Friday, April 29, 2016

Los Angeles Was Built On Top Of Oil?

Recently, I came across a video that discussed California's Urban Oil Fields.  Specifically, the story of Los Angeles.

Los Angeles currently has around 5000 active and inactive oil wells throughout the County.  Who would have thought?  A video produced by "Vice News" titled "Crude L.A.: California's Urban Oil Fields" gives us a brief (less than 19 minutes) tour of a few of the facilities is shown below:

The video is definitely worth watching.  There are many valid points that have been brought up which have been in the news in the last few months.  Especially, in the aftermath of the Aliso Canyon Gas (Methane) Leak which adversely impacted residents at Porter Ranch.   I wrote blogs on the disaster --the volume and magnitude of the leaked methane over the course of 4 months.  In light of the gas leak, residents that live near oil wells are asking themselves questions like the following:

Who is looking after our well being (with regulatory affairs) with the oil companies?

Are these wells safe near my house?

What about the chemicals that have been negatively effecting my health?

There has definitely been a light turned on to magnify the inequity of the two situations.  For years, big oil companies have operated in Los Angeles.  As a result, considerable attention is starting to be brought on the oil wells that continue to be used -- even though there are blatant violations (in the form) of inspections.  There has been no oversight from the city to keep these companies in check.

As a result, regulations are violated and have had adverse health effects on the surrounding community.  The communities are composed of thousands of houses.  Residents (activists) of the area need to desperately stand up to politicians and regulatory agencies to take action.  This includes neighborhood councils who have considerable political power.  Although, unless the residents are "united," there will be no change.

The problem is magnified by the fact that the oil drilling platforms are spread throughout Los Angeles and are hidden in some cases.  As I mentioned in the second paragraph, there are roughly 5000 active and inactive oil wells in the Los Angeles area.  How long have they been here for?

Los Angeles 5 Decades Ago?

In the video above, there are a few amazing film "clips" that are truth-telling of the past.  Additionally, the photographs highlight the creation of our dependence on oil.  Oil barons took advantage of land rights and just started drilling everywhere.  Here are a few "still" photographs taken from the film and made into images.

Venice Beach:

Echo Park:

The obvious question after viewing these two photographs would be: Where are all of these oil wells now?  They are in the exact same location.    What has changed then? Lets take a look at the present-day situation here in the Los Angeles area.

Present Day Oil Dependent Los Angeles

The answer lies in the change in technology.  Advancements in oil drilling technology has had many positive attributes for the industry.  Before I highlight a couple that were brought up in the video above, a few pictures of the current situation might help you understand the ability of the technology to change the appearance of the situation.

West Los Angeles:

Beverly Hills:

South LA -- Inglewood:

South LA -- Jefferson:

A gated area with a single crane.  Whereas in Beverly Hills, the residents are completely deceived by hiding the tower in construction.  A similar situation exists in West Los Angeles.  What would occur if the residents knew about the frequency of the wells?  Furthermore, that these sites serve as a conduit for hundreds of oil wells that are tapped in that location.  Here is an example from Jefferson shown below:


The two pictures above are the same area that contains the crane or rig in earlier pictures from Jefferson.  As you can see, the space looks rather empty -- except for tiles on the ground.  Each of the tiles is an oil well head.  Think of the collection of oil wells like a cross section of a wire bundle that is composed of a bunch of strands of wire (each well corresponds to a strand of wire).  The bundle of oil wells drop several thousand feet vertically and then expand out horizontally.  Wow!

Activists and residents are concerned about fumes from chemicals used in the drilling and recovery process.  In the last photo there are visible "containers - large containers" of "solvents" and "acids" which are used in the extraction process.  Here is a diagram below which was taken to illustrate the point of the potential hazards of using such chemicals (acids, solvents, etc.):

Acids are used to break up the oil and make the extraction process easier.  The problem with using these chemicals is the amount of "hazardous waste" generated along with the gases that are given off during the process.  If there was sufficient space between the oil well and the nearest house, an argument might be possible on behalf of the oil companies.  Shown below is a picture of a resident who was interviewed for the article -- who has studied the problem extensively:

The resident is part of the entire neighborhood that is "silently" concerned about these extraction sites all over the city of Los Angeles.  Two blocks away is an elementary school from which children and parents walk home each weekday.

These people are being exposed to "hazardous chemicals" on a daily basis.  The problem is centered around linking the use of these chemicals to adverse health effects.  Additionally, the lack of concern from the politicians and regulatory agencies is not going over great with the public -- as expected.  I use sarcasm due to the astonishing realization that there is a lack of care by these publicly held offices.  Change needs to occur and soon -- very soon.

Of course, the greater question is centered around demand.  If California residents to continue to increase their use of cars rather than public transportation, there will be a corresponding increase in demand for oil.  Which in turn will outweigh potential hazards to the surrounding community.  This is a reality.  According to the California State Board of Equalization's "Economic Perspective," a semi-accurate estimation for annual fuel consumption in 2014 would be around 15 billion gallons of fuel.  California residents drove a combined 300 billion miles annually -- Wow!  Couple this stated statistic to the subject of the blog -- Oil out of Los Angeles and the obvious question pops up:

How much oil is extracted in Los Angeles Annually?

