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McKayla's Journal

Science Matters, Chapter Questions

This is a place to post all questions over the chapters we read in Science Matters.

  • Questions #1: Energy and the Universe: 23/1/2011

The second law of thermodynamics states that “energy always goes from more useful to less useful forms” (27). Hazen also defines useful as concentrated. If energy is more concentrated it is more useful and vice versa. From what I understand, energy that can be used is energy that can be made to do a desired work, such as pushing down a pistol. The lost energy due to friction and waste heat are unusable and therefore un-useful. Is this correct? Could you clarify this?

On pages 30-31 Hazen maintains that mass is another form of energy. Einstein’s very well-known equation is E = mc2 . Could you give an explanation of how mass is related to energy. I know it’s well known but a more thorough explanation would help a lot.

Do batteries use a form of convection? How do batteries work to store energy and release it over time? Are batteries efficient?

Could a car be double powered with two engines, one that runs on higher heat and the other that runs on cooler?

Could you do a refresher on the equation force = mass X acceleration. Basically, what units are those measurements in and how does the answer help scientists?

On page 5 there is a diagram of Stonehenge. Could you explain where the light goes and what indicates the passing of time more thoroughly? (Also, may we go there?)

How is it true that the Universe regular and predictable and systems move towards disorder at the same time? Are those two concepts separate?

  • Questions #2:

How do you express latitude with only the degree and a decimal? (i.e. What is the calculation?)

What do the letters used in the global reference frame denote?

  • Questions #3: The Atom: 07/02/2011

All matter is made of atoms that are indivisible. Is the age-old tale that splitting an atom causes an atomic explosion really true? If so, how does it work? If not, how is an atomic explosion generated? Are atomic explosions only man-made events or could they happen on their own in the natural world?

There was a mention about exciting electrons to push them to outer valence shells. Could you illustrate how this happens? How can an electron be excited with energy and moved to an outer layer if each valence shell must be filled with a set level of atoms?

Does each electron have a unique path even if it is with another electron in the same electron shell?

What is antimatter? Is antimatter composed of things that are not atoms, but anti-atoms? What happens when matter and antimatter meet?

The Future of Science and Technology for Society

In your view what are the three most important challenges facing society in the near term (say 50 years)? Why are each of these so important? What does science have to offer for each? What does technology have to offer for each? Your entry should clearly address which are science based and which are technology based. You can describe both science and technology approaches for each of the problems you identify.

It goes without saying that the next fifty years will encompass a plethora of new advances in science and applications in technology. The three most important challenges facing society in the near term will be ones that prevent instabilities. To be more specific, it is in the interests of the prevailing systems of power to finance and encourage researchers to come up with solutions to problems that have the potential to generate civil war and political unrest. The three most important challenges will be concentrated on manipulating the natural world to relieve or eliminate the dependence of all nations on oil, to create ways to make and bring fresh water to all portions of the world population, and to create more efficient, safer methods of mass transportation.

The first challenge is important because governments are investing a lot of money and risking countless lives in wars whose central importance is to have access to the oil that is used to create the majority of electrical power in their respective countries. Lives will be saved because those individuals will not be sent into a war. Human rights will be upheld because tyrannical dictators will not be installed who have agreements with the US to not jeopardize the US’s access to oil. Furthermore, turning from a non-renewable resource and investing in the technology to draw energy from a renewable resource will sustain itself. For this problem, science is concerned with researching the creation of energy, focusing on the reactions of atoms they had not studied with that prerogative in mind. Technology uses the discoveries of science to create efficient, low-cost machines that harvest the new forms of energy scientists have studied and proposed engineers should and could harvest.

The second challenge is important because of the real fear of water wars. With growing populations, hoarding of fresh water by countries, and the problem of distribution, water wars could turn desperate people into perpetrators and victims of widespread violence. Science could investigate the natural process to desalinize water present in the water cycle and research how desert plants gain and store water. Technology could use the information uncovered from science to come up with machines to cheaply and efficiently extract the salt from sea water and therefore make more drinkable water available in general and in places where it usually is not available. As well, technology could improve and create new ways to transport fresh water. They would use the laws of the natural universe - such as gravity, physics, and thermodynamics - to do so.

