KIDS ASK! Where Did The Air Come From?

Here at High Touch High Tech, we teach a LOT of science, and the best part about it is feeding young scientists’ curiosity about this amazing world we live in!  Although our programs are jam packed with experiments, we make time to let our young scientists ask us whatever questions they’ve always wanted to ask a scientist.   

In the coming weeks, we will be sharing a special series of articles answering some of the most frequent questions that come up from our young partners in science.  Our question this week is:


Science is awesome for so many reasons, but one thing we love about learning science is how it helps you to think differently about things you don’t usually notice in your day-to-day life.  Like air.  Air is the source of our life, carrying oxygen to our cells so they can function.  We take about 20,000 breaths of air every day and if we’re lucky, we hardly ever have to think about it.  It’s easy to think of air as just, well…boring.  It’s just there, softly surrounding us and sometimes making cool breezes or big storms.   In fact, the layer of air around the earth, called the atmosphere, is such a rare, unbelievably lucky mixture that we’ve never seen its equal anywhere else in the known universe. The story of how the air came to be is actually one of the most EPIC, amazing stories in all of science.  So what is this air we breathe?  Buckle up science friends, because the story of our air is a truly wild ride –it’s a story of burning stars, mega-asteroids, monster volcanoes, comets, and no less than the beginning of all of LIFE! 

It’s a story SO epic, we’re going to tell it in two parts. Come back next time for the sequel, and you’ll never see the stuff in your lungs right now the same way again.



The story of the air you are breathing RIGHT NOW began in a place like this one

About 4.6 Billion years ago, before our solar system and planets even existed, a small star went supernova.  The mighty shockwave of that explosion compressed a huge – like light-years-across-huge — cloud of gas and dust hanging out nearby.  Over time this mega-cloud pushed in closer, and closer, and closer, until there was enough hydrogen and helium being pressed together, and then … BOOM!

The sun and planets of our solar system

Sol, our sun, IGNITED into its massive, burning existence.  This explosive beginning used a lot of hydrogen and helium from the cloud, and left a lot of other stuff, like gases, elements, and chemical compounds it didn’t need.  The energy and heat of the newly ignited sun somehow ZAPPED all of the stuff hanging out into big drops of molten rock and metal called chondrules.  Over time these became… you guessed it… THE PLANETS! 

Chondrules can be made of many, many different combinations of elements. This kind, Olivine, is made of Iron, Silicon, and Magnesium. There’s a lot of Olivine right under the Earth’s crust.
Antonio Ciccolella
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

So, here in the middle of this massive, churning, stormy cloud of molten rock and metal, you might ask: “Hey! Why do we have to go back this far to understand the air?”  Because, science friends, the ingredients in the air you’re breathing right now have been around since the BEGINNING OF OUR SOLAR SYSTEM.  The stuff you’re breathing is really, really old and has been through a LOT to get to you.  All of the stuff that formed the planets is made from elements and compounds that were made in space, and those elements and compounds then gradually formed our atmosphere.  So, what you are breathing is VERY old, and a lot of it was made in SPACE (but not all of it, there’s a Part 2 after all).

An artist’s drawing of our very early, VERY molten earth. It’s Earth’s baby picture!

Slowly gravity began to push the chondrules together into the planets of our solar system.  The early earth was a ball of space-rock and space-metal, and it resembled a super-hot ball of lava, with melted rock and metal just oozing from the center to the surface and churning all around in an ocean of lava.  Over time, MILLIONS of comets and asteroids also smashed into the early earth, adding more chemicals and elements into the hot, melty mix.  So not only is that nice fresh air very old and made in space, some of it, especially elements like nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon, were delivered to your lungs by massive comet impact.  Oh yeah – and another very important player in this epic tale, water, was ALSO made in space and delivered to this planet by comets billions of years ago.  Yeah.  That water. That you’re drinking!

This is an artist’s drawing of an asteroid that collided with Earth later in earth’s formation. The one that hit the early Earth was MUCH bigger.

All those comet impacts were tiny pipsqueaks compared to the moment that another whole PLANET, called Theia, hit the earth and broke apart, in an unimaginably massive smash!  This interplanetary mash-up was 100 MILLION TIMES BIGGER than the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs!  When Theia hit the earth, some scientists believe that Theia may have also brought another huge amount of  water to the still-hot ball of earth.  The extra chunks of Theia left over eventually came together and became our own wonderful moon.  Our beautiful moon will go on to play a big part in the air you enjoy, but for now let’s leave the earth and moon to re-form and chill out a bit after their mega-mega-MEGA-crash. 

See, we told you the story of air was wild!  And the air hasn’t even been made yet!  But out of all these crashes and smashes and explosions in our early solar system, the ingredients are coming together to make our earth, our air, and a little thing called LIFE ITSELF.

Take a deep breath, and we’ll see you for Part 2 next time. 

Sources and Further Reading:

The Supernova that Kickstarted the Sun:

The Formation of our Solar System:

Theia Hits the Earth:

The Moon and its Connection to Water:

Comets and the Amazing Things they Deliver:


A picture of a Red Giant Star with a unique spiral pattern.
ALMACC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Here at High Touch High Tech, we teach a LOT of science, and the best part about it is feeding young scientists’ curiosity about this amazing world we live in!  Although our programs are jam packed with experiments, we always make time to let our young scientists ask us whatever questions they’ve always wanted to ask a scientist.   

