science

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Trying to stay upbeat, (however…)

Posted by on 12 Jul 2017 | Tagged as: citizenship, climate, economy, editorial, environment, Green Living, Politics and War, science, weather

Climate change.

I worry about the future, not that I would likely live to see the worst effects in my lifetime, but my children might — and if they have children, my grandchildren will.

Already, I believe that our climate has irrevocably altered. Things I enjoy like chocolate, coffee, vanilla… those may disappear in a couple decades, because the species that produce these treats are not likely to be able to adapt quickly enough to changing climate patterns. In our own part of the world, for several of the last ten years we have MISSED the “pre-spring” summer. When I was in college, we could count on getting a couple of weeks of near-summer weather in March before the rains returned. It would gradually warm up, and although we could expect rain as late as early July, we knew that mid-July to mid-September would be dry. So did the plants and animals, and growth cycles adapted to the peculiarities of our rainy season.

Here are two articles that I believe are based on science, that describe what has happened in the past when certain parameters are met.

NY Magazine 9 July 2017

CNN Sixth Mass Extinction 10 July 2017

I do not necessarily think this will happen, but I think the possibility exists. What can I do about it? I am continuing to attempt to live lightly, with fewer purchases in general; trying to take fewer trips by cars with combustion engines; trying to eat locally when possible (with my allergies though I must supplement with additional food sources from far away…); using up and wearing out, recycling, upcycling, and other ways to prevent materials that have finished their first use from entering the waste stream.

I try to teach my children (my own children as well as my students) to be thoughtful, aware, and safe. I know that a worst-case scenario will be devastating world-wide; already such awful conditions exist in many nations near the equator, in areas that suffer drought, famine, and weather disasters on a regular basis. Cholera in Yemen. Fires in Europe and North America. Hurricanes on the East Coast and … this could be a long list. Long story short? Things are changing. They are changing quickly and the old ways of dealing with limited resources won’t work.

It’s not just the economic picture, which will definitely have to adjust; with many on the losing end finishing in poverty. It is the ecosystems that will suffer the most: animals in the wild, plants, the oceans. As each species adapts or, more likely succumbs, to the changes, our world will never be the same. Already, some changes are inalterable. They may not all be bad in the long run, but we will need to change to keep up with them.

For me, step one is to be aware. The second is to address in my own life that which I can without withdrawing from society and waiting to die. The third is to contact my elected officials, friends, others who may care; yes, I vote! But I am ill-equipped with my allergies to participate in demonstrations or sit-ins, my professional training and avocational interests do not equip me to invent a device or material that can restore our atmosphere and biosphere. For other steps, I must hope there are people who will fill in.

Am I worried? Yes. Do I lose sleep over this? Not often — Not sure what the benefit would be of that! But I am doing what I can, to the best of my ability. And I still hope, because my children and my students are worth it. I do what I can.

Do you?

March: in like a lamb… (for the Salish Sea)

Posted by on 03 Mar 2013 | Tagged as: climate, environment, Family Matters, fun, garden, Gardens and Life, good things, rain, science, seasons, Uncategorized, weather

Friday night when I got home I noticed a pair of daffodils almost blooming by the edge of the driveway. Yesterday, they were in bloom, and today they have been joined by some of the daffodils under the medlar.

There have been several years when our weather was contrary to the weather in other parts of the country, this one seems more extreme for some reason. We have had “spring like” weather for the last two months. Back in the middle and eastern sections of North America, it is cold, with 2 monster storms since November, and moderate storms filling in the gaps. The hardship of last summer’s drought is now being matched by the hardship of this winter’s blizzards and extreme cold.
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TRANSIT OF VENUS!!!

Posted by on 05 Jun 2012 | Tagged as: birds, education, fun, garden, Gardens and Life, good things, optics, science, Uncategorized, weather

A once-in-three-lifetimes event…

Here are three pictures I took of our planet-watching today. Tom, setting up the telescope, an extreme-zoom view of the planet where the sun is much bigger than the aperture of the scope, and a zoomed out view where the speck is more proportional.

