NY State Assemblyman attempts to ban most vaccines

This isn't terribly Cool Ish, and it goes to show that science education is still something we have to keep trumpeting from toddlers to retirees.

NY State Assemblyman Tom Abinanti (D) of the 92nd district (which includes Yonkers and Tarrytown) introduced a bill to call for the "prohibition on the use of vaccines containing genetically modified organisms."

What this means is that rather than intelligently design an Ebola vaccine using technologies and strategy that are the cornerstone of modern biomedical science, scientists would have to rely on techniques like evolving the virus to be safe enough to be injected into mammals without killing them.

It is unknown what State Assemblyman Abinanti's motivations and fears were that led him to introduce this bill. But it's clear he needs to brush up on his biology. If you would like to teach him about this issue, here is his contact information:

In Albany
LOB 744 
Albany, NY 12248 
Phone: 518-455-5753

In Tarrytown
303 South Broadway 
Suite 229 
Tarrytown, NY 10591 
Phone: 914-631-1605 
Fax: 914-631-1609


The Physics of Beer Tapping

Happy Friday!

As we head off to celebrate the start of the weekend later today, you may well have a friend tap the top of your beer bottle. If you've ever had this happen, you know you better run to a sink or get ready to start hoovering up a bunch of foam if you want to avoid a mess. Generally, one's first thought after this act is how to get your aggressor back when she's least expecting it. However, if you're in a more contemplative mood perhaps you're wondering what's going on inside that bottle that makes it explode in response to such a seemingly innocuous tap. Well physicists at the University of Madrid and Université Pierre et Marie Curie wondered the same thing, and they've got you covered. Here's the abstract of their recent paper in Physical Review Letters.

Image Credit: Flickr user Pixeled79

Image Credit: Flickr user Pixeled79

Abstract: The popular bar prank known in colloquial English as beer tapping consists in hitting the top of a beer bottle with a solid object, usually another bottle, to trigger the foaming over of the former within a few seconds. Despite the trick being known for a long time, to the best of our knowledge, the phenomenon still lacks scientific explanation. Although it seems natural to think that shock-induced cavitation enhances the diffusion of CO2 from the supersaturated bulk liquid into the bubbles by breaking them up, the subtle mechanism by which this happens remains unknown. Here, we show that the overall foaming-over process can be divided into three stages where different physical phenomena take place in different time scales: namely, the bubble-collapse (or cavitation) stage, the diffusion-driven stage, and the buoyancy-driven stage. In the bubble-collapse stage, the impact generates a train of expansion-compression waves in the liquid that leads to the fragmentation of preexisting gas cavities. Upon bubble fragmentation, the sudden increase of the interface-area-to-volume ratio enhances mass transfer significantly, which makes the bubble volume grow by a large factor until CO2 is locally depleted. At that point buoyancy takes over, making the bubble clouds rise and eventually form buoyant vortex rings whose volume grows fast due to the feedback between the buoyancy-induced rising speed and the advection-enhanced CO2 transport from the bulk liquid to the bubble. The physics behind this explosive process sheds insight into the dynamics of geological phenomena such as limnic eruptions.

Full Paper: http://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.113.214501

SpaceX's almost landing on a floating barge (video)

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched and delivered it's Dragon capsule to the International Space Station. Rather than a hard landing back into the ocean (like normal rockets do), the Falcon 9 rocket attempted a soft landing on a barge floating in the Atlantic (the first attempt of its kind). Initially, CEO Elon Musk said there was a 50:50 chance the landing would be successful.

The attempt was, in fact, nearly a home run. However, mere seconds before landing, the rocket ran out of hydraulic fluid in the fins that steer the rocket as it descends. This caused it to hit the barge and perform a Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly (aka explosion). According to Musk, the next launch is scheduled for the next 2 to 3 weeks. This new rocket will have 50% more hydraulic fluid. So at least it should "explode for a diff [sic] reason."

Musk hopes that successful soft landings will allow for quick and cost-effective reuse of rockets, making space travel significantly more affordable and feasible.


Not on display. A peek into the AMNH archives.

The American Museum of Natural History has been collecting artifacts and specimens since 1869. As of 2014, it has amassed over 33 million objects (7.5 million of which are wasps, apparently). A vast majority of the objects are preserved and stored away from the public eye, but are still used for research purposes.

To showcase a bit about what goes on behind the scenes, the museum has recently started a monthly series called Shelf Life (the first episode of which is above). Each installment is only about 5 minutes, which feels too short for how interesting their work is.

Darrel Frost, curator in the Department of Herpetology, describes nicely his take on all the objects the museum has in its archives:

"I think that scientists look at this collection differently than most people. Most of us who are actually in science have been around these things since we were in high school in some cases. So we're used to them. The wonder part of it isn't so much in the objects anymore as in the relationships and what they tell us in a sophisticated way."

How an Electric Eel's Shock Works

In the December 5th issue of Science, Kenneth Catania of Vanderbilt University published how an electric eel (Electrophorus electricus) uses its shocks to find and catch prey, the details of which were previously unclear given the speed at which an attack occurs.

Red flashes indicate electric pulses. The prey is stunned shortly after the attack starts.

Red flashes indicate electric pulses. The prey is stunned shortly after the attack starts.

Using a high-speed camera, Catania found that if an eel detects prey, it can unleash a volley of electric pulses which causes its prey's muscles to contract so rapidly (within a few milliseconds) that they lock up, leaving the prey vulnerable and ready to be eaten.

In more complex environments where the prey is hidden and motionless to avoid detection, the eel can emit a few pulses (doublets or triplets) causing the prey to twitch and make its location known. Detecting this movement, the eel then launches its attack volley to stun its prey before eating it.

For more on this, check out this video, the Science article, or Carl Zimmer's New York Times article.

The Best Reason to Fund Basic Science

Theoretical physicist David Kaplan explains the importance of funding the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

Watch the clip here (via Gizmodo) or in the documentary about the LHC, Particle Fever, on Netflix.

Or just read this transcript:

The question by an economist was,"What is the financial gain of running an experiment like this and the discoveries that we will make in this experiment?" And it's a very, very simple answer.

I have no idea.

We have no idea.

When radio waves were discovered, they weren't called radio waves, because there were no radios. They were discovered as some sort of radiation.

Basic science for big breakthroughs needs to occur at a level where you're not asking, "What is the economic gain?" You're asking, "What do we not know, and where can we make progress?"

So what is the LHC good for? Could be nothing other than just understanding everything.

The Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) detector on the LHC. Photo: Wikipedia

The Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) detector on the LHC. Photo: Wikipedia