The third challenge is important because public transportation is not being used efficiently and cities, specifically in the US, are not laid out in an efficient nor compact manner to make them accessible to everyone regardless of income. Science could discover new ways to get energy from alternative sources or gain more information on the current system to more efficiently continue to use it. Science could examine the migration patterns of animals, specifically ants and birds, to question whether their systems of movement work to organize masses of people efficiently. Scientists could also investigate where most people go on a regular basis and traffic patterns to give the information to technology makers. Technology could then come up with viable routes and use enough vehicles to transport the correct amount of people. Technology could also refine transport to accommodate the change from oil energy to alternative energy

Atmosphere I

  • Which specific aspects of climate change did the designers of atmosphere choose to focus on?

Today, climate change is synonymous with global warming. If scientists talk about solutions to climate change, they are talking about ways to reduce the rate at which the planet is warming. To make something clear, climate is different than weather; weather is unpredictable and varies daily while climate is used to describe the measure of an entire atmospheric system over a large period of time. A colder winter is therefore possible when world temperatures collectively rise. Due to the proliferation of global warming literature, some individuals forget that climate change can also describe trends in global cooling. The majority of the Atmosphere Exhibit at the Science Museum kept with the concerns of today by focusing on aspects of global warming. There were interactive displays that described how an excess of carbon dioxide can accumulate in the atmosphere. There was an interactive game that introduced a viewer to the technologies that help decrease carbon dioxide output, increase efficiency, utilize alternative sources of energy and increase awareness of energy usage.

  • How well sourced was the science and technology discussed in the kiosks?

I was not explicitly made aware of research sources the kiosks got their information from. However, I could have been distracted by the wealth of information I did not know and the high level of engagement with each kiosk to pay attention to any small print or spoken references by the automated speaker when the game ended.

  • What was the most surprising thing you learned?

All the information was interesting. There is no clear winner for most surprising though. The journey through the history of climate change interested me. I learned that La Nina and El Nino account for extremes in weather in cycles. I read about the Little Ice Age that took place from 1350 to 1850. Not that far ago, the Thames completely froze in the winter and people could ice skate on its surface with relative safety. I wonder how cold that had to be. I am really happy it does not snow here that much any longer, especially since it is winter right now. Other interesting facts have to do with later dates. The Ice Age caused the Norse peoples to migrate South to warmer climates. I also learned that dragon flies the size of seagulls and three-foot long scorpions evolved because of high levels of oxygen in the air. Because the air was less humid, large reptiles were able to dominate the Earth.

  • Which of the interactive kiosks did you find most engaging? Why?

The interactive kiosk I found most engaging was the game about Thames river level rising. Based on a lot of studies, the water levels of the River Thames were expected to rise between two different estimates. Entire housing districts were at risk along the river. The object of the game was to build up protective barriers to protect the most amount of houses with a set building budget. The game had a time limit. It was engaging because it was limited by time, restricted by budget, and was based upon varying sets of conflicting data about climate change, which I think is the basic formula for development that combats the effects of climate change. I felt like I had to account for many factors. The pace was quick.

  • Which of the interactive kiosks did you find least engaging? Why?

I found the carbon cycle interactive kiosk to be least engaging. Users were supposed to place a block on a point on the grid to learn how different aspects of the carbon cycle worked. However, one of the blocks did not work. The animation was slow as well. I was bored with the speed and how elementary the animations were. I guess I am attracted to flashy, quick paced, and exhibits that mentally engage me.

Greenland Review

In the United Kingdom, part of each citizen's taxes goes toward funding the arts. This is problematic because the people who allocate all this funding may channel more funds to art with messages they support. It would make sense if plays that challenge the existing power structures received little if any funding from this arena at all. Furthermore, It would make sense that some plays change their endings and original writing to appear less challenging to the prevailing hegemony. Greenland was a play that had the potential to present a lot of problems to the audience. It could increase the scope of the problem to cause a sense of helplessness. It could present different arguments that would need different strategies of action to assure the continuance of humanity and other living creatures on this planet. It could confuse the audience. It could empower the audience. As a viewer who was not used to the government-funded arts, I was doubly skeptical because the play itself was being performed at a government building as well. The Royal National Theatre had the potential to be class-exclusive, artistically stagnant, and full of unbearable snobbery. Greenland itself, I thought, would work present an argument to work around the existing oil-powered infrastructure because today government is concerned with business and the biggest business is oil.

