Science & Technology

March for Science- Earth Day 2017


Earth is the only world, as of this writing, known to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.  ? Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

This Earth Day, April 22, 2017, scientists, those who support their work, and those concerned about our current government's disastrous environmental policies will gather in cities and towns worldwide in a march to bring awareness to the state of our planet and what we're doing to it. I, along with thousands of others, will be marching in downtown Chicago (and doing some sketching).

Here's the March for Science mission statement as presented on their webpage:

The March for Science champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest.

Hope everyone I know will be there and/or lend their support in body or spirit.

Summer's End: Farewell Cicadas & Walnuts


Fall has definitely arrived to the Chicago area, and with it the end to the summer's familiar ambient buzzing sound coming from the native cicada. This year's brood was the annual cicada, which according to Wkipedia, are also known as the dogday cicada or harvestfly, though I've never heard them called either. I've taken some artistic license and depicted the orange eyed and wing tipped 17 year cicada (aka. the periodical cicada) who, according to the "Chicago Botanic Garden website", aren't expected to emerge until 2024.


As for the walnuts; our next door neighbor’s grand & glorious walnut tree has branches which extend over our fence, towering far above our driveway. Throughout the later summer months, the sound of squirrels cracking open the hard shells can be head clearly and constantly across the back yard. The falling nuts striking the metal garbage can lids from 20-30 feet act as a warning gong for anyone passing beneath. They're fairly substantial and a direct hit on the head could lead to hospitalization or, at the least, a nasty bump.

Like cicadas emergences, walnut tree production can vary greatly from year to year, and may be on an “alternate bearing” schedule, producing nuts one year and reserving their resources the next. As it happens, this was a very bountiful year for our neighbor’s walnut tree, with a sea of green, nearly lime-sized walnuts dotting the rear part of our driveway. Later, those that remain after the squirrels have had their fill take on the familiar wrinkled, brown look of dried walnut shells. As a bonus, I’ve discovered that disabling the electric eye on the garage door results in a powerful nutcracker.

For more info:

"University of Illinois extension: Cicadas in Illinois"

"Morton Arboretum:Black Walnut Tree"

The Head that Wouldn't Die

I caught this story while listening to on public radio a couple of weeks back about a recent discovery to come out of Rice University's Dept. of Biochemistry and Cell Biology. A faculty professor there, Janet Braam, found that some produce, which in her experiments included cabbage, responded to light and dark cycles, known as circadian rhythms, days after being harvested. Cruciferous veggies such as cabbage use these cycles to produce cancer-fighting compounds. For nutritionists, grocers, and food distributors, this finding will likely have a significant effect on the way fruits and vegetables are handled. By regulating the light and dark cycles to mimic nature, they'll be able to coax the maximum health benefits out of their produce.

More info on Prof. Braam and her colleagues' ongoing research can be found here.

A new "Cosmos"

Before cable's TV's specialization, science programming on television was a rarity, so when PBS originally aired the 13-hour series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage in 1980, it was an immediate hit and remains the most widely viewed PBS series ever worldwide. One of the primary reasons for Cosmos' popularity was its creator and host, Carl Sagan, who came across as a kindly, wise teacher gently leading viewers through the wonders of the universe.

I, like many others, first became acquainted with Carl Sagan during the initial run of Cosmos and attribute my layman's interest in science to his contagious sense of wonder. One of the first books I ever bought was his exploration of evolution and how it relates to religious mythology in The Dragons of Eden. And if there's one book that I believe should be (but alas never will be) mandatory reading for every high school freshman, it's The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Darkness, his very readable primer on the scientific method and maintaining a healthy skepticism, or what Sagan calls 'baloney detection'.

In 2014, a new incarnation of Cosmos will find its home, surprisingly enough, on the Fox network. In another unlikely twist, the series' producer is Family Guy creator and Academy Awards host, Seth MacFarlane, who has long been interested in bringing the series back to TV. With Cosmos' originator and host no longer around to MC the proceedings, his duties are being assumed by esteemed astrophysicist and Director of the Hayden Planetarium, Neil deGrasse Tyson, who succeeds his hero and mentor Carl Sagan as the nation's most popular 'popularizer' of science. During his early academic career, Sagan tried to lure the young Mr. Tyson to study at Cornell University, where he taught, to no avail (Tyson instead chose Harvard for his undergraduate studies.). Nevertheless, they remained close friends and colleagues in the years to follow. With the involvement of Neil deGrasse Tyson and Ann Druyan (Dr. Sagan's widow and a highly respected author and producer in her own right), I'm hopeful that this new Cosmos will soar to the heavenly heights of the original.