In the coming weeks, we will be sharing a special series of articles answering some of the most frequent questions that come up from our young partners in science.  Our question this week is:


Here at High Touch High Tech, we love talking about all the cool stuff that happens on our beautiful blue planet Earth, but we also love talking about SPACE!  From giant planets to fiery stars to mysterious black holes, space is a subject that always inspires wonder.  Our young astronomers love learning about the “life cycles” of stars, and how stars coalesce from giant, dusty nebulas, ignite, and eventually burn through all of their fuel, “dying” in a supernova full of the elements that make up our very own bodies!  It’s a wonderful thing to know that we are all made of stars, but when we teach about stars, there’s always a quiet moment of realization that our own sun, Sol, is a star too, and one day will come to the end of its “life” as the star that we see. That’s when someone usually asks the kinda-scary question: what will happen when our sun dies?

Our own star, Sol, center of our Solar System.

Well, science friends, there’s GOOD NEWS and there’s BAD NEWS.  Bad news first? OK: Sol will eventually run out of hydrogen and helium fuel, as all stars do.  When that happens, the results will be catastrophic and will probably destroy the earth.  Now the good news!  Scientists are sure that that time will be very, very far in the future, like several BILLIONS of years far.  So, it will not be a problem in our lifetimes.  We also believe by the time the sun does go out, with science on our side, humans, animals, and plants from the earth will be safely living on other planets. So even when the sun dies, the good things we love about earth will be able to go on, even if they are in a different place.  It’s OK to feel sad or scared about the idea that earth will come to an end. All scientists know that even though it’s a little scary, it’s also true that our universe is always changing, and nothing stays the same forever.  That’s just the way the universe works. The end of our sun is a normal, natural thing that is probably happening to several other stars right now, out there in space.  We hope it helps to know that it’s a scientific fact that the whole universe is always changing, but nothing is ever really lost forever. It just changes shape and becomes something new.

This is a picture of new young stars being created out of the supernovas of old stars, in a place called the Magellanic Cloud. Aren’t they beautiful?
X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ. Potsdam/L. Oskinova, et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech
, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

So, what will happen?  Astrophysicists, the awesome scientists who study stars, have observed many different kinds of stars going through many different kinds of changes.  When Astrophysicists observe stars, the color and size of the star can tell them about how old a star is, and how much fuel it still has.  There are many types of stars, with cool names like “Yellow Dwarf,” which are small and common, and “Red Supergiant,” which are huge, old, and very hot.  Our friend Sol is a Yellow Dwarf star, and is now about 4.5 billion years old.  Sol is currently halfway through its life as a star, which means that it still has plenty of hydrogen and helium fuel to keep shining for another 4.5 billion years.  But when that hydrogen and helium start to run out, Sol is going to change from a Yellow Dwarf into a Red Giant, and that’s when the trouble starts for Earth!

A scientific artist’s drawing of a Red Giant Star.
BaperookamoCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

When a star becomes a Red Giant, it means the star is running out of hydrogen and helium fuel in its center, and starts to collapse in on itself, getting smaller at first.  But, as the star collapses in, it actually pushes more fuel together and the star gets a kind of “second wind,” burning even hotter and puffing up to HUGE size.  When Sol becomes a super-hot Red Giant, it will become so big that it will probably swallow up the Inner Planets closest to the sun, our neighbors Mercury and Venus, and then… yup, you guessed it.  It’s coming for Earth.  Scientists are not sure whether the Earth will be completely swallowed up by the Red Giant Sol, or if it will be just burned so hot that nothing can live there anymore.  The Outer Planets that are further away, like Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune, will be pushed even further away by all of this and will probably be OK.  Astrophysicists believe that some moons of Saturn, like Titan, actually hold water and could support life, so let’s imagine humans far in the future watching all of this happen from there!  Maybe there will even be Red Giant-Watching Parties all across the galaxies of space!

Yellow Dwarf Sol and the Inner and Outer Planets. The Earth is the third closest to Sol. Because it is so close, Earth will probably be swallowed up into Sol when it becomes a Red Giant.

Finally, after another long, long time, when all of its energy is burned up, Astrophysicists believe that Sol will probably shrink down and become a White Dwarf Star, a dense, heavy, star with very little fuel left, mostly made of all of the heavy elements like gold, zinc, and iron that are the byproducts of stars burning their hydrogen and helium.  A White Dwarf is sometimes called a “ghost star.” They have a dusty appearance because their gravity is so heavy, they pull in and disintegrate any asteroid or comet that comes near.  White Dwarf Sol won’t be very bright and any humans on Titan probably won’t be able to see it anymore, but hopefully, no matter where we humans go, we will always remember our old friend Sol.

A picture of White Dwarf Stars taken by the Hubble Telescope.

Sources and Further Information:

An Astrophysicist explains Sol’s changes clearly for you, short version:

Sol’s changes by an Astronomer, longer version:

Detailed explanation of the changes Sol will go through:

An excellent examination of mysterious White Dwarf Stars:

A WHOLE IMAX MOVIE about Sol and how its going out could affect earth!

KIDS ASK! How Do You Find Fossils?

Smile! This week is all about FOSSILS!
(All photos credit: pixabay)

Here at High Touch High Tech, we teach a LOT of science, and the best part of our work is feeding young scientists’ curiosity about this amazing world we live in!  Although our programs are jam-packed with experiments, we make time to let our young scientists ask us whatever questions they’ve always wanted to ask a scientist.   

