#Cosmos E7: So Fresh & So Clean Clean

(I live tweet Cosmos every Sunday @ 8pm CST. For all of my Cosmos recaps, please click here)

Episode 7 of Fox's Cosmos, entitled "The Clean Room", covered the search behind the age of the Universe. Meteorites found on the Earth surface contain a certain amount of lead, which is actually a decayed form of Uranium.  Thus, by measuring the amount of lead, one can determine the age of the rock, and this can be extended to the age of the Earth. Clair Patterson had to build a "Clean Room", a lab that was free of lead contamination so that he could accurately measure the amount of lead in a meteorite.

Lead was a popular ingredient in many products in the middle of the 20th century, from paint to gasoline. Patterson's work help to show that the amount of lead in the environment has been increasing over time, and this helped many industries (such as oil and petroleum) to stop using lead in their products, since it was known to be poisonous.  Of course, these industries did not go down without a fight, and hired their own scientists to push their agenda.

Check out Outkast's video for "So Fresh, Co Clean" below, as well as the Storify of the live tweet of the episode.

#Cosmos E6: How Deep? Put a Star To Sleep

(I live tweet Cosmos every Sunday @ 8pm CST. For all of my Cosmos recaps, please click here)

The sixth episode of Cosmos aired on Fox , and I held my usual live tweet which is shown below. But first, let's check out some videos from the episode.

Check out the complexity of "life in the dew drop", which features two life forms, Paramecium and. Dileptus, in an epic battle. It's amazing how much goes on within the smallest things that humans can observe.  As Tyson puts it, the dew drops has its own little cosmos within it.

 

Check out the advanced, underground chamber that the Japanese built to detect the neutrino. It had to be far underground so that other molecules wouldn't make it through the layers of Earth. A array of light detectors surrounded 50k tons of distilled water is the trap.

Finally, see how the finite speed of light prevents us from seeing farther back in time than 380,000 years after the Big Bang.

 

Check out the live tweet below!

#Cosmos E5: Spectrum shaker

(I live tweet Cosmos every Sunday @ 8pm CST. For all of my Cosmos recaps, please click here)

The fifth episode of Cosmos aired on Fox, and it is was all about the light spectrum, and how scientists from different countries (Joseph von Fraunhofer from Germany, Mozi from China,  Ibn al-Haytham from Iraq, Isaac Newton from England)  and time periods help us arrive at our current understanding of light. Most of the light that we see is white, and appears to have no color. However, white light is actually composed of ALL colors.  When light is translated through a different medium at exactly the proper angle, the colors separate and make a rainbow.  This happens with a prism, as well as with raindrops.

Interestingly enough, there is more light than in the visible spectrum.  Radio waves are a form of light, as well as X-rays that you've likely seen in the hospital.  Those are a few examples of other forms of light in the section beyond visible light, called the infrared spectrum.

Check out the live tweets below!

#Cosmos E4: There Is a Light That Shines

(I live tweet Cosmos every Sunday. For all of my Cosmos recaps, please click here)

Episode 4 of Fox's Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson focuses on the Herschel family of scientists, Einstein's theory of Relativity, and the speed of light as nature's fundamental constant.

Patrick Stewart voiced astronomer William Herschel, who was one of the main scientists in this episode. William, and his son John, contributed to our understanding of stars and the light that they give off. Light from distant objects takes a while to reach us on earth, so the light that we see is very old - we are effectively looking back in time. The light from stars that we see are probably already dead.

The only issue I had with this episode was that they didn't mention Caroline Herschel, who was an amazing astronomer in her own right. Otherwise, this was my favorite so far in the series.

To see the light in a different path, check out Common's hit single "The Light" from the Like Water for Chocolate album (2000).


For more, check out the Storify below!

#Cosmos E3: Know The Ledge

(For all of my Cosmos recaps, please click here)

For the next 12 or so Sundays, join me on Twitter (@ShareefJackson) as I livetweet the show Cosmos.  The most recent episode "When Knowledge Conquered Fear", deals mostly with comets. Ancient civilizations saw comets as messages from God of impending doom. It took scientists like Robert Hooke, Edmond Halley, and Isaac Newton to prove that comets were a part of the solar system whose travel patterns can be predicted with startling accuracy.

Knowledge is power, and also inspires great music. Check out Eric B and Rakim's "Know the Ledge" off of the soundtrack to the movie Juice. After that, check out the Storify of my tweets below!


Check out the tweets below!

Last Night a #Cosmos Saved My Life

Last night the series premiere of Cosmos, a miniseries exploring the universe, debuted on Fox. Its a reboot of the original 1980s series which was hosted by astronomer Carl Sagan, and is one of the most widely watched miniseries in history. I saw part of the original series in the mid and late 80s, but I was still young and didn't fully appreciate it.

Last night, a Cosmos saved my life.

After graduating college, my good friend Raymond told me about Sagan's book Cosmos, which was made after the TV series gained in popularity. I immediately recognized the name as the series that I watched so many years before, but I did not know that the book would become one of my favorites of all time. OF ALL TIME.

Sagan has a way of describing complicated topics such as the length of time since the big bang in terms that can be grasped by a variety of folks. His Cosmic Calendar - where the entire history of the universe is placed in a calendar year - remains one of my favorite ways to explain exactly how new humans are to the universe. All of recorded history takes place at the very, very end of the calendar. Puts things into perspective.

I had so much fun watching Cosmos and participating in the discussions that followed on and offline. Be sure to check me out on Twitter (@ShareefJackson) every Sunday at 9pm Eastern as I tweet about Cosmos during the show. A sample of my tweets from the premiere are shown below via Storify.

White House Recognizes STEM Champions of Change

This week, the White House is continuing its Champions of Change series with a focus on science.

 

From the press release, via The Urban Scientist:

 

WASHINGTON, DC – On Wednesday, February 26, 2014, the White House will honor ten local heroes who are “Champions of Change” for their innovation in creating diversity and access in STEM fields. These champions are creating opportunities for young people typically underrepresented in STEM industries by using unconventional approaches to enhance student exposure ranging from photography and film, to Hip Hop music, to coding competitions and community-based workshops.

 

Besides the fact that it seems weird to see "hip hop music" in an official government communication, I'm always excited to see science be rewarded.  I'm especially excited to see folks that I've previously featured on my blog be honored. In my post "Wu-Tang and Science are for the Children" (props to you if you get the reference), I talked about Christopher Emdin and the hip hop science competitions that he helped organize in New York. I'm happy to see Chris be honored!

 

Christopher Emdin, Director of Science Education at the Center for Health Equity and Urban Science Education, Columbia University
New York, NY
Christopher Emdin, Ph.D is an Associate Professor of Science Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, where he also serves as Director of Science Education at the Center for Health Equity and Urban Science Education. He is also a fellow at the W.E.B. DuBois Research Institute at Harvard University. In these roles, he prepares teachers for STEM classrooms, conducts research in urban science education, and coordinates both the Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S. and the #HipHopEd social media movement. The Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S. are focused on bringing attention to transforming teaching, learning, and engagement in science by using hip-hop culture to create science competitions among youth in New York City Public schools. The #HipHopEd movement focuses on engaging the public in conversations about the intersections of hip-hop and education. Dr. Emdin writes the provocative “Emdin 5” series for the Huffington Post. He is also author of the award winning book, Urban Science Education for the Hip-hop Generation.

 

In my post "Hey Science? Respect Matters", I discussed how the scientific community has no room for discrimination, especially gender based. I've spoken with Danielle several times and met her in person, so I was thrilled to see her featured as well.

 

Danielle N. Lee, Biologist on Animal Behavior
Stilwater, OK; Ithaca, NY
Dr. Danielle N. Lee is a biologist who studies animal behavior. Her current research examines the natural history and individual differences of African Giant Pouched Rats. Her science outreach efforts emphasize sharing science to general audiences, particularly under-served groups, via outdoor programming and social media. She blogs about her research, evolutionary biology, as well as diversity and inclusion in the sciences at The Urban Scientist hosted by Scientific American Scientific American Blog Network. She is also a founder of the National Science and Technology News Service, a media advocacy group to increase interest in STEM and science news coverage within the African-American community.

 

Congrats to Chris, Danielle, and the rest of the folks being honored today!

Science Experiments ... Eggscellent!

