In one of my favorite shows thus far, I discussed science education with one who practices it, and one who researches and documents the history of it. First, I spoke with Dr. Katerina Visnjic, senior lecturer in physics at Princeton University, and Ingrid Ockert, doctoral researcher in the history of science department. Ingrid’s research focuses on educational science television in the last century.
Dovetailing our conversation with Dr. Visnjic, Ingrid and I went in to her research on science educational television in the last century, beginning with the first program, the Johns Hopkins Science Review which aired from 1948 to 1955. Here’s a clip that aired in March 20th, 1951.
We discussed Watch Mr. Wizard! at length, like this clip from 1954:
Ingrid then took us through the years of science television and how they changed up to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and today. Among several suggestions, she recommends Emily Graslie’s The Brain Scoop:
Additionally, Brian and I chatted for a while (around 1.5 hours in) about the prospect of fusion rockets, and in particular developing them to shoot down apocalypse-inducing asteroids. Here’s a press release from NASA on developing fusion rockets.
Featured image is an artist’s conception of gravitational waves from a binary system. From LIGO.org.
Image with the recording is of the inside of the Tate Britain museum in London.
The main portion of this show is an interview with Dr. Lora Angelova – a chemist and researcher at the Tate Britain in London, England. What this means is, she uses chemistry, material sciences, physics, art history – and whatever else she needs – all towards the effort of conserving art. Currently, her research focuses on developing methods of surface cleaning artworks. Throughout our interview she takes us through some of the work involved to keep a piece of art in a state as close to its original as possible, and how much of an effort that takes. It’s truly a labor of love.
In the interview we discussed her work with NanoRestART, and micro-emulsions. Lora explained micelles, and that lead us to how soap works. Then we spoke a little on the surface of our cells – as it’s a similar concept.
After the interview, I spoke for a while about gravitational waves. Here’s approximately what I said on them:
If I were a betting woman, I’d say that you’re about to hear a lot in the news about these entities called “gravitational waves.” That is, if you keep up with science and tech news.
On Thursday, the LIGO experiment is having a press conference. BUT it’s been rumored for months that they might have seen something in their instrument. LIGO stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory. And what they search for is, you guessed it, gravitational waves.
From general relativity we know that gravity – the force that makes apples fall and keeps us here on Earth, and maintains the Earth orbiting the Sun – isn’t like the other forces. The other three forces: the electromagnetic, strong, and weak forces – all operate via particle interactions. So if two objects are attracted or repelled due to the electromagnetic force, this comes about because of particle exchange. But when two objects are gravitationally attracted to each other, this comes about due to the fact that massive objects actually warp the spacetime around them. Like when you sit on your bed with lots of stuff on it and everything falls in to you. Alternatively, think of a rubber sheet pulled taught with a bowling ball set on it. The bowling ball warps the sheet, causing any marbles
you throw on to the sheet to fall in to the ball. This is how gravity works.
And, in our sky, we can see gravity do this due to its effect on light. Light always takes the shortest path through spacetime, so if spacetime curves due to some massive object, then the light will curve. This effect creates these fascinating images on the sky called Einstein rings – these are absolutely gorgeous and dramatic and totally incredible. You can see one of these to the right of this page, but google for images. There’s many.
So what’s a gravitational wave? Well, if gravity is curvature of spacetime, then a gravitational wave is an oscillation in spacetime. Think of it like a stretching and compressing of a small bit of space – first vertically stretched and horizontally compressed, then horizontally stretched and vertically compressed, and again and again, back and forth – but that stretching and compressing action is traveling, at the speed of light, away from its source.
The LIGO instrument uses this property – and lasers – to try to measure gravitational waves. Essentially, they have VERY very precise lasers aimed across a distance, and if this light from the laser is stretched or compressed just a little tiny bit, then LIGO will pick it up. And if that stretching and compressing has the right signature, then it could be a gravitational wave.
A good next question is, where does the gravitational wave come from? What’s the source? Well, a gravitational wave is theorized to radiate out from just about any massive, moving source. So this could be, for example, two neutron stars spinning around each other at fantastic speeds, colliding black holes. Or you, driving in your car.
A key thing to note is that gravity is SO MUCH weaker than any of the other forces. This is why a magnet that you hold in your hand could attract a paperclip via the electromagnetic force, but could never really attract anything gravitationally. If you’re in to numbers, gravity is about 30 orders of magnitude – that’s a 10 with 30 zeros after it – weaker than the electromagnetic force.