In the coming weeks, we will be sharing a special series of articles answering some of the most frequent questions that come up from our young partners in science.  Our question this week is:


Now this is a truth all our science friends, young and old, can agree on: fossils are really, really, REALLY cool!  Whether it’s a giant Megalodon tooth bigger than your hand or a towering T-Rex,  fossils show us a whole world that existed before humans were ever here.  It’s amazing to think that once upon a time, here on this same earth, there were animals like stegosauruses, triceratops, and pterodactyls.  It’s amazing to look at a fossil and realize that this earth is actually very, very old, and our lives are just one little part in the long and beautiful story of life on earth! 

It’s no wonder that our young scientists want to know where to find fossils, and we at High Touch High Tech are happy to tell you more.  When you watch a movie or TV show, you often see Paleontologists (a.k.a. the awesome scientists who get to find and study fossils for a living), carefully brushing dirt away from a huge skeleton emerging from the ground.  Paleontologists really do find huge skeletons from time to time, but the truth is they are pretty rare.  So, bad news first: if you go hunting for fossils you probably won’t find a whole Brontosaurus.  Now for the good news: there are MANY other kinds of fossils you can find, and they are more common than you might think! 

Here’s the real secret of fossil hunting: it’s all about WHERE you look.  Paleontologists and Fossil Fans all follow the same rule of thumb: look for fossils where fossils have been found before.  Usually people find fossils in certain locations because those places had the best conditions for ancient animals and plants to turn into fossils.  For example, there’s a place in England called “Jurassic Beach” where some of the first fossils known to science were found hundreds of years ago, and people still go to find awesome fossils today.  Jurassic Beach is a great place for fossil hunting because a long time ago it was a warm ocean, full of many kinds of life AND the right kind of mud in the ocean to fossilize the bodies of ancient animals and plants.  Before you start your fossil hunt, remember that fossils are only found in places with sedimentary rocks, such as  limestone, sandstone, or shale.  Sedimentary rocks mean that once upon a time a place was full of the kind of mud and sand that makes fossils.

Jurassic Beach in England. See all of the layers in the rock? Places that look like this can be a good place to find fossils!

One way YOU can start finding fossils is to google “best places to find fossils in (your state or country).”  You will see lots of information about the best places to go, and you might even find a few fossil-hunting clubs and organizations that lead trips to those places.  Going with a fossil club will help you learn quickly how to spot fossils, as you go on the hunt with other Fossil Fans.  If you can’t travel, that’s OK too – there might be some fine fossil-hunting spots right in your own backyard!  A great place to find fossils might be what’s called a “road cut,” where construction has cut through a hill or mountain.  If you look at the sides of the road cut and see many layers of different rock, you might be on the road to a fossil find! Another great place can be on steep riverbanks with many layers in the sides.  Just be sure to hunt with an adult science friend so they can help keep you safe, and make sure you are on public land, not in someone’s private backyard. 

These are Ammonites, a very abundant fossil. Keep your eyes open for round and spiral shapes!

The first rule of fossil hunting is: it’s all about WHERE you look.  The second is: it’s all about WHAT you look for.  You might be thinking of big T-Rex skulls or Velociraptor claws when you think of fossils, but there are a lot more fossils out there than that.  They’re just very small, and you have to learn how to look for small clues, not big ones.  Many Paleontologists recommend taking along a special book called a field guide to help you identify what you see.  The vast majority of fossils come from animals called invertebrates, animals like today’s mollusks, snails, and insects.  There are also many types of fossilized plants to keep an eye out for.  When you are out fossil hunting, you will be looking at every rock you see, just like a detective looks for clues.  Look for rocks with shell or leaf shapes in them.  Those shapes are usually fossils!  If your adult science friend has a special tool called a rock hammer, you can even try to split rocks open to see what’s inside.  Look for round rocks called nodules, which often form around a fossil.  

Some fossils to look out for are: Nautilus fossils (above) and Trilobite fossils (below).

Because we know our young scientists are such big Fossil Fans, we’ve included lots of resources below to help you get started.  There are lists of the best places to hunt, a link to a real fossil hunting club, and many videos of experts fossil hunting to show you more.  Happy hunting, science friends!


Best public sites to find fossils:

More about the best places to look and what to look for (very helpful website!):

The North Carolina Fossil Club: 

A Paleontologist talking about how he finds fossils:

An awesome explanation of the different types of fossils you can find:

How to tell a fossilized bone from a rock:

An excellent explanation of how and where YOU can find fossils (with a good recommendation for books and guides that can help you):

Splitting open nodules on Jurassic Beach:

KIDS ASK! What Would Happen if You Fell in a Volcano?

Nyiragongo Volcano, Democratic Republic of Congo
Cai Tjeenk Willink (Caitjeenk)CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Here at HTHT, we teach a LOT of science, and the best part about it is feeding young scientists’ curiosity about this amazing world we live in!  Although our programs are jam packed with experiments, we make time to let our young scientists ask us whatever questions they’ve always wanted to ask a scientist.   

In the coming weeks, we will be sharing a special series of articles answering some of the most frequent questions that come up from our young partners in science.  Our question this week is:

What Would Happen if You Fell in a Volcano?

