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Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of science... the thrill of discovery... and the agony of failed experiments... the human drama of scientific advancement... This is the Blue Streak Science Podcast!

Sep 20, 2018

A slight diversion from the usual format today. But hey, do we know how to turn out a science podcast or what? Chris and JD talked about everything from cigarette smoking kids to self-administered colonoscopies. And of course, this episode was custom-made for all the Whovians out there. You know WHO you are.

On This Week’s Show

  • More kids in Europe are starting to smoke tobacco
  • We have a heaping helping of Nuclear Pasta
  • California Announces that it’s gonna launch its own damn satellite
  • The Ig Nobel Prize winners for 2018
  • Doctor Who!
  • The Pub Quiz

Science News with Chris MacAlister and JD Goodwin

More Children In Europe Have Started Smoking

Chris MacAlister

Has anyone got a light?

The question’s rhetorical since I am a part of a statistical majority of European non-smokers. This is largely a good news story as the number of people who are taking up smoking in Europe has been greatly declining since 1980 onwards but, you know, there are some people out there who can’t just let good news be good news. People who think every silver lining has a cloud; and on this occasion these people have found that smoking levels have actually gone up in one age group: 11 to 15 year olds.

The idea of 11 to 15 years olds smoking makes my head spin even before we start talking about an increase and any signal like this in the youngest bracket of our population should set alarm bells ringing. Is this indicative of an emerging cultural shift?

I wouldn’t be getting too concerned just yet. The number of cases that we are looking at small and there are some massive unknowns associated with this data. For example, the study does not look at how frequently people smoke, it does not take into account whether these kids regular smokers or are just experimenting, hell, it doesn’t even know whether these kids are smoking conventional or e-cigarettes!

However, this did make me think of one cultural risk that could surround this issue. Such great efforts have been made to stop glamorisation of smoking and this, along with other strategies have clearly been effective at reducing smoking levels. But most smokers do not provide glamour. Your stereotypical image of a smoker is probably not a suave sophisticated figure in lounge jacket, it’s probably something a bit less healthy and possibly more sleazy and definitely more smelly. With these images fading too we are losing both the carrot and the stick of influence.

This potentially leaves you with what I like to call the Google+ school of promotion, which says that if no old people are doing it then just maybe young people will think it is cool. It hasn’t worked for Google and hopefully it won’t work for smoking either. But the older generation is not going out of its way to stop you from using Google; and there is nothing more tempting to a teenager than forbidden fruits; so the story may well not be over yet on this one...

ScienceNordic

Nuclear Pasta In Neutron Stars

JD Goodwin

This is from an article in New Scientist, and it’s about pasta! But this is nuclear pasta, and it’s my guess that it would fully absorb any sauce you throw at it

In report in Physical Review Letters this nuclear pasta is said to be really strong stuff. Breaking it would require 10 billion times the force needed to break steel.

This pasta is found in neutron stars. Neutron stars form when a dying star explodes, leaving behind a neutron-rich remnant that is squished to extreme pressures by powerful gravitational forces, resulting in materials with strange properties.

A kilometer or so below the surface of one of these stars atomic nuclei are packed together so close that they merge into clumps of nuclear matter, a dense mixture of neutrons and protons. These theoretical clumps are thought to be shaped like blobs, tubes or sheets, and are named after types of pasta such as gnocchi, spaghetti and lasagna.

Even deeper in the neutron star, the nuclear matter fully takes over. The burnt-out star’s entire core is nuclear matter, like one giant atomic nucleus. This nuclear pasta is incredibly dense, about 100 trillion times the density of water.

Researchers used computer simulations to stretch nuclear lasagna sheets and explore how the material responded.

Neutron stars tend to spin very rapidly, and, as a result, might emit ripples in spacetime called gravitational waves, which scientists could detect at facilities like the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, or LIGO. But the spacetime ripples will occur only if a neutron star’s crust is lumpy — meaning that it has “mountains,” or mounds of dense material either on the surface or within the crust. A stiffer, stronger crust would support larger mountains, which could produce more powerful gravitational waves. Due to the intense gravity of neutron stars, their mountains would be a far cry from Mount Everest, rising centimeters tall, not kilometers. Previously, scientists didn’t know how large a mountain nuclear pasta could support.

The results of the simulations suggest that nuclear pasta could support mountains tens of centimeters tall — big enough that LIGO could spot neutron stars’ gravitational waves. If LIGO caught such signals, scientists could estimate the mountains’ size, and confirm that neutron stars have amazingly strong materials in their crusts.

New Scientist

California To Launch Its Own Damn Satellite

Chris MacAlister

We go from looking to space for some super strong stuff to looking to space for something much less fragile, our climate. Yes, in the sad absence of Tom Di Liberto this week it falls to me to delivery your regular climate update.

We’ve discussed the feasibility of California being its own nation a few times on this show, albeit from a purely theoretical position; but it seems that Jerry Brown may be taking things a step further.

The Governor of California has announced something not entirely unlike a Californian space programme. Whilst there are only about 13 space agencies in the world (Europe has even had to club together to make theirs). This wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for the state whose economy would be the 5th largest in the world if it were a sovereign nation.

The mission that Gov. Brown has announced is a satellite to monitor carbon levels in the atmosphere. Whilst NASA is already doing this, it may come as no surprise that the Trump administration are doing their best to demobilise this operation.

