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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j54K0pv3w7k

A Volcanologist in the Field: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egEGaBXG3Kg

What Really Happens When You Fall into Lava: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHdRFUJuptU

More about Lava and Human Bodies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeSet41brAA

What Really Happened in Pompeii: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rduUDoy3dYE

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:

COULD MEGALODON STILL BE ALIVE IN THE DEEP SEA?

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: https://www.rarediseaseday.org/

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

Shambhavi

Vasco

Sayafik

Nada

Jelena

Nitzia

Taka

Zixuan

Wafic

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

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: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/living-single/201611/no-partner-no-worries-new-study-psychological-health

The Wright and Brown Study: https://europepmc.org/article/MED/28626245

Bella De Paulo Ted Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEELIrm9JKA

Why Unmarried Single Women may be the Happiest of All: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/may/25/women-happier-without-children-or-a-spouse-happiness-expert

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
Valereee
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: https://theconversation.com/why-does-pizza-taste-so-good-125618

More about the Amazingness that  is Pizza: https://us.cnn.com/2018/12/06/health/pizza-addictive-food-drayer/index.html

Compounds and Flavors in Pizza: http://specertified.com/blog/view/why-does-pizza-taste-so-good-the-science-of-the-5-basic-tastes-and-pizzas-c

Intro to the Difference Between Food and Substance Addiction:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHNB8icGMf0

Study on Food vs. Substance Addiction: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4334652/

NIH Compound Summary for Glutamic Acid: https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/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
Rizalubun
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
Adam.zolkover
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: https://www.msn.com/en-ie/news/other/is-blue-monday-real-the-science-behind-the-most-depressing-day-of-the-year/ar-AASRCor

Introduction to Symbiosis and Mutualism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eChtyqSqUIs

Humpback Whale Altruism in the Wild: https://whalescientists.com/humpback-whales-altruism/

Humpback Whale Protects Human: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXNCCdcBhcY

Gorilla Protects Child: https://www.foxnews.com/science/watch-a-gorilla-rescue-a-boy-that-fell-into-its-pit-in-1996

Symbiosis at Hydrothermal Vents: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3gRQEOC6M4

More on Chemosynthetic Bacteria: https://www.whoi.edu/oceanus/feature/deep-sea-tubeworms-get-versatile-inside-help/

Fortunata the Marmoset: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/animals-and-us/201006/are-humans-the-only-animals-keep-pets

WE RATE SHARKS


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: https://geerg.ca/en/greenland-shark/

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbslHWZJUBk

Strut, queen, strut: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mbv2DhcKAh4

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDrrycK5lGM

The Fastest Sharks in the World: https://www.sharksider.com/three-fastest-sharks-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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mneDhOtVEQw

On a Good Day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYH32gKMHuc

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): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7a8XuYgoH8c

MEGAMOUTH (Megachasma Pelagios)


opencage
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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LS1RgcPSr8M

Megamouth Live in Japan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHiL7MPAZ0g

CONCLUSION: SHARKS RULE

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: https://www.sharktrust.org/shark-conservation

or the American Shark Conservancy: https://www.americansharkconservancy.org/

Cluttered Desk, Cluttered Mind? Maybe Not.

The holidays are long done, and the greyness of midwinter is all around us.  Whether you are back in your office now or working from home, sitting back down to start a new year at your work desk can be daunting, especially if the same piles of files, notebooks, junk mail, and post-it notes from 2021 are still there to greet you.  A cluttered desk is a cluttered mind, right?  Behavioral Science shows that for some of us, that’s absolutely true. But, if you happen to like your personal domain just the messy way it is, don’t let the organizers of the world desk-shame you.  According to scientific studies, and the example of several famous scientists, a perfectly organized and clean desk isn’t the only way to work in a productive and creative manner.  As Albert Einstein, captain of a famously messy desk himself, said: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

Albert Einstein, member of the Messy Desk Club

An organized desk is a wonderful thing, but it’s theorized that messy desks may actually allow for more creativity.  Einstein was just one of numerous scientists who had shockingly messy workspaces. If your desk is a mess then you are in the company of Steve Jobs, Alan Turing, Thomas Edison, and —  owner of a monumentally messy desk – Isaac Newton.  Psychologist Bill Crawford says that there is room in the world for both the organized and the cluttered.  According to him, the best desk is a desk that allows you to be productive and creative, no matter how it looks.   But for some people, it seems that being in the center of what looks like clutter actually allows them to see the full range of their work, remind them of projects, and, most importantly, see interconnections between everything they are working on.

Isaac Newton, member of the Messy Desk Club

People who work better from a clean desk should keep it clean and organized, because that is what’s good for them.  But there’s no need to side-eye that messy colleague.  Eric Abrahamson, author of  A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder, says that: “While it might appear otherwise, a messy desk isn’t devoid of order.  What seems like a mess can actually be a highly effective prioritizing and accessing system. On a messy desk, the most time sensitive projects tend to be found at the top of the pile, while the work that gets ignored tends to get relegated to the bottom.  Not having a strict system can lend itself to more innovative ideas when you least expect it.”  Some of the messiest of desks, after all,  were the birthplace of some of the greatest ideas, such as the theory of gravity and the modern computer!

Alan Turing, member of the Messy Desk Club

The clean desk vs. messy desk debate has been going on so long that there have actually been some serious scientific studies on it.  Social Psychologist and Applied Behavioral Scientist Dr. Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota explored how a clean desk versus a messy desk might affect behavior.  Does clutter really clutter the mind?  In her study, researchers had participants fill out questionnaires in both orderly and cluttered spaces.  After this activity they were asked if they wanted to donate to charity, and offered a snack of an apple or some dark chocolate.  Those who were in the clean room were more likely to opt for philanthropy and a healthy snack.  Those in the messy room took the chocolate and fewer opted to donate.  Participants in each room were also asked to come up with new ideas for the use of ping pong balls.  Participants in both spaces came up with the same number of ideas, but the messy room’s ideas were rated as more creative by judges.  

Thomas Edison, Member of the Messy Desk Club, at his Messy Desk

Vohs concluded that “disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can encourage fresh insights.”  In contrast, orderly environments appear to encourage convention and playing it safe.  No matter what your desk looks like, the science says that there is room for all preferences at the…um…desk, because all no matter if you are an organizer or a clutterer, your way of working has its advantages.  Happy National Clean Your Desk (or not) Day!

References and Further Reading:

Talk by Eric Abrahamson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fy4xm3n2iXE

Dr. Bill Crawford: What Does Your Desk Say About You? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1TtsP4Wvdk

Successful People with Messy Desks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLSEIDITJns

The Work of Dr. Kathleen Vohs (link to article on study at bottom of page): https://thedecisionlab.com/thinkers/psychology/kathleen-vohs/

Thanks, Science! The Best Discoveries of 2021

Happy 2022!  2021 was certainly…a year.  Although things have not been easy, 2021 was a benchmark year for science.  The biggest science story of 2021 is undoubtedly the effort to develop and distribute vaccines across the entire world, all while responding our ever-evolving and wily foe, COVID.  The scientific community across the world has seen some of its darkest and its finest hours in this worldwide fight, and we at High Touch High Tech salute every single scientific professional involved in this profound historical moment. 

In times like these, it’s easy for other scientific discoveries to slip through the cracks.  As 2022 dawns, let’s take a moment to ponder some of the other discoveries that made 2021 such an important year for science.

1.  THE MARS ROVER

People all over the world cheered when both the United States, and later China, landed autonomous rovers on Mars.  For the Perseverance Mars Rover Team, it first involved a hair-raising parachute landing on Mars.  Since the Perseverance Rover landed, it has been able to launch a mini-helicopter that was the first controlled human flight on another planet.  It has also converted Carbon Dioxide into Oxygen to prove it could be done for future colonization on Mars, and begun to do what it was specially designed for: gathering samples of Mars that will be sent back to earth in hopes of detecting signs of alien life.  The Perseverance Rover could revolutionize our understanding of our place in the universe by answering one of the biggest questions in all of science!

https://mars.nasa.gov/news/9036/nasas-perseverance-rover-collects-puzzle-pieces-of-mars-history/

Photo:
Joyradost
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

2.  FIRST HUMANS IN THE AMERICAS

23,000 years ago, a rather flat-footed teenager walked along the shores of an ancient lake that is now located in New Mexico’s White Sands National Park.  In 2021, this now-fossilized stroll revolutionized our understanding of how long humans have been in the Americas, and opened fascinating new questions of how humans arrived here.  It was once believed that Indigenous Americans had only been in America for about 13,000 years, descended from a small band that migrated across a land bridge in Asia.  These footprints, described by archaeologist Ciprian Ardelean as “very close to finding the Holy Grail,” cast the old theory, known as “Clovis First” into serious doubt.  The footprints were made at a time when it is believed that glaciers had walled off passage to the Americas, raising intriguing new questions about Indigenous American arrival.  Could it have been by sea?  We hope the coming years will bring us more answers to this fascinating mystery.

https://www.discovery.com/science/new-23-000-year-old-human-footprints-discovered-in-america

3.  PIG ORGAN TRANSPLANTED INTO A HUMAN

This milestone medical breakthrough was understandably overshadowed by other issues in global public health, but it represents a moment that both medical researchers and their patients have been waiting for for years.  In October 2020, doctors in New York City’s Langone Medical Center transplanted a kidney from a genetically-altered pig into a human.  They were able to monitor the transplant extensively and confirmed that it was working normally, although the long-term prospect of rejection is still unknown.  The field of “Xenotransplantation,” or transplanting tissues from non-humans into humans, is still new but could soon develop a sustainable source of organs for people in need across the world.

https://www.cnn.com/2021/10/20/health/human-pig-kidney-transplant-scli-intl-scn/index.html

Photo:
Adyah Ningtyas
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Common
s

4.  WORLD’S OLDEST ANIMAL ART

The discovery of a very big Warty Pig painted in a cave in Sulawesi, Indonesia, pushed the earliest known instance of an animal image back by several thousand years.   Sketched in red ochre, the Warty Pig (pictured above – it’s a real species still living in Indonesia today), was dated by the mineral formations on its surface.  It’s not the oldest known painting in the world – hand stencils in a cave in Spain or possibly even a drawn-on rock from South Africa may be older.  But, the previous record-holder for oldest animal image comes from France’s Chauvet Cave, with a date of 33,000 years ago.  The Warty Pig painting doesn’t just tell us more about the birth of human symbolic and abstract thinking, it also provides the earliest evidence of human settlement in the region, giving more credence to the theory that early humans migrated from Africa to Australia 65,000 years ago.

https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2021/01/14/archaeologists-have-discovered-worlds-oldest-animal-cave-painting

Photo:
Pablo Carlos Budassi
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

5.  FIRST PLANET OUTSIDE OF THE MILKY WAY GALAXY

In the wonderfully-named Whirlpool Galaxy (pictured above), only 28 million light years away, astronomers have pinpointed a large and as-yet-mysterious planet, the first ever identified outside of our own Milky Way Galaxy.  The planet seems to be orbiting a star that itself is orbiting with an extremely dense object, possibly a neutron star or black hole. The dense object causes the X-rays from the star’s gas to glow, and the possible exoplanet was spotted when it passed in front of the glow.  Believed to be about the size of Saturn, the exoplanet may not return to visibility for 70 years, but it does reinforce the potential of X-ray wavelengths as a strategy to locate distant planets.

https://www.npr.org/2021/10/26/1049282754/nasa-new-planet-discovered-outside-milky-way-galaxy

Photo:
Mike Pennington / Stegosaurus skeleton, National Museums of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh

In case you want more scientific breakthroughs (and who doesn’t?) here are a few more amazing discoveries from 2021:

THE MALARIA VACCINE:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7227679/

THE LOST GOLDEN CITY OF LUXOR, EGYPT:

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-56686448

TINY ANIMALS REVIVED AFTER 24,000 YEARS IN PERMAFROST:

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2279992-tiny-animal-revived-after-24000-years-entombed-in-siberian-permafrost/

HUMAN GENOME 100% SEQUENCED:

https://phys.org/news/2021-06-sequenced-entire-human-genome.html

SUPER COOL ARMORED STEGOSAURUS:

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-12-02/dinosaur-has-resemblance-to-aztec-weapon/100667992

Sources and Further Reading:

National Geographic:

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/graphics/the-21-most-fascinating-scientific-discoveries-of-2021?loggedin=true

Inverse:

https://www.inverse.com/wtf-science-discoveries-2021

The Natural History Museum of Utah:

https://nhmu.utah.edu/blog/2021/top-science-stories-2021

What do Astronomers Eat for Breakfast the Morning their 10 Billion Dollar Telescope Launches into Space?

Answer: THEIR FINGERNAILS!

