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Sunday, January 30, 2011


Doc V took the pledge tonight! Inspired by the TV show America Home Makeover, the featured family had lost their teenage daughter in an accident where one driver was texting. This is an epidemic amongst teens as well as many adults. IT IS can a text be worth the risk to your life or someone else's life? It can wait a few minutes, trust me.

SIGN THE PLEDGE, at the Remember Alex Brown Foundation!!!!! PLEASE?!?!? It is a simple, important thing to do and to stick to.


Friday, January 21, 2011

From Water to Space

Thanks to Will for this one:

In this lecture, engineer and cave explorer Bill Stone discusses some of the technology used in the mapping of deep under water caves and its use in the future of space exploration. Stone examines 3D mapping technology of completely autonomous probes and examines how this could impact the exploration of Jupiter's moon Europa. In concluding his talk, Stone explores the possibility of mining the moon for space fuel. This project would make the industry much more economical and revolutionize space travel.

The Chemistry of Cooking

Thanks to Rachel for this one:

So, Shirley Corriher is a biochemist as well as a cook and she is talking about how cooking is just a series of chemical reactions. Reactions like adding vinegar to increase acidity, or boiling vegetables to make the cells pop thus more able to accept flavor. She talks about how ethylene gas causes fruits to overrippen and she talks about how using paper bags and avocados will not allow that reaction to occur. She mentions that acid-base reactions (which I am so dreading learning about) are key throughout cooking. I thought it was cool because I love cooking and am interested in biochemistry.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Modeling Group Behavior

Thanks to David for this one:

In this lecture, applied mathematician Steven Strogatz discusses the concept of synchrony (conscious and unconscious) in nature. When we see large masses of animals, such as schools of fish or flocks of birds, it is human to think that there must be some communication among the flock to produce such complicated flying patterns. Flying in packs is the safest way to fly (you have a smaller chance to be the unlucky one), but it is doubtful that birds can organize themselves so efficiently.

Strangely enough, it is likely that each bird is acting with limited interaction with the flock. Simulations have been created that model a flock of birds or school of fish using four simple rules:

Individuals are only aware of their closest neighbor
Individuals try to line up with this neighbor
Individuals tend toward each other
If a predator is near, get away

These four, individual-centered rules actually simulate schools of fish very well. This implies that these large masses of animals are not coordinated on a large scale, but simply all coordinate on a small scale.

Strogatz goes on to describe different manners in which conscious and unconscious synchronization occur. In a great example of people unconsciously walking in sync on a bridge, Strogatz shows how even humans can synchronize perfectly without conscious effort. As research in this field continues, I will not be surprised if more seemingly complicated animal behaviors are revealed to be the propagation of simple motives.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bacteria and the Human Body

Thanks to Regan:

The video opens up with an interesting point: On and inside of the human body there are 10 times as many bacterial cells as there are human cells. Not only that but these bacterial cells constitute 100 times as many genes as there are in the human genome. Essentially our biological systems are 90 to 99% bacterial, depending on how you look at it. The idea that bacteria can exist in this symbiotic relationship with humans to such a great extent makes you realize just how complicated biological systems can be. This idea really hits home when you look at how complicated something even as small and primitive as bacteria can be. Bassler shows an incredible example of the complexity of bacteria as well as symbiotic relationships with Vibrio fischeri. This bioluminescent bacteria exists on the the body of the Hawaiian Bobtail Squid and is actually used to hide the squid's shadow by producing enough light to counteract the light shining down on squid's back! With the help of Vibrio fischeri, this squid is the stealth bomber of the sea as Bassler puts it.

Almost as cool is how the bacteria work. The Vibrio fischeri only turn on when there is a large amount of it existing together, and when it does turn on, all the bacteria cells turn on at the same time. This is because the Vibrio fischeri, as well as all other bacteria, secrete molecules that can be detected by nearby bacteria cells. When the bacteria detects enough of these molecules it will light up. This idea is exactly the same in harmful bacteria that invade human bodies. The bacteria enter the body, replicate, and then when they recognize there is enough bacteria to take on their host they become virulent and all attack at once.
The most interesting part of all of this is how this knowledge can be applied. Most bacterial infections today are fought with antibiotics that work to kill the infectious bacteria by some mechanism such as destroying the bacterial membrane or halting the bacterias' ability to replicate. The major problem with this strategy is that the antibiotics don't kill all of the bacteria and can give mutant, more drug resistant bacteria less competition by killing off all the weaker bacteria. Eventually it could come to a point where our antibiotics are hardly effective for treating bacterial infections. What Bassler is proposing would be not to kill the bacteria, but to block their communication. Her lab discovered that the molecules that bacteria secrete bind to proteins in other bacteria cell membranes allowing them to communicate. They also developed a method for disabling this communication by introducing a molecule that binds to these receptor proteins and blocks the other molecules. Could this method be the future to making safer, more effective antibiotics? I think it is something that is definitely worth looking into.