I am ambivalent after seeing the production. I feel the theatre went out of its way to foster intelligent debate and continuing research, which indicated a government-led imperative to increasing the education of its citizens. A positive feature was the refutation of the element of 'belief'. As a quote at the beginning of the play stated, scientists disagree about when and how much warming will occur, not whether it is happening at all. Despite all this good, I feel the play was disheartening because it illuminated how large a scope the problem is and illuminated that there is not one solution. We are unable to predict the future and are presented with challenges, although few, to decrease our impact on this Earth. So, although it was very intelligently written and impressively performed I left the theatre feeling helpless and unsure of what to do. This is not the mindset of an individual who will go out of her or his way to decrease their impact and encourage others to do the same.

I felt that if there was a list of sources the play used available for purchase, it would be more accurate. I felt that if the audience was assured that the massive amounts of paper, plastic, water, and electricity came from environmentally friendly sources, the plays message would have been taken to heart. For example, the paper could have been paper that was recycled from other sources, the plastic could have been twice used plastic, the water could have been reused for each production, and the electricity could have been provided from solar panels or wind turbines. In that way the medium would have been effective to convey the theme.

Overall, it was a visually impressive production that presented the bleak picture many of us succumb to either through how seemingly powerless we as individuals are or how much work science and technology must do to present more of the patchwork solutions that are needed in this various world.

Reflections on Climate Change

Recently, we as a class have done readings to increase our scientific literacy, have explored an interactive exhibit about climate change, have gone to the theatre to see a new play about global warming, have listened to a podcast about young people ambivalent and confused about climate change, have travelled to famous places where scientific discovery took place, and have explored different areas of science. These methods - readings, museums, theatre, radio, and travel - cover a vast majority of methods through which individuals not in science careers receive their information. Another method of information gathering is television. The masses elect representatives that express the views they have formed after being bombarded with all this information, some of it misleading and many of it confusing. A scientifically illiterate society will be damaging to our future as funding is cut for programs the public does not know much about to form a logical opinion about.

  • What do you believe the take-away message to be?

From all of these venues of information, I think the take-away message is to gather as much information as possible, to strive to understand that information, and to decrease one's carbon footprint now in ways one can until more research yields even more patchwork solutions or until the oil infrastructure is overturned by a global coalition of nations and individuals. With the price of disheartening depression about finding any positive in the future at all, the underlying message is to not subscribe to positive ideology because as much as we would like to think there was one giant solution to it all it currently does not exist yet and there will need to be many different solution in many different regions of society.

  • Which of the modalities did you find most effective at communicating that message: reading, museum, or theatre? Why?

I, personally, felt the theatre was the most effective means of communicating that message to myself. I was entertained by the acting and special effects and I was engaged with heavy ideas. I feel that a short, compact, entertaining mode of communication is effective at getting the majority of the points across to individuals (who have the money for theatre tickets, of course). Reading and going to the museum give you the information at a slower pace and you may not read or see everything you need to in order to get a wide picture of the situation. In addition, the scientific jargon may be a bit heavy to wade through for the average individual who is, by definition, scientifically illiterate.

  • What's different about the message here in England than what you hear in your home country about climate change? Different than at Earlham?

In England, I was surprised to find a society so engaged with alleviating the negative environmental consequences that come with today's industrialized society. I suppose it is because the area, being an island, is so small that negative effects on the environment are immediately felt. In addition, the nation is invested in improving the health of its citizens. Therefore, chemical emissions are a negative financial burden to tax payers in the country and governmental policy reflects that. My host mum told me that recycling is a norm here and if she does not recycle, the recycling employees will go through her trash to sort it and tell her about it. This proactive environment that puts environmental concerns near the front of policy objectives directly conflicts with that of my home country, the United States of America. There, we have politicians who deny that the planet is warming outright. These representatives are negative to any environmental policy if it causes a financial burden to businesses, increases governmental expenditure, or creates new bureaucracies. It would be unfair to say they are adverse to the welfare of citizens because they do not protect the environment their constituents live in and therefore everyone's health. Instead, they are concerned with the welfare of individuals because companies may have to cut jobs to account for the added expenses of being less detrimental to the environment. Therefore, there are more individuals and families without the means to procure the basic necessities of life. In the United States, keeping the economy afloat and managing to not accrue governmental debt are the two main imperatives. There are two parties in direct opposition who advocate different methods to achieve generally the same end. Within the party whose central objective is to keep the economy afloat and decrease the financial debt for running the government, there are a small faction of ill-informed individuals who refute all scientific findings about the reality of global warming and the ensuing threats to humanity and other living things. Due to the enormity of the United States, there is not as massive of a movement for recycling, composting, and household technology powered by alternative forms of energy as in the United Kingdom. At Earlham, the majority of the students have the intention and motivation to enact real change that will decrease their footprint on the environment and this objective is reflected in a campus-wide recycling program and environmentally friendly technologies in academic buildings. The difference between the UK and Earlham is that the UK is burdened with the enormity of their domain whereas the smaller scale of Earlham allows more discussion and policies. All three environments - the UK, the US, and Earlham - are subjected to financial limitations and the obscurity and very early environmental technologies.