Peace to Sheldon.

Peace to Sheldon.

I like eggs. Usually scrambled, with cheese. I don't like my eggs too runny. I don't do many science experiments with my eggs besides the chemical reaction between my stomach and the egg when I swallow it.  That's why I'm happy that YouTube user Taras Kul shows a ton of science experiments with eggs. He has a great sense of humor and shows that every science experiment doesn't have to be a success to learn something. Science is about the journey, after all.

Awesome moments from the video include how to make an egg float in the middle of a glass of water, telling whether an egg is boiled or not by the rotational speed, and a hilarious attempt to walk over crates of eggs without breaking them. Enjoy!

MAVEN, Mars and Bumper Cars

This week, NASA launched a  new mission to investigate the red planet. The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission will orbit Mars and study the upper atmosphere.  The theory is that Mars used to have a thick atmosphere and liquid water, and this was removed by the Sun's solar activity.  

Getting to Mars is not easy. Think about the most awesome night of bumper cars you've ever had. You're slamming into folks left and right because you're predicting where they are going to be seconds from now.  Now, let's see you needed to know where a bumper car would be a minute from now.  Or a month. Or 10 months.

Bumper Cars

 Both Earth and Mars are traveling in elliptical orbits, at diferent speeds, around the sun.  So MAVEN has to be launched from a moving earth and predict where Mars is going to be 10 months later when the craft arrives. Even the closest distance between Mars and Earth (the opposition) changes - it can be anywhere from 33.9 from 62.7 million miles until 2020. 

Image credit: Universe Today

Image credit: Universe Today

Once you predict where Mars is gonna be, you can't just travel in a straight line. The most optimal path often involves changing your direction ever so slightly to take advantage of both the Earth's gravitational pull and that of Mars. To that end, MAVEN has five trajectory correction maneuvers (TCMs) that use tiny bits of a fuel to change the direction of the spacecraft ever so slightly.  

Check out more about MAVEN by reading the following documents:

 - MAVEN Fact Sheet

 - MAVEN Frequently Asked Questions

 - University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP)

 

Les Paul Is a Science God

I recently attended the Time Warner STEMFest at Discovery World here in Milwaukee.  I was floored by the museum's Les Paul exhibit.  Since he is a Wisconsin native, the exhibit is a vast exploration of his life and how his inventive mind literally transformed music.

I knew Les Paul's name from his Gibson guitar line, but I had no idea that he was a true scientific inventor at heart. He grew up learning about sound by using the family piano, studying the rumbles from the nearby train station, and analyzing a record player (phonograph). He built most things that he used, from his original guitar idea that he shared with Gibson to his own recording studio.

 Distortion, reverb, and delay were all terms that Paul mastered within the musical lexicon.  He also helped launch multitrack recording, which enabled him to put different vocals / instruments on different tracks and mix them together.

Check out the pics below from Paul's exhibit and make sure to swing by if you're in the Milwaukee area! 

My turntables might wobble but they won't fall down

My turntables might wobble but they won't fall down

Les Paul was an inventor at heart.

Les Paul was an inventor at heart.

From wikipedia: Les Paul , a friend of Crosby's and a regular guest on his shows, had already been experimenting with overdubbed recordings on disc. He received an early portable Ampex Model 200A from Crosby. He invented Sound on Sound recording using this machine. He placed an additional playback head, located before the conventional erase/record/playback heads. This allowed Paul to play along with a previously recorded track, both of which were mixed together on to a new track.   

From wikipedia: Les Paul , a friend of Crosby's and a regular guest on his shows, had already been experimenting with overdubbed recordings on disc. He received an early portable Ampex Model 200A from Crosby. He invented Sound on Sound recording using this machine. He placed an additional playback head, located before the conventional erase/record/playback heads. This allowed Paul to play along with a previously recorded track, both of which were mixed together on to a new track. 

 

Basic hardware behind a recording studio

Basic hardware behind a recording studio

One of Les Paul's mixing boards

One of Les Paul's mixing boards

Make 8 bit music after the Les Paul exhibit

Make 8 bit music after the Les Paul exhibit

Space Living: Now and the Future

Astronauts are currently enjoying space living and travel via the International Space Station (ISS), but what about the future? If the answer is on a government owned site, we're all lost. Almost all government websites and social media accounts are offline due to the government shutdown here in the good old United States. Luckily, the inefficiency of Congress doesn't reach out to Earth orbit, because past and present astronaut bios are still online (probably hosted on a non-government server), and the astronauts in the ISS are still tweeting!  Check out this wonderful shot from astronaut Luca Parmitano (@Astro_Luca)

Luca and others are living that space life. Former astronaut Garret Reisman visited the Q&A website Quora to give us some insight on what it's like to transition into life in space. Via Quora:

At first it's just weird.  
All kinds of things are happening to your body.  Your vestibular system is all messed up - your inner ear isn't working at all and it's sending garbage signals to your brain.  Your heart, which is used to pumping against gravity to do its most important job, delivering oxygenated blood to your brain, is now pumping too much and your head gets all puffed-up.  (I woke up in the middle of my first night in orbit and wondered why I was standing on my head for a few seconds, until I realized, no - I was just in space.)  When you close your eyes to go to sleep, you see lightning flashes inside your eyeballs.
And you have a hard time just moving around.  The first day is filled with apologies as you inevitably kick or elbow your crewmates as you thrash around like a fish out of water.
But eventually you get the hang of it, and for those of us who were lucky enough to do long-duration missions, about a month into flight you finally really get used to it.  Then you wake up in the morning, float out of your sleeping bag, shoot across the space station like superman and turn a few somersaults on the way to the galley for breakfast. 
Now you are a real spaceman!

It's pretty amazing that it takes a month to get used to it.  It usually takes me a few days to get over something as simple as jetlag if I'm flying across the country.  Then again, I may be at home in space since here on Earth I'm already known for inevtiably kicking or elbowing people close to me due to my clumsiness.

Below are a few more interesting videos from the Quora thread. Former ISS Commander Sunita Williams gives us a walk through in Nov 2012 before she departs back to Earth.  On the second video, YouTube user VSauce speaks about how long it may take us to truly live amongst the stars. Check them out!

Hey Science? Respect Matters #StandingWithDNLee

Update #1 10/14/13: Biology online has apologized and fired the mysterious Ofek.  And Scientific American has released an official explanation which is also B.S.

Underrepresented minorities within the scientific community, such as African Americans and/or women, often bear a burden of perceived illegtimacy within science.  My life is littered with remarks of how I could possibly be a successful scientist when I came from a inner city background. Our passion for what we do drives us to push on despite a general culture that makes us feel like we don't belong in an area that we love.

Danielle Lee of Scientific American's The Urban Scientist blog is an amazing scientist and blogger who was unfortunately the victim of terrible remarks. I'd like to share her words with you.  Please tweet her (@DNLee5) some words of encouragement with the hashtag #StandingWithDNLee.

Ofek from Biology-Online.org, you've official been called out. We won't stand for your ilk. Disrespect is unacceptable. 

DNLee's blog post is below, reprinted in its entirety with her permission.

Transient

wachemshe hao hao kwangu mtapoa

I got this wrap cloth from Tanzania. It’s a khanga. It was the first khanga I purchased while I was in Africa for my nearly 3 month stay for field research last year. Everyone giggled when they saw me wear it and then gave a nod to suggest, “Well, okay”. I later learned that it translates to “Give trouble to others, but not me”. I laughed, thinking how appropriate it was. I was never a trouble-starter as a kid and I’m no fan of drama, but I always took this 21st century ghetto proverb most seriously:

Don’t start none. Won’t be none.

For those not familiar with inner city anthropology – it is simply a variation of the Golden Rule. Be nice and respectful to me and I will do the same. Everyone doesn’t live by the Golden Rule it seems. (Click to embiggen.)

Transient
Transient
Transient

The Blog editor of Biology-Online dot org asked me if I would like to blog for them. I asked the conditions. He explained. I said no. He then called me out of my name.

My initial reaction was not civil, I can assure you. I’m far from rah-rah, but the inner South Memphis in me was spoiling for a fight after this unprovoked insult. I felt like Hollywood Cole, pulling my A-line T-shirt off over my head, walking wide leg from corner to corner yelling, “Aww hell nawl!” In my gut I felt so passionately:”Ofek, don’t let me catch you on these streets, homie!”

This is my official response:

It wasn’t just that he called me a whore – he juxtaposed it against my professional being: Are you urban scientist or an urban whore? Completely dismissing me as a scientist, a science communicator (whom he sought for my particular expertise), and someone who could offer something meaningful to his brand. What? Now, I’m so immoral and wrong to inquire about compensation? Plus, it was obvious me that I was supposed to be honored by the request..

Transient

After all, Dr. Important Person does it for free so what’s my problem? Listen, I ain’t him and he ain’t me. Folks have reasons – finances, time, energy, aligned missions, whatever – for doing or not doing things. Seriously, all anger aside…this rationalization of working for free and you’ll get exposure is wrong-headed.This is work. I am a professional. Professionals get paid. End of story. Even if I decide to do it pro bono (because I support your mission or I know you, whatevs) – it is still worth something. I’m simply choosing to waive that fee. But the fact is told ol’ boy No; and he got all up in his feelings. So, go sit on a soft internet cushion, Ofek, ’cause you are obviously all butt-hurt over my rejection. And take heed of the advice on my khanga.

Transient

You don’t want none of this

Thanks to everyone who helped me focus my righteous anger on these less-celebrated equines. I appreciate your support, words of encouragement, and offers to ride down on his *$$.: 

 

Rainbows, Butts, and Science with The Stepsisters

I was a guest on The Stepsisters last night.  The StepSisters is a collaborative blog by Rae of , Shai of Eva of , and Tanisha of  (shown below).

cdbd539dfce572bfbdb51b2b13e7c713.jpeg

We talked about my Black Weblog Awards nomination (vote here!) , the awesomeness of science, and rainbows coming out of peoples's butts. Check it out!

 

Other guests on the show include Erika from Your Chic is Showing, Taya Dunn Johnson from MrsTDJ.com, and Fleur & Elphie from Witches Brew.  Check out the full video below!

 

Gravity + Neil deGrasse Tyson = Awesome

I like space. I like movies. I like space movies. Contact is one of my favorite movies of all time, and introduced me to Carl Sagan. Moon is a lesser known flick that I've recommended to many folks. And Apollo 13 was better than most Tom Hanks movies.

I saw Gravity this weekend and it left a huge impression on me.  The acting and dialogue was good, but the breathtaking portions involved little to no dialogue and facisnating shots of the Earth, stars, floating astronauts, and satellites that may or may not survive.  

There was even a Shareef in the movie! Ok, a Sharif.  Close enough. 

The movie was extremely fun, and there were some great scientifically accurate parts (i.e. sound can't carry in space so there is no sound). With that said, it is a movie, and some things are exaggerated for truth.  Everyone's favorite astrophysicist Neil deGrasse tyson does his best job to ruin the party.

 

Neil just can't help being a scientist.  I don't blame him at all. I couldn't even bring myself to criticize the movie though because I LOVED it.

 

Despite Shutdown, Astronauts Still Run Up Walls

The current government shutdown has severely impacted NASA. According to The Verge: 

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration will see over 90 percent of its civilian workforce immediately furloughed: 17,701 out of 18,250 total employees, according to the shutdown plan the agency filed last week. As President Obama put it in an emergency address last night, "NASA will shut down almost entirely, but Mission Control will remain open to support the astronauts serving on the Space Station."

The shutdown plan link in the article no longer works, since all of NASA's websites and social media accounts have beeen shut down. The good news is that the astronauts on the ISS will be supporrted.  One way they can deal with the stress is to run up a wall! 

2013-03-19 15.04.13.jpg

Creepy photo, huh? I took the above photo of the treadmill that astronauts use to stay in shape while on the International Space Station (ISS) during my trip to NASA Mission Control in Houston, TX earlier this year.  Using the port and starboard nautical terms for left and right, the treadmill is essentially on the wall.  But in a weightless environment of space, the terms up, down, left or right have no absolute meaning. 

Here's a photo of the actual treadmill, which was named after Stephen Colbert after he won a naming contest. As you can see his smiling face in the photo above, the treadmill is officially called the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (COLBERT).