What Physics Can Teach About Marketing

Thanks to Abby:

I thought this video was very interesting. It definitely shows that physics will teach you more than just how to be an engineer, and that it can be applicable in different fields of study as well. Some multi-disciplinarity!

End of an Era in U.S. Science - Shutting Down Tevatron

As I had feared, another area of science in the U.S., which the U.S. has led the world since WWII, high energy particle physics, is about to end. The Tevatron, the main accelerator at Fermilab, outside Chicago, is scheduled to shut down later this year. This machine used to hold the world record for energy (for a couple decades) at nearly 2 trillion volts per beam. Being a national laboratory, the main funding for Fermilab comes through the Department of Energy, and due to budgetary cuts to fight the $1.5 trillion federal deficit, funding will not continue.

While this was expected, I cannot help but have mixed feelings about this one. I spent 4 years involved with the Collider Detector Facility (CDF) experiment while in graduate school at the U. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and have many fond memories of the many colleagues and friends I worked with as I earned my doctorate with CDF data. It was very exciting to be part of the celebration of the discovery of the top quark in 1994-5. I also wonder what will happen to the thousands of people who are employed through Fermilab. It is an end of an era, to be sure.

Good site for Capacitors

From Dhwani:
I just thought you might like this website I found that really helped me understand how capacitors work.

Discovering ancient climates in oceans and ice

Thanks to Allison:

In this video Rob Dunbar discusses climate change. His approach to the subject is to examine the history of different objects in order to predict what might happen now with global warming. For example he has been on multiple trips to Antarctica to drill into the earth, looking at the layers of sediment. They found that in a certain part it has alternated over time 35 times. That means that portion has melted and reformed 35 times. This leads him to predict that in the next 100 years it may melt again, causing a rise in 6 m (which is a lot) of the ocean. He also drilled into a 400 year old coral to discover climate change's effect in the Galapagos Islands. Watch to learn more...


High-speed Video of Water Droplets

Thanks to Chris K.:

Hydrophobic materials have very interesting and sometimes beautiful effects on water. Water bounces off, and depending on the impact velocity will break into smaller pieces, still in ball forms of course. The water droplet balls bounce and even roll down curved or angles surfaces as would be expected. Most interestingly the balls can combine with each other seemingly well if they hit each other going opposite directions.

This video was made using a high-speed camera, using various frame rates. The super hydrophobic material was made with a carbon nanotube array and microliter sized droplets.

Spread of Epidemics

Thanks to Adam G.:

I really liked this video because modeling things like epidemics is
really interesting to me, as well as social networks. I like that we
can combine these two studies to help predict the future and help

Buckyballs are Everywhere!

Thanks to Jessica:

Have you heard of a bucky ball? No, it's not for playing sports. But coincidentally, it has the shape of a soccer ball, or in this video football (they're English)! Also called C-60, because it's made of 60 carbon atoms, buckminsterfullerene has interesting optical properties: it's red in a solution! Interestingly, it has been discovered in spectroscopy of stars, so it exists in outer space. And, it gave way to a new chemical symbol, the at sign @. Weird, huh? It's @ because the molecule is hollow and sometimes you can put atoms inside, so now they have a sign where an atom can be caged inside another molecule. Anyway, this is a super intriguing and informative video about the buckyball.

embed code:

Solar Furnace

Thanks to George:

I found this video extremely interesting. It is a video of convex mirrors focusing sunlight on one direct point. The video speaks for itself but I love how the two men doing the interview stand so closely to the extreme heat. The video was filmed in France in the Solar Furnace Research Facility. It probably takes a large amount of time and effort to get sunlight to focus that well. The amount of heat generated is just ginormous and I feel like their are scientific values to this device, maybe an easier way to melt steel.

Can Plants Think and Feel?

Thanks to Sam S.:

Stefano Mancuso is a founder of the study of plant neurobiology. This means that he investigates the minds of organisms who have no brains. In this presentation he shares his discovery that plants can think with their roots. He also discusses how our perception of plants makes this surprising.

