Thursday, April 08, 2010

"STEM Sell" - April 7, 2010

Another airing of STEM Sell, the radio program devoted to issues in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, has come and gone. Our guest was Kristen St. John from JMU's Department of Geology and Environmental Science. From our perspective, the interview went by very rapidly and we found ourselves at the end with a lot of questions we still wanted to ask. Nevertheless, we were able to discuss her work in extracting and analyzing cores taken from deep sea beds. She's able to use those cores to study the Earth's climate for as far back as 100 million years! Too bad she gets seasick during those ocean voyages. We also discussed her ongoing efforts to improve curricular materials by incorporating inquiry-based learning techniques as well as up-to-date results from her research.

In addition to the interview with Kristen, Brian Utter and I discussed the following topics, often interspersed with stream-of-consciousness thoughts that had little bearing on the subject at hand:
- A report on how the United States government is considering establishing a free online database accessible by anyone for science publications that were partly or entirely funded by taxpayer dollars
- The synthesis of the nucleus of element 117, an element within an "island" of relative nuclear stability that exists around element 118
- Animals--small on our scale of life but visible to the naked eye, making them decidedly larger than microbial life--existing without oxygen in deep sea deposits at the bottom of the Mediterranean
- The surprisingly large costs of doing an internet search, thanks to the maintenance necessary for the huge numbers of dedicated servers
- A study published in the prestigious journal Nature that shows how pigeons in a flock follow the leader (I personally think this study is a candidate for the Ig Nobel Prize, thanks to the backpacks that researchers placed on the pigeons)
- The discovery on the Phillipine island of Luzon of a new species of lizard, heretofore unknown to science, that is about 2 meters long and, according to natives, is rather tasty
- The susceptibility of thousands of different protein molecules towards the development of fibrils along the "sticky" parts of the molecule and how that can lead to such conditions as Alzheimer's Disease
- The editor of the last of the non-peer reviewed journals in mainstream science literature, Medical Hypotheses, has been told that it's time to go to a peer reviewed system, which will disrupt the journal's reputation as being a resource for some more controversial ideas
- The search for what gave rise to the seeds of the weak but gigantic magnetic fields generated by galaxies

The next airing of STEM Sell is Wednesday, April 14th at 8:00 p.m. on WXJM 88.7. And please remember that you have a brain, don't be afraid to use it!