Kew Gardens

  • What science do they do at Kew?

The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew is a vast organization with researchers stationed around the world. Around 700 scientists are employed by the organisation in total. The work is organized into research teams with certain objectives. For example, the Millennium Seed Bank Project team works to conserve endangered plant and fungal species, to promote educational awareness about the issue, to understand the potential values of plants, and to implement the sustainable agriculture of plants in areas that depend on them for their socio-economic well-being. Other teams include Madagascar, UK Overseas Territories, Mycology, Monocots III: Orchids, and Large-scale Syntheses to name a few. Kew scientists are a major part of new plant discoveries and plant research. One major task they undertake is sequencing plant DNA. In the Independent, Jonathan Owen wrote "Kew Scientists Lead Fight to Save Orchids from Extinction: Global Team to Freeze Seeds from 2,000 Species". If we lose plant species, we also potentially lose vast arrays of medicine, food, and a more stable environment. In the nursery at Kew, workers pollinate and preserve many plant species.

  • What evidence of scientific underpinnings did you find in the displays?

The Order Garden displays plants by their order. All displays of plants and fungi listed their respective scientific names and their common names. Several displays had panels with a paragraph or two of information. These organized displays and educational panels provided evidence of the science behind the beautiful displays.

  • Why is it important to society, that is why should society support the work Kew does?

Plant science is important to society for a variety of reasons. Some plants have natural healing properties. Other plants provide the missing information and properties that can help to cure chronic diseases such as cancer and HIV/AIDS. Flora and fungi are vitally important to the natural balance of Earth systems. Losing species could be disastrous to humanity, other living beings, and to the maintenance of an environment with the ability to maintain life. Kew also informs the public through their educational programs, tours, displays, and events. This fosters an appreciation for science, increases the amount of individuals who are scientifically literate and therefore more adept to support viable policy plans, and inspires further generations to become plant, fungi, and environmental scientists. A society that supports botanical research and conservation projects is a society that puts education at its forefront and gives itself the tools for further medical and environmental research.

  • What are the principle near-term and long-term benefits that are likely to accrue from their work? Another way to ask this question is who benefits from their research and why?

People suffering from illnesses that do not yet have a complete cure or any cure at all benefit from the research on plants and fungi at Kew because certain plants have unknown beneficial properties. The plants and fungi lost that are threatened with extinction can be saved for future research. Knowledge itself is increased due to the lengths scientists go to understanding these living beings and researching the family connections they fall under. The general public increase their knowledge after attending the workshops, talks, and tours Kew holds regularly. Student groups benefit from learning new things, from seeing plants and fungi from around the world, and from gaining inspiration to undertake their own work in this field of science. Mirroring our architecture on the natural shapes and properties of plants and creating cities populated with many plants, fungi, humans, and other living things together helps create a healthier and longer-lasting biosphere for all.

Fibonacci at Kew

The Xstrata Treetop Walkway at Kew Gardens follows the Fibonacci sequence, a mathematical phenomenon that describes many natural growth patterns in nature. Basically, the numbers in the Fibonacci sequence is the sum of the two previous numbers. The sequence looks like this: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144 and so on. There is a Fibonnacci grid along each walkway truss. The spacing of the diagonals on the truss is dictated by the sequence. Therefore, there is a higher construction density at the ends that carry the most weight. [IMG]http://i103.photobucket.com/albums/m148/mckayla34/Study%20Abroad%20in%20London%202011/DSCI02522.jpg[/IMG]

Technology and Sustainability Talk

On the 15th of February, I attended a lecture by Charlie Peck entitled "Technology and Sustainability, Oxymoron or Synergy?". The talk focused on the relationship between technology and environmental sustainability. Two main questions arose. First, does the further evolution of technology have an adverse effect on the health of the environment? Some examples of this include electronic waste, energy technology that pollutes the environment further, inefficient and fossil-fuel powered transportation, more complex and disjointed technologies, increased human dependency on technology and subsequent skill loss, an increased gap between the rich and the poor, more narcotics that cause more health harm and are more addictive than the current ones, a standard of living that takes more energy to sustain, and energy intensive technologies that become symbols of wealth and status. Second, can new technological developments serve to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, clean and create fresh water without putting deadly chemicals in the environment, devise ways of transportation that do not rely on fossil fuels and are efficient, produce energy from sources that do not rely on fossil fuels, and increase the ability for people to communicate and organize. The talk was efficient in that it did not get caught up in the whether or not global warming is occurring debate. It focused on discussing the technologies that respond to changes in the environment and the technologies that can be adapted to human societies to make them more efficient. While organized in a logical manner, the strongest parts of the presentation were the graphs and illustrations of the main concepts. In particular, the graph that represented the disjointed way society adopts new technological developments such as the radio and the mobile phone was illuminating. It made me think about the relative speed of technological evolution and the time lapse society takes to adopt those developments. I also enjoyed the model of the electric car with regenerative braking. More diagrams would have served the lecture better. Also, adding animations to the power point would have helped. For example, many slides had a lot of text that the speaker talked about one-after-the-other. If the power point had only listed the point he was talking about when he was talking about it, I think people would have paid more attention because they would not have read ahead and then lost attention in what was a very informative talk. The hand-models the speaker used were very great at explaining main points. Overall, this was a talk that hit a lot of points, made me aware of new technologies that are working to move towards an environmentally sustainable urban society, alerted me to the problems of some technologies, and fit into the reduce-reuse-recycle model for environmental sustainability.

Perhaps there is room for a part two that addresses the feasibility of substantial change within a very limited infrastructure. For example, "Who Killed the Electric Car" is a film that questions why we have the technology to make this fantastic technology available to all but suddenly stopped hearing information about it. Because oil companies have the most profits and have the most lobbyists in government, it makes sense for them to not fund, not give television coverage to, and pay off scientists to not release new information. How far can we use the market to enact beneficial environmental change for all? Two other films of interest are "Zeitgeist" and "Zeitgeist: Addendum". This may get into a conspiracy talk, but we have to wake up and call on these companies to let go if we want the millions of people that are going to perish from decreased food yields in desert climates, intense storms, and extensive flooding to survive. Does economic profit trump communal human health and survival? This is another talk for another day.

Astronomy and the Cosmos


-A star's ultimate defeat and, it could be argued, its final death occurs when the anti-gravitational force of its electrons can no longer sustain the strong gravitational pull of the star's center. The area then becomes a black hole. Because matter can neither be created nor destroyed, what, then, is a black hole?

-Is there an animation that illustrates the birth and death of a star?

-When the male feminist slam poet came to Earlham to perform, he told his audience about a new form of energy called nuclear fisson (or fusion) that he was studying at MIT. What is this and can we use this process to extract energy without damaging the environment?

-If the moon were to crash into the Earth (say we were developing expensive flats on its surface and the moon had structural failure) would the Earth decrease in size? This question comes from the statement that the moon was formed from an asteroid crashing onto its surface and getting rid of a lot of its material to form the moon.


-Are the properties of anti-matter misrepresented by science fiction and new movies such as 'AstroBoy'? Mainly, these tales maintain that if matter and anti-matter come into contact, an atomic explosion capable of destroying our entire planet will occur. That seems silly if dark matter is more abundant in the universe than baryonic matter and both exist simultaneously. Are anti-matter and dark matter the same thing?

-Why did Einstein withdraw his cosmological constant theory? Does it not keep with the cosmological expansion finding by Hubble? If not, why? If so, how?

-Could you explain how the book explains time using minutes and seconds?