Thursday, April 15, 2010

STEM Sell - 04/14/10

Last night's edition of "STEM Sell" is now one with eternity. Our guest this time was Sean Scully, meaning that we could trade lots of geeky physics jokes while on the air. We got him to expound upon his interest and research into cosmic rays both of the low energy and high energy varieties. Their relationship to the Big Bang model as well as determining if there was evidence that went against the predictions of Einstein's theory of Special Relativity were also on the docket. We spent a little more time discussing his role in the Astronomy Park and the types of activities performed by his research students.

Apart from Sean, there were the usual tidbits of news accompanied by verbal nonsense ranging from inanity to depravity. Fortunately, Brian was more coherent, although both of us almost fell off the Monty Python precipice towards the end. Here's a rundown of what we talked about:
  • JMU is hosting a talk by Chad Mirkin, a very renowned nanotechnology scientist who is known as the most cited chemist in peer-reviewed literature. He'll be on campus April 19-20 and will deliver the Faraday Lecture in Science while here.
  • DNA identification techniques were used to discover that high-end restaurants in Santa Monica, CA and Seoul, South Korea, were using illegally obtained whale meat in their sashimi. The California restaurant has since closed.
  • In an ironic environmental twist, oil companies are paying good money for carbon dioxide, not out of any sense of obligation but because they pump the gas into underground oil reserves in order to build up pressure to bring oil to the surface.
  • Finally, some good has come from Texas Stadium, former home of the most justifiably reviled team in professional sports ;-) . With demolition scheduled for April 11th, geologists in the area mobilized an array of seismic wave detectors. When the sequence of explosions occurred, the ground waves generated from them were measured. Analysis is ongoing, but scientists are hoping that the measurements will improve our understanding of the geology of the region, known as the "Oauchita Deformation", which is somewhat interesting as it was the site of a collision of supercontinents about 300 million years ago.
  • British scientists have successfully transferred genetic material from one fertilized human egg to another that had its genetic material removed, where "successfully" means that some of the retooled eggs started to develop into embryos. The result is remarkable in that only the genetic material was transferred, the rest of the structure of the cell was essentially left behind. This procedure could prove useful in treating diseases involving mutations in the cell outside the genetic part, such as in the mitochondria of the cell (mitochondrial mutations give rise to type II diabetes and some neuromuscular diseases).
  • Turtles have displayed a greater than expection level of cognition. Some turtles were trained to perform a particular task to obtain food. Other turtles observed the first group of turtles while a third group didn't observe the first group. The second group was more successful at performing the same task as the first group than the non-observers were. This offers some unexpected data in the development of reptilian brains.
  • The amount of wind energy in the United States was briefly discussed with a little bit of surprise over the fact that the state of Iowa now gets 14.7% of its electrical energy from wind-powered turbines.
  • The ability of small, non-conductive particles to spontaneously gain significant electrical charge was briefly discussed and the implication that understanding could have in the manufacture of some materials such as polyethylene.