Category Archives: Science


So Google Web History has a feature called Interesting Items. Google saves your search history (only when logged into your Gmail/Google account) and then analyzes it to determine the “recent top queries related to your searches.” I must have been doing a lot of searching for medications, diseases, and science-related stuff (explanation: medical school) because coming in at #4 in top queries related to my searches is esthesioneuroblastoma, an “uncommon malignant neoplasm of the nasal vault, believed to arise from the olfactory epithelium.” What an interesting and unusual thing to learn! Interesting video is also offered and a few months ago I was shown a video of cataract surgery.

Homeopathy – Quackery Or A Key To The Future of Medicine?

Remember my post entitled “Diluting medicine: Homeopathy“? In it I linked to a number of videos refuting the practice of homeopathy. A few days ago I found a 2-hour video of a debate held at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. The debate alternates between both viewpoints. It can be watched fairly quickly because the video is cued up with a Powerpoint slide. Advancing the flash Powerpoint slide also advances the video. It’s quite interesting. The Canadian homeopathic doctor at the end makes the very radical point that the healthcare crisis would be completely solved if everyone switched over to homeopathy…ahh, yeah right. The moderator mentioned that more such debates would be happening in 2008. I wished the format is more of an actual debate. The video was just 4-5 different people talking with little discussion occurring. I feel the best part of the video could have been the question and answer session that occurred after the online webcast ended. Here’s hoping that the format will be different for their future debates.

Advertisement for the debate:

A Debate: Homeopathy – Quackery Or A Key To The Future of Medicine?
Donald Marcus M.D. (Baylor)

An international forum to explore the facts around this controversial modality in an attempt to determine whether it has any place in medical care.

Participants to include Donald Marcus M.D. (Baylor), Iris Bell M.D., Ph.D. (University of Arizona), Rustum Roy Ph.D. (Penn State) and others.

You are invited to watch a debate between six internationally renowned experts as they examine the basic science as well as the clinical and epidemiological evidence around this 200 year old system of medicine.

Link to video

Nature vs. nurture: Identical Twins Raised Apart

Here are some pretty incredible stories that I found in my clinical psychiatry book:

1) Jim L. and Jim S. were first reunited at age 39. They were genetically identical twins, reared apart since infancy by different adoptive families in Ohio and unaware of each other’s existence. As children, each twin had had a dog named Toy. Each bit his fingernails and, since age 18, had suffered from mixed headache syndrome, a combined tension and migraine headache. Each had been married twice, first to a Linda and then to a Betty. One twin had named his son James Alan, and the other, James Allen. Each had put a circular bench around a tree in his garden. Each had worked at a gas station and later part-time in law enforcement as a sheriff. Each chain-smoked Salems and preferred an occasional Miller Lite beer. Each scattered love notes to his wife around the house. Every summer, unbeknownst to the other, each had driven his family in a light blue Chevrolet from Ohio to the Pas-Grille Beach in St. Petersburg, Florida, for their summer vacation. They had similar voices, hand gestures, and mannerisms.

2) Jerry L. and Mark N., identical twins separated in infancy, were first reunited at age 30. Each was nearly bald and had a bushy mustache. Each was a volunteer firefighter and made his living installing safety equipment. Each wore aviator glasses, big belt buckles, and big key rings. Each drank Budweiser with his pinky hooked on the bottom of the can and crushed the can when he finished.

3) Jack Y. and Oskar S., identical twins born in Trinidad in 1933 and separated in infancy by their parents’ divorce, were first reunited at age 46. Oskar was raised by his Catholic mother and grandmother in Nazi-occupied Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia. Jack was raised by his Orthodox Jewish father in Trinidad and spent time on an Israeli kibbutz. Each wore aviator glasses and a blue sport shirt with shoulder plackets, had a trim mustache, liked sweet liqueurs, stored rubber bands on his wrists, read books and magazines from back to front, dipped buttered toast in his coffee, flushed the toilet before and after using it, enjoyed sneezing loudly in crowded elevators to frighten other passengers, and routinely fell asleep at night while watching television. Each was impatient, squeamish about germs, and gregarious.