In recent history, more humans have become more and more prepared to see themselves as just another part of the animal kingdom, not so different from any other creature. The biggest cause of this trend is the progress of science, especially biology. Every new discovery and theory exposes how much we share with and how much we have to learn from other animals. Plants have not received the same treatment. Since the dawn of knowledge and philosophy, we have considered plants to be more different from animals than we ever thought animals were from ourselves, and far less alive somehow. Since we discovered that all animals and plants are composed of cells, it’s been a mystery as to how the same building blocks can make two things so different. The sticking point has always been the brain; we assumed that plants are fundamentally different from animals because they don’t think. So I think that not only is the work of Mancuso and his colleagues fascinating in its own right, it is also a profoundly significant moment in the history of science.

Towards the end of the presentation, talking about plant/machine hybrids, he says, “[Compared to animals] the connection with the machine is much more…ethically possible.” Given the point he seems to be trying to make throughout the rest of the video, I find this somewhat incongruous. Having spent several minutes arguing very convincingly that plants can think and feel as well as animals, and thus that their old status of being a lower form of life is unjust, it doesn’t seem right for him to suggest that the morals preventing us from performing certain experiments on animals should not apply to plants. While I don’t feel strongly one way or the other on the issue, I do think Mancuso should be careful not to ignore the moral significance of his own research.

One other thing that struck me was the pair of pictures he showed of two different information networks. One was the root structure of a plant and the other was the internet. Both reminded me of another pair of pictures I’ve seen recently, comparing a brain cell to the astronomical structure of the universe. It’s truly incredible how interconnected everything around us is. The link to those pictures is here.

The Music of CERN

Thanks to Nathan:

This short audio clip was composed by taking particle data from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and formatting it so that it could be played through a computer. Each sound is made up of three pieces of data, which could correspond to a particles size, energy, the length of its life. This kind of music can be made with any sort of spectroscopy.

The full story from NPR

The Physics of Marketing?

Thanks to Dhwani:

I initially clicked on this video because I thought it was absurd. How in the world could you relate physics and marketing? Physics teaches you how the world works and marketing is how to display a business or group to the general public in ways to make them appeal to the masses. Cobley proved me wrong by using scientific theories like Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and relating it to marketing by pointing out you can never really tell what consumers are doing when examining them because they don’t usually tell the truth. For example, when asked many shoppers said they buy a lot less junk food then they do or that they don’t watch porn even though it’s the most searched item on Google.

The most interesting theory was the relation between the scientific method and marketing. The scientific method states that you cannot prove a hypothesis through observation, you can only disprove it. Cobley relates this to BP, Toyota, and even Tiger Woods. At one time BP was considered the most environmentally friendly brand and after the spill it is at the bottom. People used to think of Toyota as a reliable car brand and then there was the recall, and Tiger Woods used to be thought of as the best golfer and best brand ambassador and everyone knows how that went.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Using Mushrooms Against Waste in the Environment

Thanks to Adam B.:

In this talk, Eben Bayer discusses how we can use mushrooms to create new materials that can replace Styrofoam, plastics, and other packaging materials. I think that today, the spotlight falls almost solely on renewable energy sources. And while obviously it is a critical problem for us, often the issues of waste can be overlooked. It is unrealistic to think that we will never use plastics and Styrofoam, but, since packaging materials serve such a short-lived purpose, they are quickly generating waste. And so the work Bayer shows, which would have people decomposing their packaging materials right back into the soil, rather than having them dumped into a landfill, is a viable and logical alternative whose production cost is rapidly catching up to the that of our current methods’.

A Vision for an Organic, Efficient Future

Thanks to Alex D.:

The ideas of a “roadschooled” eleven year old from the southern United States relate directly to the entrepreneurial restaurant concepts of an established chef in the UK. Birke Baehr, perhaps the youngest TED presenter, shows his concern for the American food system by contrasting the reality of a mass market farm to the hopeful idea of organic farming on a greater scale. His ideas collide with those of Arthur Potts Dawson, a British restaurant owner. Dawson has pinpointed various aspects of the food system that are inefficient. While the majority of his presentation focuses on the reuse of waste and sustainable restaurants, Dawson also mentions that the distribution of foods (from harvest to consumer) is terribly inefficient.
The combination of their ideas led me to consider our community, Evanston. Are safe organics products which benefit local growers available in our community, one that is trying to improve its “green” image? I immediately concluded no. After all, most Evanston families shop at Dominick’s, Jewel, and Sam’s Club. The majority of their products are neither locally grown nor organic. But, Evanston already has several events in place, such as the weekly farmer’s market on Maple St. to encourage organic, local farmers. Even with this in mind, there is still an incredible amount of room for improvement. The farmer’s market is not year round, and therefore, Evanston residents cannot rely exclusively on it for their produce needs. Additionally, the products there are often more expensive than at corporate chains like Dominick’s and Jewel, making it unavailable to the lower-class.
So, I considered Baehr’s ideas again. He had suggested that local organic farming was the solution to our inadequate food system. Furthermore, the images of Dawson’s urban garden came to my mind. Would it not be possible to create an organic farm right in the middle of Evanston? Perhaps we could take multiple open lots throughout the city of Evanston and utilize them as farming space rather than having these unappealing, desolate pieces of land. The produce would not be sold for profit, but instead just at a price great enough to support the farms. Additional jobs could be created by these mini-farms throughout the city. The cost and environmental impact of shipping produce from across the country (or even the world) would be eliminated. Evanston would be taking a substantial step towards its goal of sustainable living.

After talking to some of my friends, I realized that I was not alone with these ideas. The Talking Farm is an Evanston/Skokie initiative to create an urban farm in our community. While these ideas have not yet progressed as far as creating a physical farm in Evanston, the creators of The Talking Farm have the necessary mindset to make a difference. Their visions have already resulted in ETHS’s Edible Acre.

It is important to realize that “green” has become perhaps the most important word of our generation. Not only does it relate to environmental concerns, but it also asks us to maximize the efficiency of all our actions. As important as a mango from Guatemala, tuna from Japan, or a kiwi from New Zealand may seem, I think that the majority of us would be just fine without such commodities. By depending on local farming we can work towards solving two major world problems: global climate change and perhaps even our own economy. By reducing our dependence on foreign produce and creating local farms, the carbon emissions of distribution will be significantly decreased. Also, farming jobs will be created which would keep the money in our communities rather than in the hands of produce corporations.

Teaching Kids Real Math with Computers

Thanks to Oliver:
Conrad Wolfram: Teaching Kids Real Math with Computers

In this video, Conrad Wolfram talks about education reform in mathematics. He believes that the way math is commonly taught in elementary and secondary school, focusing on calculation by hand, is obsolete and misguided. Advocating for a compete shift in curriculum and subject matter, Wolfram suggests that students are learning only a small part of what mathematics truly is--and that most of this work could be replaced by technology. My initial reaction, and the response I would expect from many upper-level math students, was skepticism. In my math education, teachers have always maintained that while technology can be an invaluable tool, relying on it detracts from a true understanding of mathematics. Despite my stubborness, however, I find Wolfram's point to be both intriguing and well-argued. He defends his proposal by methodically addressing each of the fallacies (in his opinion) used to justify the modern system, citing evidence from his own experiences and research in the world of business and technology. I am not sure whether I agree completely with his idea, but I found the talk extremely interesting and it offers a perspective on math education that seems to be very deliberately left out of the ETHS math curriculum.

Life-span Research - How to Live Longer

Many thanks to Julianne:

This video entertains the idea of controlling our lifestyle in a way that would help increase our lifespan, possibly reaching 100 years or older. And admit it, who doesn't want to live longer? According to this video, research has shown that only 10% of how long we live is controlled by our genes, and the other 90% is dictated by our lifestyle. Dan Buettner talks about the ancient myths on how to live longer and then shares 9 lifestyle habits that were common is some of the oldest people in the world.

Lanuage Development in Infants

Thanks to Paul:

This article talks about how babies just over a year old are able to distinguish between language and non language sounds. Even though some can not speak yet, they can often interpret the meaning of the language being thrown at them. This may not seem that impressive seeing as babies learn to talk shortly after this period in their lives. However, the most exciting part of the study shows that these infants are using the same areas of the brain as a fully developed adult would. By the time a baby is first learning words, this area of the brain is already fully functional. This experiment was very similar to the one we looked at in class, where an MRI is used to look at which areas of the brain are associated with creativity. Scientists were able to use MRI's to determine that baby's use the same areas of the brain as adults to process language.

Ah, what is up with Time?

Thanks to Danny:

Time: the stubbornly persistent illusion

It is obvious but still worth mentioning that when we deal with time in physics, as with height and voltage, we are really dealing with the change in time. Robert Lanza, a Wake Forest University scientist, shares his thoughts on time, the mind, and immortality, with a little help from Emerson, Einstein, Hawking, and Zeno.

