Author Archive

Early Warm Weather? Could Mean Danger for Some Areas

Low water levels on the Colorado River.

Some of you may have noticed those few warm days in March this year, and perhaps one or two even as early as February! Where I’m from, Alabama, it’s easily 85 degrees by March, but I’m told that up here, it was unusually warm. People have posted several articles about climate change and environmental impact, and I thought this was an interesting follow-up and relation. This article from National Geographic talks about some of the impacts of this warmer than normal weather. As illustrated in the above picture, water levels are dropping in large amounts, especially in Western states.

On April 10th, 61% of the lower 48 states in America were listed by the U.S. Drought Monitor to be in abnormally dry or drought conditions. 61%, in April! That’s pretty early, and points to rough next few summer months. And the Southwest, which largely relies on ice melt into the Colorado River Basin from the Rocky Mountains and previous years’ melt stored in the Lake Powell and Lake Mead Reservoirs for its water supply, is poised for a dry, hot summer, because those areas received less than 70 percent of the average snowfall according to the USDA National Water & Climate Center.

These reservoirs are already at just 64% capacity, after a decade long drought from 2000-2010, with the upcoming drought looking worse. Climate change poses a threat of increased drought in a region with a long climatological record of natural drought. According to the article,”In a 2010 report on the county-level effects of climate change on U.S. water supplies, an analysis by consulting firm Tetra Tech and NRDC projected that by 2050, 27 out of 64 counties in Colorado will face high or extreme risks of water shortages, as well as 13 out of 29 in Utah, 19 out of 33 in New Mexico, 36 out of 58 in California, and a startling 13 out of 15 in Arizona.”

These numbers are frightening, as with all of these droughts comes wildfires. In May 1996, the Buffalo Creek fire burned 11,900 acres within the watershed of the South Platte River, a major source of Denver’s municipal water. Two months later, heavy rains washed tons of sediment into the Strontia Springs Reservoir, which holds approximately 80 percent of Denver’s water supply. In one day, the reservoir lost 30 years of its 50-year lifespan. And, most people should remember the March 26 fire in the Lower North Fork region of southeast Colorado killed three people, destroyed 27 homes, and blazed through 4,000 acres. And, with population numbers increasingly rapidly each year, this water shortage can only mean trouble for the future.

If these rapidly depleting water supplies are not addressed and replenished soon, it could have devastating effects on areas of the United States. Do you guys think that the United States local and federal governments should do more to solve these issues? Should more focus be placed on these impending problems?


A Mouse Made Just for You!

April 23, 2012 2 comments

In the future when you check into a hospital, doctors and physicians may assign you your own mouse. This isn’t for a pet- this is for your own diagnosis. The immune-deficient mouse, specially bred for this job, will receive a transplant of your tissue, which will allow it to mimic your immune system, or whatever your specified type of disease afflicting you. Then doctors can try out a cocktail of drugs or gene therapies to see what might work on you, using the mouse as a test first.

Two teams of researchers have been working on personalized mouse models, or mouse avatars, that can serve as test beds for doctors looking for the right treatments. Physicians could try different combinations of drugs to see what works best without the consequences of human trial and error and losing human lives. Doctors at Columbia University have created mice with human immune systems, which they are using to study autoimmune diseases.  “The work took several weeks, but in the end, the mouse had a complete human immune system, including T cells, beta cells and myeloid cells, which create other immune cells. Sykes plans to use this personalized immune mouse to study type 1 diabetes, which is caused by errant T cells attacking insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. That paper was published last week in Science Translational Medicine.”

“In one recent study, Australian researchers were working with a pancreatic cancer patient, trying to determine genetic mutations that could make his cancer susceptible to certain drugs. They grafted a piece of the patient’s tumor tissue onto mice with depleted immune systems, so the mice would not reject the transplant. They tested a cancer drug that their gene screening suggested could work, and they were right — the tumor shrank after the mice were treated.” This is a great breakthrough that presents very hopeful treatment prospects in the future for cancer patients especially, but also patients afflicted with other illnesses.

Since growing a personalized mouse is tricky and expensive, scientists are working to make it more affordable, commonplace, and more mass-produced so that hopefully in the near future, maybe as soon as 15 or 20 years, we will be able to have this personalized treatment available to nearly all patients. Research likes this shows a very promising outlook for the medical and diagnostic field. Do you guys think this is a great advancement? Do you think it work should be continued? How do you think that it will help future patients?

Black Holes? Those are pretty cool, right?

