Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I'm in miami beach*... plus key west!

I saw these shirts when I was in Miami and since every time someone says Miami I want to add a certain word at the end (is this a song? -yes.), I thought about getting one! Oh well. Our Christmas vacay to Miami and Key West was fantastic! Long hours driving with Christmas music on & the glittering blue ocean on both sides of the one-lane road... just beautiful.

Along Miami Beach- there are many 2-3 story pastel-colored buildings which are motels on top and chic bistros on the first floor.
Miami beach! Look at the water- incredibly beautiful, and there were people swimming in the water that day. Seagulls and baby ones walking along the beach. 

We visited Hemingway's house in Key West, where there is a plethora of 6-toed cats. I caught this one grooming itself on the balcony outside and look at its toes! 

The picturesque house from the outside. 

Inside the writing studio on the second floor, where Hemingway woke up in the mornings and walked across the catwalk from his bedroom.

There's many chickens (and chicks) wandering the streets at Key West. Here this one waits for the car to pass before crossing the road.
Here we are at the Southermost Point in the U.S.! 90 miles to Cuba. There is actually a line of people waiting to take their picture at the point. The buoy on the right corner marks the spot now, after a sign marking the spot kept on being stolen.
Sitting at the most "legally"-ok Southernmost point. If I could wade across the ocean, I could have been the southernmost person in all of U.S.
 We grabbed lunch at this seaside restaurant above the water near the boat dock. 
Over my fish tacos I could see boats/ships/jet skis on the water. People were walking around without shirts on in December. Welcome to winter in Key West!
 One of the many amazing street performers in Mallory Square. 
 We visited a key lime shop that was even painted yellow-green.
A skyline view of Miami downtown before our drive back up to Tampa. 

I had a lovely vacation with the two cousins, whom I hadn't seen for years. Since they're my age, it was fun chatting with them and hearing all about New Zealand and their university lives! I feel extremely lucky for living in such a beautiful place and being able to visit other warm-sunny-oceanside places during this vacation. I feel rejuvenated & recharged for the new year and the new semester already! 

flowers for algernon.

This has to be one of my favorite books ever. It was recommended to me by my roommate/ Cake Duchess last year. Written by Daniel Keys, this book narrates the story of Charlie Gordon, a mentally retarded adult who is chosen to be the subject of an operation that makes his IQ skyrocket. The operation had been conducted on an animal model, a mouse named Algernon, and Charlie, chosen because of his high motivation and desire to learn, undergoes the surgery. After a successful surgery, Charlie does indeed become smart, but he changes-for better or for worse- with his newfound intelligence. In addition, Algernon begins to display signs of lower intelligence & frustration/aggression why worries the researchers and Charlie who investigates himself. 

I love this book for two reasons. First, it's beautifully narrated. Charlie, as the narrator, writes a series of progress reports for the experiment which show gradually his increasing intellectual capabilities (through grammar, punctuation, and word choice) , other characteristics that come along (questioning authority, desiring women) and subsequently his decline mirroring Algernon's. His realization that this Charlie will soon "die" and will revert back to the old Charlie who has been laughed at and ridiculed, in addition to the fact he will lose and forget his former teacher/love Miss Kinnian, as told by him is heartbreaking.
Charly(1968) movie based on the book focusing on the romance between Alice&Charlie

Second, it makes me think about the meaning of "intelligence" in our society. The researchers in this book have ulterior motives and do not treat Charlie as a human when he is retarded, hinting that he did not even exist before he became smart. Charlie, when he had an IQ of 68, did not realize that people had been mean to him, believing they were his friends. Charlie has been abandoned by his family as well, especially by his mom who tortures Charlie for acting on his native urges without the societal control to suppress them and refuses to believe Charlie can't become "normal" like the other boys. Also, the discrepancy in intellect and difficulties in conversation between C & Alice as Charlie progresses is especially interesting to me, because I experience this on both sides, attending college with some brilliant people.