The weather cooperated uncharacteristically, turning “mostly sunny” just as the transit began. Otherwise, the forecast yesterday and today, and for much of the week, is supposed to be non-stop rain. We got lucky, and the plants got a little more light.

There were also two gorgeous eagles flying overhead… here is the youtube link. You can hear how upset the crows were!

Poetry Recap April 2012

Posted by on 05 May 2012 | Tagged as: Index, poetry, Poetry Month, science, Uncategorized

Thought I would post a quick index to last month’s science poems listed in order of appearance. Well, quick to read, it’s taking me a little time to pull this together. I would like to take some time and put together a page that links to the poems — one of these days.

There are so many possibilities!

Meantime, enjoy.

Poem a Day April 30, 2012

Posted by on 30 Apr 2012 | Tagged as: education, poetry, Poetry Month, science, Uncategorized

DISCIPLINE

dedication
intuition
serious
cognition
insight
preparation
learning
investigate
nearly
everything

This is my last installment of poems about science terminology, and this word choice might seem peculiar. We don’t often think about the “dispositions” as they are called in modern education circles. However, to be a scientist requires many skills, perhaps most importantly a particular work ethic and an open-ness to discovery. The scientists I know personally are curious about almost everything in their lives, and explore many seemingly disparate things. I decided to end this series of poems with this point: Science isn’t magic. It’s truly a labor of love, and it’s generally very hard work. But to those who “do” science, it is worth it.

Me? I really enjoy science, not enough to spend my whole life “doing” lab work, but I understand. It’s the way I feel about teaching.

I hope that, whatever you pursue as employment, that you are able to follow your passions. I hope that, no matter what obstacles you face, you will be able to overcome them. I hope that, in your life you will experience the thrill of doing something very difficult successfully.

Poem a Day April 29, 2012

Posted by on 29 Apr 2012 | Tagged as: NaPoWriMo, poetry, Poetry Month, science, Uncategorized

axion (from Sue’s list of interesting science babblets)

why
  says the scientist
is it this
 and not that
could be something
         missing
call it
  hypothetical
for now
  and we’ll sort it out later

sitting in silence
motionless
waiting for discovery

I love getting words from scientists! I decided to not explore the “workings” of the particle, on the assumption that my understanding of the math wouldn’t be good enough. I love, however, the illustration of how a hypothesis works: an idea that can be tested, maybe not with current technology, but at some point. Axion is a fun concept. If I remember my high school physics correctly, quarks and neutrinos were once purely hypothetical, and yet we have since captured their tracks on film. It’s pretty cool!

Sue’s definition:

axion – a hypothetical particle with very small mass and zero spin (so not a neutrino, which has spin 1/2 and is a fermion; the axion would be a boson). Has not been observed; could contribute to dark matter if it exists.

Poem a Day April 28, 2012

Posted by on 28 Apr 2012 | Tagged as: NaPoWriMo, poetry, Poetry Month, science, Uncategorized

caecilian (inspired by a different BBC article)

don’t believe your eyes
the world around
has changed
we remain as we have been
secure in our place
a masquerade
burrowing
swimming
surviving
and thriving
limbless
eyeless
or nearly so
tropical
generally
fascinating
always

Here is a page dedicated to Caecilians, a pdf of a powerpoint-style slideshow from Texas A&M, and a link to the search I ran for images under the genus name Gymnophiona.

Poem a Day April 27, 2012 (bonus poem!)

Posted by on 27 Apr 2012 | Tagged as: NaPoWriMo, poetry, Poetry Month, science, Uncategorized

allele (suggested by Tabitha)

genes encoding
simple traits
complex traits
interesting phenotypes
thrilling combinations
stir and mix

one
unique
individual

I like using “official” sources for the terms that I am only vaguely familiar with (if I am trying to grasp the full function of the word of the day). Here are three sources I believe to be reliable that describe allele:

Poem a Day April 27, 2012

Posted by on 27 Apr 2012 | Tagged as: Gardens and Life, NaPoWriMo, poetry, Poetry Month, science, Uncategorized

weeds

life growing rampant
essence of survival
I WILL

Weeds are nature’s way of letting humans know who’s boss. [Helpful hint: not humans!]

