Thinking about the Big Bang blows my mind

As an illustrator who’s dabbled in animation myself, I love the science videos by Kurzgesagt, who has just recently posted a new video on “The Beginning of Everything: The Big Bang.”

Besides the appealing graphics and Hitchhiker’s Guide-esque narration, a few things struck me about the video. One I’ll mention here is this almost casual observation: “But what’s the meaning of ‘light’ anyway, when there’s nothing alive yet that could have eyes?”

Since light and sight are so central to how humans function in the world, it’s easy to forget that “visible light” (commonly just “light”) is only called that because it’s the miniscule part of the electro-magnetic spectrum that our eyes are capable of detecting. There are numerous species who have more complex eyes than we do and can see more of the light spectrum, like mantis shrimp (Order: Stomatopoda). There’s much much more “unvisible light” in the Universe, from radio waves to gamma rays, that has been (and still is) bouncing around for millenia all over the galaxy. And we only experience just a tiny, little sliver of that time and spectrum, but we’ve learned so much already! And so much left to explore!

“Since we ourselves are made from dead stars, we are not separate from the Universe. We are part of it. You could even say that we are the Universe’s way of experiencing itself.” When one contemplates the Universe, and one’s place in it, you can’t help but be poetic.

PTS-MolecularMe

Matters of the head and heart

In a study published online on Feb. 10 in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNAS), researchers at the Institute for Systems Biology and the U.S. Army Center for Environmental Health Research present molecular evidence that exposure condition similar to that experienced in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can cause heart tissue damage in mice. Continue reading

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Best way to get kids to like science? Inspire teachers

Science teachers and principals from Schmitz Park and Arbor Heights Elementary Schools in West Seattle attended a day-long workshop co-hosted at the Institute for Systems Biology. During their visit to ISB, the educators were enthusiastic to collaborate, learn about new curriculum materials, and see first-hand what an innovative science research space looks like at ISB.

“The day signified much more than these teachers learning about some instructional materials,” said Dan Gallagher, the Science Program Manager for Seattle public schools. “Two different schools, with both principals side by side, working together on their desire…to improve science education for their students is pretty awesome.” Continue reading

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Lighting up a new way to treat pediatric brain cancer

Dr. Jim Olson, a physician at Seattle Children’s Hospital and research scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, likes to share stories of the patients and people in his life who provide a motivation for his research on brain tumor treatments.

At a recent Town Hall presentation, Olson shared a recent experience about his own mother, who was receiving radiation treatment for a cancer at the base of her brain. The physicians were attaching a metal frame the size of a football helmet to her head “the same way you would attach a Christmas tree stand to your Christmas tree,” by turning screws on the frame until they touched her skull and stuck. Continue reading

Ants act like a liquid or solid

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology presented their research on the physics of how fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) cling together to form a living “material” that can have the physical properties similar to liquids or solids. Because their underground nests in the wild can be flooded in the wild, the ants have this survival-mechanism behavior to form rafts that float on the surface of water.

> Read the article in the New York Times.
> View the abstract for the presentation from the American Physical Society.
> See more videos of the ants forming water rafts (Nathan Mlot, Georgia Tech).

Whale shark at the Georgia Aquarium (CC BY Hillary Lauren).

Whale sharks and the ethics of aquariums

I was in Atlanta, Georgia, last week for a conference and had a few hours to do something for fun around town. I decided to go to the Georgia Aquarium. Besides the fact that it was highly recommended, I heard that there were whale sharks there, and when I knew that, I had to go. I had seen whale sharks once before in Osaka, Japan, when I was a teenager, and I had thought it was the only time in my life I would see one. Continue reading

The Hive Queen by morganagod.

Ender’s ants

As a childhood fan of the book, I couldn’t help but see the movie Ender’s Game last week. For a book adaptation, I thought the movie did a really good job. I could go on, but this is a science blog, not a movie review blog–the point is, while I was watching I noticed a great science learning opportunity!

Ender’s Game follows the military training of a Ender Wiggin, a boy with promising talents as a military genius. Set in the future, Earth has almost been destroyed from a war with an alien species, known as the Formics or “Buggers,” and is now preparing to retaliate. Continue reading

N. fowleri as a cyst, an amoeboid blob, and with transportive tails. Public domain, CDC.

Zombie amoeba

Whether you went trick-or-treating or stayed at home watching scary movies for Halloween, you probably saw some monsters during the holiday. But did you miss the monster that can be described as a frightening mix of a zombie, a werewolf, and The Blob?

Enter Naegleria fowleri, the brain-eating amoeba! Although not many people have actually ever seen this microscopic “monster,” it can still pack quite a punch: the fatality rate for someone infected with this parasite is 99%.

What is this little creature? Should we really be worried about the Zombie-Amoeboid Apocalypse? Let’s investigate… Continue reading