And this is why LIGO is looking to observe gravitational waves from two neutron stars spinning around each other at fantastic speeds, but isn’t worried about picking up the waves from you driving in your car. And this is also why it’s so hard – and why it’s never been done before. But LIGO has been diligent…and there have been rumors of discovery for weeks now. So…watch this space.
And just so you know – gravitational waves have never been directly observed before, but
it’s on very very strong theoretical footing. First off, they come out of General Relativity, which has been tested time and time again. And second, they have been measured indirectly.
Here’s what we’ve seen. As a system – like binary neutron stars or black holes – radiate gravitational waves, they lose energy… this will cause the objects to spiral in towards each other and eventually collide. And this has been observed! Cue the Hulse-Taylor pulsar.
In the Hulse-Taylor system a…
…decrease of the orbital period [was observed] as the two stars spiral together. Although the measured shift is only 40 seconds over 30 years, it has been very accurately measured and agrees precisely with the predictions from Einstein’s theory of General Relativity. The observation is regarded as indirect proof of the existence of gravitational waves. Indeed, the Hulse-Tayor pulsar is deemed so significant that in 1993 its discoverers were awarded the Nobel prize for their work.
So, we are pretty sure they exist. And if we are able to observe gravitational waves directly from sources like black holes and dark matter, that would be totally revolutionary for astrophysics! It would show us the universe us in a whole, brand new way.
And with that, we’re all pretty pumped to hear what LIGO has to say on Thursday. And sometime soon I’ll try to get someone from the collaboration in here to talk about it.
Our bodies are made up of hundreds of different types of cells, each with their own specific task. They react to all sorts of internal and internal stimuli as they go about their business. Sometimes they’re instructed to move left/right, reproduce, kill themselves, etc. If this all goes haywire (think, cancer), and oh man are there so many ways it could, it can profoundly affect our lives, or end them.
In this interview I discuss cellular decision making and biomedical engineering with Anthony Berger, PhD student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Tony’s work focuses on how cells respond to the structural properties of their environment – i.e. whether the tissue around them is stiff, stretchy, soft, etc. Specifically, Tony studies how tissue stiffness and fiber architecture affects the development of vasculature (blood veins) within the tissue. To accomplish this, he designs materials that can flex to allow for changes in the rigidity of a material without changing the density of that material (a very important point in the design).
All of my designs have been based around natural materials — I generally take some sort of form of collagen (gelatin in most cases) and chemically alter it to be less flexible. We then embedd nodules of vascular cells within the tissue and observe how the cells invade into the material and develop a system of vessels.
I liken it to an office building with people working in it. The building is the tissue and the people are the cells doing all the work. Drugs and chemical growth factors/hormones are like emails to the people telling them to do specific things. Changes in different physical aspects of the tissue would be like changing certain aspects of the building — if the floors were made out of trampolines, work efficiency would probably be much different than if they were concrete. The point is the cells are generally what do everything in your body and a lot of focus is put on them, but the physical environment, often overlooked as something that is just there, has the potential to influence a cell’s behavior.
As an example, Tony guides us through how this relates to breast cancer. Note: the stiff lump a woman may feel in her breast isn’t actually the cancer, rather an area of stiff tissue that creates a preferred environment for breast cancer to take root. Scientists aren’t sure exactly why, hence research. Take a listen!
Lust for Life
Introduction to the show
First Aid Kit
Winter is all over you
The Big Black and the Blue
Anthony Berger interview, Pt. 1
Biomed Engineering and Cellular Decision Making
I hate the weekend
Anthony Berger interview, Pt. 2
Biomed Engineering and Cellular Decision Making
What the wall said
Under the color of official right
Your brain is made of candy
Time to go home
Paul Simon (General MD Shirinda, The Gaza Sisters)
I know what I know
Anthony Berger interview, Pt. 3
Discussing the music
I against I
I against I
Johnny Thunders Fantasy Space Camp
Last Year’s Savage
Holding Hands With Jamie
Can We Still Hang
Pledging My Time – Take 1 (3/8/1966)
Bob Dylan, the cutting edge sampler 1965-1966 (Bootleg Series Vol 12)
In this episode of These Vibes Are Too Cosmic I speak with Simone Sneed, board liaison at the Environmental Defense Fund and professor at NYU in Civic and Social Organization, on the troubling statistics of women and minorities in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. We get deep in to this topic, speculating on how it came about and what can be done about it as well as current initiatives working towards getting more minorities in STEM fields. Additionally, we discuss the analogous trends in arts and business/non-profits.