I love books written from non-traditional view points, and this is one of my absolute favorite books because it is so fascinating and lingers on long after you've read it. Also see: "The Art of Racing in the Rain" by Matt Stein, written from the perspective of an aging dog named Enzo. "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" by Mark Haddon from the eyes of Francis, a 15-year-old with autism, is fascinating as well.

Monday, December 27, 2010

haircut and a cortisol stress test

I read about this new stress test where they can take a sample of your hair and assess how much stress you've been under for the last 6 months. How cool is this? Since I am due for a haircut, maybe I can send a hair sample to the lab and figure out how much stress I've been under during the last semester.

Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal gland and can be tested with a blood, saliva or urine sample. It is released in response to stress, suppresses the immune system and increases the blood glucose level. Caffeine, lack of sleep, trauma can increase cortisol levels, and laughing(!), tea, and massage/music therapy can lower cortisol levels. Previous methods of cortisol tests can only assess cortisol levels secreted during the last hours/day, but this new method of cortisol hair tests can reveal stress levels over a longer period of time, six months and possibly more. Researchers at the University of Western Ontario measured cortisol levels from the hair of heart attack patients from an Israeli hospital and compared it to cortisol levels from that of non-hear attack patients from the same hospital. Over the past few years, hair cortisol has been found in additional studies to be a useful marker of how much stress/pain the individual is under, rather than using individual self-assessments of stress, which are not as reliable. See links here, here, and here.

Happy Monday! Back in home, sweet home after a long relaxing vacation looking at the sea. If I could swim 90 miles I would be in Cuba...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

cruisin to t-town.

Finals are o-v-e-r, and I'm heading back to Tampa. It's been a long, dragging finals period but I am so glad to be done! I packed light this time, so hopefully I can survive in Tampa, which has been getting somewhat of a freak weather lately (40F? In Florida? I've gone swimming on the beach on New Year's Day before!).

Seriously, this is the least I've packed for any break ever. 
The $25 per baggage is a good incentive for me to pack less.

Here's some last leaving shots of our beautiful campus:
In front of the Sallyport

 The Academic Quad and Fondren Library in the back, through the arch

 It's so windy outside! In the quad.

Between Brochstein Pavilion and the library, where the leaves are actually yellow. Doesn't this place look so zen? I should use it more often instead of sitting inside the library.

Fountain at the Baker Institute with the Jones Business School in the back.

My flight leaves this afternoon, and I'm spending the last few hours in Houston watching Nikita (I am seriously addicted!!!!). It's been a great semester and I got to take some amazing courses with incredible professors. I got to learn in great detail about topics that intrigued me and thoroughly enjoyed living in a suite with my favorite girls. We bonded over cockroaches (screaming about cockroaches found in bathrooms, drawers, and coffee machines, shopping for Raid, and thinking about hiring cockroach-exterminators). Oh, and the promiscuous tyrosine kinase was on my immunology final!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

promiscuous tyrosine kinase

Last day of immunology, and Dr. N. didn't fail to leave us with a lasting impression.

Discussing cancer and chronic myelogenous leukemia, Dr. N. mentioned that the fusion protein produced by the "Philadelphia" chromosome  goes around and becomes a constitutively active tyrosine kinase. She proclaimed it a "promiscuous" tyrosine kinase, a "slutty" protein which "turns on" all these other proteins. 

Everyone laughed for a good while. I love it when neutral/biological objects are described with human-verbs and adjectives: "helps", "wants", "recruits" are common ones that come to mind! 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

part of a pack: herd immunity.

Interestingly, the first time I heard about the concept of herd immunity was in Game Theory. We discussed a scenario where for each person, getting vaccinated meant a certain risk: mathematical probability of getting sick/dying from the vaccine, and your chance of getting the disease depended on how many people got the vaccine. I thought the idea was fascinating- so you can risk whether you want to get the vaccine or not, which although it carries a certain danger, and if you get the vaccine, you are probably going to be a-ok. On the other hand, even if you were lazy/scared and didn't get the vaccine, but enough people around you had gotten the vaccine, you might be protected.

