A Modern Scientists’ Dilemma

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.

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United States Capitol Building

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.

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A Day in the Life: Bioastronautics student Emily Matula talks astronauts, algae, and mentoring adolescents.

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.

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“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.)

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We’re not so different, bacteria and I: On poking E. coli and what it tells us about ourselves

e. coli

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?

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A Hypothesis for Better Theoretical Understanding

textbook evolution

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.

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