If you’ve seen Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, you know that the ending involves a very famous, and very deadly volcano (if you haven’t seen it, we won’t spoil it for you).  In movies, games, and TV, fighting around volcanoes and even falling into them seem to happen a lot.  Fortunately, we know from volcano scientists, who have the very cool title of “Volcanologists,” that actually falling into an active volcano or lava flow does not happen very often.  This is partly because a Volcanologist studies when and where volcanoes are erupting to help keep people safe, and help them get out of the way of any volcanoes that might be dangerous.  However, it is a scientific fact that volcanoes are so hot and powerful that they can kill you very quickly, just not in the way that we see in movies.

You might be surprised to know that Volcanologists, who are specially trained after years of school, actually CAN walk right up to lava flows and even reach in with tools to take samples of super-hot lava!  Lava fresh from the eruption can be anywhere from a scorching 1,600 to 2,200 degrees F.  Volcanologists sometimes have to wear special helmets made with gold and special suits made with aluminum to reflect the heat, but even then they cannot stay near an active eruption for more than a few minutes.  However, there have been enough brave Volcanologists who have done enough awesome volcano science to be able to tell us exactly what would happen if you fell in to the caldera, or cone, of a volcano right into the lava there.

Movies and TV give us an idea that lava is like water, and can swallow you up just like when you go off a diving board into a pool.  That’s not really true.  Water is a liquid with high viscosity, which means it’s not very dense and it flows easily.  Lava is thick, gooey, melted rock, not water.  Its molecules are totally different than water.  It has what’s called low viscosity, which means it’s very dense and heavy, and flows pretty slowly.  This means that if you landed on most kinds of lava, you’d more likely just hit the surface and sink in a little bit, not go under completely.  But that doesn’t mean you could just walk across the surface and climb out! 

Volcanologists want people to know that the atmosphere AROUND a volcano can be just as deadly as the lava itself.  Although lava is scary looking, the invisible gases volcanoes can give off can be much worse for you. Because a volcano is bringing up all kinds of elements and compounds from deep in the earth, it means that there are many toxic gases around it, such as Carbon Dioxide and Carbon Sulfide , which can asphyxiate you, stop you from breathing, before you even get close to the lava itself.  Plus, the air right around and above the lava in a volcano is very, very hot.  It can be just as hot as the lava itself.  So, the scientific answer to this burning question is a little gross, but it’s true: if you did fall in a volcano, you would probably asphyxiate immediately from all the toxic gases in there, and at the same time, your whole body would burst into flames from the heat.  A volcano is SO hot that if you fell in, even if you fell for just a few seconds, only your bones and ashes would remain to actually land on the lava!

Volcanoes are very, very powerful natural phenomenon that have been shaping the earth and affecting human lives since the beginning of time.  They are an important part of the world we live in and if you are ever near an active volcano,  be sure to go with an expert guide and follow all of their directions carefully.  Most people don’t know that the gases and heat around a volcano can be dangerous too, but now you do.  So, thanks to science, you are now fully volcano-safe! 

Sources and Further Information:

How Volcanologists Study Lava:

A Volcanologist in the Field:

What Really Happens When You Fall into Lava:

More about Lava and Human Bodies:

What Really Happened in Pompeii:

KIDS ASK! Could Megalodon Still be Alive in the Deep Sea?

Here at High Touch High Tech, we get to do a lot of science with a lot of amazing young scientists. We love feeding young scientists’ curiosity about this amazing world we live in!  Although our programs are jam packed with experiments, we make time to let our young scientists ask us whatever questions they’ve always wanted to ask about science.   

In the coming weeks, we will be sharing a special series of articles answering some of the most frequent questions that come up from our young partners in science.  First up is:


This most excellent question is on the minds of shark fans all over the world!  Why?  Because, clocking in at almost 60 feet, the mighty Megalodon was the largest shark that ever lived!  There are several species of big, scary sharks today to capture your attention, but Megalodon was the undisputed BIGGEST and SCARIEST of all.  We know about Megalodon because its huge teeth are still found all over the world, and we know that teeth that big were designed to eat WHALES.  That’s right – imagine an enormous shark big enough to take a lethal bite out of a whale and you’ve got Megalodon.

Say Hello to Megalodon!
Werner Kraus
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Thankfully, no Megalodon is going to come up and swallow you whole while you are enjoying a nice day in the ocean, as depicted in the recent movie, The Meg.  Megalodon IS extinct, disappearing from the fossil record about 2.6 million years ago, at the end of the Pleistocene age.  Although our oceans are enormous and there are definitely huge sharks living even in very deep parts of the oceans, a shark as big as Megalodon could not survive in the deep ocean for many reasons, most especially: FOOD!

An artist’s rendition of Megalodon mealtime
Karen Carr
CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Not getting enough food was one of the reasons Megalodon died out in the first place.  A shark that big requires lots and lots of food to function and maintain its huge body.  Scientists think it needed the equivalent of a couple of cows every day to survive!  When Megalodon died out about 2.6 million years ago, paleontologists believe it had to do with the fact that its main food source, whales, were also diminishing.  As whale populations diminished, not only did the Meg lose food, it also had to deal with another competitor in the oceans – the GREAT WHITE SHARK.  Great White Sharks emerged around the same time as Megalodon was dying out, and the new Great Whites were strong but small.  Great Whites could attack the same prey as the Megalodon, but required a lot less food to survive.