Since no vaccine is 100% effective, some individuals in a population, even if they are vaccinated, may not be protected against the pathogen. Or they may not be vaccinated, period. However, if enough people are vaccinated in the population, the pathogen can't find a host, and won't get around to infecting those who are even susceptible! This is called herd immunity. Neat, right?

It means that a population doesn't have to be 100% vaccinated in order to eradicate a disease. However, we like to leave those unvaccinated percentages for those who are immune compromised or have otherwise similar conditions that would make vaccination unwise.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

caryophanon latum 318.

This is what I've been spending my last 7 weeks working on, in the smelly lab for my microbiology class.

Our assignment was to each identify a different bacteria from a water sample our professor collected around Houston & finally:
 Note the pale-yellow, glistening surface.
 Older colonies grow a deeper orange... and,
Gram-positive, motile on the wet mounts, multicellular & straight to slightly curved.

Caryophanon latum. Found in cow dung in 1940 by Pershkoff! Thank you, Bergey's. We did motility mounts, grew them in 36 degrees, 30 degrees, and room temperature, ran catalase/oxidase tests, Gram-stained, Methyl-red/VP tested... and here it is, finally identified and named. For our final paper we need to write a mini monograph about the species & I'm done done done!

This semester is almost over. Also meaning, finals period is coming close. This week it's been impossible to find a desk in the library!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

ageing is not a disease.

What is a disease? If there is an inevitable process everyone is subjective to, could that be a disease?

A disease, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is:
condition of the living animal or plant body or of one of its parts that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms

The Oxford dictionary defines a disease as:
a disorder of structure or function in a human, animal, or plant, especially one that produces specific signs or symptoms or that affects a specific location and is not simply a direct result of physical injury.

While both these definitions are not clear, and also bring in the necessity to define other concepts such as "normal", a disease is understood to mean a condition that affects only some people and not everyone, meaning that aging is not recognized as a disease.

Why is this significant, though? My friend N told me that being a good lawyer means you need to be good at finding your way through loopholes, and this instance seems similar. Well, in order for anti-aging drugs to be developed and approved, the condition it is treating for-aging- needs to be recognized as a legitimate disease. Currently, regulators in Europe & the U.S. such as the FDA do not recognize ageing as a disease, meaning that anti-aging drugs will not be approved and marketed in the U.S. For example, rapamycin, a compound shown to increase the lifespan in model organisms, is only approved in cases of recognized cases such as in  patients after organ transplants. So if such an anti-ageing "drug" is developed, it may be sold as a dietary supplement, but not as a drug marketed to "treat" a condition.

Lately in the news, in 2008, GlaxoSmithKline bought Sirtris (Forbes article here), a company developing anti-aging drugs based on SIRT1 activators such as resveratrol, found in red wine. So far, while other rival companies have not been able to match initial findings that Resveratrol does indeed activate SIRT1, there have been clinical trials with the SIRT1 activator(?) SIRT501. Phase I clinical study of SIRT501 was completed in January of 2010, showing that SIRT501 is indeed safe, even at high doses. However, a Phase II study was suspended in May 2010, because some patients (who had white-cell center) developed kidney problems. 

David Gobel and Aubrey de Grey founded the Methuselah Foundation in 2010, a non-profit organization promoting study of & supporting extension of human life. The foundation awards "The MPrize" to researchers who produce mice that can live abnormally long. Current record holder is Andrzej Bartke of Southern Illinois University who used dwarf mice without growth hormone, prolactin, or thyroid stimulating hormone. His mice lived for ~1800 days (~1.5 times normal lifespan for mice).

While studying ageing is fascinating because well, it was shown only recently that ageing is regulated by genes & the subject is all too personal for any living/breathing/mortal human being. Will living to ~100 years be the normal, a certain future as we age? The exciting spark is not only that lifespan can be extended, but that ageing can be slowed down. Sure, you may be 100, but you may be running around shooting hoops like a 30-year-old. Imagine that.

Monday, November 22, 2010


I went to H-mart last Saturday & got so many delicious things, including persimmons. C had never tried persimmons (or Asian pear, for that matter), and we spent a glorious hour walking through the aisles & picking up cookies/crackers, banana milk, and delicious pastries (melon bread, cream puff's and chestnut bread mmmm). I swear, this boy likes Korean food as much as I do.

I think it's fascinating how tastes are like a collection of colors forming a palette: once you taste something, you know how it tastes. If you've never tasted anything like it, no matter what analogies or comparisons to have it explained to you, you'll never completely get it.

Same with persimmons:
Persimmons are grown all over the world, from Mexico to southeastern Europe to Asia, but the persimmons I've grown up with are the Asian kind, native to China. They are really bitter when they are not yet ripe (and hard), and gradually become softer as they become sweeter. My friend A described them as being "sweet, with texture between apple and peach", and suggested they may taste like sweet potatoes. Interesting, but I somehow agree...

I grew up eating numerous of these persimmons (called gahm, like "palm") growing in my grandma's house. We'd pick literally hundreds of them when it became fall, and my grandma would let them dry in the sun for a few days, and they'd turn dry/sweet, and I'd eat them as snacks throughout the winter. These are a common fruit associated with autumn in Korea, along with the color-changing leaves. Oh, if you let them ripen (but not left to dry), they become soft enough to eat with a spoon.

This angle of me cutting the persimmon makes it look like I'm on a TV show! My suitemate and I will be baking up a delicious pie for our Thanksgiving potluck in a dorm room with neither hot water nor heating. We're going to pretend we're on Survivor fused with Top Chef. 

By the way, there's a new TLC show called "Sarah Palin's Alaska"! First Bristol, and now Sarah Palin herself? A new emerging family of reality stars to come.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

delayed graft attaching hand to leg.

In light of learning about grafts (Think Xenographs are a future possibility to-be-developed. Pigs are being looked at as possible donors of heart for humans. The wonders of technology.) I came upon this incredible story article.

A nine-year-old in China named Ming Li was run over by a tractor on her way to school, which resulted in her left arm being crushed and her left hand being severed from the body. Since the arm was in too bad of a condition for the hand to be reattached, the doctors grafted the hand to her leg for three months, and after her arm was healed, successfully reattached the hand to her arm. She will be eventually able to gain function of her hand back, after two more surgeries.
Sound like something out of a science fiction movie? Amazing! Doctors were quoted as saying, "it's nothing new". Well, the technology may not be as complicated or novel, but it's insane to imagine a hand sticking out next to a foot.

Some sites have pictures of her hand attached to her arm...  click to link on Orange UK if you dare.

something about that name...

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet." Juliet, Romeo and Juliet.

Sorry, J., it seems that there is much more in a name, according to recent studies.

According to a study at Miami University in Ohio by Robin Thomas, names evoke certain characteristics in people. In this study, one group of subjects created faces to given names using face construction software (as used by the police), and the other group given a choice between the face the former created and others. Subjects tended to associate one name over another with certain characteristics, as shown by the fact that the second group chose the faces created by the first group more frequently, and the difference was statistically significant.

The subjects also had a harder time learning names of people if their characteristics did not match what they expected from their names.

But why?
One hypothesis suggests the way names sound may be important. For example, in the figure below included in the article, Bob, with the long O, sounds more round than say, Tim. 
The link to the original article, published in Psychonomic Bulletin 
& Review in 2007, to read the exact methods.

Another hypothesis suggests certain names are associated with certain social characteristics, and certain social characteristics are associated with certain facial structures. A>B, B>C therefore A>C, names to faces.

An "interesting" survey from the French dating site, Smartdate, found that women who have names ending in "-a" are more "promiscuous" than those whose names do not. This study which has been getting a lot of hype because, it's ridicuously interesting- a guide to what not to name your baby girl- but has a lot of problems. (I also found it interesting that the Thomas article opened with baby-naming situation- that hook.)

First, this is a dating site. Not representative of the normal French population. Second, French names rarely end in -a, meaning that many of the users are not "traditionally" French, and probably from another culture. Third, f promiscuity was defined by number of partners, which I think is not such an accurate "measure of promiscuity".

Another study by Mehrabian of UCLA rated how individuals perceived owners of certain names on scale of ethical caring, popular fun, successful, and masculine-feminine, and similarly, it was found that people tend to attribute certain characteristics to certain names.

Anyway, I've found that people associate names with personalities, often stating things like: "all the Alice's I've met are super sweet", or "all the Matt's I know are uber jocks". However, these conversations tend to end in clashes and curious observations where each person who has observed such patterns discovers another person has had totally different experiences with such name-bearers. Zing! I mean, there are like a gazillion different names out there- you tend to meet only a few with any given name, and it's not unusual for them to share certain aspects.

I'm interested in the sound/name association though. Couple of years ago, (I hope this is a related point- do you see it?) my local South Tampa radio station invited listeners to call in and say the word "meatloaf". And the host could tell if they were fat or not, as confirmed or denied by the callers.

Yawnnnn. Need to get my 7 hours in now!

happy sleep: 7 hours a day

Happy Friday/Saturday! I'm up and in on a Friday night when there's a senior pub crawl going on, but I had a long day full of bacteria identification & fixing fly larvae. I didn't get a chance to breathe until 4:30 when I finally crawled back to my room! But I had dinner and relaxed with my new favorite person, who wore the cutest blue sweater and as always, said the most inspirational things, so matter-of-factly.

I've been keeping up such a good sleep pattern lately. This was one of four semester goals, and I am so happy to have established a regular sleep schedule: bed by midnight, up and ready at breakfast by 8, even on weekends. I wanted to read some sleep studies, but besides extreme experiments with sleep deprivation, there are only a few, and many merely observational studies showing correlation and also using self-reports. But many studies suggest seven~eight hours of sleep are sufficient and enough for adults.

I find that I am a lot more awake, peppier, and attentive. Also, my body has adjusted to this sleep pattern as to be able to wake up... without an alarm clock! I accidentally didn't set my alarm this Tuesday but still got up before 8. This may or may not have to do with the fact that I'm out of tetra points- discouraged from buying coffee, or that I've discovered steamers with flavor shots.

My familia admitted to checking in the blog and commented on lack of pictures of myself, so I'm including a picture diary of my today's day as well:
Sipping on bubble tea outside my bacteria lab for a quick lunch. I walked into the student center & they were selling bubble tea! Of course I dropped my plans to get a sensible lunch and went for this tapioca deliciousness instead.

Fixing fly larvae in lab! Every procedure takes 5 seconds, but they're all 10~15 minutes apart. 4 hours in lab probably summed up to 30min~ of actual work, and I got reading & some studying done.

Sweet dreams! Tomorrow our residential college is putting on a neon-themed party. Glow sticks and hot pink shorts? Totally rad.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

harry potter early premier todayyyy!

Our school rented out the entire theater for an early Harry Potter 7 premier this evening. I. am. so. excited. I am not a big HP fan (I still haven't seen HP 5, and only saw HP 6 last Saturday). But this is an advanced screening of HP which defined my childhood, is something I am going to treasure every moment of.
How awesome is this?! (And yes, I wore my thunder bolt-scar to the premier.)
When I am walking out of the line, I'll probably run into people waiting in line for their midnight showing... yay! 

I just got back from the early premiere and it was so much fun! Possibly the movie I laughed the most at (though many of the scenes weren't supposed to be funny). The theater I was in was mostly my residential college & and it felt almost surreal to be off campus, surrounded by the same people! But the movie, not to give any spoilers away, is beautifully shot and so-very-funny at parts. I don't know if it's the common college-crowd mentality that made some scenes really awkward and therefore hilarious, but we laughed at so many scenes.