In this show Brian and I discuss what’s called “Big Science.” What we mean when we use that descriptor, and some of the amazing examples across the science fields including satellites to undersea observatories to particle colliders and fusion reactors. We also discuss some of the overwhelming obstacles to big science — from funding to choosing a project a whole field agrees on to getting thousands of scientists across the world to collaborate smoothly. There are positive and less so examples of these, and we mention several. Additionally, we dig a little bit in to how we got here. How big science projects became necessary, when they weren’t just decades prior.
And interweaved with all of that is, as always, music.
Discussion begins at about 3 minutes in.
(Cover image of the recording is from the ALICE experiment (one of the four detectors at interaction points in the Large Hadron Collider) at CERN.)
In this episode of These Vibes Are Too Cosmic I speak with Gloria Tavera, MD/PhD student at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. We discuss the general mechanics of our immune systems and malaria’s effect on it. We get in to why malaria is so difficult to treat and why so many children die from the parasite. Gloria explains the new malaria vaccine – both why it’s exciting and how it is far from a full solution (or even a full malaria vaccine), but rather an important step along the road to eradication.
In the last portion of the show we discuss another deeply important topic, and a great passion of Gloria’s: equal access to medicines worldwide. Gloria is president of the board of directors for UAEM (Universities Allied for Essential Medicines), an organization that uses a muti-tiered approach to leveling the access to affordable medications across the world, and particularly in developing countries. Gloria uses the example of insulin. In Sub-Saharan Africa people commonly die of diabetes due to the fact that insulin is rare and, when available, unaffordable. The system is stacked against them.
So, listen up, learn about our world, and get fired up!
Some extra info on malaria immunity (from Gloria Tavera):
The figures above (found here) show how an antibody, along with a set of molecules called complement, can bind a malaria parasite and keep it from invading a human red blood cell, which keeps it from surviving and reproducing.
The second figure above on that page shows how the set of molecules, called complement, bind to antibodies and make the antibodies even more effective at killing the malaria parasite and keeping it from entering human red blood cells.
More information on the fight for access to medicines (from Gloria Tavera):
Related to that video, is a petition to the World Health Organization (WHO) that we have created. We are calling on World Health Organization member states to fund a pool of money (prize funding) for researchers to create drugs, diagnostics and vaccines that are targeted to help solve diseases of major public health importance, that will be available royalty-free.
If you’re interested in going even deeper, read the recent LA Times piece from Economist Mariana Mazzucato, on problems and solutions regarding our current, global biomedical research and development system.
Quinn Gibson is a doctoral candidate in chemistry here at Princeton University where he works in a solid state chemistry group, the CavaLab. From what I gather, they’re all about looking for materials with new and interesting properties. First they make predictions based on physics and chemistry, then they synthesize the materials — metal crystals — and characterize them. In their lab, one edict is “don’t be a baby about blowing stuff up.” So, kids. If you want to blow stuff up without living a life of crime, chemistry may be for you.
Just how the invention of the transistor has revolutionized every aspect of our lives, the new materials that Quinn creates, like these weird things called topological insulators, could change everything. He explains it all right here in this show.
Also check out Quinn’s music at qfolk.bandcamp.com. We play a couple tunes on the air and he tells us how they came about.
P.S. Check out Jack on Fire’s new songs on their soundcloud (this show features the excellent tune, Beat the Rich)!
The featured image is from a scanning tunneling microscope. It’s used to image the surface of a 3D topological insulator in order to better get at its properties. From: http://wwwphy.princeton.edu/~yazdaniweb/
Music and interview with Princeton plasma physics doctoral student Brian Kraus. We talked about what is a plasma, the difference between fusion and fission, why fusion energy is so much cleaner than fission (what’s done in nuclear reactors), but also so much harder. We talked about the fusion reactor being built in France – ITER – as well as other things you can do with plasmas, like propelling satellites and space ships!
Full radio show, aired on WPRB 103.3 Princeton from 2 to 4am on Thursday, September 24th, 2015. The show features an interview with neuroscientist Sam McDougle (doctoral candidate at Princeton University). We discuss the cerebellum, how we learn things, and why that myth that we only use 10% of our brain is bullshit. We also play a few tunes he selected in addition to a song he’s released (on soundcloud) as Polly Hi. You can find more of his songs on his soundcloud site.
Everyone’s Gone to the Moon
Potty Mouth EP
White Men are Black Men Too
Ben Harper, Blind Boys of Alabama
Well, Well, Well
There Will Be a Light
Darling…It’s too late
Talk with Sam McDougle
Trouble in Minds Records
Sonny and the Sunsets
Talent Night at the Ashram
Done it again
Talk with Sam McDougle
Give it up
Grave Desecrator + 4
Heavens to Betsy
Kill Rock Stars
Pale Blue Eyes
The Velvet Underground (45th Anniversary Delux Edition)