Hang on, science fans, this one is a nail-biter for sure.  The James Webb Space Telescope, currently set to launch (hopefully) on December 24th, 2021, represents billions of dollars of investment, 25 years in development, and the contributions of a massive team of scientists and engineers from all over the world.  The “Webb” is said to be the single most complicated science project that humans have ever attempted.  Should the Webb make it to space and function perfectly, however, it also has the biggest potential for discovery of any scientific instrument ever made.  We’re talking discovering-alien-life-forms-and-seeing-the-origins-of-our-universe BIG.  The complexity of the project can make the Webb seem intimidating, so this week we will do what High Touch High Tech does best — making the awesome science behind awesome things more accessible.  So, how does the Webb work?  Why is it so important?

The Webb Telescope: potentially the most profound science that science has ever scienced

This intimidating machine is already a work of engineering triumph.  First proposed in the late 1980’s, the Webb has been in the works for 25 years. It represents the life’s work of several scientists and engineers, all of whom will have the most stressful morning of their life when the telescope launches into space!  The Webb is different than the Hubble Telescope, which has brought many amazing revelations in its decades of service.  The Webb is specially designed to detect even the tiniest quantities of infrared light, not visible light as the Hubble does.  Engineers attest that the Webb can detect the infrared signature of a single bee on the moon as seen from earth. Creating a machine of this precision was a 25-year challenge, and the international efforts to create, test, and perfect it represent the very best of scientific endeavor.

This iconic image, captured by the Hubble, is known as “The Hubble Ultra Deep Field.” (Yes, those are ALL separate galaxies.)

An all-infrared telescope came with incredible design challenges.  For one, to detect distant infrared, it needed to be very large.  The mirror alone is 21 feet high, dwarfing the Hubble’s 8 foot mirror.  How to get such a large apparatus into space?  In a never-before-attempted design maneuver, The Webb team designed the huge telescope to fold up like origami so it could be packed into a rocket.  Once it is in space, the telescope will go through a 178-point sequence of unfolding itself!  Every single one of the 178 mechanisms must work perfectly, and so the efforts to ensure the Webb’s perfection went to great lengths.  Every mechanism was tested and retested using a series of counterbalances that replicate zero gravity.  A huge vacuum chamber was used to test the operation in the vacuum of space, AND the vacuum chamber was brought down to -400 F to test the machine’s operations at cryogenic temperatures.

The Webb’s primary mirror undergoing cryogenic testing

Why so cold?  As if flawlessly assembling itself in space wasn’t a big enough challenge, in order to be able to sense tiny amounts of infrared light, the telescope also has to operate at very, very, cold temperatures.  Although our eyes can’t see it, infrared is everywhere, and it gives off heat.  In order to sense tiny amounts of infrared in the distance, the telescope itself has to be heat-proof, or the instruments attached to it will only read the heat they are giving off.  This means the telescope will be operating a million miles from earth to escape the heat from the sun and the earth itself.  To keep it -400 F, it has been equipped with a series of 5 huge sunshields, each bigger than a tennis court and thinner than a human hair.  Only when the telescope is unfolded, in position a million miles from earth, and operating at -400 F will it be able to send its first images.

Webb scientists preparing the sunshades

What will it show us? For what the Webb could potentially reveal, 25 years of blood, sweat, and tears are entirely worth it.  Hang on to your seat, science fans, because this telescope is DESIGNED TO SEE THE EARLIEST LIGHT OF THE BIG BANG!!  13.5 billion years ago, the big bang produced the first light.  As the universe has expanded, that light has been travelling out at the edge of the expanding universe.  The light has been travelling so long that it has “redshifted,” or shifted to entirely infrared wavelengths.  The astonishing sensitivity of the telescope is designed to pick up the light that came from the beginning of the universe.  The Webb was designed, quite literally, to see back in time. As if that is not enough, the Webb is also packing spectroscopy instruments capable of analyzing the chemical biomarkers of nearby planets, giving us clues about planets or moons that may be harboring alien life. The Webb has the capability to answer two of the greatest questions in all of science: how the universe came to be, and if we are not alone in it.  If it functions well, the Webb is fully expected to revolutionize the field of astronomy for the next decade or more.  We at High Touch High Tech send our congratulations and thanks to the entire James Webb Space Telescope team for their decades of work in the name of scientific discovery!

Sources and Further Reading:

The Engineers and Scientists who built the Webb tell their epic story (Highly Recommended!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISQnriRRElY

A Useful General Overview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMxdeUJ0v2c

The Nerve-Racking Process of Launching the Webb: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/14/science/james-webb-telescope-launch.html

A Webb Engineer Explains its Importance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrY04VPDg8I