Walking out, I saw others waiting in line to view Harry Potter & the board- HP sold out mostly. A Thursday night outing totally worth it; I love our college's Passport to Houston program. Off to sleep now!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

happy pepero day!

Today is 11/11, which is designed Pepero day in Korea. The date looks like 4 sticks of Pepero (Korean equivalent of pocky sticks). It's a day similar to Valentine's Day where people confess their love to others by giving them pepero sticks (how romantic, pepero sticks?). In addition to those romantics, people give them away to friends, co-workers, teachers, etc.

I remember in middle school, various stationery shops and gift stores carrying special pocky sticks with different flavors and many beautiful boxes to put them in. Although I never gave Pepero's to any admirers, it was always fun going shopping for them with friends and marveling at the cute things. It was equally fun wrapping them to give to friends & receive them (:D) and of course, eat them for days later.

I am strangely nostalgic for Pepero day & the whole culture along with it today. I wish I could drive over to H-mart and pick up some deliciousness, but I have a big presentation next Tuesday that I want to ace. Let me just stare at the pictures of happy times at Seoul Garden munching on K-food.

Oh well... happy Pepero Day everyone!

Soooo, happy update: My friend came over saying he had something for me, and I had the faintest hope it may be Pepero's. And yes, he presented me with a box of waffle Pepero's! 

We sat on the futon happily munching on a few. Mmmm.

I just came back from the library, and sneaked in a few more Pepero's before today ended! Can I be any more happier?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

to take or not to take? drugs for a common cold.

The entire suite and I have been sick this week, to varying degrees. I have been stubbornly fighting off taking medicine because well, my immunology class seems to point to the fact that it's better to let your body fight it out to full extent and emerge victorious, than to downregulate inflammation, lower body temperature, and tamper with the immune system.

For the common cold, many of the medicines mask the symptoms, rather than battling the cause. The common cold is caused by a virus and is characterized by congestion, fever, headache, and sore throat. Antibiotics will not help you, and no effective antiviral drugs have been developed yet.

But I am so miserable!

I finally walked over to the health services center to pick up a cold kit. I got a zip-lock bag with various different meds:

  • Cepacol, for relief of sore throat. Active ingredients: benzocaine- local anesthetic used as pain reliever, menthol-also a local anesthetic.
  • Sudanyl, as nasal decongestant. Active ingredient: phenylephrine- the most common over-the-counter decongestant, acts as a vasoconstrictor.
  • Advil, pain reliever with ibuprofen , a fever reducer by inhibiting inflammation responses.
  • Tylenol, acetaminophen, pain reliever and fever reducer.
  • Cough drops, with menthol. A definite must if you decide to attend class, for your classmates' sakes.
Here comes the obvious question: advil and tylenol are both pain relievers... what is better? The answer is complicated: ibuprofen acts to reduce fevers by acting to reduce swelling and inflammation on site. Take ibuprofen for bodily injuries and sores. Acetaminophen works with the nerves in the brain to decrease pain, making it a better choice for headaches and fever.

As for me, I'm taking minimal medicine combined with lots of naps & ice cream/cookies. Times like these, I am so thankful that I am usually healthy and well. Ughhh. 

it's in your blood.

How is blood type differentiated? I knew there were different genotypes for A, B, AB and O, but until this week, I had no idea what those genes actually encoded. My immunology class is fascinating and so practical. I absolutely love it.

UT Genetic Science Learning Center website

The different blood-deciding genes code for antigens which lead the body to either recognize the gut bacteria as self-antigen and ignore them or fight against them by producing antibodies. Therefore, bloodtype A produces A antigen, which leads to production of anti-B antibodies. Similarly, bloodtype B produces B-antigen, and O (having neither A nor B antigen) have both anti-A and anti-B antigens. In addition to the ABO blood typing system, there are others as well, such as Lewis, Duffy, Kidd, and Rhesus.