If soil is capable of sustaining life, seeds (or rhizomes) take hold and grow. They don’t ask permission, they don’t try to hide, and they don’t assess situations for the perfect moment. They are exuberant, they are determined, they succeed.

In nature, in science, and in life sometimes we need to look not for the orderly expected. Rather, we can learn a great deal by examining the unexpected and disorderly. What made that place right for that individual? What qualities do those individuals, or does that group, have that promote success?

Weeds is a science term of simple and familiar but epic proportion. The idea that sometimes there is life where you didn’t expect it (and often didn’t want it) is profound. Who decides what lives or dies? True, we can yank weeds out — but how many times a growing season do we do this, only to find that the weed has been replaced?

Over time, if you watch a patch of weeds and don’t molest it, an amazing transformation occurs as the smaller colonizer and restoring plants are replaced by those that feed the wildlife or provide shade and habitat. The beauty of less-showy flowers and the symmetry, even elegance, of the foliage are not apparent unless you slow down and sit with the plant for a while.

Weeds: Nature’s Way.

Poem A Day April 26, 2012

Posted by on 26 Apr 2012 | Tagged as: health, NaPoWriMo, poetry, Poetry Month, science, Uncategorized

cholecalciferol

standing-straight in the sun
seeking the warmth
finding the light
you made your own strength

sitting-low in the office
huddled over the desk
flourescents flickering
your weakness company profits

We are surprisingly fragile creatures, we humans. As any engineer knows, the more complex the design the more likely something will fail — something important. For humans, changing the availability of a single hormone or, in this case, prohormone, can wreak havoc among the many interrelated systems. Vitamin D is not a true vitamin because the body can make it when the skin is exposed to direct sunlight. It helps control many systems in the body, most well known perhaps is the ability to help the body absorb and use calcium as in making bones. It also appears to regulate how the liver and kidneys function, how well the heart beats, some neurological functions and immune system responses (inflammatory diseases in particular).

Cholecalciferol is made then transformed in the body in three steps: first skin converts UVB into a preliminary form, then the liver creates an intermediate form and finally the kidneys excrete the usable hormone. Without the final form, the body cannot use the cholecalciferol to regulate and support the many functions, and people get ill (and even die). It used to be that rickets was a sign that the body needed more Vitamin D (as well as C and Calcium), but with supplementation of cereals and milk children generally get enough to appear physically healthy. However, a host of other ailments can appear in both children and adults, partially or fully hidden until a major health crisis occurs.

Vitamin D can be made by most people with a few minutes’ exposure to sunlight. It can be stored in fatty tissues once made and gradually used by the body during times that the sun is not available. At one time, when most people worked out of doors throughout the year they probably got enough just from their normal activities. It can be obtained in the diet, through careful food choices as well as with supplements (pills). Again, in times past when people in colder climates relied on particularly fatty fish and animal foods they likely were getting most of what they required. Most people probably think they are getting enough Vitamin D in their diet, but additional factors can interfere with the body’s ability to make and use this essential hormone. A simple blood test for Vitamin D deficiency can help identify if a person needs more Vitamin D in their diet — or sunlight (within reason, skin cancer is still a real issue!).

Here are a few of the websites that talk about the purpose of this hormone and its structures.

From Colorado State, a page on the Endocrine System

Medline’s entry on Vitamin D, sponsored by National Institutes of Health

The nonprofit organization, The Vitamin D Council has a wealth of knowledge and summaries of peer-reviewed research available. The page About Vitamin D is a good place to start.

And here is Medscape’s entry on Rickets. This was eye-opening to me.

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