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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!

Oct 18, 2018

On This Week’s Show

  • Cosmonauts make emergency landing after Soyuz rocket malfunctions
  • Big Bird Misbehaves and eats a Neanderthal Child
  • Stephen Hawking's final science study is released
  • Increase In Cases of Rare 'Polio-Like' Illness in the US
  • We have a big election coming up, so Blue Streak Science is giving endorsements to our favorite science-friendly candidates
  • The Climate Lounge

Science News with Nevena Hristozova and Dr. Amrita Sule

Cosmonauts make emergency landing after Soyuz rocket malfunctions

Nevena Hristozova

Two scientists sitting in a rocket. What can go wrong? Pretty much everything when you are sitting on several hundred litres of highly flammable fuel.

On 11 October this is exactly what went wrong. Two astronauts were on their way to the ISS in a rocket powered by the Soyuz engines when a problem in the detachment of one of the stages caused the rocket to plunge back to earth, not only before it delivered the cosmonauts to the ISS, but in a trajectory less like the one of a space vessel, but more like a ballistic rocket. And if you are in that thing you really don’t want to be falling like a bomb down to Earth.

Luckily, the Russian and American astronauts were well prepared with their training because they employed some 20-year old emergency training techniques which saved their buts. While landing they experienced forces that normally astronauts are not supposed to feel at any stage of the flight. Such forces that an average-weight person would feel like 10 times heavier.

Both of them seem to be well and kicking, but there will be an investigation on what exactly happened, why and how to avoid it in the future.

Live Science, Space.com

Neanderthal Child Eaten by Giant Bird

Amrita Sule

Imagine getting your hand or finger chewed off by a bird of prey. Ouch!! Sounds kind of painful isn’t it? About 115 thousand years ago a Neanderthal child wasn’t having a very good day.

Archaeologists have found two finger bones- about an inch in size, from the hand of a Neanderthal child aged about 5-7years. In a press release Paweł Valde-Nowak from the Institute of Archeology of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków said that the bones were dotted with holes – which could be a result of passing through the digestive system of a large bird.

It is difficult to say if the bird just chewed off the child’s fingers , killed the child or just happened on its body and scavenged its remains.

Theses bones were discovered at the Jaskinia Ciemna cave in Poland and are the oldest hominid remains found in that area. They were found a few years ago but only now after in depth analysis the researchers are confident of its Neanderthal origin. They were found in a deep cave a few meters below the present earth surface. However,the bones are too deteriorated for any DNA analysis.

This is of interest because Neanderthal remains are very rare in this area. Tools such as knife and scrapers, which could be used to cut and scrape dating back to about 220 thousand years have been found in Poland. Priors to this the oldest remains found in Poland were 3 Neanderthal molars dating to 55-40 thousand years ago.

These discoveries mostly come from Southern Poland suggesting that this region was more favored by the Neanderthals as opposed to the northern which was covered by glaciers during ice age. Discovery of these finger bones is so far the only evidence from the last ice age in this area.

Smithsonian.com, Live Science, The First News

Hawking's Final Science Study Released

Nevena Hristozova

Professor Hawking will continue to tease the minds of us - poor simpletons still alive with his science from beyond the grave for really long time. He was SO smart, that his work will be tested, and retested, and his theories proven and revised for at least a hundred years ahead, I bet on that!

Anyway, the last paper Prof Hawking worked on and submitted before his death was recently published. It deals with nothing less, but the possibility for Black Holes to retain information on the objects once they pass the point of no return and are ripped apart to energy and a little nothingness. In his paper, Hawking built on the work of another genius whose work we are not even halfway through tackling - Einstein.

According to their theories, and contrary to the popular knowledge that NOTHING escapes black holes, they (black holes) have temperature. Which in physics means that they release energy in the form of heat. The principle that each physical system loses part of its energy in the form of heat is thought even in school and is known as entropy - the strive of everything in the universe to eventually dissolve into chaos.