The different blood types are biologically significant. But are the effects of having/lacking certain antibodies equally noticeable? Different blood types have different susceptibility to diseases, even when the causality is unclear. For example, O's are most susceptible to cholera, while AB's are the most resistant. A's are most susceptible to gastric cancers, and O's peptic ulcers. O's also have least severe reaction to malaria. 

Dr. D'Adamo presents a blood type specific diet, focusing on susceptibility of each blood types to diseases, and even associating a personality with different blood types (O's are responsible and decisive!). Hmmmm.

Is this a further push towards nature in the ongoing nature versus nurture debate? 
When you go to the doctor's, the question: "is there a history of [disease/condition] in the family?" should be answered with attention and detail.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

philosophy of uncertainty principle.

This thought came to me from a discussion in my British literature class, of all places. We were discussing science and the implications of the new exciting discoveries that led to doubts and loss of confidence in our knowledge of the world: evolution, machines, PROGRESS.

The Heisenberg uncertainty principle states that both the position and momentum of a particle cannot be determined, or that more precisely one is measured the less precise becomes the measuring of the other. This is because when attempting to measure either the position or the particle using radiation, the observer alters the state of the particle, thus becoming part of the observed system: objective measurements are impossible.

Think about that for a second.

This implies that no information is neutral and the ultimate truth may be unattainable. Our view of reality becomes one unknown element out of a set of possibilities. Oh, particle, why won't you simply surrender the mysteries of your being to us?

I love how this quantum physics-principle seeps into a bigger question about the objectivity and goal of physics, other science, and expands into (somewhat loosely though, since particles are not the same thing as everyday objects, but the implication persists!) questions of perception, truth, and reality. Drop a dot of ink on a wet paper towel.

But it's fun to draw parallels of this fact into bigger life schemes: ex, Valentine's Day: doesn't the fact that you tell A you like him affect your feelings for A? Or his feelings for you which may affect your feelings for him?
by John Richardson in Physics World

Perhaps we can appreciate an answer by returning to literature. John Keats on negative capability:
I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason - Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge. This pursued through Volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates every other consideration.

toying with evolution.

"Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution" said Theodosius Dobzhansky, who was both an evolutionary biologist and a Christian. This famous statement was the title of his 1973 essay which argued for education of evolution in public schools.

Regardless of how you may feel about evolution and its compatibility with religion(and this is a touchy subject for many people), I have a fun thought experiment proposal: whenever you observe a phenomenon, think of an evolutionary biology explanation for such facts!

For certain facts it is rather easily and the answers are readily available, like, why can't women run as fast as men? Or, why can't humans produce 500 babies at once like flies do? Or why do we go to sleep at night? etc etc. Recently I read an article on development of gossip as explained by evolutionary biology. Gossip Girl has biology to thank!

But try to come up with explanations for other things you observe & how they may be explained by evolutionary biology. It doesn't matter if your explanation makes sense. It doesn't even matter if the phenomenon itself is true! :)
1. Why do people laugh? 
2. Why do people like climbing trees?
3. Why do girls go to restroom in groups? (the focus being: why don't guys do it?)
4. Why do people obsess over celebrities (including pseudo-celebs, like reality TV shows!)?

funny evolution-related cartoon.

Here's a fun read from the Scientific American: Why do men have nipples? mentioning both the "request" for evolutionary biologists to explain observed facts, and the answer to the question in the title.

For those looking for a provocative and interesting (longer) read: The Faith Instinct by Nicholas Wade, a New York Times writer, who argues that religion developed by natural selection because it enhances a group's survival. Now that's an interesting twist on the complicated relationship between evolution and religion. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Civic Scientists: little pieces of knowledge.

