The internet has given people across the world access to unprecedented amounts of information. Perhaps more significantly, the internet has provided people with a platform for disseminating information to billions within seconds. A 2016 by the Pew Research Center found that more than 62% of adults in the United States get some of their news from social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. However, just like the game of telephone, sometimes important aspects of a story can be distorted or even changed entirely when transmitted via social networks. How can people decipher if an article is trustworthy or not? As scientists, this is something we do everyday, so we want to share a few of the strategies that we use to analyze articles from journals, the internet, newspapers, and other sources.
As much as scientists hate to admit it, not every debate can be solved in the lab. This is especially true of politics. Before I scare you off, we’re not going to delve into discussion of red and blue (and purple), but rather the involvement of scientists in politics.
Earlier this year, discussion around the March for Science and scientists’ political involvement brought polarized opinions back into the public eye. Though both sides raise valid points, it appears unlikely that either side will convincingly triumph over the other.
When I walked into the Bioastronautics High Bay in the Aerospace Engineering wing at CU Boulder, I could immediately tell that I was not in your standard academic lab. Directly in front of me was an 11-foot-tall, 10-foot-wide, towering silver structure that I later learned is nicknamed the “tin can.” Emily Matula, a Bioastronautics graduate student in the lab, informs me that this is a lunar habitat mockup meant to study different living configurations for astronauts.
“It’s definitely the most impressive and imposing part of the lab,” quipped Matula as she showed me around. Matula explains to me that this lunar habitat mockup is the work of approximately 20 graduate students. Each year, students work on similar large-scale projects, recruiting test subjects from around the University to give them feedback on what it’s like to complete different tasks that an astronaut might perform in that space (e.g. eating a meal or exercising.)
When biologists describe a brain cell firing, they often invoke a sizzle of electricity passing from cell to cell. This is because brain cells, or neurons, work by sending electric pulses. In fact, all of our nerve cells work by using electricity. For example, when we poke someone the nerves in our finger, arm, and spinal cord relay electricity from fingertip to brain. Those impulses tell us what the objects we’ve poked feel like.
What if bacteria are using electricity in the same way?
In 2002, school officials in Cobb County, Georgia placed stickers with this text inside a set of biology textbooks:
“This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.”
By saying that evolution is “just a theory,” the stickers lead people to believe that the theory of evolution is nothing more than a proposed guess that can be easily discredited. But that’s not the case at all – a significant amount of evidence exists behind the theory of evolution.
At Science Buffs we like to feature STEM in lots of different ways, whether that be articles about a particular scientific finding, a graduate student feature, or opinion pieces about an issue faced in STEM. This week we another poetry post! Bridget Menasche, a graduate student in the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, and contributor to Science Buffs, is a scientist by day and a poet by night. She is also an avid artist. This week she has supplied one of her own photographs to illustrate this poem, a photograph taken at the CU Boulder Greenhouse. Stay tuned for more installments of the creative Science Buffs minds at work!
New Series: The Science of Science Fiction
Think of your all-time favorite science fiction film. Now, think of all the scientific components of that movie. Are they all accurate? Of course not, it’s science fiction. But I bet when you were younger you thought some of it was true, and maybe you still think some of it has the potential to come true. That is one of the reasons science fiction is so appealing as a genre. However, some might argue that the portrayal of science in science fiction can be misleading to the general public. In our new series, the Science of Science Fiction, we’ll break down some of the science in our favorite examples of a beloved genre.
At Science Buffs we like to feature STEM in lots of different ways, whether that be articles about a particular scientific finding, a graduate student feature, or opinion pieces about an issue faced in STEM. This week we have something very special: our first poetry post! Bridget Menasche, a graduate student in the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, and contributor to Science Buffs, is a scientist by day and a poet by night. She is also an avid artist, and has supplied one of her own paintings to illustrate this poem. This is our first installment of the creative Science Buffs minds at work–stay tuned for more!
Every day animals make decisions: what to eat, where to go, and how to survive. Many of these decisions help us solve individual problems, but sometimes they allow us to solve problems collectively. Collective problem solving is the act of making a group decision without a leader. Humans do this regularly—it’s the essence of democracy. But amazingly, scientists also find this behavior in animals, even insects! At CU Boulder, graduate student Helen McCreery and her team studied collective problem solving among ants. By studying this behavior in ants, scientists can learn a lot about the animal kingdom as a whole.
Imagine that your friend makes excellent lasagna, and you decide you want lasagna for dinner. Somehow, you want to get yourself invited into his kitchen.
You may start by walking up to his front door and ringing the doorbell. The doorbell signals to your friend that you want to come inside, and maybe even sparks a chain reaction that results in your friend inviting you into his kitchen. Then you can reap the benefits of your visit!
This is what many viruses have to do. Viruses can’t make their own lasagna—ok, not actually lasagna, but the machinery they need to replicate—so they need to steal someone else’s. And to get at the goods, they somehow have to signal to cells from the outside to be let in.