Even those of us with the greenest thumbs are baffled by the idea of growing food in Antarctica. From my tiny desk plant to my neighbor’s cabbage patch, plants generally have the same requirements: soil, sun and water. At the southern end of the planet, however, those are all scarce commodities. Nonetheless, on April 5, 2018, the team managing the EDEN-ISS greenhouse at Neumayer III announced that they had harvested 8 pounds of salad greens, 18 cucumbers and 70 radishes. This project has implications beyond just Antarctica, from moderate climates on Earth to future Mars missions. Continue reading
The BioPharmaceutical Technology Center Institute (BTC Institute) has been a member of the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium (WSGC) since 2002. As an educational arm of NASA, the mission of WSGC “is to use the excitement and vision of space and aerospace science to equip the citizens of Wisconsin with the math, science and technology tools they need to thrive in the 21st century.”
Also as noted on WSGC’s website, “The mission of NASA’s Space Grant Program is to contribute to the nation’s science enterprise by funding education, research, and informal education projects through a national network of university-based Space Grant consortia.” Members of these consortia include academic institutions, government agencies, businesses and other educational organizations, such as the BTC Institute.
Of particular relevance to the WSGC/BTC Institute partnership, Space Grant Program goals include working to:
- Recruit and train professionals, especially women, and underrepresented minorities, and persons with disabilities, for careers in aerospace related fields.
- Develop a strong science, mathematics, and technology education base from elementary through university levels.
You have probably heard a lot of excitement over NASA’s recent announcement about the discovery of seven earth-size planets found orbiting around the star TRAPPIST-1, which is part of the constellation Aquarius.
These exoplanets are notable because they exist within the habitable zone of the star (nicknamed Goldilocks planets because this area is not too hot and not too cold) and are probably rocky with the potential to contain water on their surface.
A lot of the enthusiasm revolves around the hope that one of these planets might harbor extraterrestrial life or could be suitable for human inhabitants. Of course, many further observations must be made to determine if these scenarios are plausible, not to mention the huge advances in technology that would need to occur so we could actually verify the planetary conditions or send humans 40 light-years away. Continue reading
While I planned to write about New Year’s resolutions for the first Promega Connections blog of 2017, I was sidetracked by some “best of 2016” lists—in particular, best science books. I realized though that these seemingly unrelated ideas overlapped at some level because every year I resolve to find time to read more books. What was once an easy and natural escape for me, like for so many others, reading for fun now requires a bit of effort and prioritization. With the continual distractions of Netflix, social media and online news stories, it’s a challenge to find time to read books the way I once did.
So, in honor of a new year’s resolution do more of what I like and less of what I don’t like, here is a list of what has been deemed the best science books of 2016. I culled through the lists of several of the most reputable science blogs and publications and looked for overlap among them. Between the Science Friday blog, New York Magazine’s blog, The Science of Us, Smithsonian Magazine, NPR, and the New York Times’ best of 2016 lists there are loads of suggestions to keep you reading until the start of the next decade. Below are eight recommendations that appeared on several “best of” lists. Continue reading
I’m not generally a space nut, but I do get a huge kick out of the work we’ve done to put rovers on Mars. I’ve felt pride and loneliness on behalf of the earlier rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, and cheered the unexpected longevity of their missions. They always felt so plucky and can-do; sort of a robotic extension of the American spirit on a daunting new frontier. Who’s a cute little robot pioneer doing incredibly valuable scientific exploration? You are! YOU ARE!
Earlier this month, hours after Mars Curiosity navigated it’s “seven minutes of terror” and successfully landed on the Red Planet, I laid in bed, having just soothed my daughter back to sleep. All that soothing had had the opposite effect on me: I was wide awake. I decided to try to wind myself back down by staring at the small illuminated screen on my phone and catching up on some tweets. What can I say? It makes me drowsy every…single…time…zzzzzzz. As I scrolled through my Twitter feed, I saw tweet after tweet from my friends and connections heralding the latest interplanetary achievement by NASA. Curiosity was on the ground! Successfully! They did it! The mood was nothing less than jubilant and awestruck, and I found myself getting completely sucked in. Yeah, this WAS super cool! I mean, we built a SKY CRANE? There was a guy with a MOHAWK? Whooo-hoo! USA! USA! USA! Continue reading
[wpvideo kN9KABwW]With the amazing, beyond belief success of the Mars Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, the expectations are high for Curiosity. However, the task is far more difficult. With a much larger rover to land, the landing is more difficult. If you haven’t seen NASA’s “Seven Minutes of Terror” video, it’s worth a look.
Where will you be on August 5? Will you be awake and holding your breath and watching your twitter feed—looking for the first news of a successful landing from NASA?
“The Andromeda Strain”, a novel written by Michael Crichton, remains one of my favorite science fiction novels for two reasons (spoiler alert for the plot): The US government deliberately sent objects into space to scoop up extraterrestrial microorganisms and examine their potential to be used as a weapon (with the expected consequences of contaminated space probes falling near human habitats and causing trouble), and the deadly organism infecting humans is stopped in its tracks by the inescapable bounds of its pH requirements exemplified by two survivors in an afflicted town: a crying baby and a Sterno-drinking man. Reality may be a bit different from the novel but the principle is the same: We are launching probes from our planet and sending them to other planetary bodies, sometimes to stay on another planet, sometimes to return to Earth. In both cases, worries about terrestrial organisms contaminating other planets and extraterrestrial organisms contaminating Earth are valid. Because we are sending more and more probes to examine the possibility of life on other planetary bodies, Curiosity being the most recent example, the question remains: How do you adequately test for organisms that may be hitching a ride from Earth into space? Continue reading
I enjoy science fiction (sci-fi) movies and television shows and include the original Star Wars trilogy in my top ten list of favorite movies—certainly Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back but less so the Return of the Jedi simply because I find the ewoks more annoying than cute. This choice in entertainment was probably imprinted upon me at an early age. At age 7, I saw Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope as my first movie in a movie theater, and my brothers and I had piles of Star Wars-related toys. Also, I remember watching reruns of the original Star Trek but only when we could get grainy reception of a distant television station. I watched the original Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who during the Tom Baker years and even Pigs in Space on The Muppet Show. It was the late 1970s and 1980s, and I was surrounded by images of space travel, albeit the poor-quality, often cheesy sci-fi images typical of that era.
Wolfe-Simon et al. stated they would address all critiques of the Science paper if the critiques were also subject to peer review like their paper titled “A Bacterium That Can Grow by Using Arsenic Instead of Phosphorus”. On May 27, Science published eight Letters to the Editor and the Wolfe-Simon et al. response to the critical comments. Continue reading
“Can’t I just be excited about the research?” my colleague asked.
We were discussing the work published by Felisa Wolfe-Simon and colleagues in Science (1) that described an arsenic-tolerant bacterium and proposed that this organism was not only sequestering arsenic but also incorporating it into biomolecules in place of phosphorus. The work was preceded by a press release by NASA, was leaked, and picked up by major media outlets like the Associated Press (AP) who got the story wrong. It was embargoed by Science, blogged about heavily in well-respected scientific blogs and lambasted by some within the scientific community. To quote science blogger Alice Bell “that not-an-alien-story really does keep on giving.”
It seems like the web world is full of blistering criticism and staunch defense of this work from both the scientific and the lay communities. Why has this work generated so much controversy?
I think that this “not-an-alien-story” provides an incredibly valuable “teachable moment” for scientists, journalists, and the public as well as the public institutions that fund scientific research. Continue reading