I attended an incredible talk by 1996 Nobel Laureates Dr. Robert Curl and Sir Harold Kroto this evening. Let me just read that sentence again and bathe in its glory. I was 30 feet away from not one, but two Nobel laureates. Wow. I was especially excited about this lecture which was part of the Civic Scientist lecture series.
A ‘civic scientist’ to me is a true scientist who uses his or her knowledge, accomplsihemnts, and analytical skills to help bridge the gap between science and society.” -Dr. Neal Lane.
Dr. Lane was actually the one who introduced our two speakers for the night!

Dr. Robert Curl came on the stage first to t
alk about the public opinion and science. He spoke about the fact that there is often public resistance to information that may be inconvenient, fearful, or contradictory to their beliefs. Well, many of the public debates involve questioning of science facts at heart. Abortion/stem cell research asks when a fetus is human, and global warming begins the issue with: is this even happening? It was especially interesting how he contributed the phenomenon of public ignorance to the development of internet. Simply due to the vast amount of information online, people can find others who agree with their views. It’s so easy.

Next, Sir Kroto, in a bright orange shirt, spoke more about the fundamental importance of science. Yes, it is useful because there are nurses who can’t use decimals and administer exponentially wrong amounts of medicine (eeek), ahd science may lead to development of the most gracious gift to humanity: anesthesiology.While we try to emphasize the importance of science by asserting its practicality and usefulness, science needs to be appreciated for its innate beauty (See Richard Feynman lectures).

Sir Kroto closed the talk with a clip from the movie “The Third Man”. Like Harry Lime, the truth is always true (duh) and constant. As Sir Kroto put it, it does not sway to people’s prayers. The truth may be hidden and elusive, and may lead to initial confusion, but it has always been there and it will always be there. It just hasn’t been fully understood, yet.

Dr. Lane, Dr. Curl, and Sir Kroto.

Again to the importance of civic scientists: scientists, as discoverers of natural facts, need to facilitate the public’s understanding of truths. The talk reminded me of the Newsweek article I read titled “Their Own Worst Enemies” by Sharon Bagley. She states that scientists expect the public to understand and absorb the facts they generate and throw out at them, whereas the public may feel insulted or ignored in response. Hmm.

I am undecided as to what kind of scientist I will be, but I would like to be a fundamentally, a civic scientist under all my titles. I want to take the kind of knowledge I have and use it to inform others who can then make truly informed decisions. Here’s the image I have: I’m a mom by the kitchen with a knife that only I can use (because I’m the grown up adult), who will cut up the pieces of chicken for the kids to eat. Because it’s unreasonable for me to expect the kids to chew and digest the huge pieces of meat, and I have the tool to make it edible for them, it is my responsibility to, naturally.

annie hall: favorite.

Wandering across to the DVD section after reading dense papers on aging, I saw Annie Hall among the stacks. I had heard great things about Diane Keaton's costume in the movie, so I had to check it out.

I immediately headed home in bubbly anticipation after reading the back cover and eyeing Miss Keaton's effortlessly chic, androgynous outfits, and spent the 90 minutes laughing at the development of the doomed romance between Alvie Singer, portrayed by the amazing Woody Allen, and Annie Hall, by Diane Keaton.

 La-dee-dah. How fantastic is this?

Alvie talks directly to the camera sometimes, and directly acknowledges that this is a movie: "Boy, if life were only like this".  The entire movie plays out like an old friend telling you a story you've heard many times, but are happy to listen to again.

There are many quotable lines from  nervous, pessimistic Alfie, and the ditzy Annie, who transforms into becoming more confident and assertive, which ultimately drives the two apart.

It's a bittersweet, beautiful, and most importantly realistic love story. I absolutely loved it. The movie moves quickly, with intimate and observant shots, and leaves you thinking long after it ends. Definite to-watch.
"Love is too weak a word for what I feel - I luuurve you, you know, I loave you, I luff you, two F's, yes I have to invent, of course I - I do, don't you think I do?" says Alvie.