Megalodons, Great White, and late Pleistocene whales
Darius Nau
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

But could a couple of rogue Megs have escaped to survive deep in the ocean?  The deep ocean is big, and there is a surprising amount of life way down there, even a few gigantic, non-megalodon sharks.  However, a big dude like the Meg would have some serious problems living there.  Food is very hard to find because the deep sea is almost totally dark.  No light means no plankton, no plankton means no other food.  Most animals that live in the deep sea are scavengers that eat scraps fallen from the upper ocean, and they are adapted to be able to go long, long times between meals.  A huge shark like the Megalodon needs a huge amount of food, and that just isn’t available in the deep sea.

As the light fades, so does the available food
Amy Apprill
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There is also the crushing pressure of all that water.  Living under high pressure would cause a lot of problems for a big toothy creature like Megalodon.  Such high pressure actually dissolves things like teeth and bones, which is why the deepest known fish, such as the Mariana Snailfish, have skeletons of cartilage.  Deep sea animals also have special molecules in their bodies called piezolytes, which help keep their bodies strong and intact under all that pressure.  PLUS, the deep sea is so cold and dark, just to live there would require the Meg to become bioluminescent and expand its eyes to a much bigger size.

All in all, those are just too many challenges for a huge shark designed to expend lots of energy eating whales.  So science friends, the Megalodon is definitely extinct.  BUT, there are some incredible, huge, well-adapted deep sea sharks that do exist that are also really, really cool.  We’ve included some links to videos below so you can see what’s REALLY in the deep sea.

Sources and Further Information:

Incredible Real Deep Sea Shark Videos:

More about the Megalodon:

Rare is many, Rare is strong, Rare is proud!

Images and stories proudly shared from:

February 28 is World Rare Disease Day, and we’re here this week to share our colors in support!  If you or someone you love is living with a rare disease, you can easily understand how deeply challenging and isolating the experience can be.  We at HTHT want you to know you are not alone. To celebrate people living with rare diseases, this week our blog is dedicated to sharing the voices of people around the world.  Rare Disease Day is coordinated by EURORDIS Rare Diseases Europe and 65 National Alliances of Patient Organizations for Rare Diseases, who have collected the stories below.  Click the link below each picture to find the stories of real people living with rare diseases, sharing their experiences and the true colors of their mighty spirits. 

If you are unfamiliar with rare diseases, they are defined in the US as a disease that affects under 200,000 people.  There are over 300 million people around the world living with rare diseases, and currently over 6,000 identified rare diseases.  72% of rare diseases are genetic, and 70% of these rare genetic diseases start in childhood.  People with rare diseases often experience difficulty getting a diagnosis, a lack of treatment options, and very little information on their condition.  Advancements in medical science, including gene editing technologies like CRISPR, mean that there are more options than in the past, but the battle to help every person with a rare disease is still an uphill one.  We hope that shining a light on the lives and stories of people living with rare disease will help bring comfort to those afflicted and more awareness to all. 

Tshepiso Gloria










For more about Rare Disease Day, more stories, and for resources to show your support on social media this week and beyond, please visit:

The Shocking Scientific Truth about Being Single

Move over Valentine’s Day — Singles’ Awareness Day, February  15th,  is all about showing love for the SINGLES!!  Even coupled folks can get sick of the sappy, romantic nature of Valentine’s Day, but it’s assumed that all of the miserable singletons among us are crying alone into their candy hearts on the day of love. Fortunately, excellent scientific research by Psychologists like Bella De Paulo is breaking down that stereotype and yielding some very surprising results.  So, we at High Touch High Tech wish all you couples out there a happy Valentine’s Day, but to you singles we say, a truly happy Singles’ Awareness day to you too!

Across all media, the “happily ever after” of marriage is portrayed constantly, and there are hardly ever any happy portrayals of empowered single people enjoying their single life.  Bella de Paulo, an expert on the psychology of single life, has pointed out that in most world societies, there is an overwhelming tendency to assume that partnership and marriage are a default human state, and that everyone fears being alone.  This assumption has been so entrenched that it wasn’t questioned seriously by science until recently.  However, in- depth psychological surveys of married people, single people, and divorced people are revealing that single folks are just as happy as married people, and single women may actually be the happiest of ALL! Shocking, isn’t it?

The stereotype of sad singledom is so prevalent, even this cat is surprised at the news!

One of the first major studies of this kind, by Matthew Wright and Susan Brown of Bowling Green University, was focused on surveying people in their mid-fifties and beyond to find out how much having a romantic partner had mattered to people’s psychological well-being across a lifetime.  They thought the happiest of all people would surely be the ones who were currently married, and the unhappiest of people were the single people who were not even dating.  Married people were asked to rate their happiness before marriage, and after.  What did the science show?  Aside from a slight upward blip around the time of the marriage, married people’s happiness before and after the wedding stayed surprisingly the same.  The group who went down the most in happiness over time were the people who had divorced and remained unmarried.  Coming in overall just as happy and steady as married people throughout their lives?  The never-married singles, especially women.  For older women in the Wright and Brown study, partnership status made no statistical difference in their life happiness.

Wright and Brown were working from a model that was based on the idea that more social ties and attachments would increase well-being, and obviously married people had someone around all the time to attach to.  The surprising results that single people, supposedly with less social ties and available care in their lives, could be just as happy can be interpreted in some interesting ways.  One idea is that although there is a perception that romantic love and partnership is the ultimate satisfaction in life, some people are simply happier pursuing things like autonomy, purpose, mastery, or meaning.  Studies have shown that single people are much more likely to report their lives have been “continuous processes of learning change and growth.”  People can absolutely be  happy single because they are pursuing meaningful work and purpose in their own lives that truly matter to them. Perhaps romantic love and partnership just isn’t the only kind of deep lifetime satisfaction out there?

Another interpretation  is that although married people have built-in care, they become “insular” and bonded mostly to each other.  Single people, however, tend to have more friends, spend more time building their social networks, and contributing to their communities.  Single people are as happy as married ones because meaningful social relationships don’t have to come from having a romantic partnership.  It may be that married people have THE ONE, but single people have THE ONES. As Paul Bloom, psych prof at Yale, says: “We need human contact.  But the type of contact can vary a lot.  So yeah, single people can be plenty happy.” And that’s the shocking truth about being single!

Sources and Further Reading:

An Introductory Explanation of the Wright and Brown Study:

The Wright and Brown Study:

Bella De Paulo Ted Talk:

Why Unmarried Single Women may be the Happiest of All:

Why Will You Be Craving Pizza by the End of this Article?

Admit it, you’re already thinking about it

February 9th is National Pizza Day, but honestly, at least in the U.S., every day is pretty much pizza day!  A person can get a slice in almost every country in the world, but Americans’ pizza consumption stats are particularly impressive: 350 slices are consumed every second, and 40% of Americans eat pizza once a week!  What began in Italy as a quick snack made for Neapolitan laborers has become a delicious, gooey, piping hot, world-dominating juggernaut.  Why do we love pizza SO much?  Are we actually addicted to it? 

There’s a reason your mouth might be watering a little now

It’s no secret that there is a lot of science behind the food industry, particularly in the area of what we call “junk food.”  Neuroscientists such as Francis McGlone study the brain’s reaction to foods as subjects eat inside MRIs.  Sensory scientists such as Herbert Stone calculate and test the exact right amount of salt, sugar and fat that give us the sensations and flavors that keep us coming back for more.  Psychologists connect eating behaviors to emotional and mental experiences, and chemists have broken down and reproduced several of the exact compounds that make certain foods delicious.  All of these fields of science have turned their attention to tasty, tasty pizza, and the general consensus is that although pizza is not exactly addictive in the way a drug would be, it can trigger “addictive-like” eating patterns.  Pizza is a perfect storm of flavorful compounds that do indeed light up pleasure centers in the Amygdala region of your brain every time you take a bite.

Your Brain on Pizza

So what are the molecular culprits in pizza that make our mouths water just from looking at pictures of it?  The ingredients in pizza contain very high levels of certain brain pleasing compounds, and pizza also undergoes chemical reactions while baking that render it even more incredibly wonderful.  The combination of fat, salt, sugar, and carbohydrates that is pizza certainly does not appear in nature, and the combination of those four molecules is already heavenly for our brains, which are still in the “take all the calories you can get” mode that helped humans survive for most of our existence.  But what takes pizza to a whole other level of satisfying is a little molecule known as Glutamate.  Yes, the one that is found in Monosodium Glutamate, or MSG. 

Monopotassium Glutamate

We here at High Touch High Tech are not breaking the news of a worldwide MSG-in-pizza conspiracy, we promise!  Commercial MSG is a synthetic version of Glutamate, which is a very abundant compound in nature that has many types, many of them already occurring in food.  All of the flavors of food come from particular molecular compounds:  sucrose makes sweet flavors, quinine brings us bitter flavors, and hydrochloric acid is sour.  Glutamate is responsible for the flavor more recently identified as “umami,” a flavor that is rich and savory.  Glutamate also enhances flavors, making people crave it and want to eat it more.

Tomatoes = red glutamate bombs

As it happens, pizza’s ingredients mean that it is layer upon layer of high-glutamate ingredients.  Tomatoes are very rich in natural glutamate, and on top of that (literally), so is cheese, especially the aged cheeses like parmesan or asiago that find their way onto every good pizza.  On top of THAT, mozzarella and tomatoes both contain a less common compound, 4 Methylpentanoic Acid, that enhances flavor even more.  Add some glutamate-rich mushrooms on your pizza and your brain’s perception of deliciousness goes into overdrive.  And that’s just the raw ingredients in your pizza.  When a pizza bakes it goes through a process known as caramelization, when sugars in food become brown.  When ingredients are caramelized it makes them richer, sweeter, and more flavorful, especially in the crust.  Even the brown bubbly goodness on top of a pizza is a result of something called Maillard’s Reaction, whereby amino acids in foods react with sugars when heated. 

Mmmm… Maillard’s Reaction
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Craving pizza yet?  If you are, it’s not exactly a fault of your willpower.  Pizza is an unusually perfect mix of incredibly delicious compounds and chemical processes that are very hard for our brains to resist! This is why for many of us, we’d be very glad if it was pizza day, every day.

Sources and Further Reading:

Introduction to the Amazingness that is Pizza:

More about the Amazingness that  is Pizza:

Compounds and Flavors in Pizza:

Intro to the Difference Between Food and Substance Addiction:

Study on Food vs. Substance Addiction:

NIH Compound Summary for Glutamic Acid:

Examples of Animal Altruism and Symbiosis to Warm your Chilly Soul

It’s no secret that January and February can be a tough time for a lot of us.  Perhaps you’ve heard of “Blue Monday,”  the third Monday in January that is said to be the saddest day of the year.  Here at High Touch High Tech we’re happy to tell you that “Blue Monday” is bunk science and was made up for a marketing campaign.  But at the same time, actual science does point to this time of year as being legitimately hard on our wellbeing for many reasons: the cold, darkness, and feelings of inadequacy and lack after the glitter of the holidays being among them.  In these isolated times, it’s easy to feel lonely and disconnected. 

