Posts from the ‘Education’ Category

A scientist is never certain. … We absolutely must leave room for doubt or there is no progress and there is no learning.

Richard Feynman (via explore-blog)

A key difference between knowing and believing.

Bill Nye on the danger of not believing in long-term evolution.


How to Build a Planet: Heavy Metals Are Key Ingredients

Image: An artist conception of a newly formed star surrounded by a swirling protoplanetary disk of dust and gas, where debris coalesces to create rocky ‘planetesimals’ that collide and grow to eventually form planets. A new study suggests small rocky planet may actually be widespread in our Milky Way galaxy. Credit: University of Copenhagen, Lars A. Buchhave

Planets may not be able to form without a heaping helping of heavy elements such as silicon, titanium and magnesium, a new study suggests.

Stars that host planets have higher concentrations of such “metals” — astronomer-speak for elements heavier than hydrogen and helium — compared to iron than do planetless stars, the study found.

“To form planets, one needs heavy elements,” said lead author Vardan Adibekyan, of the Centre for Astrophysics of the University of Porto in Portugal.

Connected at birth

Planets coalesce from the disk of dust and gas left over after the birth of their parent star. According to the leading theory of planet formation, the core accretion model, small particles clump together, growing larger and larger until they produce protoplanets.

Scientists have long suspected that stars with higher metallicities are more likely to have planets orbiting them. Iron has long been a primary indicator.

“Usually, in stellar physics, people use the iron content as a proxy of overall metallicity,”

Full Article


An Interactive Simulation to Count Alien Worlds

Enrico Fermi famously asked, in his paradoxical analysis of the likely existence of extraterrestrial life, “Where is everybody?” If there are a certain (large) number of planets in the universe that are habitable, then a subset of these (also a large number) should be inhabited. Any civilization that formed, given enough time, could develop the means for interstellar communication or travel.

So yeah, “Where is everybody?

Years later, Frank Drake developed a precise equation to calculate the likely number of inhabitable worlds within range of observation or communication from Earth. Well, it’s as precise as you define it, anyway, given that the variables that go in are just that – variable. Things like how long it would take a civilization to develop communication, how long said civilization would last, how many stars and planets are estimated to exist … just the basics.

It’s called the Drake Equation, and thanks to the stupendous folks over at BBC Future, you can go tweak the equation with an interactive tool! Click here to start defining your galaxial parameters and see how many civilizations you think should exist.

I’m getting some pretty big numbers . . !

(via BBC, tip o’ the SETI dish to Russ Creech)

Played around with this some earlier, definitely worth checking out. It’s important to remember that the Drake Equation is an approximation and many factors that we’re a little unsure about go into it.

On the other hand, even setting most of the variables very low results in several billion planets with life on them. We should be able to develop interstellar communication in a manner that is observable and understandable within our lifetimes..right? Please?


Nikola Tesla museum fundraising reaches $700,000 

One of the unsung heroes of science and technology, Nikola Tesla has become a cult hero for the next generation of science enthusiasts. This cult status and Tesla’s achievements have lead to an online fundraising campaign entitled ‘Operation let’s build a goddamn Tesla museum’. The campaign, devised by web comic ‘The Oatmeal’, and associated non-for-profit aims to purchase Tesla’s Wardenclyffe laboratory in shoreham, New York. If the campaign is successful the laboratory would be gradually redeveloped into the first US Tesla museum.

Donate here at the indiegogo page.

Photo credit: Mattridgway

You’re awesome, and this charity drive is awesome. Do what you can!

Berkeley evolution page, with all sorts of great lessons and outlines and stuff. Check it out!

Evolution 101


“…like a primordial Earth in deep freeze.” Brian Cox describes his favorite wonder of the universe, Saturn’s moon Titan.

Also see Cox explain entropy and the arrow of time with sand castles and glaciers.

( The Kid Should See This)



Blueprint for the Brain – 6-minute film by PBS and the Public Library of Science explores how the three-pound lump of jelly inside our skulls enables us to do everything that makes us human, and how scientists are now beginning to decipher the architecture of the brain and its secret lives.

( The Atlantic)

We are at once both more, and no more, than that three pound lump. And therein lies the beauty of the brain.


Dolphins May Be Math Geniuses

Inspiration for the new study, published in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society A, came after lead author Tim Leighton watched an episode of the Discovery Channel’s “Blue Planet” series and saw dolphins blowing multiple tiny bubbles around prey as they hunted.

“I immediately got hooked, because I knew that no man-made sonar would be able to operate in such bubble water,” explained Leighton, a professor of ultrasonics and underwater acoustics at the University of Southampton, where he is also an associate dean.

“These dolphins were either ‘blinding’ their most spectacular sensory apparatus when hunting — which would be odd, though they still have sight to reply on — or they have a sonar that can do what human sonar cannot…Perhaps they have something amazing,” he added.

keep reading

photo credit: Corbis

Dolphins are just really cool animals, once you get past the rape and stuff.


… those bacteria that were using arsenic in their DNA? Not so much.

In 2010, NASA shocked the science community with the announcement that a bacterium from Mono Lake, CA had been found to substitute arsenic (found in the toxic lake water) for phosphorous in its DNA. This finding, were it true, would have rewritten the rules regarding the requirements for life, expanding the possibilities for where terrestrial, and especially extraterrestrial, organisms might be found.

In two papers released this week, though, that original claim has been refuted. The bacteria recovered from Mono Lake almost certainly do not use arsenic as originally reported. The original team is standing by their work, and NASA has remained quiet as far as I know. They probably have their arms crossed and are shrugging a lot with that look on their face. You know. Harumph.

There’s a lot of room to criticize NASA, and the original research team here. They pitched a three-ring circus to announce the original paper, and reviewers and editors alike should have provided far more scrutiny. But despite these bad decisions and flawed actions, this is not a defeat for science or the process. It is a victory for science, an example of where we self-corrected our errors, and in the process enriching both our knowledge and integrity. 

Here’s a report from USA Today with more on this long saga, and what we’ve learned.

Nobody says that science is perfect, but the process of experimentation and proper recording of results allows us to check ourselves and come closer to factual results. Hurray science!