April 17, 2012 1 comment

Black Hole

(As a quick note, both of these pictures are artists’ depiction of black holes- not actual pictures. We have no actual pictures of black holes- we simply know they exist by their gravitational pull, and can locate them this way also.)

This news article that I discovered while browsing the HuffPost talks about black holes. I am currently in an Astronomy class, and the science part of space has always fascinated me, especially mysterious things like black holes (notice I said the science part, not the Math part.) Black holes are so massive that their amazing pull of gravity distorts space and time. They are pitch black because even light cannot escape their gravitational pull- this is why they are still one of the few parts of our world that is unexplored, and why they are so mysterious and fascinating to people.

So what are they?

If you were to take a step into a black hole, your body would most closely resemble “toothpaste being extruded out of the tube,” said Charles Liu, an astrophysicist who works at the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium. Your body would dissolve into a stream of particles, swirling in the black hole, in just seconds. Liu said that when an object crosses a black hole’s “event horizon”, also known as its “outer boundary” and its “point of no return,” the same physics that causes Earth’s ocean tides begins to take effect. Gravity’s strength decreases with distance, so when that line is crossed, the gravitational pull sucks in everything that crosses, and is so strong that nothing can escapte- in fact, many things are crushed by the sheer force of gravity.

There are, of course, many, many theories about black holes distorting time and space. And the reality is, these theories are not proven wrong or right yet. We simply do not know enough about these black holes to really know their effect on these things. However, here’s a statement from Liu about the possibility of time travel (I thought it was pretty amazing):

“First of all, you approach the speed of light as you fall into the black hole. So the faster you move through space, the slower you move through time,” he said. “Furthermore, as you fall, there are things that have been falling in front of you that have experienced an even greater ‘time dilation’ than you have. So if you’re able to look forward toward the black hole, you see every object that has fallen into it in the past. And then if you look backwards, you’ll be able to see everything that will ever fall into the black hole behind you.”

Pretty amazing what our world has, huh?

Do Babies Know Right From Wrong?

April 9, 2012 2 comments


I found this article browsing the HuffPost (which I consider to be an extremely liberal source of information, but interesting and useful nonetheless) and thought it was a very interesting line of thought. There is a wide debate always going on about whether humans are born with a knowledge of good and evil, or whether they learn it and develop it over time and as they grow. Before we, and kids too, can scream “that’s not right!” or “that’s not fair!”, we must first know what is right and wrong, correct? A study published last October in PLoS One found that 15-month-old infants could identify unequal distributions of food and drink and that this sense of fairness was connected to their own willingness to share.

“To measure these moral sentiments, researchers first had the children watch movies of an actor distributing food, either equally or unequally, between two people. Most of the toddlers spent more time looking at the unequal outcome, suggesting it surprised them by violating their basic sense of fair­ness. Next, every child picked his or her favorite of two new toys, and the researchers then asked the kids to share one of the toys. Of the infants who shared their favorite toy, 92 percent had also been surprised by the unfair outcome in the videos.”

I went ahead and posted one of the paragraphs that summarizes the main idea and results of this study (above). It does seem to suggest that we do, in some way, know from a very young age about right and wrong and what is fair. Is this our own sense of justice and well-being? Do we already know from a young age that we must fight for and demand what is ours? Scientists previously thought that this age of such recognition was around seven or eight, but anyone with younger siblings, myself included, can attest to the fact that they start screaming for their own equal portions as soon as they can talk! Do you guys also believe that our sense of recognition of right and wrong, and just and unjust, develops nearly as early as we can start to reason with our minds? I, for one, have seen plenty of personal evidence that it does.


Rare Mineral Dispute with China

April 1, 2012 2 comments

The ore monazite

On March 13 of this year, the United States, Japan, and the EU opened up a lawsuit against China who controls a whopping 95% of some of the rarest minerals in the world. Natural resources battles are fought not only over oil and water, but over minerals around the world that are used to produce a lot of technology- computers, TVs, cell phones, car parts and batteries, and much more. Many of these rare minerals that are being fought over are minerals that are located in small amounts that do everything from hydraulic breaking in cars, making the vivid colors we see on our televisions, powering fluorescent lighting, and most importantly as alternate forms on energy.

The new trade action seeks to force China to loosen export restrictions that other nations argue has kept the price of rare-earth metals artificially high outside the People’s Republic. The U.S. Department of Energy says that deployment of clean energy technology could be slowed in the coming years by supply challenges for at least five rare-earth metals. Scientists all around the world are searching more frantically every day for new breakthrough technologies for their countries with these alternative mineral energies, and are optimistic about getting China to “share” outside of the monopoly that they have on these alternate energy minerals.

