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NdT and Hope for Humanity

March 18, 2013 Leave a comment

A couple weeks ago, my fiance and I had the absolute pleasure of seeing Neil deGrasse Tyson speak at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. I honestly cannot describe how awesome this event was; as I sit here trying to think of works to properly convey everything, emotions are welling up inside of me. Where to begin….

The event was scheduled to begin at 7 PM, so I arrived at the Nutter Center around 4:50PM. Even then there was a sizable line down the sidewalk. As we waited for the doors to open at 6, more and more people began to show up and the line grew longer and longer…

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Eventually the line progressed to circle the parking lot (pictured above) and go clear back beyond the tree line in the distance, along the sidewalk. Before I go on, I must say that seeing so many people arrive and wait in this long line was and AWESOME sight! This was something you’d only see at a rock concert or perhaps die-hard sport fans waiting to enter an arena. This is unprecedented when it comes to seeing a scientist! This gave me chills down every inch of my body. I was absolutely amazed to see such a turnout to see one of the greatest science communicators of our time.

We eventually made it inside a little after 6PM and was ushered to the front of the non-reserved seating (my fiance had a twisted ankle and was on crutches). We sat, rather impatiently I might add, while everyone got seated. There were more people than they anticipated and so they had overflow into an adjacent room where they had TVs to live broadcast the event. OVER FLOW FOR A SCIENTIST. Can you believe that?! So, we waited. 7PM rolled around before we knew it and out Dr. Tyson came to a marvelous standing ovation. Seriously, the atmosphere rivaled the biggest concert you’ll ever go to.


(Full Video)

So the talk begins, and let me tell you not a word was uttered when Dr. Tyson started to speak. I could sit here and tell you about everything that was said, but it would be a long endeavor. I will, however, leave you with a motivation poster I put together with a quote from that night. I hope you enjoy it 🙂

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So You Care About the Polar Bears?

August 19, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s impossible (and unfair) to expect everyone you meet to have abundant knowledge on science and current events.  I do, however, wish that I would not have to explain that my dedication to climate change research has nothing to do with the polar bears.

What do I have against polar bears?

I love polar bears.  The one at the zoo is adorable, and I do hope that his feral buddies have long happy lives and produce many, many children.  I just don’t believe that the polar bears are the larger concern when it comes to climate change.

I’m mostly worried about the water.  Projections for global water resources are becoming increasingly dire within a rapidly changing environment.  Water resources define human – political, economic, and social – vulnerability in many regions of the world today.   Certain alpine regions are particularly vulnerable, as rapidly retreating glaciers provide the primary source of fresh surface water downstream.

One such region is the Rio Santa watershed, which drains the Cordillera Blanca mountain range in Ancash, Peru.   The Cordillera Blanca contains the world’s highest concentration of tropical glaciers – nearly 600.  The glaciers provide a hydrologic buffer during the austral winter dry season, seasonally supplying between 40 and 60 percent of the region’s water resources.  As the glaciers retreat, a process begins in which meltwater discharge first increases and becomes much more variable, and then decreases and eventually ceases to supply the local rivers altogether.  Most of the glaciers in this region are in the later stages of the process, which poses some major problems for the developing and rapidly-growing populations downstream.   The consequences of reduced water resources in this region are numerous, and Peruvians have been and will be required to adapt under a rapidly shifting regime.   The figure below shows the various ways in which this glacier-dependent region uses water (click to embiggen).

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Climate change is an issue that is here and now.  Mitigation is important, but I think our focus should be on how we’re adapting, managing, and planning for a problem that is already upon us.

For a better-written article about Peruvian glaciers and people:

Indian Country: Melting Andes Glaciers Worry Indigenous Peoples

And for those of you who think that gritty science papers are sexy:

Mark et al. (2010). Climate Change and Tropical Andean Glacier Recession: Evaluating Hydrologic Changes and Livelihood Vulnerability in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru

Categories: All, Photos Tags: , , ,

Scientists Finally Conclude Nonhuman Animals Are Conscious Beings

August 16, 2012 1 comment

I came across an article which concluded that non-human animals are indeed conscious beings. For many pet owners, this finding is not surprising whatsoever; I myself am the proud owner of a few beautiful animals and know them to be very conscious and sentient in their own right. But this entry isn’t really about the findings of science on this topic, but more on the reaction some people have that any research was needed at all.