4) Bessie and Jessie, identical twins separated at 8 months of age after their mother’s death, were first reunited at age 18. Each had had a bout of tuberculosis, and they had similar voices, energy levels, administrative talents, and decision-making styles. Each had had her hair cut short in early adolescence. Jessie had a college-level education, while Bessie had had only 4 years of formal education; yet Bessie scored 156 on intelligence quotient testing, while Jessie scored 153. Each read avidly, which may have compensated for Bessie’s sparse education; she created an environment compatible with her inherited potential.

Kaplan & Sadock’s “Synopsis of Psychiatry.” Ninth Edition.
Segal NL. Entwined Lives: Twins and What They Tell Us about Human Behavior. Plume: New York; 1999:116-151.

Total Lunar Eclipse

I’ll be heading home early from studying to snap a few pictures of tonight’s total lunar eclipse. I guess it will be the last one seen in North America until December 2010. Unfortunately, I forgot my tripod at home so I’ll have to do it hand held. Expected temperature (without wind chill) for the eclipse in Southeast WI is supposed to be a balmy 3 degrees F. I’ll update this post with the photos once my camera warms back up from the cold.

EDIT: As promised, here is a photo of tonight’s eclipse. These photos were hand held and taken with a good lens but not great lens (Canon 28-135 f3.5-5.6 EF IS USM). Click the photo to be taken to the gallery.

Total Lunar Eclipse

As a comparison I also took a photo using my point & shoot Minolta G400. Despite being a quarter of the film speed (400 vs. 1600) and more than double the shutter speed, the shots look more like an outdated picture of Neptune than our Moon. Here one of those pictures is:

Total Lunar Eclipse with Minolta G400

Project Implicit

It is well known that people don’t always ‘speak their minds’, and it is suspected that people don’t always ‘know their minds’. Understanding such divergences is important to scientific psychology.

This web site presents a method that demonstrates the conscious-unconscious divergences much more convincingly than has been possible with previous methods. This new method is called the Implicit Association Test, or IAT for short.

The IAT was originally developed as a device for exploring the unconscious roots of thinking and feeling. This web site has been constructed for a different purpose — to offer the IAT to interested individuals as a tool to gain greater awareness about their own unconscious preferences and beliefs.

Check out the demonstration. There’s a huge variety of tests and each test only takes 5-10 minutes.

How Proteus Saved Lives in World War II

I’m currently studying for an upcoming microbiology exam on bacteriology and wanted to quick comment on something that one of the doctors told us. During World War II, Nazis were very fearful of typhus (the epidemic from caused by Rickettsia prowazekii). They wanted people in the concentration camps to do manual labor for as long as possible before being killed. Bringing people with epidemic typhus into the camps would cause everyone to become too sick to work. So to prevent the spread of typhus into the concentration camps, Nazi “doctors” tested villages for typhus antibodies via a blood test. Fortunately, some Polish physicians determined that inoculating villagers with Proteus would cause a cross-reaction with the typhus agglutination test. It would appear as if a typhus epidemic was going on in that village and the Nazis subsequently left them alone.

It was a pretty brave thing for the Polish physicians to do. It’s unfortunate that this couldn’t have been used to save even more lives. Here’s an article, A Bacterium Saved a Town During World War II, that talks about the same thing.

Parallel universes?

According to a team of Oxford scientists (I’m sorry that I don’t have their original publication), the parallel universe theory “helps explain mysteries of quantum mechanics that have baffled scientists for decades.” In particular, “the Oxford team, led by Dr David Deutsch, showed mathematically that the bush-like branching structure created by the universe splitting into parallel versions of itself can explain the probabilistic nature of quantum outcomes.” One expert even described this mathematical discovery as “one of the most important developments in the history of science.” Unfortunately, I have the feeling that unless there is a practical benefit to this discovery, I’ll think that new and future advancements in genetics and proteomics will be much greater developments in the history of science. (But maybe these discoveries in genetics have already happened. What I don’t understand is if each universe gets created “on the fly” for a given decision branch or if there are an infinite number of universes in existence and we just pop between them to reflect each action.)

Basically what the scientists describe is a situation where each action results in multiple parallel universes branching off at each possible decision. For example, in one universe I might get hit by a car while biking, while in another universe the car might just barely miss me, and in another I might swerve and hit something else. The theory states that each of these things and, in fact, everything that could possibly have happened, does but we are only aware of the universe that we are experiencing and that we are a part of.