This would mean that eventually a black hole should run out of energy to release and thus seize to exist. This, if valid for black holes too imply that every piece of information (which is in essence energy, as property of an object) will eventually get destroyed in the process of evaporation of the black hole.

Hawking’s article, or rather the math in it, shows that the event horizon’s bright edges might be actually accounting for that entropy.

BBC News Science and Environment, Science

Increase In Cases of Rare 'Polio-Like' Illness in the US

Amrita Sule

This year, more than half of the states in United States have reported cases of  a polio like rare disease called acute flaccid myelitis or AFM. It mainly affects children.

AFM was first  identified in 2014 – which saw 120 cases. According to CNN in this year as of Oct 16th there have been 47 confirmed cases and 49 more that were suspected or being investigated, for a total of 96.

According to Centers for Disease control and prevention (CDC),AFM is very rare – affects less than 1 in a million. AFM affects a person’s nervous system, specifically the spinal cord. Like some neurological conditions, AFM can have a variety of causes such as viruses, environmental toxins, and genetic predisposition.

The symptoms are usually sudden weakness in arms and legs, facial drooping, difficulty swallowing, sudden inability to speak - similar to complications of infection with certain viruses, including poliovirus, non-polio enteroviruses, adenoviruses, and West Nile virus.

According to NIH, AFM- related viral infections can be prevented by staying upto date with Polio-vaccines.  Treatments like, Immunoglobulin, corticosteroids, plasma exchange and antiviral therapy have been tried.

There is no cure as far we now. Some patients recover quickly, while others may need long-term care. Physical and occupational therapy are important for recovery.

Live Science , CNN, NIH


The Blue Streak Science Endorsements for Congress

Since the early 1990’s there’s been a rising tide of anti-science growing in the United States. Religious groups, predominantly evangelical Christian, have fought to remove science from public classrooms. Thankfully, their efforts have mostly failed judicial review. Still, they keep coming. Their strategies change, but the goal is the same: the complete removal of any science that doesn’t comport with their particular brand of theism.

In recent years this anti-science evangelical movement has piggy-backed on, and reaped the benefits on the alarming upsurge in white nationalism and racism in the United States.

They were rewarded in 2016 with an amazing trifecta, the election of a Republican House, a Republican Senate, and the grand prize, the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States.

Unsurprisingly, in this new government’s view making America great again meant doubling down on the removal of any inconvenient and offensive science from their decision making process.

The have repeatedly called climate change a hoax; hoax that is being perpetuated by China. They’ve appointed numerous science deniers to key positions in the government. They’ve slashed scientific research budgets and attacked everything from the Clean Air Act to the Endangered Species Act. Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord, and completely relinquished our leadership role in reversing climate change as well as squandering our opportunities in the green energy marketplace.

This shock to the system has motivated scientists all over the world to stand up and mobilize to not only save science, but to save democracies.

This is a pivotal moment in our history. As a result, women and scientists have run for Congress in 2018 in numbers never seen before.

And we at Blue Streak Science want to make sure that you’re aware of some of the outstanding scientists, and science-friendly candidates we have running for Congress.

This isn’t even close to being a comprehensive list, but here we are featuring some of the more stand-out candidates...candidates we are proud to endorse. Candidates that we urge you to vote for.

Sean Casten

Support Sean Casten

First on the list is Sean Casten who is running to represent the 6th district of Illinois.

He has undergraduate degrees in biochemistry and molecular biology and biochemistry. He also has Master's degrees in engineering management and biochemical engineering from Dartmouth College.

In an email announcing his candidacy he stated, regarding the Trump Administration, "They are increasing the risk of global warming... but the truth is ignoring reality hurts so much more. They are putting millions of people's lives and health at risk with their assault on the health-care system. They are putting women's health at risk. They are putting seniors at risk with their assaults on Social Security and Medicare; the list goes on and on and on."