Spread of Epidemics

Thanks to Matthew:

Research Into Best Sleep Patterns

Thanks to Leah:
This video explores the amount of sleep humans need to experience
"complete wakefulness", something that modern day society seems to
work against. Our internal body clocks initially know the amount of
sleep we need to function to the best of our abilities, but we adjust
them to fit our schedules and our priorities. Studies have shown that
ideal sleep patterns for maximum wakefulness during the day do not
follow the normal patterns we observe (a chunk of sleep during the
night), but rather favor two different chunks of sleep per night, with
an hour or two of meditative quiet in between.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Talk on One Way to Look at Complex Networks

Thanks to Anja:

Often when I am faced with a difficult problem, I find the best way to go about approaching it is to break down the complexity of it by highlighting each simple aspect. This is a really interesting video because it explains how the mind can make sense of complicated pieces of information. The best way to simplify something that appears harder than it is would be to start with what you already know. This video does a great job of explaining and applying this method.

Electric Cars Making Economic Sense

Thanks again to Alex F (he's on a roll!):
This is Shai Agassi's vision for electric cars to become practical and make economic sense by changing how we think about cars and the energy used to power them. He discusses a plan that is being implemented in Israel, Denmark, Australia, Hawaii, and the San Francisco Bay Area, and concludes that the choice we must make must be monumental, it must be an ultimatum--all or nothing--and it must be the correct moral choice.

Going wireless with Energy Distribution

Thanks to Alex F:
In this video Eric Giler shows off new technology from MIT that through the use of magnetic fields and resonance allows a wireless transfer of electrical power. This could revolutionize how our household electronics are used and potentially eliminate the necessity of batteries.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Creativity in Education? Not so much

Thanks to Judah:
This week in Psychology, we watched and discussed a TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson about creativity in our education system. Robinson argues that our current education system does not teach creativity in the way it should, rather teaching everyone to be university professors. In reality, very few of us will become university professors, and I completely agree that our system of educations must change. Everyone has their talents and some people do not need to learn to a test. However, in one sense Robinson is mistaken. Robinson does not acknowledge the necessity of creativity in a university professor’s life. Robinson does not communicate through his talk the idea that in order to innovate and in order to make the many scientific discoveries that those university professors make, the professors must be creative. The computer wasn’t invented by sticking to the same old ideas. Einstein would never have discovered relativity if he hadn’t been creative enough to think about what it would be like to travel at the speed of light. I doubt Robinsons disagrees with me, however in his talk he does not discuss this idea.

Robinson claims that, “All children are born artists, the problem is to remain artists as we grow up." I completely agree and I believe that we need to build that creativity instead of diminishing it. Parents have a tendency to tell kids to give up their dreams at early ages because they’re not realistic. I think as a society we need to change this mentality. If you’re good at dancing, then dance. If you’re good at singing, sing. This does not mean that if you’re good at math, you shouldn’t pursue it because it’s “not creative” (though I would argue it requires as much creativity as any other subject). Every subject is equally important. In a society where we have nearly 7 billion people, not everyone has to be the same. In 1000 years will people look back on us for only our technological advancements or will they look back on us for our art, music, theatre… etc. I think, as I’m sure Sir Ken Robinson does, that we have the potential to be remembered for all of that, and it will require a fundamental revolution in the way we value occupations and achievements.

Now what does this have to do with physics? I think that scientists also do not stress creativity in the way that they should. Just as Einstein used his imagination to become Time Magazine’s Man of the Century, so must we all. Scientists in any established field have thought of everything inside of the box. In order to make novel discoveries one must think outside of it. Science teachers today do not emphasize the importance of imagination. Discoveries in science align perfectly with Robinson’s definition of creativity, “the process of having original ideas that have value.” The problem with today’s students is that they see the “create” part of the definition, but don’t see what’s necessary to get there. No innovation has ever been made without a failed attempt beforehand. Everyone makes mistakes. Do you think Thomas Edison invented the light bulb on his first try? No, but he kept at it and got it right. Students today see everything as a grade where they have to get it right the first time. We need to radically change our system to discourage this mentality or creativity will die with the current generation.

The Brain on Jazz and Rap - How does the Brain do Creativity?

This is an interesting look at fMRI studies of the brains of musicians, both rap and jazz, who perform both learned, memorized music and improvised music. What is the difference in the brain when we step things up to the level of creative performance, such as improvisation in jazz or free-style rap? Check it out, as this is one of the initial studies into creativity and the brain.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Where the world is heading - An Economic Phase Transition from Hyperconsumption to Collaborative Consumption

I found this TED talk very interesting. One can certainly see a change in how people interact with each other due to the Internet and global wireless communications, and I think Rachel Botsman presents a strong argument for a phase transition from a hyperconsumption economy (I believe this term comes from Thomas Friedman) to a collaborative consumption model.