Whist this news is quite remarkable itself, the thing that I love the most about it is how it came to be. In the wake of the withdrawal from Paris climate accord and the bloody disregard that Trump and his lackeys clearly have for this one sanctuary for life in an otherwise infinite universe of death; thousands of mayors, regional leaders and corporate executives have come together in San Francisco for a Global Climate Action Summit. This was basically a forum for every American with a position of influence and a shred of moral integrity to come together and say: Balls to you Donald; not on my flaming watch!

I should just clarify that this really isn’t a Californian space programme. The satellites will be purchased from a company called Planet Labs. This firm was started by 3 ex-NASA employees who have developed a fleet of micro-satellites. But the important point here is that by going private, California can sidestep the influence that the state has; a luxury that is not afforded to state funded organisations such as NASA.]

San Francisco Chronicle

2018 Ig Nobel Prizes

JD Goodwin

Every year, this time of year, at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts a special ceremony is held. And last week it was once again time for the Ig Nobel Prizes, put on by the esteemed journal The Annals of Improbable Research.

So let’s get right to it: The Ig Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to researchers who discovered that riding roller coasters may be an effective method for dislodging kidney stones.

The inspiration behind the roller-coaster research began several years ago when one of Prof David Wartinger's patients at Michigan State University's College of Osteopathic Medicine returned from a holiday trip to Walt Disney World in Florida.

The patient reported that one of his kidney stones became dislodged after a ride on the Big Thunder Mountain ride. Wondering whether it was caused by the ride or a coincidence, the patient went on the ride several more times and each time a stone popped out.

Intrigued by the story, Dr. Wartinger built a silicone model of his patient's renal system, including artificial kidney stones, and took it with him on numerous rides. He discovered that Big Thunder Mountain was indeed effective - more so than other rides such as Space Mountain

Dr. Wartinger concluded that this was because Big Thunder Mountain involves more up and down and side to side movements that "rattle" the rider.

Japanese gastroenterologist Akira Horiuchi won the medical education prize for an experiment in which he reviewed the comfort and efficiency of self-colonoscopy in the sitting position by performing a colonoscopy on himself while seated. He reported only “mild discomfort.” There are pictures of him performing this procedure. Of course there are.

Other winners included a team that demonstrated that most people who use complicated products do not read the instruction manual (Literature Prize).

For the Ig Nobel Peace Prize researchers surveyed Spanish drivers to determine the frequency, motivation, and effects of shouting and cursing while in a car.

The Economics prize went to a group that investigated whether using Voodoo dolls to retaliate against abusive bosses makes employees feel better.

Finally, the Chemistry prize was awarded to a team that tested the effectiveness of a “spit shine” by cleaning 18th century sculptures with saliva and and compared the results to several alcohol-based cleaners. Spit won.

Science, BBC Science and Environment

Doctor Who Returns!

JD Goodwin

Normally we don’t cover entertainment news on this podcast...unless of course, it has to do with Star Wars, Star Trek, or other significant sci-fi stuff. Among that venerable stuff is Doctor Who.

I tip my hat to the producers of this incredibly long running television program because this next series we will be welcoming a new Doctor among that pantheon of Time Lords. What’s special about this is that the new doctor is a woman.

Honestly, I’m surprised it took this long. But this is one among many glass ceilings I’m happy to see broken.

Broken? I mean shattered. I just read that the woman playing the new Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, is getting paid the same as what the boys did.

This is significant because there’s been quite a row recently about pay disparity among female and male BBC employees. Thankfully, such is not the case with Doctor Who.

When asked about this by Metro News, Jodie Whittaker replied, “I absolutely know that I’m not being paid less than any other Doctor”.

I’m talking about Doctor Who’s who go all the way back to William Hartnell, to Tom Baker, to Paul McGann, to David Tennant and all those in between.

Quite a Whose Who of Who’s, isn’t it?

I’m really looking forward to beginning this next journey with the new Doctor, and that begins on 7 October with the episode titled The Woman Who Fell To Earth.

Don’t miss it. Doctor Who on 7 October!

Science, BBC Science and Environment


Pub Quiz

  1. On what date did the very first Doctor Who premiere?
  2. Why was this a particularly unfortunate date to debut a television show?
  3. Who played the very first Doctor?
  4. The fourth Doctor, played by the inimitable Tom Baker, is known for a particularly extreme version of what item of clothing?
  5. What did the fifth Doctor, played by Peter Davison, wear on the lapel of his jacket?
  6. Peter Davison has a famous son-in-law. Who, and I repeat, Who is it?
  7. The 11th Doctor, played by Matt Smith, had a favorite food. What was that?
  8. What does TARDIS stand for?
  9. Alex Kingston was among four actors who played the character River Song. Who are the parents of River Song?
  10. What is the planet of the Time Lords?
  11. Why does the TARDIS make that awful screeching sound?

And today’s winner is: Chris MacAlister!

How did YOU do?


In Next Week’s Episode

Be sure to mark your calendars, because next week we present our own award episode. You didn’t know we had an awards show? We have one every month. It’s the Blue Streak Science A****** of the Month!


In Closing

That concludes this episode of the Blue Streak Science Podcast.

If you have any suggestions or comments email us at podcast@bluestreakscience.com

You can subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and any number of podcast directories.

This show is produced by the Blue Streak Science team, and edited by Pro Podcast Solutions.

Thanks to Chris MacAlister

I’m JD Goodwin.  

Thank you for joining us.

And remember...follow the science!