Among his accomplishments in the clean energy field Sean Casten co-founded Recycle Energy Development LLC whose mission is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the recovery of waste energy...and to do so profitably.

We enthusiastically endorse Sean Casten for 6th district of Illinois.  

Chrissy Houlahan

Support Chrissy Houlahan

Our next endorsement goes to Chrissy Houlahan who is running to represent Pennsylvania’s 6th district in Washington.

  • She earned her engineering degree from Stanford and received her Master’s in Science in Technology and Policy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • She was a science teacher in North Philadelphia

And the following comes from her website:

Climate change is real.  So also is its threat to our home on this planet if we don’t manage to arrest and eventually reverse the processes that are heating our world, changing its weather, raising sea levels, accelerating desertification, and threatening traditional agriculture.

In Congress, I will be a champion for our environment and will work to combat the threat of climate change and the assault on truth and data.

Blue Streak Science is proud to support Chrissy Houlahan for Congress. If you live in or around Philadelphia then, by all means possible, get out and vote for her! We need her in Congress.

Joseph Kopser

Support Joseph Kopser

Our next endorsement goes to Joseph Kopser who is seeking to represent the 21st Congressional District of Texas.

Kopser founded a tech company in Austin that helped to cut carbon emissions for commuters.

He was also the co-founder of the National Security Technology Accelerator which works to improve US Energy Security policy.

From his website:

Climate change is real and scientists globally accept that emission of carbon dioxide through human consumption of fossil fuels is its principal contributing cause.

I support a gradually increasing fee on carbon dioxide emissions, along the lines proposed by the Brookings Institute. Consistently, studies have shown that a carbon tax is the most efficient and effective way to reduce carbon emissions.

This is a huge race. This district was held by Republican Lamar Smith since 1987. But when Smith saw what he was facing in his changing district with Joseph Kopser he decided to not seek reelection.

Lamar Smith is the head of the Republican-controlled House Science Committee. Smith is one of those anti-science types I described earlier, and and considers climate change to be a hoax.

So let’s put the science back in the House Science Committee and vote for Joseph Kopser. That’s right, you guessed it. The Blue Streak Science Podcast is delighted to endorse Joseph Kopser for the 21st district of Texas.

Mary Barzee Flores

Support Mary Barzee Flores

Our final candidate is Mary Barzee Flores, who is running for Florida’s 25th district.

This district includes much of southwest Florida, from Lake Okeechobee, Collier County and across to southwestern Miami-Dade County.

Mary majored in Music at the University of Miami, and then went on to the University of Miami Law School.

After graduating law school Mary became a federal public defender, and in 2002 was elected to be a Florida Circuit Court Judge, where she served for 8 years.

A few years after she was nominated by President Barack Obama for a judgeship on the U.S. District Court.

Unfortunately, this was blocked by Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Mary was never even given a hearing in the Senate judiciary committee, much less an up or down vote on her nomination.

Now you may be asking, okay, she sounds like an awesome person but I don’t hear a word about science in there. What’s that all about?

Well, Mary and I have been friends since 1977. We met at Coral Gables High School. She is without a doubt one of the most intelligent and honest people I have had the honor to call my friend.

I remember a conversation we had about how we loved science in elementary school, about how we’d come home from school excited to tell our parents this new and awesome thing we learned that day. And later when I was working at the University of Miami School of Medicine in vascular cell biology I recall her keen interest in the scientific details of what my research was all about.

Mary may not be a scientist, but she understands the importance of science in making critical decisions, and in good government.

This is from her website:

South Florida is ground zero for climate change, and we must lead the way in combating it. We are already seeing the effects of stronger storms and increased flooding. By 2100, South Florida will be underwater–we cannot wait for action. As of January 2018, the Trump Administration has already overturned 33 environmental protections implemented under the Obama Administration. We must start divesting from fossil fuels and invest in green energy. America needs to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and show global leadership in innovating for a sustainable future that incentivizes jobs in renewable energy.

So, our final endorsement goes to Mary Barzee Flores of Florida’s 25th District.

Conclusion

You may not live in the districts of these science candidates, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help them get elected.

All candidates need funding to get elected, especially when trying to replace well-entrenched and well-financed incumbents.

I kindly ask that donate and support these worthy candidates so that you can do your part in putting science and scientific thinking in our government.


The Climate Lounge

Deeper Dive Into The 1.5˚C Report

Tom Di Liberto

Last time, I rage screamed into your ears for an interminable amount of time about a special report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the topic of the impacts of 1.5C of global warming. Well, I thought that was so nice, I’m going to talk about it twice! So break out those brown bags, because this time let’s rage scream together.

But this time, the rage screaming is going to be on a more niche and pedantic topic within this voluminous new report. Yes, that’s right folks. Strap yourselves in because I’m taking you on a pathways to 1.5C˚ ride. Full of some ups, and a lot of optimistic downs. WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. And just like a real rollercoaster, you might throw up in the end.

Pathways basically describe ways forward that society can take to keep warming to 1.5˚C by 2100. Importantly, this doesn’t mean we can’t exceed 1.5˚C for a period of time during the next century. But for these overshooters, something must be done to remove GHG from the air to bring warming back down to 1.5˚C by the end of the century.

I’ll talk about four today that sort of give us a good idea of what it means to keep warming at 1.5˚C levels.

And one thing to note, is that all of these require some sort of carbon dioxide removal removal technique. IE. Some technology natural or not that gets CO2 outta my air. (and into my car...for all those 80s children and Billy Ocean fans). But seriously, this is needed because not all sources of emissions will be easy to just shut off completely. And the amount of negative emission technology is incredibly important as they come with repercussions to society and wildlife themselves.

Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage for instance requires lots of land to grow crops, burning them to produce energy and then capturing their co2. There are ethical AND land use questions there. Afforestation requires turning barren land into forest. If produced at scale, this increase in land use would encroach on food production and natural habitat.

First, let’s start with P1. Here the world rapidly reduces fossil fuel emissions by 2020 by decreasing demand for energy by switching to more energy efficient techs and behaviors. The only negative emissions would be achieved by afforestation by turning an area roughly twice the size of Argentina into forest.

P2! This one also sees a switch to better consumption patterns, better tech and managed land systems but with the addition of bioenergy and carbon capture negative emissions.  This one also includes a huge amount of land turned to forest.

P3 is more of a middle of the road scenario where things relating to social, economic and tech trends continue. Progress to national sustainable goals moves forward but slowly. Reduction in emissions come from changing energy production and to reductions in demand. This scenario requires a large amount of bioenergy, exceeding afforestation which means a decrease in pasture land for food production.

And P4, known as a resource and energy intensive scenario where there is in increase in demand for things like air travel and meat, which require higher amounts of energy. Unlike the previous three, this scenario overshoots 1.5˚C and only returns back during a large amount of negative emissions achieved mainly through bioenergy and carbon capture.

The one major downside to all this bioenergy carbon capture reliance is that at current, carbon capture and storage has only been shown at small scale at a few sites. And it has never been combined with bioenergy at scale. There is a major reliance here for technological advancement and development in the future, which, is entirely possible. But doesn’t give me the warm fuzziness.

It’s a daunting task no doubt. But even if we try our hardest and don’t get to 1.5˚C. It’ll still be a lot better than the alternative. So ends this week’s class on Climate Change and our future. And this class never ends.

Carbon Brief


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.

If you have an iOS device like an iPhone or an iPad you can get the Blue Streak Science app from the App Store.

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

Our hosts today were Nevena Hristozova, Amrita Sule, and Tom Di Liberto.

I’m JD Goodwin.  

Thank you for joining us.

And remember...follow the science!