Somewhere out there, a Clownfish is chilling in its Anemone
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

However, it might help to know that in the bigger ecological picture, our world is less cold and cruel than it may seem.  There is truly a place in nature for connection, safety, and peace.  Radically different species all over the world form long-term “you help me, I’ll help you” relationships with each other to survive and thrive.  These relationships, where each partner benefits, are known as mutualism.  Altruism among animals, where one organism gives expecting nothing in return, is more controversial but some scientists believe that it has been conclusively documented.  From bacteria in the deepest sea to an anonymous scientist on the end of a blog reaching out to comfort a stranger, all living things are connected, including you.  We hope these stories of animal altruism and mutualism provide a little warmth and light to your world today.

Somewhere out there, an Oxpecker bird is helping its Wildebeest with pesky ticks

Humpback Whales to the Rescue

Somewhere out there, a Humpback Whale is protecting its calf

Animal behavioral scientists use the word “altruism” sparingly, but there have been examples that seem to indicate a sense of kindness in certain animals, such as when a gorilla was documented protecting a human child that fell into its enclosure.  Most possible examples of non-human kindness have been seen in captive animals, but what about the dog-eat-dog, its-a-jungle-out-there world of the wild?  Is the natural world truly devoid of kindness?  Never fear, Humpback Whales to the rescue!  Humpback Whales certainly seem tuned in to the needs of others, and may be “the nicest animals in the world.”  These extremely social creatures spend years raising their vulnerable calves and protecting them from predators. They have also been spotted actively rescuing seals from killer whale attack.  In 2009 researchers documented a case of a single seal, who was being chased by a pod of killer whales and had been pushed into the water.  A humpback whale came up next to the seal, rolled on its back, and carried the very surprised seal to safety!  Humpbacks have been known to protect humans from sharks as well.  If any animal can be classified as being kind, it’s the Humpback Whale.

Partnership in the Abyss

Somewhere way down there, a tubeworm colony is thriving on a volcano

Mutualism is an arrangement seen among animals that is defined as “you help me, I help you.”  A famous example is the tiny cleaner fish that fearlessly enters the mouths of much bigger fish to eat the parasites that irritate their big friends.  The tiny fish gets food and the larger one gets nice clean teeth. There are many cases of mutualism, but one in particular showcases the power that mutualism has to overcome even the most impossible of circumstances.  Deep sea hydrothermal vents were only discovered in 1977, to the astonishment of scientists.  These underwater volcanoes spew out mineral and metal-rich water and can reach 700 degrees Fahrenheit.  As if that weren’t enough, these vents are so far down that sunlight has NEVER reached them.  But even there in the harshest abyss is mutualism. 

Tube Worms, just tube wormin’

The creatures known as tube worms have no stomach, gut, or mouth.  Yet they live in great numbers on these vents and provide food and shelter for other animals, creating the basis of an improbable ecosystem that might be more at home in deep space.  The entire vent community exists because of the tube worm’s mutualism with an incredible bacteria that does not depend on sunlight for food.  Instead of photosynthesis, this bacteria performs chemosynthesis, and converts the metals and minerals into energy that the tube worms can survive on.  The bacteria live in a special organ called the trophosome, inside the tube worm’s body.  The tube worm pulls minerals into its root, and oxygen from its gill-like plumes.  These compounds nourish the bacteria, which convert vent minerals into carbon just as photosynthetic chloroplasts in plants turn sunlight into carbon.  This carbon energy supports the tubeworms that, in turn, nourish life in the abyss.

Fortunata the Marmoset

Somewhere out there, an adorable marmoset is having a snack
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ants are sometimes said to keep aphids as “pets,” feeding them, protecting them, and generally fussing over them.  However, the ants are using the aphids more as domestic animals, feeding off of the sweet nectar they produce.  This is better considered as mutualism, a partnership in nature where both animals benefit.  Do we know of any wild animals that keep others around as pets in the way that we would, purely for fun and affection? Chimpanzees have been seen playing affectionately with small rodents called hyraxes, but usually kill and eat them once bored. It’s controversial, but a group of Capuchin monkeys was observed in the wild taking in a much tinier marmoset orphan, nicknamed Fortunata.  They fed her, held her, and carried her on their backs.  They even visibly adjusted their the force of their movements so they wouldn’t injure the tiny marmoset.  Little Fortunata was raised by the Capuchins from infancy to adulthood, and was treated as gently as a beloved pet until the day she disappeared, likely taken by a predator.

Sources and Further Reading:

Blue Monday Debunked:

Introduction to Symbiosis and Mutualism:

Humpback Whale Altruism in the Wild:

Humpback Whale Protects Human:

Gorilla Protects Child:

Symbiosis at Hydrothermal Vents:

More on Chemosynthetic Bacteria:

Fortunata the Marmoset:


Terry GossCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

We love sharks at High Touch High Tech.  We are proud shark nerds.  This week is Kiss A Shark Week, a week to celebrate cool stuff about sharks, and show these misunderstood predators some respect!  First appearing in the fossil record a whopping 410 million years ago, sharks have been evolving into every possible ecological niche in the ocean long before dinosaurs were even a gleam in mother earth’s eye.  Tigers, Bulls, and Great Whites tend to get all the press, but there are over four hundred different species of sharks, all of them wonderful in their own sharky ways!  In honor of Kiss A Shark Week, we will rate our top favorite sharks that aren’t the big three.  Let’s rate sharks:

