29 Oct 2011
24 Oct 2011
The event is hosted by the BC Innovation Council. The program will include a morning at UVic for seventy middle and high school students from across the province who are regional winners of science fairs. The program involves a dinner, tour of VIATEC, the Proteomics Lab, and the morning of October 25 on campus. At UVic, the students will attend workshops from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. delivered by faculty and students. The programming for these workshops is arranged by Science Venture, under the guidance of Melisa Yestrau, director.
Most of the members of the Science Venture team at UVic are undergraduate students -- most of them are between 17 and 21 years old. They are learning to write about and present science for kids. The team works to stimulate an excitement for engineering, science and technology in today's youth by providing high-quality, hands-on happenings and science adventures for children from 5 to 18 years old.
There's more information about the Science Venture team at http://scienceventure.uvic.ca/ . The two images on this post are from the Science Venture website. Science Venture goes a long way to make science-related activities available to young people, particularly girls. Some of the activities of the clubs associated with Science Venture team can be seen online at http://www.greengarageblog.org/2010/02/24/breaking-down-barriers-uvic-ecocar-mentors-the-science-venture-girls-club/ or http://www.westcoastaquatic.ca/NCNsciencecamp.htm or http://uvicecosat.org/outreach.html -- check them out!
20 Oct 2011
|How to find Cygnus (The Swan)|
from Cepheus (The King)
from Dot to Dot in the Sky,
Stories in the Stars
18 Oct 2011
When I was in grad school, I worked part time as a teaching assistant. One semester, I gave my lab students a vocabulary quiz in the form of a crossword puzzle; they responded with unanimous outrage. As one put it, "I didn't major in science because I wanted to worry about my spelling."
I couldn't quite convince them that spelling is as important to scientists as to people in any other field. After all, mitosis and meiosis differ by only two letters; biologically, they differ by amoebas and humans.
Grammar can be another sticking point for students. When I took marks off their papers, they'd often say, "Oh, but you knew what I meant." Maybe. But the job of a writer (and a scientist) is to make sure the reader doesn't have to guess.
Fortunately, there's now hope for the grammatically-confounded scientist. Dr. Lorraine Lica has created a wonderful web page explaining why "that" and "which" are not the same, and why you should care. And then she explains how to use them. With the help of set theory. And Venn diagrams.
I may just have died and gone to geek heaven.
14 Oct 2011
News. Sit-Coms. The Discovery Channel. The latest "reality" drama. No matter what you're tuning in to, you might want to turn it off. According to a new study, television does more than rot your brain: it shortens your life.
A group of Australian scientists collected data from more than 11,000 people over the age of 25. They compared the number of hours people spent watching TV every day to the number of years people lived. The results were shocking.
A person who watches 6 hours of TV per day lives, on average, 4.8 years less than a person who watches no TV at all. Every hour of TV watched after age 25 is associated with a decline in life expectancy of 22 minutes.
The researchers compared TV viewing time with other risk factors for reduced lifespan. This is a chart I made, based on data mentioned in the study:
That's right - watching 6 hours of TV per day appears to be as dangerous as lifelong smoking. And if you're thinking that no one watches 6 hours of TV per day, you're wrong - the average adult in the USA watches about 5 hours a day. That's 35.5 hours per week spent watching TV. Or put another way, almost as many hours as a full-time job.
It might be a little soon to go throwing away your remote control. This study demonstrates a negative correlation - in science-speak, interdependence between two variables. In other words, as TV-viewing time increases, lifespan decreases. That doesn't mean that television, in and of itself, is directly responsible for early death. Correlations are not the same as causes. Indeed, two correlated variables may in fact be responding to the same underlying-and-as-yet-unidentified cause.
In the case of this study, that cause is most likely sedentary behaviour, also known as too darn much sitting around. And that sitting isn't just done in front of the tube. It's at work, in the car, eating at restaurants and typing out emails.
Excuse me. I have to put my laptop down now, go out, and take a walk.
4 Oct 2011
Last month, Saudi Arabia made headlines in Canada when it tried to prevent the non-profit advocacy group, Ethical Oil, from running ads in support of Canada’s oil sands. Saudi Arabia apparently didn’t like how the TV spots highlighted the Saudis’ abysmal record re human rights. (Read more here.)
As a science writer, I know the world is not a chic but simplistic black-and-white. I know, for example, that as feel-good as it is to tsk tsk fossil fuels, I wouldn’t - couldn’t - live in Canada without oil. I’m fond of my furnace come October. So until that magic day when we can switch over entirely to non-carbon fuel sources, I’m going to have to accept that oil and I are partners in the Canadian experiment.
|The Connacher team at the well pad|
I’ve been reading and writing about eyebrows this week. I’m learning a lot. It has made me think, with amazement, how human beings (like me) are so oblivious to our own biology in so many ways. I mean, eyebrows are just two strips of hair; they’re kind of boring, perhaps even a little gross. Even though I look at eyebrows dozens or even hundreds of times a day, I’ve never paid them much attention before. All this time, I had no idea how important they are to everyday life.
For one, they are crucial for communicating emotion– more so than words. Our eyebrows tell others when we are angry, sad, afraid and happy. We also use them in conversation, like visual punctuation, as well as to convey empathy. And we send specific messages with them; raising our eyebrows quickly, known as the eyebrow flash,is something that cultures around the world do automatically to send signals. The message can be “hello,” or “yes,” or “I’m flirting with you.”
Eyebrows talk, and we are very good at understanding what they are saying, without thinking. But there is more. Eyebrows are crucial for us to recognize faces and determine the identity of its owner. That is one reason why we first look at the eyebrows and eyes when we see a face. People’s eyebrows give us even more information – whether they are male or female, and to some extent how old they are.
THICK EYEBROWS ON A YOUNg male
We also seem to read information from eyebrows about people’s personalities, though there is no evidence (and it is unlikely) that eyebrow shape and personality are actually related. We judge a face with thin eyebrows to be happier, weaker, and more intelligent. Thick eyebrows are judged as stubborn, strong, even mean. This makes me wonder if there is a biological reason for people in so many cultures, especially women, altering their brows to make them thinner. Could it be that we are unconsciously changing what our faces communicate to the world?
Female eyebrow, thinned and tattooed
So here I am, looking at my own eyebrows in the mirror several times a day, using them to detect the emotions and identity of the faces of everyone I meet, and moving them up and down and in and out to send signals to people without being aware of it. My mind pays attention to eyebrows when I’m speaking to people and when I’m watching actors on a screen, and registers and understands the signals they convey without my knowledge.
My conscious mind can try to fake emotions using my eyebrows, but this uses a different part of my brain, and like most of us I am not very good at faking it. The movements we make when deliberately “making a face” are faster, bigger, and last longer. Most people have little difficulty telling the difference between when we are faking a frown and when we really mean it.
Studying the science of eyebrows has made it very clear that my brain is causing me to behave in ways that I do not know about. This makes me wonder what else I’m doing that I have no control over. It makes me uncomfortable to think that I’m an animal, a product of evolution, and that I respond to my environment – including other people – in such complex ways without my knowledge.
It is also marvellous to realize how little we understand about our own biology. Eyebrows are right under our noses (well, actually above our noses), are utterly unique to our species, and yet are not fully understood. From a purely selfish perspective, this means there is plenty of intrigue and mystery left to explore, and plenty still to write about.