I had posted the article on my personal Facebook account and received a comment on it.

I really hate when tons of money is spent on stupid research….it’s like researching whether pavement is really better for cars to drive on than the bare ground or whether the sky is really blue to the human eye. Useless. Having had tons of pets growing up, I could have easily told them this and bet my life on it.”

 

I have to admit, deep down this is pretty much how I feel about, too. However, even though this is a kind of truth any pet owner could recognize just by thinking about it (once called “meta-physics”), one has to understand that every contention in science must be proven, no matter how much the topic seems to fall under “common sense”. Invariably there are the skeptics that must be convinced of a claim, so a mere say-so is never enough. Can you imagine if we lived in a world where contentions were left unchallenged, even if they were trivial ones? That does a disservice to us and to the methods of science.

Are these types of research a waste of money? Again, I would argue that they are not. Not everyone is inherently convinced that animals are conscious beings; the whole argument of it being a waste of time and money hinges on the assumption that it is “common sense” that animals are conscious. No matter how trivial an assertion may be or how sensical it may sound to the vast majority of us, it must be tested and challenged through research. Only after the evidence is collected can we say with certainty that a claim is true.

After all, it was once common sense that the Sun revolved around the Earth.

Curiosity Has Landed

August 8, 2012 1 comment

   At 10:32 p.m. PDT on August 6th, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft successfully placed a mini car-sized  rover named Curiosity on the surface of Mars. It’s location is Gale Crater, a 154 kilometer (96 miles) wide, 3.5 billion year old hole in the ground, whose origin is not yet fully understood. In the center of the crater stands the five-and-a-half kilometer (18,000 feet)  high mountain, Aeolis Mons (commonly referred to as “Mount Sharp”).

The trip to Mars spanned over 350 million miles, requiring an 8-month lonely voyage. Getting Curiosity to Mars was the easy part; landing the nearly one-ton rover was another game all together. Unlike its predecessors, Opportunity and Spirit, Curiosity could not use the ‘air-bag’ approach to landing because of its immense size. Instead, Curiosity employed a retro-rocket to slow its decent after entry and was lowered onto the ground via a “Sky-Crane” (See video below).

Over the next Martian year (686 Earth days), Curiosity – which is powered by the nuclear decay of plutonium – will do a multitude of experiments with various  scientific tools, cameras, a weather station, a robotic arm with a power drill, a laser that can zap distant rocks, a chemistry lab to search for the chemical building blocks of life and a detector to measure dangerous radiation on the surface – just to name a few.

I can’t wait to see what new discoveries are around the corner. Something incredible is waiting to be known.

Finally, I leave you with a quote from the late Carl Sagan, recorded only months before his untimely death.

Maybe we’re on Mars because of the magnificent science that can be done there — the gates of the wonder world are opening in our time. Maybe we’re on Mars because we have to be, because there’s a deep nomadic impulse built into us by the evolutionary process — we come, after all, from hunter-gatherers, and for 99.9% of our tenure on Earth we’ve been wanderers. And the next place to wander to is Mars. But whatever the reason you’re on Mars is, I’m glad you’re there. And I wish I was with you.

Why Do We Explore?

August 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Why Do We Explore?

Ever since humanity first understood that other lands existed across vast oceans, we’ve been cursed with an everlasting itch to see what was there. Regardless of the perils, countless brave men and women set their sights on traversing immense distances in their ships, all for the chance to be the first people to set foot on foreign territory. Some were in search for new foods or spices, others for flexing their military muscles in dominance.

