Monthly Archives: February 2016

Gravitational Waves Discovered?

If Einstein were alive today, there is no doubt he would be digging through his old research notebooks to reflect on his Theory of Gravitational Relativity and comparing it to what was recently seen. Though scientists have long known that gravity exists, they weren’t able to see it. That’s because most of the objects that rely on gravity use such small waves that there is nothing powerful enough to see them.

However, when you want to observe something that requires a large mass, there may be no better source than two black holes merging into one, especially when those black holes are far larger than the sun itself.

Lab notebook

Moving Forces and Gravity

Einstein had a theory that gravity was so powerful that it had the ability to bend space and time. The theory was almost impossible to prove, because gravity waves can’t be seen with the naked eye, and if space or time is changed, it could be impossible to prove, because of the paradox of knowing things that happen in one space or time while being in another. In other words, once these things change, how would you know they changed if they didn’t exist in the current time or space?

Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory

The waves were observed by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory or LIGO. When it comes to observations in science, and especially ones as important as this one, the potential for a “fluke” to have occurred has to be considered. In this case, the observation was the combined effort of a facility in Hanford, Washington and a facility in Livingston, Louisiana. This is because LIGO is divided between the two facilities in order to produce a perpendicular laser effect that can be modified by gravitational waves. After comparing notes, the researchers found the chances of this event being a fluke are less than one in about six million.

Numbers to Consider

So, how big does something have to be in order to produce a measurable gravitational wave with the technology that exists today? The merging black holes are calculated to be around 95 miles across. However, one has twenty-nine times the mass of our sun, while the other has 36 times the mass. Now consider the power that had to be created to allow scientists to fill their research notebooks with these results.

Imagine, if you can, all of the stars in the observable universe. Now, gather them together and consider the amount of power that they would have as one unit, pulled together with all their various elements. Now compare what you imagine to the idea that this merger had fifty times the power that all of those stars combined have.

This merged black hole is being described as a “chirp” in the space-time fabric. The chirp is the result of $1.1 billion worth of effort that spanned over 40 years—more, if you count every single bit of effort put into the discovery since man had the idea that there was such a thing as gravity.

Gravitational Waves

Top 10 Science Stories of 2015

In 2015, there were so many laboratory notebooks filled with exciting information that it is very difficult to narrow the list of science stories down to just 10. Since 2016 is already off to a significant start, expect no less of a struggle next year for the top science stories of the year. From things as seemingly simple as universal flu shots to mind-melding and modifying DNA, 2015 was an exciting year for science in almost all countries around the world.

Science notebook

  1. Mind-meld: Duke University researchers combined the thought processes of three monkeys, enabling them to combine efforts to control a robotic arm. They also managed to connect different species for a similar effect.
  2. Teixobactin: A new antibiotic may prevent bacteria from growing, which is much more efficient than killing existing bacteria. Since bacteria uses lipid molecules as tools to build new cell walls, this antibiotic simply targets the lipid molecules to prevent this from happening.
  3. Superbabies: While the rest of the world was watching the latest superhero movies, Chinese scientists were splicing DNA. 28 out of 86 subjects survived, but not all of them carried the DNA with them.
  4. Spooky Action: Einstein once proposed that some subatomic particles may be able to influence each other even when they weren’t touching and had a large amount of distance between them. Today, scientists in the Netherlands filled more than one laboratory research notebook with conclusive evidence that 2 subatomic particles across from each other at the Delft University of Technology were able to do just that.
  5. Ripples with Atmosphere: Rosetta, a program with the European Space Agency, was able to take multiple stunning images of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, a comet that showed significant landscaping that only comes with the presence of wind, which the comet doesn’t have.
  6. Brain undamaged: For those suffering from brain damage and disorders, the creation of artificial neurons brings new hope. These neurons are able to restore some neural functions by bypassing the damaged ones.
  7. Splitting hairs: Leave it to MIT to create a new way to communicate. Fibers thinner than a strand of hair can allow communication between computers and human brains alike.
  8. Bionic eye: Forget about 20/20 vision. By 2017, developers expect to market a bionic lens that has better than perfect human vision. This lens offer three times the current 20/20 standard for perfect human vision.
  9. Oceanfront property: Discoveries on the moons of Saturn and Jupiter give a whole new meaning to oceanfront property. Saturn’s moon offers a nice warm ocean, while oceans on Jupiter’s moons outspan the entire sphere of the Earth.
  10. Medical history: Pretty soon no one will have to try to remember their medical history, as far as any viral infections are concerned. A new DNA test can trace any virus you have ever had. That isn’t the only surprising part. It can do it based on a single drop of blood.

Keep in mind that every advance in science leads to unlimited advances based on the previous ones. 2015 was pretty exciting, but it will be exciting to see what the laboratory notebooks from 2016 will hold!

Laboratory notebook

Superhero Science at UC Davis

Ricardo Castro, a Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at U.C. Davis, is taking things to a whole new level in order to hold the interest of students who might otherwise become distracted. Professor Castro was reflecting on the details of modern superheroes one day and decided to take things a step further. Trusty lab notebook in hand, he began to study what exactly it was that made these heroes “super.” He will be sharing that information in a series of lectures with his class and encouraging them to take things even further than that.

Trusty lab notebook in hand

Media vs. Science

As interesting as science is, there are a lot of details that can lead to distraction. The completed studies offer a snapshot of a new discovery or verification of an old idea, but the work behind those studies is often time-consuming and tedious. On top of that, social networks have made it possible for students to be distracted by people outside the classroom, even when they should be studying. Professor Castro decided to bring media and science together to help students maintain interest, using two subjects they were already focused on: science and superheroes.

Subjects of Interest

Who would have thought that a college student might have a laboratory notebook that contained notes about Wolverine? That’s exactly what U.C. Davis students can expect when they start looking at the bio-engineering behind Wolverine’s skeletal structure. What about the crystalline structure and alloying involved in Iron Man’s suit? Even Thor’s power over his hammer will be examined, though they aren’t likely to unravel the mystery behind Captain America’s ability to make it move. Speaking of Captain America, students can expect to examine the concepts of composites that make such strength a reality.

Dissection and Examination

While many college students expect dissection to be a part of a science class, they are probably thinking about taking a closer look at things like frogs or snakes. What will they dissect when it comes to a materials science perspective? Elements of superheroes. Students aren’t just going to talk about the powers that make these heroes great, but how those powers came to be and whether or not they can be replicated. Think in terms of comparing things like Iron Man’s arc-reactor to current atomic batteries.

Not only does the professor hope to keep students more interested by using this method, but he is also expecting students to use their knowledge to create a few ideas of their own. In fact, the Generation Nano: Small Science, Superheroes Competition will take things up a notch as students enter a competition to create their own superheroes, using realistic, scientific methodology and elements.

Parents: Now may not be the time to discourage your children from reading comic books and rushing out to see the latest Avengers movie. If anything, such entertainment elements may play a large role in their success as students this year, or in the future. So, if you see your child with lab notebook and comic book under the same arm, think nothing of it. It’s just another day spent studying materials science.

Scientific Notebook