2013-03-19 14.30.17.jpg

Astronaut Karen Nyberg posted this video recently of her experience on the treadmill. She needs to be tethered so she doesn't float off, and the treadmill itself can't be fixed completely onto the wall - it needs to be able to move so that the forces put on the treadmill by the runner don't affect the flight path of the station.  Remember, this is space, and there is no drag or wind resistance to prevent movement - any little push can seriously set you off course. 

The video is set up so that it looks like the treadmill is on the "bottom" of the ISS, but if you look closely at the orientation of other objects, you can see that we are actually on the "wall". 

In addition to seeing the treadmll, I was fortunate enough to meet Karen and the other current residents of the International Space Station before they departed on their trip as Expedition 36. Of course I'm right next to Karen because she loves me.  Here's one of my favorite pics ever!

Fyodor Yurchikhin, Karen Nyberg, me, Luca Parmitano  

Fyodor Yurchikhin, Karen Nyberg, me, Luca Parmitano


 

NASA Shut Down, But We Still Celebrate 55 Years

(Editors Note: Most of the NASA links are inactive because of the government shutdown. Yay Congress.) 

In the midst of the Cold War, the US government created NASA in 1958 to gain an edge in space exploration. It was partially a defensive move agains the Soviet launch of the first Earth satellite, Sputnik, in 1957.  NASA superseded the existing National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which was formed in 1915 to pursue aeronautical research.

In the past 55 years, NASA has grown beyond its iniitial goals to be part of a global initative in support of space travel and harnessing its benefits for Earth. Check out the following infographic to get a sense of accomplishments as well as future endeavours. My hope is that this blog will be around long enough to cover each of the "things to come"! For more info, click on the infographic or visit this site.

 

Some more detail is available on NASA's site:

We’ve sent 12 humans to walk and work on the moon, sent four rovers and four landers to explore Mars and sentVoyager into interstellar space.
We’ve studied our home planet, every other planet in the solar system, and the sun at the center of it all.
We’ve peered deep into the distant past of the universe with Great Observatories like HubbleSpitzer and Chandra.
We’ve built an International Space Station larger than a five-bedroom house and sent humans to live and work off the planet continuously since November 2000. 
We've flown 30 years of space shuttle missions to launch and repair Hubble, build the space station and perform science in Earth orbit.
We've developed experimental aircraft and tested technologies that make today's airplanes safer and greener
We’ve produced hundreds of innovations that enable current and future NASA missions and improve the daily lives of everyone on Earth, from life-saving medical technologies to advances in telecommunications, weather forecasting, robotics and emergency response.
There’s way too much to list it all … and we’re not done yet.
We plan to land humans on Mars in the 2030s. We're getting set to send MAVEN to Mars and OSIRIS-REx to an asteroid, and we'll be watching as Juno arrives at Jupiter and New Horizons arrives at Pluto. We’ll launch the James Webb Space Telescopeto follow Hubble in the quest to understand our universe, looking all the way back to the first luminous glows after the Big Bang.   We’ll continue looking at the home planet from our unique perspective in space, improving air travel and developing cutting-edge technologies for the benefit of all mankind.

In the Realtime Web, Old Can Be Awesome

Old News - canon rebel t2i

In this world of realtime information when things are deemend "old" after hours or even minutes, if we miss something as soon as it drops it can get lost forever. There's so many awesome science things happening on the internet that it's almost impossible to keep up with everything.  I love when I find out something that may be days, months, or even years in the past but still awesome. This is one of those times, thanks to the twitter stream from @omaflinger.

Scientists are just normal folk following their passion like anyone else, and the blog The Protein Strangler had several scientists discuss this in a blog series entitled Meet a Scientist. This resulted in two great videos . The first is 3 minute collection of tweets from the #IAmScience Twitter hashtag. On Jan 27, 2012, people tweeted about why they became scientists - check it out! 

The second, much longer video (30 minutes) is from a film "I'm a Scientist" that delves a bit deeper into why scientists do what they do. This video was uploaded to YouTube on Sept 16, 2011 - an eternity in terms of the realtime web.  But still great!

These old videos were included on a Protein Strangler post from Jan 2012. I'm sure there's other awesome things that I've missed over the years. Don't only depend on the latest news and links because you'll miss out on some jewels!