For the most part seeking new lands was a bargain, especially if the waters were uncharted. They did not know if they would succeed and return home or fail and perish at sea. The uncertainty of their fate, I imagine, is what drives people to try their luck. The hazards involved are an inseparable component of the potential glory.

I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.”
-Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Curiosity is the driving force behind exploration. Most of the Earth (save for the ocean bottoms) have been visited, mapped and studied. Our playground for learning exploring is growing smaller. Where else is there to look but to other worlds? We are destined for the stars.

Categories: All, Photos Tags: ,

Our Fragile Home

July 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Our Fragile Home

Enveloping darkness all around, the marble before you is a planet called Earth. Its image at this vantage point is that of a beautiful marble, ever changing in appearance and horrifyingly fragile. And just as if it really were a marble, you want to reach out and save it before it is consumed by total blackness.

This picture was taken in 1968 by the Apollo 8 crew. Can you imagine being there? Seeing your home grow smaller in apparent size; realizing that most everything you know, all of your experiences, everything, is more-or-less confined to a single pin prick on that dot. I can imagine it being a very humbling and stomach-churning experience as the true circumstance of our being is finally digested.

Categories: Photos, Ramblings Tags: , ,

Gaining Perspective

July 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Gaining Perspective

When we grow up we’re typically told the facts about the world around us without ever really getting involved with discovering for ourselves. I remember looking through a book on planets and space complete with illustrations and pictures of various celestial objects when I was young and being fascinated. But again, everything was learned facts and some were expected to be regurgitated on tests later on. While this is just the style of accepted education, it is far less superior to actual involvement from the students/child.

Let me explain what I mean: For example, take this picture of Saturn. Yes, we’re taught that Saturn is a planet and is very far away (1.2-1.6 billion kilometers from Earth). We are also taught that it is a very large planet – you can easily fit 763 Earth-sized planets inside. These are easy facts to throw around, but for it to really ‘drive home’ the scale of distance vs. size, there’s nothing like viewing Saturn (or any other planet!) for yourself through a telescope. I remember pointing my newly minted 8″ Dobsonian reflector at the distant world named after the God of Time and being absolutely captivated. I had suddenly grasped a new perspective; it wasn’t a picture in a book, it wasn’t just inked out facts, I was looking at the real thing for myself.

It was through the motions of personal involvement that I finally understood the immense distances and sizes involved. I must have followed Saturn for hours, enjoying my new sense of perspective on things.

This easily translates to just about any subject one wishes to address – such as history. One more example…

When teaching young children about the United States Constitution, there are a couple different ways of going about it. When I was in grade school we were taught the facts of what happened and required to regurgitate them later on exams. There was no involvement at all, and so thorough understanding of why things went the way they did was lost.

There is one method which would not only teach what the constitution says, but why it did and did not do certain things. The following is an excerpt from Carl Sagan’s “Demon-Haunted World” describing the Kunitz Method:

“Want the students to understand the Constitution of the United States? You could have them read it, Article by Article, and then discuss it in class but, sadly, this will put most of them to sleep. Or you could try the Kunitz method: you forbid the students to read the Constitution. Instead, you assign them, two for each state, to attend a Constitutional Convention. You brief each of the thirteen teams in detail on the particular interests of their state and region. The South Carolina delegation, say, would be told of the primacy of cotton, the necessity and morality of the slave trade, the danger posed by the industrial north, and so on. The thirteen delegations assemble, and with a little faculty guidance, but mainly on their own, over some weeks write a constitution. Then they read the real Constitution. The students have reserved war-making powers to the President. The delegates of 1787 assigned them to Congress. Why? The students have freed the slaves. The original Constitutional Convention did not. Why? This takes more preparation by the teachers and more work by the students, but the experience is unforgettable. It’s hard not to think that the nations of the Earth would be in better shape if every citizen went through a comparable experience.”

Involvement is a far better tool for teaching and understanding the world around us. Perspectives can be shifted from knowing something to understanding something if we put a little more effort into education.

“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”
-Chinese Proverb