Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

SciSchmoozing the Good Life

Nichelle Nichols 1932 – 2022 (Getty Images)

Hello again, student of reality,

Wow, what a life to celebrate. Daughter of the town mayor, dancer, singer, model, actress, and for most of us, Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek. Nichelle Nichols had roles on stage, television, and in more than 25 movies. She worked to interest children in science and she recruited a number of astronauts for NASA including Sally Ride and the first African-American astronaut, Guion Bluford. Sadly, she lost her younger brother who died with 38 others in the Heaven’s Gate debacle. I had the pleasure of meeting her at a 100-Year StarShip Symposium in Houston. A summary of her life can be found on Wikipedia. Given that we only have one life to lead, she certainly set a sterling example for living it fully. Thank you, Nichelle.

“The Russians are going, the Russians are going” from the International Space Station but not for a couple of years. In less than 9 years now, the ISS will be “deorbited” and replaced by a ‘commercially-built’ space station.

This December will mark 50 years since people walked on the Moon and we have been working on solutions to the difficulties encountered back then – like dust. Lunar dust has sharp glass particles and it clings to earthlings and our equipment due to electric charges. It is destructive and unhealthy. So here is what we’ve been doing to surmount lunar dust attacks.

A huge advance in the biological sciences was unveiled this week: a database of how 200 million proteins (likely) fold has been released for all to use. This is a big deal. For decades, biologists have been able to learn the amino acid sequences of proteins, but the biological function of a protein is closely tied to its shape. As a protein string is manufactured one amino acid at a time, the string folds over on itself. Furthermore, the emerging protein can be modified by other proteins. I used to volunteer time on my computer to “Predictor@home” that strived to predict protein shape. The game has changed. “DeepMind” is a Google-owned London-based lab that used Artificial Intelligence to guess the shape of nearly every protein known to science. They do not claim to be correct for every protein, but they have been proven correct many times.

I listen to Science Friday with Ira Flatow most weeks. Along with their SciFri Book Club, they’ve been exploring female anatomy. Their current book is Vagina Obscura: An Anatomical Voyage by Rachel E. Gross, “a deep dive into the under-researched part of human anatomy … the vagina, uterus, clitoris, and their companion organs.”

If you are deeply bothered – as am i – by the current assault on a woman’s right to an abortion and even the right to use birth control, i hope you can enjoy a bit of wry humor.

¿How hot is too hot? For us, it is too hot when we can no longer regulate our core body temperature. ¿How do you know when that happens? You swallow a radio-thermometer and walk on a treadmill in a warm laboratory. The accepted maximum has been a wet-bulb temperature of 35°C, which translates to 95°F at 100% humidity, or 115°F at 50% humidity.  The folk at Pennsylvania State University came up with significantly lower figures. The research article is behind a pay-wall, so i don’t know how much cold beer the subjects were drinking.

Here’s a short video on bananas and bee stings.

Picks of the Week:

Last week i was scanning the ‘net for a Joe Manchin voodoo doll, but then he agreed to climate legislation! ¿Did he have a premonition of the evil magic i was about to release on him? Regardless, i came across this short video on Antarctic glacier research and implications for sea level rise.

Fritz Haber won the 1918 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. His work developing a nitrogen-rich crop fertilizer helped the world avoid a Malthusian catastrophe. The full story is far more interesting.

I have always been fascinated with things that fall up. I even sometimes refer to myself as a ‘helium head.’ So i’m intrigued at the announcement of a Spanish regional airline that plans to buy several 100-passenger airships. You know, like overgrown GoodYear blimps. I’m skeptical. No lighter-than-air transport has ever been profitable. ¿And where will they get the helium needed?

Allow me to leave you with a few entertaining videos:

Strive to live this week fully,
Dave Almandsmith
Bay Area Skeptics

True happiness comes from the joy of deeds well done, the zest of creating things new.
-Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900 – 1944) Writer and aviator

Upcoming Events:
Click to see the next two weeks of events in your browser.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *