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Getting Close to Science

Laboratory Installation – Getting Close to Science | By Julia Summerton

There is a certain element of mystery surrounding what actually goes on within a laboratory. The information we do hear about is the latest scientific breakthrough or the most recent vaccine researchers have managed to create. But how they got to that point is never really talked about. However, an increasing number of organisations are opening their doors to the public. Those who are interested can experience a real laboratory at work, and ask genuine scientists the questions they have always longed to.

Laboratories within an organisation range from medical, computing, chemical, food-testing and equipment testing, to environmental and life science. The experience visitors will have is potentially different depending on the purpose of the laboratory, but the laboratory furniture and equipment will all be fairly similar.

For a start, there will be work stations for researchers to carry out their jobs. There must be plenty of surface area, but also several gas taps and electric sockets located around the room. Sinks for cleaning glassware or hand washing will also be located at various points. Storage space is another necessity, whether for personal belongings or to store the apparatus. This allows for safe movement around the room and an organised working environment.

The laboratory furniture varies from conditioning chambers, evaporators and microscopes, to heating and cooling devices such as Bunsen burners or fridge-freezers. Laboratories that experiment with hazardous materials have to use fume extraction equipment, such as a fume hood. By drawing in air from the front of the cupboard, it manages to expel the harmful substances out of the space. Safety is one of the fundamental factors when working in a laboratory due to the hazardous nature of many of the procedures and materials.

A wide range of Universities offer the opportunity for potential students to spend some time in their on-site laboratories. This helps students get a clearer idea of the course content and learning approach, but it also provides an opportunity to see the extent of the facilities that would be at their disposal. Professional laboratories often create openings for University students to carry out work experience at some point during their degree course. Not only will this give students some key-experience for when they graduate, but it will also provide a chance to acquire some useful contacts.

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Whether businesses and public bodies are opening their doors for a participation open day or for educational purposes, the benefits are not just for the general public. It is a chance to involve potential customers in the work that the company does. People can observe the hard work that is put into making the products and organisation a success, and they will consequently form a commitment. This means more business for the company.

It doesn’t seem to matter if you are a corporation manager, school pupil, University graduate or simply a science enthusiast; these laboratory experience opportunities are advantageous for everybody. Whether you want to boost your clientele or learn something new, take open days into consideration when the chance shows up again and see how a laboratory installation could enrich your knowledge.

Julia Summerton has written a variety of articles on laboratories. For further information on laboratory installation contact Hoare Laboratories
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New Factors in the Global Warming Debate

New Factors in the Global Warming Debate | By Jacek Popiel

In the general public discourse the climate change debate has been, so far, confined almost entirely to the greenhouse gas issue. Our economycarbon footprint utterly dominates all climate change discussions. In actual fact there are several major influences acting on the global climate in terms of raising or lowering atmospheric temperatures. The warming induced by greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, is the first such influence.

However, while the physics of the greenhouse effect are clear, the chain of causality between greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere and specific weather patterns is not fully understood. At this time the actual consequences of such accumulation cannot be accurately predicted in terms of timing and impact. The second influence comes from periodic variations in the earth orbit around the sun and in the inclination of its axis. These cyclical variations have been relatively well correlated with past ice ages and warmer inter-glacial periods.

According to some recent published research in this area our planet would currently be sliding into another cold period or ice age, although the timing is hard to pin down. The third influence, which has come into prominence only recently, is solar activity as manifested through the sunspot cycle. For the earth, a high sunspot count means warming, a low count cooling. Although the basic cycle has an average periodicity of eleven years, there are also long term variations which are not well understood.

Sunspot activity has just reached a low which may or may not be significant. But if this low persists, significant cooling can be expected. One can conclude that the overall picture is becoming increasingly ambiguous. Greenhouse gas accumulation due to the use of fossil fuels is no longer the only story in town, nor is warming the inevitable future outcome.

The purpose here is not to claim that greenhouse gas accumulation is not significant. It is to warn that other influences are in play which can be equally important, and that our scientific understanding must be increased before major economic measures, such as a tax on carbon emissions, are implemented. One such measure, a so-called cap and trade scheme, is currently under discussion in the US Congress.

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Such a scheme has considerable drawbacks. First, it amounts to a highly regressive tax on energy, which will disproportionally affect the lower income fractions of the population. Second, it introduces huge market distortions which vastly complicate efforts to deal with the gradually increasing price and reduced availability of petroleum. To be successful, such efforts require first and foremost a realistic and workable long-term energy strategy, the elaboration of which must precede any large-scale government intervention in the energy area.

The US government at this time does not have such a strategy, which, as far as its impact on climate is concerned, must rest on a much better scientific understanding of the various influences on climate listed above. Funding to increase and test this understanding will have a far greater impact than any of the currently proposed schemes to reduce carbon emissions. Until such understanding is on more solid footing, there is no valid justification for major initiatives in economic policy on climate change grounds.

Jacek Popiel was born in Poland and educated in Africa, Canada, and the US. His career spanned military service and international business development. He is currently a writer and his first book Viable Energy Now will be published in the coming weeks. Visit: http://voyons-potsdemiel.blogspot.com
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How Did Dinosaurs Become Extinct?

How Did Dinosaurs Become Extinct? | By A W Drake

The extinction of the dinosaurs occurred during then end of the Cretaceous Period, around 65 million years ago, and caused the loss of up to 70 percent of all life on the planet. Although this event was not the only mass extinction in Earth’s history or the most severe, dinosaur extinction has spawned a range of theories from the credible to the less than believable.

Ice Age

If an Ice Age occurred during the Cretaceous Period a considerable amount of the planet’s water and large areas of land would have been locked in ice. Since dinosaurs were thought to be cold blooded they would probably not have been able to cope with such extreme conditions and their numbers would have eventually dwindled.

Disease

Disease is another suggestion for the extinction of the dinosaurs. It is difficult to see however how one disease could be so prevalent as to wipe out large swathes of the animal population, travel vast distances and kill off both land and marine species as well as plant life.

Climate Change

If a gradual change in the earth’s climate occurred with a cooler, drier environment and an adapting plant life, possibly the dinosaurs would not have been able to adapt quickly enough to survive. The fossil records of dinosaur skulls show they could only have had small brains. This indicates dinosaurs relied on automatic body responses rather than the cognitive, decision making responses warm blooded animals are known to make. Therefore a changing environment could have been difficult for dinosaurs to adapt to and they may not have been able to compete effectively with warm blooded animals.

Supernova

A supernova is a star that explodes with enough energy to keep our sun burning for six billion years. If the Earth was hit by the resulting radiation from a nearby supernova it would have destroyed all dinosaur life. There is no evidence for a supernova causing the extinction of the dinosaurs, and it is difficult to see how anything would have outlived such an event.

The Volcano Theory

It is known that volcanic activity was widespread during the Cretaceous era, and is a credible reason why the dinosaurs became extinct. The Deccan Traps in western India and areas in the Pacific Basin are likely sites for increased volcanic activity at this time.

The consequences of large scale volcanic activity would have led to a nuclear type winter with ash and gasses added to the atmosphere, depleting sunlight and creating difficult conditions for dinosaur species. Hydrochloric acid in particular would have broken down the ozone layer allowing harmful ultraviolet rays to penetrate to the surface.

The high level of volcanic activity would also have emitted large volumes greenhouse gasses such as C02 and methane, increasing the Earth’s temperature and drastically changing the planet’s climate. The effects on the dinosaurs would have been catastrophic as they struggled to acclimatize to the changing conditions, and large scale extinction of dinosaur species would have been inevitable.

Cretaceous sediments support the theory of volcanic activity as they contain higher than normal concentrations of minerals and sodium, both associated with volcanoes. Cretaceous sediments can also contain volcanic rock.

The Asteroid Theory

In the late 1970’s Luis and Walter Alvarez and scientists from the University of California were studying rocks of the K-T boundary (or Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary) in Gubbio, Italy. Within the clay layer of the K-T boundary they discovered concentrations of iridium thirty times higher than normal. The two natural sources of this rare element are asteroids and lava from the Earth’s core, which led Luis and Walter Alvarez’s team to first suggest an asteroid collided with the Earth causing dinosaur extinction. The Alvarez team estimated the asteroid would need to be ten kilometers in diameter to contain enough iridium to cause the iridium concentrations in the clay layer.

Further evidence to support an asteroid impact has emerged. The K-T boundary has two layers. The upper layer is three millimeters thick and includes soot which is believed to have come from global fires caused by the impact.

The lower level is two millimeters thick and contains ejecta from the asteroid impact site. This includes quartz crystals known as shock crystals which have been physically altered by high temperatures and intense pressure. The layer also contains tektites and micro tektites, which are often made of fused glass. Shocked crystals and tektites are both closely associated with asteroid impact sites.

In 1990 the scientist Alan Hildebrand, after studying data gathered by geophysicists searching for oil, noticed a ring structure called Chicxulub off the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Chicxulub is a crater 180 kilometers in diameter and dates from around 65 million years ago, the same time as the extinction of the dinosaurs. It was estimated that an object ten kilometers in diameter impacting the site would have caused the crater, which fits the Alvarez team’s calculations for the size of the asteroid to create the K-T boundary finds.

The Effects Of The Asteroid Impact On The Dinosaurs

It is estimated the speed of the asteroid would have been about 100,000 kilometers per hour and the initial impact would have destroyed everything within a 500 kilometer radius. The intense shock wave that followed would have caused large scale fires, whilst trillions of tons of debris, gas and water vapor would have been thrown into the atmosphere.

Earthquakes, tidal waves, volcanic eruptions as well as high winds would have followed. The soot and debris in the atmosphere would have blocked out the sun for months leading to fluctuating temperatures and severe disruption to photosynthesis. The global fires would have emitted large volumes of CO2, increasing global temperatures and causing a chain reaction that would create sulphur dioxide falling as acid rain.

Fires would have destroyed up to twenty five percent of all vegetation, and with photosynthesis unable to function effectively plant eating dinosaurs would have starved. This in turn would have led to large scale deaths of the carnivores bringing dinosaurs to extinction. Smaller animals such as scavengers and birds that could have traveled longer distances in search for food would have been more likely to have survived.

Effects On Marine Life

The levels of oxygen in the sea would have decreased as deep sea water was dragged to the surface by huge under water currents. Plankton would have died as a consequence leading to a collapse of the food chain and widespread death. Acid rain may also have increased the acidity of the sea, killing vulnerable species.

Problems With The Asteroid Theory

Whilst an asteroid impact has gained ground over most other theories, there still remain problems with the theory. Paleontologists have yet to find dinosaur fossils dating to the time of the impact, and some evidence suggests dinosaurs may have already been extinct before this event. In fact dinosaurs had been steadily declining for tens of thousands of years before the Chicxulub asteroid impacted.

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There have been a number of mass extinction events in the Earth’s history and a number of large asteroid impacts. However, these impacts have never been the cause of mass extinctions. It is also known that some climate sensitive species such as frogs survived the cretaceous extinction event, bringing into question the true long term effects of the asteroid on the environment.

In spite of these problems with the asteroid theory it is still the strongest explanation for the extinction of the dinosaurs. Perhaps the answer lies not with one explanation for dinosaur extinction but a combination of factors such as the asteroid impacting at a time of increased volcanic activity. In the final analysis, perhaps the extinction of the dinosaurs was a case of an accumulation of badly timed events that very few species could cope with.

AW Drake

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http://www.helium.com/items/1410877-similarities-between-dinosaurs-and-birds

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How to Make the Best of the Science Fair

How to Make the Best of the Science Fair | By Chuck R Stewart

Science fair is a dreaded term by almost all middle school and high school students. They automatically associate it with stress and boredom. They spend months gluing data and observations to a foam board. The most exiting part of it for most is picking out the art supplies to decorate their presentation. However, what these students don’t realize is that all you need to do to make science fair more bearable is try. If you look at it from a negative aspect, it’s going to be a bad experience. If you see it in a positive light, you might even enjoy yourself.


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The first step you should take to make science fair more fun is to pick a topic that interests you. You would be surprised on how broad of a spectrum you can pick from. If you’re interested in baseball, you can pick an experiment about the velocity or speed of balls hit depending on the material of the bat. Doing something like this will make you look foreword to your experiment, because you have to play baseball in it! Most people enjoy knowing more about the things they are interested in, so what’s better than becoming an expert using science?

Another thing you have to do is actually do the work. If you slack off and have someone else do it, the little amount of work you actually do will be miserable. On the contrary if you research and get invested in the work, it will prompt you to keep working. If you actually do it, you will most likely find yourself genuinely interested in what you’re doing. Once you’ve got the engine going, it’s all easy work from there. The hardest part is knowing what you’re experimenting on and gathering all the facts. Just do the work and it will pay off in the end.

Lastly, science fair helps so much in the real world. It teaches so many skills and experiences that you can’t learn anywhere else. It teaches time management, how to organize yourself, how to use logical reasoning, and public speaking. Doing science fair is a great way to boost self esteem and confidence around other people. You have to deliver a speech and talk about your own experiment to very smart and practiced professionals. Even if you don’t place, just being able to talk on the same level as these people will build you up tremendously.

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Participating in science fair doesn’t have to be a dreadful as it sounds. If you go in with a positive attitude, it can even be kind of fun. Even if you aren’t the scientific type, you can benefit from the experience. You can learn a lot about something you’re interested in and have fun while doing it. You also gain a lot of life skills from science fair. You get practice in being able to compose yourself under pressure. When your graduate into the real world beyond school, you will be surprised by how many things you can do with ease that other people cannot because of science fair.

Chuck R Stewart usually buys his children’s art supplies like foam board online.
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What We Didn’t Expect From the Human Genome Project

What We Didn’t Expect From the Human Genome Project | By Julie Lakehomer

The history of DNA research is a tale of patient researchers laboring day after day on myriad tiny problems. It is a tale of myriad answers gathering at last into profound insights. This is what happened with the Human Genome Project.


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The question the HGP set out to answer was: What are all the genes in a human being? The geneticists working on the Project already knew a lot. They knew that genes work by manufacturing proteins. They knew that genes do this indirectly: Enzymes in the cell nucleus unroll and unzip part of a DNA double helix and copy a portion of the DNA, a target gene, into molecules of messenger RNA. The messenger RNA exits the nucleus and carries the gene’s code to cell parts in the cytoplasm, to direct protein manufacture. Finally, the geneticists knew that humans have around 100,000 different types of proteins in their bodies. So researchers expected the HGP to take years, and to turn up about 100,000 genes.

But some Project geneticists devised new, speedier techniques for decoding DNA. A lot sooner than anticipated, the whole human genome was known. And there weren’t 100,000 genes-there were only about 30,000! Or maybe only 25,000! A humbling conundrum: How do 100,000 proteins get manufactured by only 25,000 genes?

Before the Human Genome Project got started, something else had come to light: After a molecule of messenger RNA is copied from a gene, and before the messenger RNA leaves the cell nucleus, it gets “edited.” Molecules called spliceosomes cut the RNA message into fragments, remove some of the fragments, and splice the rest back together again. The spliced message is what actually passes out of the cell nucleus into the cytoplasm, and gets translated into a protein.

But the spliced message isn’t always the same. The set of fragments that get spliced together can differ. So that alternative proteins result from the same messenger RNA, and therefore from the same gene. So this is how 25,000 genes make 100,000 proteins.

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How did this intricate system evolve? Some biologists think the first active, reaction causing molecules of life were RNA’s, while others think they were proteins. Intriguingly, spliceosomes have some of both. Could alternative splicing be connected to the earliest molecules of life? When we investigate this editing of RNA, are we seeing far back into life’s beginnings, just as we see far back into the beginnings of the universe when we investigate the oldest light we can find with the Hubble Telescope?

Julie Simon Lakehomer is writing a book about DNA. The book tells the life stories of thirteen geneticists, eager to ferret out the secrets of inheritance. These researchers committed themselves to conversation with the DNA universe until, revelation by revelation, they transformed what was known about heredity.

Julie has a B.A. from The University of Chicago, and an M.S from the University of Illinois at Chicago. For 24 years, she taught science and math in Chicago area middle and high schools During her fiction period, a number of her short stories were published, including “Prophecy,” which won first prize in the Taproot Literary Review 1994 Contest, and “Until You Get It Right,” which appeared in the Fall 1995 edition of Sou’Wester. Recently her first science article, “A New Look at Mendel,” appeared in the Summer 2007 edition of The Journal of the Washington Academy of Science. More of her articles appear on her website, “The Pursuit of Wonder” at http://www.juliesimonlakehomer.com

Julie is active in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Science Teachers Association, the Association of Women in Science, Graduate Women in Science, the National Education Association, and the International Women’s Writing Guild.
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