The WTO action this month amounts to an opening act in a process that could take months or years. The United States, Europe, and Japan argue that China imposes several unfair export restraints on the critical materials, including quotas, duties, and high pricing requirements. Officially, the nations have requested “consultations” with China;however,  if those negotiations fail to achieve a resolution in 60 days, the countries that launched the complaints may request establishment of a WTO dispute settlement panel to begin getting more serious about the rights to these minerals. This will definitely be an interesting process to follow in the next few months, considering how “green Earth” crazy many people in the United States and around the world have become. The outcome of this action against China will definitely have a large impact on the next few years’ alternative energy plans.

Cutting Off Your Own Limbs

March 22, 2012 2 comments

Remember Aron Ralston, the famous hiker who got trapped in a canyon in Utah, with a boulder crushing his arm? The movie came out last year, but I read the book several years ago. It’s truly an amazing story. For those of you who don’t know, to summarize the story, he ended up cutting off his own arm with a pocket knife to escape and save his life. It involved hours of breaking his own arm bone, cutting through flesh and nerves, and finally tearing it away and leaving the arm pinned in the canyon.

This article that I read in the HuffPost talks about how humans aren’t the only ones who realize that they may have sacrifice some limbs in order to save their life. The article has a video that shows a crab cutting off its own claw after being injured in a bird attack. The bird attached the crab after it tried to invade the nest and steal eggs. “Even the crab’s hard carapace is insufficient defense against the rapid-fire thrusts of the booby’s powerful beak,” the narrator says. And when the crab’s right claw is badly injured by the attack, he pauses on the sand, and cuts it off with his other claw.

However, unlike humans, crab claws grow back. So this story isn’t all bad. It typically takes about a year for the claw to grow back. My question is to you, what would you be willing to do to save your own life? Cut off your own arm? Your own leg? Thinking about the incredible pain of the nerve fibers and the breaking of the bone makes me cringe- but certainly it would be worth it to be able to live. Or would it? What kind of pain would you be willing to suffer to save your own life?

Smugglers With Creative Minds

March 20, 2012 2 comments

Oftentimes, criminals are thought of as stupid or unintelligent; in this article, we come across come very creative and almost ingenious ways that smugglers have come up with to smuggle goods into other countries. I believe that coming up with plans such as this is a science in itself- organizing details and making plans is undoubtedly a part of the scientific method that is being used to achieve a goal (albeit, an illegal one.) This post is somewhat of a photo post showing some of the creative and entertaining ways that goods are used to move across the country.

Creative smuggling

This photo shows money concealed in German pastries, being shipped out of Berlin.

Creative smuggling

These tiny endangered Egyptian turtles were found packed inside water bottles in a smugglers suitcase after he went through airport security in Naples. They were alive and were sent to Rome’s main zoo for further care.

Creative smuggling

These Australian native geckos were concealed in a hollowed-out book, complete with a small habitat to keep them alive until their arrival in the United States. Customs investigators responded and took possession of the package. Inside they found a hollowed-out book containing two adult and two baby southern leaf tail geckos.

Creative smuggling

In Germany, soccer balls are often used to smuggle strong cigarettes and packs of Ecstasy and marijuana out of the country. They are a popular way to transport a lot of material inconspicuously.

Creative smuggling

This woman was smuggling 51 live tropical fish in her skirt aboard an airplane from Australia. Customs began to be suspicious after hearing “strange flipping noises coming from the vicinity of her waist.”

Creative smuggling

This wooden door being exported from Mexico was found to contain around twenty pounds of cocaine in concealed in the woodwork. The smuggler was going to suck out the cocaine from the woodwork with a vacuum once it arrived in the United States. Creative smuggling

These exotic frogs were found in film canisters after they were trying to be smuggled from Panama. They were discovered at the Brussles national airport- more than 500 amphibian creatures were smuggled into the country by two Belgian citizens to sell on the black market at about 170 American dollars each.

I find it very entertaining to read articles like this, because it gives a bit of insight into the human mind and some of the creative and oftentimes outlandish ways people come up with to try and smuggle goods across borders. Some of these are things I never would have even thought of. It makes me wonder just how much material is being brought across in things like hollowed books, film canisters, and suitcases that we have no idea about. Because remember: these are just some of the ways we’ve caught- there are hundreds more out there that haven’t been seized and discovered yet.