Tag Archives: NASA

Winning Science March 13, 2015

When the US Navy started talking about using electromagnetic catapults to launch planes, I distinctly remember someone saying that if Disney was having issues with similar tech, the Navy had absolutely no hope. While this might have been hyperbole, it is also true that Disney is regularly pushing the edges of technology in order to bring a better experience to park goers. The latest of these innovations is the Magic Band. Wired has a wonderful article this week about both the tech and process that went into making the magic, as well as the extensive, untapped potential that exists within the current hardware. I had no idea the amount of work that went into the development, or the one BILLION dollar price tag that went along with it. Then again, Disney never does things in half measures.

Of all the corporations following my every move, I find Disney much less worrisome than most. Continue reading

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Winning Science January 9, 2015

While the Sony hack might have made big headlines at the end of 2014, there was a far more dangerous and noteworthy hack that hasn’t been getting much attention. A steel plant in Germany was the target of a cyber attack that not only went after its business computers, but also its industrial control network. The attack resulted in a blast furnace shutting down improperly and suffering considerable damage. While this might not seem that bad in the grand scheme of things, it is actually rather terrifying, since the same thing could happen to a power plant or an oil refinery. This kind of attack has the potential to have a significant impact on our daily lives. The best way for industries to protect themselves from this kind of attack is to separate their industrial networks from the internet, or “air gap” them.

A Modern Blast Furnace.

A Modern Blast Furnace.

This is the second attack of this kind, the first being the Stuxnet attack on Iranian uranium enrichment facilities in 2010.

One of the greatest achievements of the 20th century is the discovery of antibiotics, and one of the greatest dangers that face us in the 21st century is the post-antibiotic age. A new invention may significantly reduce that threat: the iChip, a device which aids in developing cultures of bacteria which traditionally resist development in a petri dish. This has already allowed scientists to find a promising new bacteria, teixobactin. Instead of attacking the proteins of a cell, teixobactin binds to fatty lipids that make up cell walls. This makes it much more difficult for microbes to mutate and become resistant. While the new bacteria has yet to be tested in humans, it has shown incredible potential in mice and lab tests.


The iChip

I had better not be allergic to this stuff like I am to Amoxicillin.

THERE IS LIFE ON MARS!!!! Ok, that’s more than a little bit of an exaggeration. But according to a geobiologist at Old Dominion University, there is a potential that life did exist on Mars. According to Dr. Nora Noffke, there are geological formations on Mars that are similar to those on Earth near which microbial life is often found. This is based on pictures sent back by the Curiosity rover, which has discovered other evidence that life may have existed. While her argument has been made before, Dr. Noffke put it together in a very well thought out manner that makes it more convincing. Even one of NASA’s own scientists has recognized the careful analysis involved. Though it doesn’t prove that life once existed on Mars, it does give us more evidence that life was at least possible on the Red Planet.


I might have been listening to David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” while writing this.

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Winning Science May 28, 2014

The day has finally come when we here at Therefore I Geek can legitimately mix beer and science (without drinking while writing…I do that plenty already). Scientists at White Labs, a California yeast distributor, and a Belgian genetics lab have teamed up to map the genome of different types of brewing yeast. The goal is to eventually breed custom yeast, which would in turn yield custom flavors in beer. While genetic modification has been available for years, most brewers have shied away from modified yeast due to the public movement against GMOs. The most likely use of these different yeast strains will be by craft brewers as large breweries guard their yeast very carefully.


Who knows what interesting flavor and aroma combinations are headed our way in the not-too-distant future. Hurray beer!

I love Star Trek but was always troubled by the fact that most aliens in the show look essentially like humans.  First contact and communicating with a new set of aliens was just a matter of learning their language.  The closest Star Trek ever got to really adapting to cultural differences was my absolute least favorite episode “Darmok,” in which Picard has to communicate with an alien captain who expresses everything using some epic story.  Recently, NASA published a book on just this topic called  Archaeology, Anthropology and Interstellar Communication. The book takes the time to discuss all sorts of different problems that might exist when trying to communicate with life forms that could be completely different than us. The book also provides a pretty good history of SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Not like this.

Not like this.

NASA has pulled the ebook version while they wait for printed versions to come out.

As the world turns…Ok, I’m not going to start talking about soap operas, but I will talk about the mathematics and physics behind the way the Earth actually turns. Science has a great explanation of the experiment that demonstrates how fast the Earth turns. The original experiment in 1851 provided the first quantitative measurements of how fast the rotation actually is. The pendulum continues to swing on a straight line, but its direction changes as the earth rotates.  If a person did the pendulum experiment at the North or South Pole for six hours, he would actually find the 90 degree change in direction, as expected. Since the original experiment was done in Paris (which is obviously not at one of the poles) the value in that location, though exactly as expected, is less than it would be if done at the poles.

A Foucault Pendulum

A Foucault Pendulum

I love simple experiments like this. Science does not always need to super complex.

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Winning Science April 30, 2014

Today is the launch of Amazing Spider-Man #1 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 comes out in theaters tomorrow. How fitting, then, that Wired gives us a great article about the physics behind Spidey’s most famous piece of paraphernalia, his webs. Being an engineer, I’m familiar with most of the equations used in the article, but I had never put much thought into what the physical requirements must be for the webs. To pull of some of Spidey’s more impressive feats, the webs would need to be five times stronger than a steel cable.

Nobody does Spider-Man's webs quite like Todd McFarlane.

Nobody draws Spider-Man’s webs quite like Todd McFarlane.

I also really enjoyed the preemptive comment responses. This man has dealt with the internet before.

Observing un-contacted native tribes has always been a tough thing to do. Frequently contact eventually results the destruction of the very culture that is being observed. In an effort to prevent this from happening but still learn about the tribes, researchers are turning to Google Earth to monitor the behavior and activity of some tribes. This form of observation will also help set up buffer regions around the tribes to prevent inadvertent contact.

I see you...

I see you…

While this is a pretty great use of technology, it’s also a high tech form of voyeurism. Just a little creepy.

NASA has chosen to honor none other than William Shatner with their highest award, the Distinguished Public Service medal. This is a real no brainer. I’d bet considerable amounts of money that you couldn’t walk twenty feet in a NASA building without finding someone who has been inspired by the adventures of Captain James T. Kirk and his successors. Shatner has also been a vocal supporter of the NASA and of space exploration in general.

William Shatner with Ricardo Montalban in the episode Space Seed.

William Shatner with Ricardo Montalban in the episode “Space Seed”.

I had no idea he was Canadian. Guess I’m not quite the trekkie I thought I was.  😦


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