I guess I could see how mathematically something like this would be possible. However, what I can’t understand is that there are an infinite possibilities for anything that happens. For example, my very thoughts during writing this post alone created countless parallel universes. The neurotransmitter actions in my brain created countless more. Subconscious extraneous movements of my body created even more. And, each second of every day the cells that choose to multiple, die and get replaced, grow, etc, etc each create more and more universes. And that is not even considering the fact that I’m part of other people’s universes too. This just seems too incredible…

Photon Propulsion Breakthrough

Bae’s Photonic Laser Thruster (PLT) demonstration produced a photon thrust of 35 uN, which is sufficient for several space missions currently envisioned, and is scalable to achieve much greater photon thrust for future space missions. Applications for PLT include: highly precise satellite formation flying configurations for building large synthetic apertures in space for earth or space observation, precision contaminant-free spacecraft docking operations, and propelling spacecraft to unprecedented speeds greater than 100 km/sec.

Bae, looking forward with anticipation, observes, “This is the tip of the iceberg. PLT has immense potential for the aerospace industry. For example, PLT powered spacecraft could transit the 100 million km to Mars in less than a week.” Several aerospace players have expressed intent to collaborate with the Bae Institute to further develop and integrate PLT into civilian, military, and commercial space systems.

Source: Photon Propulsion Breakthrough Could Cut Mars Transit From Six Months to a Week
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Should Google Go Nuclear?

Google Tech Talks November 9, 2006

ABSTRACT This is not your father’s fusion reactor! Forget everything you know about conventional … all » thinking on nuclear fusion: high-temperature plasmas, steam turbines, neutron radiation and even nuclear waste are a thing of the past. Goodbye thermonuclear fusion; hello inertial electrostatic confinement fusion (IEC), an old idea that’s been made new. While the international community debates the fate of the politically-turmoiled $12 billion ITER (an experimental thermonuclear reactor), simple IEC reactors are being built as high-school science fair projects.

Dr. Robert Bussard, former Asst. Director of the Atomic Energy Commission and founder of Energy Matter Conversion Corporation (EMC2), has spent 17 years perfecting IEC, a fusion process that converts hydrogen and boron directly into electricity producing helium as the only waste product. Most of this work was funded by the Department of Defense, the details of which have been under seal… until now.

Dr. Bussard will discuss his recent results and details of this potentially world-altering technology, whose conception dates back as far as 1924, and even includes a reactor design by Philo T. Farnsworth (inventor of the scanning television).

Can a 100 MW fusion reactor be built for less than Google’s annual electricity bill? Come see what’s possible when you think outside the thermonuclear box and ignore the herd.

Source (link to video): Should Google Go Nuclear? Clean, cheap, nuclear power (no, really)

Message board thread: Interesting fusion talk at google with space related aspects

I haven’t finished watching the video yet (it’s over 1 hour 30 mins) but what I’ve seen looks very interesting. This is not some creating energy from nothing free energy technology, but actual science. I’d love to see his further research get funded.

Interstellar Ark

“There are three strategies to travel 10.5 light-years from Earth to Epsilon Eridani and bring humanity into a new stellar system : 1) Wait for future discovery of Star Trek physics and go there almost instantaneously, 2) Build a relativistic rocket powered by antimatter and go there in 22 years by accelerating constantly at 1g, provided that you master stellar amounts of energy (so, nothing realistic until now), but what about 3): go there by classical means, by building a gigantic Ark of several miles in radius, propulsed by nuclear fusion and featuring artificial gravity, oceans and cities, for a travel of seven centuries — where many generations of men and women would live ? This new speculation uses some actual physics and math to figure out how far are our fantasies of space travel from their actual implementation.”

Interstellar Ark :: Strange Paths

I saw this on Slashdot. It was a very intriguing read. In fact, the whole Strange Paths blog is going to be fun to read through. I, like many people, wonder if building an ark and spending over 700 years traveling to a destination is a good use of money. (However, I forgot the technical economic term, but this scale of government spending would probably give an absolutely huge stimulus to the economy!) With how far science and physics have advanced in the past 300 years, one would think that our future selves could build a machine that would beat the “old” design ark to Epsilon Eridani even with a 300 year late start. All in all, I think that technologically, we could build this ark now or at least once we establish a permanent base on the Moon or Mars. Psychosocial aspects would likely be the ark’s downfall. It sort of reminds me of the movie and book Contact. It is interesting to think about, nonetheless.
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