GREENLAND SHARK (Somniosus Microcephalus)

Hemming1952CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Have you seen that creepy, huge shark footage going around the internet purporting to be MEGALODON?  Sorry to crush your hopes, but nope, that’s probably this handsome guy.  The Greenland Shark is found mainly in the freezing depths of the Arctic and Atlantic.  He has been spotted at depths of up to seven thousand feet, and maybe sometimes … in your nightmares?  All of his talent and charming good looks never went to his head, though.  He’s content letting the big three have the fame, even though this dude has been found with whole reindeer in his stomach, can grow to 24 feet (or bigger), and is, btw, the oldest living vertebrate on earth

Greenland shark, 14/10, a real deep guy and super chill

The Greenland Shark’s (or possibly its close cousin the Sleeper Shark’s) Megalodon Moment:

The Greenland Shark Observatory:

TASSELED WOBBEGONG (Eucrossorhinus Dasypogon)

jon hansonCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Who is SHE?  When she’s not snatching unsuspecting prey around the warm reefs of the Indian and Pacific ocean, this dewy beauty clearly loves trying out the latest makeup trends.  Even her name is fabulous!  Wobbegong is an Australian Aboriginal word, meaning “bearded.”  With her gorgeous fringes framing her face and flawless camouflage patterns up and down her body, this reef-dwelling, stealth-hunting  beauty is mysterious and fascinating, but you never quite know where she’ll pop up next.  

Wobbegong, 12/10, Stunning, unconventional style but watch out, she might ghost ya

Feast your eyes on all this beauty:

Strut, queen, strut:

SALMON SHARK (Lamna Ditropis)

Watch out!  He’s quick!  Built like a lil’ Ferrari of the ocean, this sleek marine minimalist is one of the fastest and, dare we say, pointiest sharks out there!  Related to the ultra-fast Mako Shark, this perfectly contoured fellow can reach speeds of 50 miles per hour.  Why go so fast?  Apparently this cool customer is a sushi connoisseur, eating a diet mainly of salmon and squid that he chases down with ease in the icy Alaskan waters he calls home. The fresher, the better, right?

Salmon Shark:  13/10, love the minimalist aesthetic

Swimming with Salmon Sharks:

The Fastest Sharks in the World:

FRILLED SHARK (Chlamydoselachus Anguineus)

© Citron

Let’s set the record straight here.  One of the oldest still-extant sharks there is, going back all the way to the pre-dinosaur CARBONIFEROUS PERIOD, our Frilled Shark buddy is considered “a living fossil,” and we’re here to put some respect on his name!  Why? Well you might have seen our buddy from a viral clip of him where’s he not feeling his best and has come up to the surface to die, only to be rudely captured by someone who happens to have a camera.  Then the video showed up on YouTube, where they labeled him a “sea monster!” The nerve. Let’s give this guy some justice and let him show you his suave, smooth, and frilly side while he’s healthy and in his favorite environment: the Freezing, Endless Blackness of the Abyss!

Frilled Shark, 14/10, the Goth of Sharks and we’re so here for that

Frilled Shark on a Bad Day:

On a Good Day:

COOKIE CUTTER SHARK (Isistius Brasiliensis)

Awww, what a cute little shark.  He’s so teeny, he must be one of the many species of sharks that are very small!  Hey little guy!  Aww, look at his lil’ belly and his lil’ sharky face!  Wait …. he does WHAT with those teeth?  One of nature’s finest opportunists, this little angel lurks in the deep until a fine, fleshy, usually much bigger morsel swims along, then attaches to it and bites a CIRCLE out of it!  They get a nice nugget to eat and none of that pesky waste of energy.  The victims, however, are left with:

the  cookie cutter shark was only extensively studied by scientists when the US Navy had to go on a hunt to figure out who was taking tiny, circular bites out of its SUBMARINES. 

Cookie Cutter Shark, 11/10, you have to admire the chutzpah

Everything you need to know about the Cookie Cutter (bonus, HUGE Goblin Shark too):

MEGAMOUTH (Megachasma Pelagios)

CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

With a cool name like Megamouth you might be expecting an absolute ROCK STAR of sharkdom.  And you would be right!  Dodging all press for centuries, and doing her own creative thing on the deep ocean floor, this giant enigma wrapped in a mystery first premiered in 1976, absolutely rocking the world of science.  Thrilled by Megamouth’s influential first appearance, her inspired fans speculated that if she was down in the depths, what other life could be there, waiting to be discovered?  Megamouth is so reclusive that she has only been encountered, alive or dead, about 100 times.  Studies indicate that she is a filter feeder of the deep that gathers food in her giant bioluminescent mouth!  Did we say giant?  We meant it.  Check out the footage of her swimming right by a diver — and side-eyeing that tiny paparazzo to filth on her way back to her studio. 

Megamouth, 13/10, debut rocked harder than Led Zeppelin’s, can’t wait for her next album

Diver’s Surprise encounter with Megamouth:

Megamouth Live in Japan:


So Shark Nerds, which exceedingly ancient cartilaginous ocean-dominating friend do you like the most?  Put your favorite shark in the comments below, we’ll rate it!   

If you want to put some serious respect on the Elasmobranch name for Kiss a Shark Week, consider a donation at the Shark Trust:

or the American Shark Conservancy: