volcanoes in addition to associated phenomena such as material expelled during an eruption and the plate tectonics that creates volcanoes. The field also includes geodesy, geophysics, and geochemistry.

Recently, scientists have reevaluated their model of the Yellowstone caldera (also called a supervolcano or megavolcano), estimating that there is 50% more magma beneath the surface than previously thought and that the magma is contained within a single large chamber. Yellowstone National Park is, technically, a volcano in the process of preparing to explode once again, generating 1,000-3,000 earthquakes a year and displaying thermal activity on the surface--the last time it erupted was 640,000 years ago, though there have been smaller events as geologically recent as 70,000 years ago.




Are there any volcanoes in your region? Have you ever been to Yellowstone? 

----The Golden Eagle

24 April, 2013

A To Z Challenge: Unified Theory And Unraveling The Universe's Mysteries

Unified theory, also known as Grand Unified Theory (GUT) or the Theory of Everything (TOE), is the name for an as-yet undiscovered theory that would unite all the known physical forces into one complete theory. Since Albert Einstein physicists have been attempting to combine gravitation, the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force, and electromagnetism, and by so doing discover a fundamental equation or system that governs the universe.

One theory that holds promise toward producing a unified theory is M-theory. Gathering the attention of physicists like Stephen Hawking and Brian Greene, M-theory is the unification of five separate string theories, which it can combine by adding an additional 11th dimension. It's still being hashed out--but string theory has potential to successfully combine all known forces into one.




Do you think scientists will develop a unified theory/GUT/TOE within the next few decades? Do you think it will have a effect on society, or that we haven't achieved enough to really take advantage of a fundamental theory?

-----The Golden Eagle

23 April, 2013

A To Z Challenge: Technology And The Next Big Thing (That Could Invade Your Privacy To Extremes)

Technology is science applied to real-life problems. Physics equations and observations are all well and good--but technology allows the enormous range of scientific fields to play a very large part in people's everyday lives. The term technology has various uses: It can refer to a specific subset of machines (such as space technology) and it can refer to the total knowledge and capability of a society.

To be honest, the second part of this post (the "recent developments" section) came to me before the introduction. Google Glass is a piece of technology I've been wanting to post about for a while and the A to Z Challenge seemed like an ideal spot, seeing as I've already proposed some controversial subjects in previous posts.

Antonio Zugaldia, CC-BY-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Google Glass is a pair of glasses with the capabilities of a smartphone. You give it orders to give you directions, send messages, take photographs and videos, etc., and all while wearing the device as feedback appears in a small screen on one side of the eyeglass frame. While some people (me included) don't like the idea of having multimedia so close to one's actual eyeball, the privacy concerns have to be the most argued-over bit (though there are also concerns about distracted driving and so on).

The problem? There is no way for someone else to tell if a person wearing the glasses is recording--which could mean your face is unwittingly being uploaded to Google's servers and could be played back by the person who recorded the footage, or, perhaps, by governments; facial recognition software could be applied to identify crowds of people just because someone walked through a busy location with Google Glass recording. There aren't any limits to when someone can record, either; imagine all the moments most people would absolutely not want saved for another person to see.

Google Glass is scheduled to arrive some time in 2014, according to the Executive Chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt.




Will you be wearing the new Google Glasses once they're released? If you run across someone wearing them, will you be worried?

-----The Golden Eagle

22 April, 2013

A To Z Challenge: Seismology And Scientists Convicted Of Manslaughter

Seismology is a branch of earth science that studies earthquakes. It's a relatively new field due to the fact scientists have only been capable of truly measuring the entire scope of earthquakes for around 100 years, though different societies have had their methods of detecting shifts in the ground for far longer than that--the first seismograph (a device that measures seismic waves, or waves produced by earthquakes or other extreme phenomena) was built in 132 CE in China.

Perhaps a recent development in seismology that has received the most attention was the six-year jail sentence handed down to six scientists and a former government official. In 2009, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck the town of L'Aquila in Italy and killed 309 people; the scientists and official, part of a National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks, were accused of manslaughter for failing to predict the earthquake. The court's decision is based on the idea the statements put out by the commission were misleading in that they falsely provided a sense of security before the disaster--at one point, a statement was put out saying there was no danger. However, the scientific community has protested the court's decision because they feel it is, at least partly, an attack on science. Earthquake prediction is extremely difficult and there are zero tried and true methods of figuring out when the next significant quake is going to hit.




Do you agree with the court's decision? Or do you think that in these types of cases, regardless of the number of people dead, there are no grounds for scientists to be convicted?

-----The Golden Eagle

20 April, 2013

A To Z Challenge: Rheology And Redesigning Your Soap

Rheology is the study of how things flow and change, particularly the behavior of non-Newtonian fluids (fluids that do not obey typical laws of physics), which include foams, plastics, paints, and even everyday substances like the mayonnaise in your fridge. Rheology, following a bit of a mini-theme from the past couple letters of the alphabet, is yet another branch of physics.

A recent development in the field of rheology is a mechanism developed by a team of researchers at the University of Washington which produces the same effect as surfactants but without actual surfactants needing to be added to a substance. (A surfactant is the chemical found in soap that allows the soap to clean out oil and grease in water.) The new technology, called a microfluidics device, shoves molecules through slits one-tenth the width of a human hair which causes the molecules--in this case, water with detergent and salt--to deform and become significantly more viscous, with added elasticity.


(Note: This is a for-profit company website. I'm linking to it because it explains rheology; I cannot speak for the company itself or its products.)


What's the strangest substance you can think of? Do you use (or consume) any non-Newtonian fluids?

-----The Golden Eagle

19 April, 2013

A To Z Challenge: Quantum Physics And Quandaries Of The Universe (+ A Book Release: The Other Marlowe Girl)

Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics, is a field of study involving physics which cannot be explained through classical methods, such as Newtonian physics. Some extremely weird phenomena occurs in quantum mechanics, including--but not limited to--things appearing and disappearing at random moments and photons being both waves and particles.

This month, some interesting findings regarding a thing called quantum entanglement have been published. Quantum entanglement's premise is as follows: When two particles (let's say photons) are entangled, it means that when one or both of the photons is observed (i.e. measured) they assume opposite positions, such as one photon being up and the other down.

The interesting thing about the interaction is that before either of the photons is observed, they are considered to be in all possible states at the same time--therefore, when one photon falls into one state (such as the down state) upon observation, the other photon will fall into the complementary state (the up state). This means information travels between the two particles faster than the speed of light, which caused Einstein to call it "spooky action at a distance". The recent report closes three loopholes in this theory that could have poked holes in quantum entanglement, which serves to shore up the theory and affirm that, indeed, particles really are communicating between themselves about their different states.




And now, for a belated book release. In the madness of the A to Z Challenge, I thought this book release post was supposed to go up next Monday, when it was really supposed to be up last Monday. I apologize for the mistake--hope you can forgive me, Beth! And I hope this post can still do some good going up now.

Meet Beth Fred! That's me! I'm a full time ELF keeper and part time writer/blogger/writing instructor. I'm represented by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyons Literary Agency. I like my tea hot, my romance sweet, and my guys chivalrous. Real men hold open doors, refer to you as ma'am, make promises they keep, and aren't afraid to profess their undying love. It's not breakfast if there aren't carbs(at least, not in the South). Fajitas, carnitas, and churros are just few of my favorite things. Bet you can't guess where I'm from ;) Wanna know more about me? You can find that here:

Email me: bethfred08(at)gmail.com
Blogger:  bethfred.com
Tweet me: bethfred08
FB Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/bethfred08

Available at: Amazon & Smashwords
When twenty-four-year-old Tiffany escapes her sister Kammy's too wild Cancun bachelorette party, she finds herself in a bar with the unwanted attention of a gorgeous local named Luke.

Luke may be charming but Tiffany is leaving in two days and doesn't need any complications. But complications are exactly what she gets when the cops show up to raid Kammy's party. When Kammy is arrested, Tiffany agrees to have dinner with Luke, so he'll help her get Kammy out of jail. Kammy's arrest forces her to spend an extra day in Cancun, meaning she'll miss a crucial meeting, and as an accountant in tax season, she is already drowning in work. Not to mention, every second she spends with Luke makes it harder to leave. With Luke, Tiffany can forget about work.

But will the airport be their final goodbye?

ebook, 42 pages
Published September 12th 2012 by Amazon
edition language: English
original title: Kismet

Available at: Amazon
When twenty-four-year-old dance school drop out Kammy Marlowe is evicted by her mother, she goes to her favorite bar. She finds an unlikely friend in the blunt eye candy, Enrique. But Kammy knows there is no way she and Enrique have a shot because he's her brother-in-law’s brother and has been privy to her wild past.

Enrique swears he’s only interested in the person she is today, but their relationship is tested when her ex-husband's drug dealer attacks her, looking for money. With no options and a money hungry drug dealer on her back, Kammy accepts a position as a dancer at a strip club. But when Enrique shows up at the club, their relationship is over. With no reason to stay in Texas anymore, Kammy auditions for the Bolshevik Ballet and gets the opportunity to go to Russia. Only Enrique is determined to stop her.

Will she give up the chance of a lifetime to stay with the man she still loves?

Ebook: 107 pages
Published: April 5th 2013
edition language: English


Do you agree with Einstein's description of quantum entanglement as "spooky action at a distance"? Some scientists have accomplished minor teleportation using entanglement; would you agree to being teleported using quantum mechanics, if they succeeded at transporting things larger than individual particles?

Have you read any of Beth Fred's books?

-----The Golden Eagle

18 April, 2013

A To Z Challenge: Physics And Possible New Evidence Of Dark Matter

Physics is an enormous field concerned with the study of how things interact. It encompasses sound, light, heat, electricity, and just about any other physical phenomena you can think of. Physics also studies atoms and subatomic particles, as well as having some overlap with cosmology.

One recent development in physics is a couple of separate reports that scientists may be closer to figuring out  so-called "dark matter", that elusive component of the universe we haven't yet been able to detect for sure. But progress is being made: The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer attached to the International Space Station has detected positrons (the antimatter version of an atom's electrons) that might have been produced by dark matter interactions. Also, the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search in a mine in Minnesota has recorded three events involving supercool silicon wafers that could have been caused by dark matter particles, possibly supporting a supersymmetry theory involving "weakly interacting massive particles", known by the abbreviation WIMPs (got to hand it to physics sometimes when it comes to nicknaming things).

Obviously, three events is not enough to declare a discovery. Nor is detection of greater numbers of positrons than expected--but they're interesting glimpses of what could perhaps be one of the larger mysteries of the universe.




Do you think scientists will discover dark matter for certain in the coming decades?

-----The Golden Eagle

17 April, 2013

A To Z Challenge: Ornithology And Observing Raptors

Ornithology is a branch of zoology that focuses on birds. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature or IUCN, there are 9,865 species of birds within class Aves in the world. The earliest known bird, Archaeopteryx lithographica, existed 150 million years ago and had feathers, wings, and a reptilian face--birds are evolutionary descendants of reptiles.

Normally I'd give you a recent development in the field of ornithology, but instead I'll link to this live webcam of Bald Eagles in Washington, D.C. The juveniles--hatched last March--are the dark-colored ones in the nest, which is situated on the grounds of the Metropolitan Police Academy. There is also a highlights video on the right side of the page if you want to watch more exciting bits like the parents feeding the chicks.




What are your favorite birds?

-----The Golden Eagle

16 April, 2013

A To Z Challenge: Neuroscience And New Research Initiatives

Neuroscience is the study of the nervous system. It includes neurobiology (anatomy, physiology, and pathology of the nervous system), neurophysiology (physiology only), and cognitive neuroscience (biological sources of mental occurrences in the brain). Particular emphasis is usually put on the brain in neuroscience.

Now, I'm not trying to overly politicize my A to Z Challenge theme here, but I do think it deserves to be mentioned that President Barack Obama has recently announced he wants $100 million dollars to be spent on neuroscience, and especially brain mapping, the process of building a model of the neurons within the brain.

Critics state there is no actual clear and defined goal of the "Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnology" or BRAIN project--even if it does put more resources into neuroscience--unlike the Human Genome Project. The objective can be interpreted as ambiguous: Which areas should be mapped first? How extensive should the mapping be? Essentially, the human brain is complicated, and there are hundreds of different ways one could go about "mapping" its structure.




Do you think the BRAIN project is a good idea? Do you think there should be more direction in the program or that the funds themselves will be sufficient to kickstart breakthroughs in the field?

-----The Golden Eagle

15 April, 2013

A To Z Challenge: Mineralogy And Missions To Mars

Jarosite on quartz.
Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons.
Mineralogy is what it sounds like: The study of minerals, such as their physical properties, distribution, and identification. A mineral is a naturally occurring crystal of a chemical compound or an element that has a set (unchanging and predictable) chemical composition.

Last August, mineralogy expanded to a new planet--Mars. The Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument, also known as CheMin, onboard the Curiosity Rover, has already detected several different minerals including jarosite, a mineral formed when water evaporates. CheMin works by drilling a hole in a rock in question, collecting the dust produced by the drilling, and firing a beam of X-rays through the dust. X-rays cause specific atoms to either absorb or emit light--these patterns indicate exactly which elements are present in the sample.




If you could send a machine like CheMin anywhere in the Solar System, what would you choose to explore? 

-----The Golden Eagle

13 April, 2013

A To Z Challenge: Lepidopterology And Lepidopterans

Lepidopterology is the study of the order Lepidoptera, which includes moths and butterflies. It's a branch of entomology and, in turn, zoology and biology. The name originates from the Latin words "lepido", or scale, and "ptera", or wings. It refers to the fine scale-like materials that cover a lepidopteran's wings. There are over 100,000 species (perhaps as high as 174,000 depending on who you cite) and there is no technical difference between moths and butterflies--only some moths are nocturnal, with the rest being closely related to their "butterfly" counterparts.

I was going to continue with the recent discovery of the history of pygmy moths, but then I decided hey, it's the weekend, and I just gave you guys a complicated post yesterday about patenting genes and upcoming court cases. How about enjoying some pictures of lepidopterans instead. If you do want to know about pygmy moths (some named after Casanova and the Minotaur) the link is above.

All images here are public domain, found either on Pixabay or Wikimedia Commons.

Please excuse all the whitespace. I'd have added a third image, but Blogger won't let me put anything except text here.




What's your favorite butterfly or moth? Do any lepidopterans flit around where you live?

-----The Golden Eagle

12 April, 2013

A To Z Challenge: Karyology And Why Your Genes May Be Patented

Karyology is a field involving an organism's cell nucleus, particularly its chromosomes. It is a branch of cytology--the study of cell function and structure--which is in turn a branch of biology. Technically the word karyology refers only to the physical presence of the nucleus and its components, excluding the study of how chromosomes control in different parts of the body.

Chromosomes are tightly wound coils of DNA. As you've no doubt heard or read, DNA is the fundamental building block of life on Earth; it is the instruction manual that tells organisms how to grow, survive, and reproduce.

My next point is not strictly a scientific development, per se, but I thought it was an interesting (and perhaps alarming) recent event related to the field. This April, on the 15th, the US Supreme Court will hear a case about patenting genes. Myriad Genetics discovered genetic mutations on BCRA 1 and BCRA 2 genes--mutations related to breast and ovarian cancer--in the 1990s and filed for a patent on DNA with those mutated sequences. They got the patent.

The upcoming argument in the Supreme Court is over the functionality of the DNA. The DNA Myriad Genetics patented is, officially, "isolated DNA", which means it has to be a single piece of genetic material outside the rest of the chromosome for it to fall under the patent. The Supreme Court will decide whether the DNA is functionally different from that in the human body--there is a "products of nature" doctrine which states that something with no "marked difference" to something naturally occurring cannot be patented.




Do you think genes should be patented? Or do you think patent offices should not allow specific DNA sequences to be "owned" by companies?

-----The Golden Eagle

11 April, 2013

A To Z Challenge: Japan Could Put A "J" On The Periodic Table Of Elements

You may have noticed from the title that I haven't named a specific field of study, unlike previous posts. That's because, unfortunately, there are exactly zero branches of physical science (my theme's center) beginning with the letter "j". So this time I bring you a recent scientific discovery only: The synthesis of the new element ununtrium 113 by Japanese scientists.

Ununtrium, element 113 on the periodic table, is a solid at room temperature and can only exist by its being synthesized; it is not a natural element. It was first created by a group of Russians and Americans in 2004, along with element 115, but the results needed to be verified before it could be declared that 113 had been created. The Japanese scientists used a different method to create 113, which acted as that verification.

If scientists in Japan decide to name the element they discovered with a word including "j" it would bring the periodic table one letter closer to filling out the alphabet--so far "j" and "q" remain off the chart. The element jodium is the Dutch word for iodine, but officially iodine is denoted by the letter I, not J.




Got any favorite elements? Do you think there will ever be a "j" and a "q" on the list of elements?

-----The Golden Eagle

10 April, 2013

A To Z Challenge: Ichthyology And Invisible Fish

Ichthyology is the study of fish. It is a branch of zoology, which is in turn a branch of biology. Fish are thought to have evolved some 500 million years ago and are typified by having scales, gills, and fins, and being cold-blooded ("cold-blooded" is also known by the scientifically-correct terms ectothermic or poikilothermic).

Before you run away to something that sounds more interesting and less niche than studying fish (there weren't a whole lot of scientific fields beginning with "i" that I could dig up) give me a moment to get to the invisibility.

The pirate perch, or Aphredoderus sayanus, has been found to be capable of making itself functionally invisible to its prey, probably through a chemical means know as chemical crypsis. The experiment demonstrating the fish's abilities went along these lines: Frogs and beetles that don't lay their eggs around predators they recognize were placed in the vicinity of pirate perch. Instead of not laying eggs and avoiding the perch as they normally would, they acted as though the fish were not present at all. Scientists aren't absolutely sure it's chemical crypsis pirate perch are using to disguise themselves, but if it is, they would be the only known species to camouflage themselves that way.




Have any favorite fish species (either to eat or to look at)? Do you or did you ever own any aquatic animals?

-----The Golden Eagle

09 April, 2013

A To Z Challenge: Horology And How Your Computer May Be Going To Spaz

  © Copyright Peter Trimming and licensed for
reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Horology is the science of measuring time and the study of making timepieces. Humans have been working at the definition and measurement of time for thousands of years; as early as 3100 BCE the Egyptians had developed a 365-day calendar based on the appearance of the star Sirius in the sky and around 3500 BCE they had developed obelisks that acted as sundials. Technology has come a very long way since large angular pillars stuck in the ground, and our current idea of a "clock"--a steady mechanism capable of standing on its own--began to emerge in 1656 when Christiaan Huygens developed the first pendulum clock.

Taking another rather large leap forward in time, today's computers (whether PC or Apple or what have you) are running on what's known as Unix Time. (The name "Unix" comes from the fact it was a dominant operating system back when computing was just getting started.) It's based on a 32-bit number and has been counting every second since January 1, 1970.

Once the number reaches 2,147,483,764, however, there's a bit of a problem: When a 32-bit number reaches this value, it can no longer count upwards. Because of this, computers using Unix Time will revert to December 13, 1901 once time hits January 19, 2038, i.e. devices will believe it's the 1900s when it's actually the mid-2000s. The solution? Switch to 64-bit systems, which will run out of values in the year 292,277,026,596.




Is your computer a 32-bit? Do you think there will be any major problems in 2038, or do you think all the important devices will have been replaced with 64-bit by then?

-----The Golden Eagle

08 April, 2013

A To Z Challenge: Geodesy And GPS

Geodesy is the study of planet Earth's physical characteristics. It uses mathematics to determine precise geographical points and measure the size and shape of sections of the surface; geodesy also includes physics and astronomy to make calculations and build accurate models of the planet.

One leap in geodesy has been the arrival of satellite technology. As you might expect, this has greatly expanded the amount of data available--scientists can now see things that had been previously out of view. Studies of the water cycle, glaciers and ice sheets, atmospheric temperature, and other global events have since revealed complex interactions across continents.

However, the most familiar application of geodesy is probably your everyday Global Positioning System or GPS. Geodesy is the scientific field that developed techniques for pinpointing an object's location on the surface and methods of tracking said object. In many cases, this is likely your car or phone.




Have you ever tried GPS? Do you use it often? Have you ever run into glitches like we did once, where it sent us around a roundabout an extra few miles because it didn't understand the building we were looking for was on the other side of the roundabout?

-----The Golden Eagle

06 April, 2013

A To Z Challenge: Forensics And Finding The Right Evidence

Forensic science, or forensics, is a field you've no doubt heard of. It focuses on the use of science and technology to present evidence in court, and in a lot of fiction forensics is simply presented as your lead detective sending something to the lab and getting back important evidence against a criminal or criminals. However, forensics is complicated and has a lot more depth than just comparing someone's DNA--and they're beginning to find holes in practices that have gone on for decades, including bite mark analysis and even fingerprints.

In addition to physical evidence, with the surge in digital devices in people's lives a new branch of forensics has been added: Computer forensics. This is the analysis of data found on someone's hard drive (and other storage devices) or, in cases of remote attacks, a tracing of information packets that can sometimes be followed along the route of attack; the latter is called "network forensics".

If you live in the USA (because PBS restricts access and their videos aren't playable outside the country, darn it--though you could conceivably download a VPN to circumvent a regional block) and are interested in the field, then I highly recommend watching this NOVA program about forensics. It's fascinating.




Do you have any favorite examples of forensic science, either fictional or real? Do you think older techniques that are now proving to be less-than-reliable should be completely phased out? Are you in favor of DNA profiling if there's biological evidence it can be extracted from?

-----The Golden Eagle

05 April, 2013

A To Z Challenge: Enzymology And Ending Alzheimer's

A human enzyme. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Enzymology is the study of enzymes. Enzymes are complex proteins found in all human cells--they're found in all living cells, in fact--that act as chemical catalysts. They bind to specific substrates to create an enzyme-substrate complex and once the complex is formed they produce a product; enzymes can go on and repeat the reaction many more times with other substrate molecules, i.e. they are reusable.

Last September, an enzyme was discovered that could play a role in treating Alzheimer's Disease. BACE-2 destroys a toxic protein, called beta-amyloid, which is found in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. BACE-2 is similar to an enzyme that creates beta-amyloid, BACE-1, but unlike BACE-1 it both prevents and destroys the toxic protein. The discovery it destroys beta-amyloid may lead to a method of treatment or affect how other drugs are administered; some medicines reduce natural levels of BACE-2 in the body, possibly increasing the risk of Alzheimer's.




Do you think scientists will ever develop a cure for Alzheimer's Disease?

-----The Golden Eagle

04 April, 2013

A To Z Blogging Challenge: Dendrology And Dodder Vines

Dendrology is the study of woody plants and a subset of botany. The most familiar plants considered to be "woody" are trees, but dendrology includes vines and shrubs as well; not that trees exactly limit one's field of study since there are over 100,000 species in existence.

In the field of dendrology, it has been recently discovered that dodder vines (also known by some pretty colorful names including Witches' Shoelaces, Devil Guts, Hairweed, Love Vine, and Strangleweed), a parasitic plant that requires a host to survive, searches out its host by smelling for it. The dodder will move around in circles, detecting the chemical fingerprints of potential hosts, until it finds the right one and latches on.

The following video is a time lapse of a dodder's movements as it chooses between a wheat and a tomato plant; skip to 0:25 if you want to get straight to the action.




Ever heard of dodder vines before? (I hadn't until last night when I watched Nature.) Do you grow any vines or trees?

-----The Golden Eagle

03 April, 2013

A To Z Blogging Challenge: Cosmology And Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (+ IWSG)

Cosmology is the study of the universe as a whole: It's origin, its current state, and its future. Cosmology differs from astrophysics in that the latter is more focused on moons, planets, galaxies, stars, and other intergalactic forces, though there is significant overlap between the two fields; many scientific discoveries in one area of study affect the other.

One recent development in cosmology has been a better, much more detailed image of the universe's cosmic microwave background radiation, or CMBR, taken by the European Space Agency's Planck satellite. CMBR is considered to be a significant piece of evidence that the Big Bang (an extremely rapid explosion some 12-15 billion years ago considered by many cosmologists to have created the universe) actually happened. Assuming the Big Bang Theory is accurate, it calls for photon radiation (light) just after the initial explosion; these photons have since extended their wavelengths to become microwaves, hence the name cosmic microwave background radiation.

The radiation pattern shows fluctuations that, in some of the earliest moments of the Big Bang, caused the formation of galaxies and the other objects in the universe. It also supports the idea that the universe expanded very, very rapidly just after the Big Bang, and then slowed down, which would explain the size of the universe. The initial rapid expansion is called inflation.




And now, for the IWSG part of my post. In case you don't know what the Insecure Writer's Support Group is, check out this page on Alex J. Cavanaugh's blog.

My insecurity today is letting my writing sit for long periods of time; I haven't worked on my novel (my as-yet-unfinished NaNoWriMo novel, just to give you an idea for how long it's been around) in almost a month, and that's not unusual for me. A lot of people would argue you're supposed to write every day, even if it's just a few words, so my question is: Have you tried writing every day? Did it work? Were you more productive in the long term, or do you prefer to write in spurts?

Do you think cosmologists will someday be able to pinpoint the origin and the future of the universe? 

-----The Golden Eagle

02 April, 2013

A To Z Blogging Challenge: Biotechnology And Advances In Biomedical Engineering

Biotechnology is a combination of natural biological systems and artificial human-created technology and/or uses. It's commonly associated with genetics, pharmaceutical drugs, etc., though the history of biotechnology stretches back thousands of years to when people first began using yeast to make bread and selectively bred plants to give better crop yields.

A recent development in the field of biotechnology/biomedical engineering is 3D-printing of cells and, subsequently, organs. By using living cells, scientists have "printed" out human ears made out of cartilage, just as normal ears are. Researchers have yet to develop an ear created from a specific person's cells (a combination of rat collagen and cow cartilage was used in previous experiments), but that would be the next step in creating organs with the patient's own DNA.

Source: Wikimedia Commons, CC-SA-3.0, by Mnolf




Would you agree to have your cells removed, printed, and implanted, should a method of growing cells for printing be achieved? Or do you think the technology has a long way to go before it will be practical?

----The Golden Eagle

01 April, 2013

A To Z Blogging Challenge: Astrophysics And Asteroids

Today is the kickoff of the A to Z Blogging Challenge!

My theme this year is science. Specifically, recent discoveries in science: Last year I explored various fields and gave overviews of what they were all about, but this time I've decided to track down some interesting discoveries/recent developments in scientific fields and post about those. I'm also winging the challenge--not exactly by choice, but I'm looking forward to seeing what I can come up with on a moment's notice. (Hopefully our internet connection will stop acting weird and let me blog normally soon. Pages are taking minutes to load for some reason.)

But before we finally get to the actual content of my post, I'd like to give a shout-out to the creator of the A to Z Challenge, Arlee Bird. He's an amazing blogger and built a challenge that has allowed people to explore the web and get to know people they'd normally never find.

Now, for my first A to Z Challenge entry: Astrophysics and Asteroids

Astrophysics is the study of space and the universe, such as stars, planets, matter, energy, and practically everything that involves the world beyond Earth. It's the examination of how celestial objects form or self-destruct; it raises questions about what occurred and is occurring in the universe.

The universe, of course, includes asteroids. On February 15th this year, as you've most probably heard, an asteroid (a "superbolide", bolide referring to the bright light it produced) hit the atmosphere and exploded over the Ural Mountains in Russia, above the town of Chelyabinsk. The asteroid was around 17-20 meters across and had a total impact energy of 440 kilotons of TNT, though around 90 kilotons was released as light.

Chebarkul meteorite sample on lake ice
Astrophysics has helped determine the size, velocity, and the likelihood of such an event occurring again. The chances of another asteroid exploding in the atmosphere is not, in fact, as low as you might think; since much of Earth's surface area is uninhabited by people, these types of explosions may occur from every few decades (which is the shortest estimate) to about 100 years and just go unnoticed. More are being found these days due to sensors put in place for the detection of nuclear blasts.

One thing astrophysics can't do, however, is predict such asteroids in advance. They're too minute for current methods and technology to find before they strike the planet, though there are plans to build a new satellite that would orbit the Sun and could be capable of pinpointing the smaller objects.




Do you think there should be more effort put into defending Earth from asteroids?

If you're participating in the A to Z Challenge, what did you choose for letter A?

-----The Golden Eagle