According to various sources, the figure is around 24 million Barrels of Oil (annually).  If we convert the number of Barrels of oil extracted annually into gallons of oil, then a direct comparison of demand versus supply can be carried out.  I show the calculations of the unit conversion below:

According to the results, the amount of oil that is extracted annually is not negligible.  6.72% is important.  Especially, when we consider moving the oil to the refineries and processing and delivering back to the stations (for consumers to suck up into their cars).  Is that worth the danger of a disaster similar to the recent methane leak at Aliso Canyon Gas Storage Facility?  Hard to say.  If you are the resident living near the oil well the answer would be "no way."  Whereas, if you are a resident of Bel Air who lives far away, the answer may be "Sure."

Inequality Seems To Outweigh Reason

The oil well issue has been around for decades as shown in pictures taken from the film.  With the blatant void in the regulatory agency within city hall, one is led to believe (unfortunately) that the situation will not change soon.  At least, not by any politician or regulatory agency anytime soon.  In the meantime, there is another issue that takes up just as great of precedence in the South Los Angeles Area.

That problem is centered around the company Exide that operates a "lead acid battery" plant in Vernon, California.  For an excellent detailed account of the issue see the articles located on the blog Streetsblogs (access them here).  For more information, search "Sahra Sulaiman" for her continuing coverage of the inequality and dangers of this situation.

Exide might have had a less difficult time dealing with the problem of a clean-up if the disaster at Aliso Canyon Storage Facility had not happened.  From a regulatory standpoint, the situation is a disaster.  Whereas from an activist standpoint, the disaster is not great, but is a great starting point to motivate change on part of the regulatory agencies.  Of course, any part of change requires that each of us take action in our own lives.  For starters, we can keep the agencies accountable by asking questions about toxicity, regulatory procedures, and change toward a more sustainable environment.

Additionally, each of us can start looking toward the future with a greater "sustainable" mindset intact.  To start with, we can cut our consumption down of oil.  Currently, the Los Angeles area extracts 24 million Barrels of oil each year.  What if there is a disaster?  Any improvements in sustainability measures might be wiped away.  What part are you doing to solve the problem?  These are the questions that I think about.  Of course, sometimes I think about these questions while driving my car on the freeway while stuck in traffic.  No one is perfect.  Change has to start somewhere for each of us -- individually and collectively.  Have a great weekend.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Teach Science To The Public And The Result Is: A Citizen Scientist!

There is a tremendous amount of information to learn about the world around us.  Too much to learn in a single human lifespan.  On top of that, there are a huge number of perspectives by which to view the world from ( a scientific, medical, historical, sociological, anthropological, geological, political, etc.) that I almost get a panic attack when I entertain the idea.  I love to learn.  Regardless of perspective, the overall goal is to learn about the world around us.  Furthermore, to learn how we came to and survive in the world around us.  This invariably involves us as participants.  The more educated we are about the world, the better the world will be to live in.  Recently, I learned that if you teach a citizen of the world a small amount of science -- the result is that you will get (a percentage of the time) a "citizen scientist."  How do I know this is true?  Read paragraphs below to find out.

What Is Citizen Science?

When I first heard the term "citizen science" I was a bit confused.  In my mind, we should all strive to learn about science.  Not necessarily to the degree that I (or my colleagues) understand science.  On a similar note, we should strive to learn about history.  Why?  To learn about the past, is to learn about the course we need to take in the future.  At least this is my belief!  Of course, some might argue that there exists an underlying assumption in that statement:  that we learn from our past mistakes.  Yes, certainly.  I agree.

Citizen science can be defined according to our good friend "Wikipedia" as follows:

Citizen science (CS) (also known as crowd science, crowd-sourced science, civic science, volunteer monitoring or networked science) is scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur or nonprofessional scientists. Citizen science is sometimes described as "public participation in scientific research", participatory monitoring and participatory action research.[1]

If we take that a step further and look toward the entry into the Oxford English Dictionary (from "Wikipedia") we see:

The terms citizen science and citizen scientists entered the Oxford English Dictionary in June 2014.[5] Citizen science is defined as scientific work undertaken by members of the general public, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions,[6] and citizen scientists, in the modern sense, are defined as "a scientist whose work is characterized by a sense of responsibility to serve the best interests of the wider community" or "'a member of the general public who engages in scientific work, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions'" an amateur scientist.[6]

Having the public engage in science experiments can be extremely useful.

An Example Of Citizen Science

Recently, I read an article that was published on an open access journal website called PLOS titled "Participating In A Citizen Science Monitoring Program: Implications For Environmental Education."  These journals are open access - which means that the data that is published is free to the public.  Click on the titled and you will be directed to the article.  There are a variety of subjects that each have a different PLOS site.  In future posts, I will discuss more about the benefits and drawbacks of having "open access" journals -- mostly the benefits -- because I sincerely believe in them.

The research published in the study was very exciting.  I just happen to run across the article and I was super happy to have done so.  I was inspired by the work.  The work reinforces the concept that if you teach the public about science (or the marine world), then the environment will eventually be a better place.   Here is the abstract to the journal article:

Tourism is of growing economical importance to many nations, in particular for developing countries. Although tourism is an important economic vehicle for the host country, its continued growth has led to on-going concerns about its environmental sustainability. Coastal and marine tourism can directly affect the environment through direct and indirect tourist activities. For these reasons tourism sector needs practical actions of sustainability. Several studies have shown how education minimizes the impact on and is proactive for, preserving the natural resources. This paper evaluates the effectiveness of a citizen science program to improve the environmental education of the volunteers, by means of questionnaires provided to participants to a volunteer-based Red Sea coral reef monitoring program (STEproject). Fifteen multiple-choice questions evaluated the level of knowledge on the basic coral reef biology and ecology and the awareness on the impact of human behaviour on the environment. Volunteers filled in questionnaires twice, once at the beginning, before being involved in the project and again at the end of their stay, after several days participation in the program. We found that the participation in STEproject significantly increased both the knowledge of coral reef biology and ecology and the awareness of human behavioural impacts on the environment, but was more effective on the former. We also detected that tourists with a higher education level have a higher initial level of environmental education than less educated people and that the project was more effective on divers than snorkelers. This study has emphasized that citizen science projects have an important and effective educational value and has suggested that tourism and diving stakeholders should increase their commitment and efforts to these programs.

Did you get that idea from reading the abstract?  Probably not right?  The first time that I read the abstract, I was confused to a small extent.  But I was curious enough to move onto the introduction to the paper.

Note: If you are ever reading the abstract of a "scientific publication" and do not seem to understand anything, please do not give up.  At least read the "introduction" to the work.  Why?  Because, the layout of the "scientific publication" can be confusing and abrasive along with lacking clarity to the untrained science mind.  The purpose is to convey the significance and results along with the conclusion in the shortest amount of space.  This often turns out to turn off the average reader (myself included sometimes).

In the following three sections (excerpts), we will break down the introduction to the paper -- which leads up to the significance and methodology along with the results of the work.  First, lets start with outlining the "pre-problem."  In this study, the motivation is ultimately to have participation of the community in the project -- which is to evaluate and maintain the biodiversity and integrity of the marine community off shore of tourists spots.  First, lets get into some statistics regarding the tourism to the area of concern:

Tourism is a cross-cutting sector, involving a large diversity of services and professions, linked to many other economic activities and policy areas. For this reason, tourism is one of the most important forces shaping our world, which makes it worth devoting attention to [1; 2]. Tourism is of growing economical importance to many nations and is recognized as the largest export earner in the world and as an important provider of foreign exchange and employment [2; 3]. To date, the tourism industry represents 9% of global GDP, which corresponds to USD 1.4 trillion in international exports [4]. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, despite occasional shocks, such as the global economical crisis, international tourist arrivals have shown virtually uninterrupted growth (from 528 million in 1995 to 703 million in 2002 and 1085 million in 2013) and they are expected to increase by 3.3% per year from 2010 to 2030, reaching 1.8 billions by 2030. In particular, visitors in emerging destinations (+ 4.4% per year) are expected to increase at twice the rate of those in advanced economies (+ 2.2% per year) [4; 5].

For these reasons, developing countries are encouraged to use tourism as a means of economic development that wreaks less damage than extractive industries [6] and can be used to create many employment opportunities for the local population and to generate revenue for other developmental activities [7]. In Egypt, tourism generates an estimated USD 7.8 billion annually (equivalent to 11.3% of the national gross domestic product) and represents 47.8% of international exports, providing employment for 12.6% of the national work force [8; Egyptian Tourist Authority, personal communication]. Although the Great Pyramids of Giza and The Nile River are some of the world's most iconic touristic attractions, the Red Sea coastal zone attracts great numbers of tourists. In the period 2010–2013, more than 30 million people arrived from all over the world to visit the coral reefs of the Egyptian Red Sea, providing growing demand for touristic infrastructures and delivering important foreign revenue to the regional and national economy (according to CAPMAS–Egyptian Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics;

Different countries rely on tourism to a greater extent than others for survival.  The authors setup the importance of the project by quantifying the situation in terms of "GDP."  I thought that this was a great way to introduce the importance of the project, since the most people read some news or watch TV and hear these terms often.  Next, the authors chose to drive home the problem of having the magnitude (the amount) of tourists in a given location.  The perspective that was highlighted was directly tied to the problem that the authors are trying to solve -- which is the destructive habits of tourists to the marine wildlife during their adventures.  Here is an excerpt:

Although tourism is an important economic vehicle for the host country, its continued growth has led to on-going concerns about its environmental sustainability and the increasing criticism on the negative impacts of tourism began in the 1980s [9–15]. In particular, coastal and marine tourism can directly affect the environment through localized pollution, resource depletion, habitat loss, conversion and habitat and wildlife disturbance. In addition, these impacts have been shown to reduce recreational enjoyment, decreasing tourism business [16; 17]. Physical development of resorts, consumption of fuel by buildings, aircraft, trains, buses, taxis and cars, overuse of water resources, oil-spills, pollution by vehicle emissions, sewage, litter and boat anchors and groundings have caused ecosystem degradation. Several studies have shown how the direct presence and activities of the tourists along the shores have a negative impact on the environment [18–21].

Although all coastal habitats are affected by tourism [22], coral reef habitats seem more susceptible to an uncontrolled and unplanned tourist flow. Recreational marine activities affect corals in many ways, such as trampling, breakages, physical contact with organisms, sediment resuspension, behavioural changes among marine life due to food offerings, animal harassment, trash and debris production. For example, snorkelers and SCUBA divers can inadvertently damage corals by clambering over them, by kicking them accidentally with their fins, or by stirring up silt that suffocates them (e.g. [18; 19]). They may unintentionally damage stony corals and other benthic reef organisms by breaking their skeletons and abrading their tissues. Also other activities, not properly related with snorkelling or SCUBA diving, are reasonably considered dangerous for the environment, such as shell collecting, feeding fish and buying or collecting “marine” souvenirs.

The problem of destructive behavior due to awareness of the issue is huge.  That is not to say that even those who are aware of such problems will engage in behavior that is sustainable.  Although, the results of the study do contend to suggest that the majority of the volunteers do exhibit this behavior after being educated on the wildlife around them -- which is encouraging.

In the final part of the introduction, the authors drive home the usefulness and importance of engaging the public in sustainability of the environment and the marine wildlife in the area of study.  Here is the excerpt highlighting the usefulness of engaging the public:

The tourism sector needs practical actions to ensure sustainability. These actions must be integrated into all steps of tourism planning and coordinated at community or regional level, and applied to all forms of tourism in all types of destinations. The importance of raising environmental awareness and education among tourists is emphasized by Lansing and De Vries [2]. Education minimizes the impact on and is proactive for preserving the natural resources [18, 23–26]. Medio et al. [27] showed that divers did less damage after a 45-minute illustrated dive briefing covering reef biology, contacts caused by divers and the concept of a protected area. Divers were shown the different forms of live reef cover and non-living substrate, such as rock and dead coral, to illustrate areas of the reef that could be touched without damage it. Also, Rouphael and Inglis [28] suggested that the probability of divers coming into contact with corals is determined also by their awareness of the environmental consequences of their actions. Barradas et al. [29] state that no sustainable actions (such as: limitation of water consumption, wasting and pollution reduction, environmental limitations) are effective without a good educational program. Nevertheless, dive companies often give briefings that last only a few minutes and in many instances they do not include sustainability tips [16].

This paper evaluates the effectiveness of a citizen science program to improve the environmental education of the volunteers, by involving them in a practical biodiversity monitoring program. Through a specific questionnaire, the level of environmental education of volunteers was assessed before the participation in a coral reef biodiversity monitoring program and after several participations to it.

Education is the pivot to the success of these environments and the usefulness of the programs.  Education is the key to success period in any conservation effort.  I agree.  What are the results?  Encouraging tourists to take part in an educational experience is a great way to teach sustainability.  As technology changes (more devices come to the market) along with the way we interact with them (new software programs, permission, surveys, etc.), the time is right to ask people to take part in an educational effort to promote sustainability.  What leads me to believe this speculative thought?

The next time you are out to dinner at a restaurant, look around at the other people dining out.  Take a mental survey at the frequency of people pulling out their devices (smartphones and iPads) to interrupt a conversation.  Is this really and interruption to the conversation?  The last time that I was out to dinner, the conversation demanded that one of us check fact that was in question.  My brother-in-law brought up a statistic regarding the amount of income that a starting life guard makes.  Instead of just letting the question go until after dinner, my sister took out her phone and found the answer quickly.  Is that an interruption?  Is that healthy?

With the rise of technology, there seems to be a corresponding rise in our need to acquire knowledge and very quickly.  That leads me to believe that tourists are interested in more than just a cursory experience at a tourist spot.  Why not leave with some true knowledge that will inevitably help the environment and be useful at the next cocktail party conversation.  You are now the authority on Coral reefs.  Just kidding.

The survey that was initially given out at both the beginning and end of the experience was rather simple in design.  I scanned the document and show the 15 question survey below:

The answers to the survey are in "all capital letters" in the diagram above.  This was the first questionnaire that was tested on tourists.  I wonder if there was a length requirement for the survey.  If the survey had too many questions, the participants might have backed out of participation.  Looking over the survey, the questions seem completely reasonable.  I am not sure that I new all of the correct answers to the survey.

The results are encouraging to say the least.  Here are the results below:

The blue columns represent the "pre-test" knowledge, whereas the red column is for the "post-test" scores.  There are three sets of columns.  "Know" represents the questions on the survey that test the participants knowledge of "reef biology."  "Awar" represents the questions on the survey that test the participants knowledge of the "human impact" of tourists presence around the reef.

Results indicate that the education of the "reef biology" and the "human impact" are useful for the tourists.  There was a higher scoring of each in the "post-test" which really validates the utility of giving the education and testing to tourists.  And over time, the hope is that the participants will encourage other tourists to participate in the survey.

Further, the participants are encouraged to keep reporting on the status of the reefs whenever they dive.  There is a more technical survey found at the website:  Most of the content is not in English.  Google will translate parts of the text.  But the educational material remains in the language of Italian.

Optimizing Education

Over time, the program has grown with the funding from various governments.  As I previously mentioned, the post testing participation when the tourists return to the diving or snorkeling site helps wildlife conservation by filling out a more detailed list of questions.  The test content has not remained stagnant but has evolved too.  Educational material has evolved too.

Even if you do not speak Italian, the pictures are more than clear about the human impact of tourists diving and snorkeling in the waters.  I show the educational brochure in two photos below.  The first is the brochure with explanations.  The second is a pictorial guide of the creatures that tourists will come across and should inspect while respecting:

And the picture guide is shown below:

The tests have advanced too over time.  I would show them, but they too are written in Italian and are not translatable -- or I have not figured how to do so.  Here is the link to the tests and brochures.  Over time, with success comes expectations on part of the program funding sources.  The stated goal on the website for the project which has grown tremendously is shown below:

There should be stated goals to any scientific project.  The public should be encouraged to take part as a citizen scientist in the future based on their education on vacation.  After reading the expectations, and reading all of the brochures, I cannot imagine that anyone would come away from this experience not enlightened.  I commend the governments for their ability to think so progressively to undertake such a project.  The results have only been more encouraging over time.  Imagine if other nature conservation efforts could achieve the same success.

Other Citizen Science Endeavors - Get Involved!

Before we conclude this post, lets take a brief look a few other citizen science projects that have achieved some success and briefly mention them.  Below I list in three sites that serve as a facilitator of citizen science projects which I think are worth exploring.  I will not go into any huge detail on any site, but leave that to the reader (who is you) to do on his/her own.  I will provide excerpts for a couple of projects to illustrate the point.  All projects and site should be hyperlinked.

If you are interested in any of the content in the blog post or clarification, please do not hesitate to write in the comment section below or send an e-mail to:  Now, lets see a couple of these projects and sites.

1)The National Wildlife Federation:

As I was perusing the internet for citizen science topics and projects, I came across the webpage for citizen science at the National Wildlife Federation.  The site is great for beginners to engage in citizen science. There are 7 projects to get involved with as a public citizen -- which are: (1) "Fun with Frogs!,"  (2) "The Beauty of Birds,"  (3) "Fabulous Firefly Festivities,"  (4) "Monarch Mayhem!,"  (5) "Monarch Journey North,"  (6) "Birds in your Backyard,"  (7) "Be a Star Gazer."  Each of them have their own webpage with different descriptions of the projects and instructions on how to get involved in citizen science.  Lets look at two below:

"The Beauty of Birds"

Here is an excerpt from the website describing the contribution and importance of involving the public in citizen science:

Bird watching like other field based projects in science involves a large number of participants (scientists, volunteers, students, amateurs, etc.).  That is one of the many reasons why having the public take part in projects is extremely useful.  Just think -- you can help make regulations and policy regarding endangerment, bird population management, and other areas of need by contributing your time to looking out for various types and numbers (or lack thereof) of birds.  How exciting is that?  For more information visit the webpage which is hyperlinked above in the title.

"Fun with Frogs!":

The title is catchy.  The webpage is filled with information as to how to get involved too with this important project.  Part of this project entails the discovery of new amphibians -- Wow.  Here is an excerpt from the webpage:

Education is the key in all of these projects.  Additionally, this type of education compliments the theoretical learning that is happening in the classroom at school.  These two types of learning keep the students and amateurs engaged in the volunteer activity and a portion of the participants could eventually become scientists and contribute back to the program to form the perfect feedback loop.

2) Citizen Science Alliance:

A second website that I chose to highlight is called "Citizen Science Alliance" whose mission can be summed up below:

The CSA is a collaboration of scientists, software developers and educators who collectively develop, manage and utilise internet-based citizen science projects in order to further science itself, and the public understanding of both science and of the scientific process. These projects use the time, abilities and energies of a distributed community of citizen scientists who are our collaborators.

The mission is starting to sound redundant between all of these organizations -- right?  Well, I hope so.  Because I want to drive home the point of how easy and accessible volunteer science is if you are in the mood to contribute your time and experience.  You are desperately needed.  Citizen Science Alliance has a few projects listed on their website: (1) "Galaxy Zoo: Hubble,"  (2) "Old Weather,"  (3) "Planet Hunters,"  (4) "Whale FM."

These are just four that are highlighted on the cover page.  For more projects click here!  I wanted to show an example of a project from this site.  "Galaxy Zoo: Hubble" is a great project.  As is the case with a majority of these projects, you either need a bunch of volunteers to be out on the field or you need a bunch of volunteers to stare at screens all day long and make decisions based on their education.  In the case of the "Galaxy Zoo: Hubble" project the need is in the latter.  Here is an image from the website and shown below as an example of what the volunteer might be doing:

Participants are asked to decide the shape based on choices to the lower left of the image.  One human can only do so much sitting at a computer screen.

3) "SciStarter":

"Science we can do together" is stated below the heading of the website.  I love it.  Again, this site is collecting volunteers do participate in science together.  Like the other two sites listed above, the site is rich with content.  "SciStarter" takes the work a step further by offering a "project finder."  In addition, there is mention of startup funding -- "crowdfunding"!!!  Exciting.  These sites are desperately needed to serve as a conduit from which the public can participate and fund research at their desired level of participation.

These are just three organizations/websites which in turn lead to many others where volunteers are needed and resources are being directed.  Check them out and get involved.


Are we done yet?  Yes, I hope that you are better educated on two fronts.  The first front is that there is a great need for volunteers to take part in moving science forward.  The more eyes that we have on a certain problem, the further the problem is moved toward a solution.  Remember that most of these projects are funded by public funding agencies like the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.  These agencies operate on tax dollar funding.  Therefore, having the public participate ensures that the investor is taking part in their investment.  What a great way to learn how your tax dollars are spent?

The second point or front is to recognize that the dissemination is not necessarily free.  Journals with referees (who do not get paid) require a subscription to access the content.  In this blog post, the content came from an "open-access journal" with no pay-wall -- FREE!  I believe that ultimately, this will become the standard in the future.  After all, why can't the public access and educate themselves on research that is being paid by the tax payers?

Citizen science is extremely exciting.  Engaging the public in participating in conducting research is extremely useful.  More important though, is the prospect of educating the public to be more aware of the environment and the degradation that accompanies simple activities such as tourism, exploration, etc.  Without understanding the environment, we move through time and have no respect or appreciation to knowledge that our behavior is destructive to the environment.  Papers like the highlighted study above, are a complete 180 degree turnabout for the better.  Wow.  Awesome work.

Imagine if we could engage each member of the planet Earth to be more conscious about their footprint regarding a wide variety of activities.  How much better would the planet be as a result?  Instead of pondering the question, I would hope that you access the sites above and at the very least learn about the type of projects that are going on.  Listen to a recording of a giant Whale in its normal habitat.  Look at a galaxy -- how does it look to you?  Is it what you imagined it would look like?  These are questions that we should all be pondering in addition to carrying out our daily activities.  Until next time, have a great day!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Try Cooking Spaghetti Like A Chemist!

Whenever I go to parties or social occasions, I get asked about my profession.  People will often comment to me when they learn that I am a chemist that "they do not think that way....analytically, or in atoms, molecules, etc."(or "I was terrible at math").  Other times, the person will carry on with the large differences in thought patterns.  The mere fact that people feel compelled to convey this information is fascinating.  Have scientists made themselves look that different to the non-scientist?  Are we doing that bad of a job?

This is not to say that science is easy to grasp with concepts (like atoms, molecules, photons, cells, etc.) that are not immediately visible.  Remember that each scientist has to work at understanding concepts.  Nothing is for free!  Why do I bring this up?  As you will see in the paragraphs below, there exist many scales by which to understand the world around us.  Everyone at least should have the pleasure of understanding that the scales exist.  At least, that is the position that I choose to take.

Boiling Water - Simple Right?

The process of boiling water is pretty simple at first sight right?  Just add water to the sauce pan and set on the stove top -- apply heat.  Simple.  Oh, and wait until you hear the familiar sound of the water boiling or see the bubbles emanating (rising up) from the water toward the surface of the water in the sauce pan.

To most people, this is a process that is routine in order to start cooking a variety of meals.  Some people carry this task out without even thinking about what is actually happening inside the sauce pan.  But what if we wanted to think of the process in terms of a chemist analyzing the heating process of boiling inside the sauce pan.  First, a proper definition of boiling is needed.

Since we started off with a description of boiling water in a sauce pan (a picture that is commonly seen in the kitchen), the next level of detail (scientific description) might be shown from "Wikipedia."  Below is the opening paragraph for the entry of "Boiling" taken from "Wikipedia" and serves an intermediate description of the process of boiling water:

Boiling is the rapid vaporization of a liquid, which occurs when a liquid is heated to its boiling point, the temperature at which the vapor pressure of the liquid is equal to the pressure exerted on the liquid by the surrounding atmosphere. There are two main types of boiling; nucleate boiling where small bubbles of vapor form at discrete points, and critical heat flux boiling where the boiling surface is heated above a certain critical temperature and a film of vapor forms on the surface. Transition boiling is an intermediate, unstable form of boiling with elements of both types. The boiling point of water is 100 °C or 212 °F, but is lower with the decreased atmospheric pressure found at higher altitudes.

Why did I state that the above excerpt would serve as an intermediate description of the boiling process?

The reason is quite simple.  Because there exists no mention of the water molecules that make up the liquid that is being heated to the boiling point.  Additionally, at the boiling point as stated above, the pressure (vapor pressure) on the liquid by the atmosphere is equal to the pressure in the liquid.  Therefore, molecules are free to escape into the vapor form.  Of course, at this point, the number of molecules escaping depends on the concentration of the vapor.  There exists an equilibrium between the liquid and the vapor above the liquid.  Here is an excerpt to clarify the relationship between a liquid and the vapor pressure above the liquid taken from "Wikipedia" -- "Vapor Pressure":

Vapor pressure or equilibrium vapor pressure is defined as the pressure exerted by a vapor in thermodynamic equilibrium with its condensed phases (solid or liquid) at a given temperature in a closed system. The equilibrium vapor pressure is an indication of a liquid's evaporation rate. It relates to the tendency of particles to escape from the liquid (or a solid). A substance with a high vapor pressure at normal temperatures is often referred to as volatile. The pressure exhibited by vapor present above a liquid surface is known as vapor pressure. As the temperature of a liquid increases, the kinetic energy of its molecules also increases. As the kinetic energy of the molecules increases, the number of molecules transitioning into a vapor also increases, thereby increasing the vapor pressure.

And the corresponding diagram which I found extremely useful also taken from the "Wikipedia" page is shown below:

Source: By HellTchi

As you can easily see, that there exists an "equilibrium" of molecules (indicated by red dots) in the diagram above.  What does this mean?  Equal number of molecules are going into solution (into the liquid) as there are leaving the solution (liquid) -- hence the "equilibrium state."

Upon reaching the boiling temperature of a liquid in a sauce pan, the "equilibrium" can be shifted in a certain direction.  Meaning, more molecules can escape if the system is open.  In the above diagram which was taken from the website "Wikipedia" there is a box around the diagram -- which indicates that the above diagram is a "closed system" in equilibrium.

If the top of the container were opened to the atmosphere, then water molecules would escape.  If you have ever boiled water for a long duration of time without refilling the water, then eventually, the water in the sauce pan would disappear.  The heat is driving the equilibrium in addition to the fact that the vapor (gas above the water) is diffusing into other areas of the kitchen and house.  The water liquid in the sauce pan is trying to form an equilibrium with the entire atmosphere (the space of the house).  Wow!  Think about it.

How does a chemist think about boiling water then?

Now that the process of boiling water has been properly defined, lets look at an example of a chemist looking to "model" the process going on inside of the sauce pan.  I borrowed an excerpt from an article out of the website "R&" titled "Researchers Study Three-Way Battles In The Quantum World."  Here is the excerpt below:

  When water in a pot is slowly heated to the boil, an exciting duel of energies takes place inside the liquid. On the one hand, there is the interaction energy that wants to keep the water molecules together because of their mutual attraction. On the other hand, however, the motional energy, which increases due to heating, tries to separate the molecules. Below the boiling point the interaction energy prevails, but as soon as the motional energy wins the water boils and turns into water vapor. This process is also known as a phase transition. In this scenario the interaction only involves water molecules that are in immediate proximity to one another.

Do you think about that while staring into a pot of water that is arriving at the boiling temperature?  The above excerpt was to prime the reader about the ongoing fascinating research by the Quantum Electronics group at ETH Zurich.  Specifically, using a laser beam the group managed to trap in a "lattice" a few rubidium atoms.  By controlling the frequency of the lasers, there was control (or a monitor) of the rubidium atoms that might enter and exit the "lattice."

Why was this important?  As mentioned in the pot of water example, the "long-range" interactions were previously thought not to contribute to the process of boiling.  Now, with refinements in both "modeling" and experimentation, the group was able to study the long range interactions.  The work is a good step in the right direction to studying unique properties of liquids in complex environments.

The significance is stated by the authors as follows:

  "Using this trick we now have three competing energy scales in our system: besides the motional and interaction energies there is, in addition, the energy associated with the long-range interaction", explains Landig. "By varying the motional energy and the long-range interaction energy, we are able to study a number of novel quantum phase transitions."

Having a better understanding of phase transitions will be critical in our ability to study certain scales.  What is meant by this?  Typically, we live on the "Classical" -- the scale where we study objects like

Most people do not.

Adding Pasta To Boiling Water!

Now that you have had an introduction molecules and atoms -- so far as these concepts apply to the example above -- which was the boiling pot of water, lets make a complicated system into an even more complicated system.  I have yet to read the book titled "The Wonders Of Physics" by the author Dr. so and so.  I found a few excerpts which swayed me into purchasing the book.

Yes, I have a large amount of mental debt.  That is what I refer to as having too many books in the queue to read.  On my shelf at home along with books on another shelf at my office, there are two stacks of books -- that I am reading.  Yes, I can read multiple books at once.  No, I am not special.  My grandmother passed the ability to do so genetically -- I found out in my early 30's -- when I encountered her multiple stacks.  Anyways, here is an excerpt that has relevance to the discussion of cooking pasta that was taken from his book:

The authors take the science a step further than I had previously done with the above description taken from the article in laboratory magazine.  Well written and succinct to the level of detail with which can drive thought among a chemist about the various factors involved in the chemistry of cooking.  Of course, to a chemist, the process of cooking is traditionally reduced to a "reaction" which produces a "product."  The recipe dictates the conditions under which the "reaction" will take place to produce the desired "product" -- your meal.

Chances are the next time you eat a meal, you will have a thought regarding the chemistry behind the "reaction" needed to produce the meal.  If you choose to learn more about the topic, maybe in the future, you can switch professions and become a chemist working on the problem of pasta's for a company like "Kraft" that sells pasta products.  Chemists are needed to fill these positions.

Prior to reading this blog post, you might have just thought that non-chemists were the people responsible for coming up with the wonderful recipe that produces the meal that you desire.  The initial cooking recipe might have been started by a non-scientist.  But if a company produces the product and tries to optimize the product, chances are the there is a "food scientist" behind the process (Research & Design).  Food science is a huge field worth exploring.

Going back to the excerpt above, I am amazed at the level of detail at which "food scientists" work at.  Understanding the composition of pasta and the relevant parts that the components play during the cooking process (heating pasta in boiling water) is fascinating.  I cannot wait to read the book.  Maybe I will have to move that particular book to the top of the pile of "books to read."

Furthermore, I will have to investigate how the authors came up with the detailed explanation of the formation of "gluten" when heating the pasta.  Why is this important?  Currently, there is a large push in food industry to provide "gluten free" products.  I have been curious about this emerging trend.  Seems like the chance of not seeing a sign out in front of food vendors in Los Angeles labeled "Gluten Free" is near impossible.  I always wonder -- what does that mean?

According to the above excerpt, "glutenin" and "gliadin" along with water form a network (or net) that is termed "gluten."  Gluten is responsible for the rise and elasticity of the bread as indicated on the "Wikipedia" page for "gluten":

Gluten (from Latin gluten, "glue") is a mixture of proteins found in wheat and related grains, includingbarleyrye,[1] oat,[2] and all their species and hybrids (such as spelt,[3] kamut, and triticale[3][4]). Gluten giveselasticity to dough, helping it rise and keep its shape and often gives the final product a chewy texture.

The properties of proteins are responsible for incorporating these ingredients into food products such as breads, pastas, cereals, etc.  Chemistry is amazing.  If we want to further understand which ingredient is playing a certain role, scientists have uncovered that too with the following excerpts for "glutenin" and "gliadin" from their respective "Wikipedia" pages:


Glutenin (a type of glutelin) is the major protein within wheat flour, making up 47% of the total protein content. The glutenins are protein aggregates of high-molecular-mass (HMW) and low-molecular-mass (LMW) subunits with molar masses from about 200,000 to a few million, which are stabilized by intermolecular disulfide bonds, hydrophobic interactions and other forces. Glutenin is responsible for the strength and elasticity of dough.[1]

And, next is "Gliadin":

Gliadin is a class of proteins present in wheat and several other cereals within the grass genus Triticum. Gliadins, which are a component of gluten, are essential for giving bread the ability to rise properly during baking. Gliadins and glutenins are the two main components of the gluten fraction of the wheat seed. This gluten is found in products such as wheat flour. Gluten is split about evenly between the gliadins and glutenins, although there are variations found in different sources.

Imagine the research that went into investigating that out of the many different proteins in wheat along with other cereals, the research narrowed down to two proteins: glutenin and gliadin.  I wonder what the spectroscopic signatures of these two proteins are?  How was the research carried out to narrow down to these two proteins?  How were the proteins characterized?  That is another topic for another blog.

Where do we go from here with this blog post?

How About A Conclusion?

Lets recap on the underlying message so far in the blog post.  First, simple processes like cooking can be extremely complicated depending on the scale of viewing.  With respect to the problem of cooking pasta the following has been shown.  If you are considering the macroscopic scale, then you might be concerned with consistency or smoothness, or softness of the pasta along with the temperature at which you are cooking the pasta.  Furthermore, if you are cooking the pasta at different altitudes or environments, the recipe might change.  What about if you are looking at the process from the eyes of a chemist or food scientist?

If you are viewing the problem (cooking pasta in boiling water) as a chemist, there are different scales at which to think about the problem.  On the microscale or even nanoscale, you have these molecular systems in a complex environment.  Establishing a vapor equilibrium with the environment above the liquid.  If that environment is closed (e.g. having a saucepan with a lid on it), then refilling the water might not be necessary.  The liquid will establish an "equilibrium" with the "headspace" of vapor above the liquid.  There might be visible water droplets on the lid of the saucepan -- which after growing to a certain size will be overcome by the force of gravity and drop back into the boiling water.  At that point more water molecules will escape into the "headspace" between the liquid and the lid to establish an "equilibrium" state at that temperature and pressure.

What about an open sauce pan of boiling water?

Upon boiling, the system which is made up of gas and liquid will still try to establish an "equilibrium" with itself.  The problem is that the system is open.  Which means that the liquid in the pan will establish an "equilibrium" with the entire house -- as the water vapor diffuses throughout the rooms of the house.  Diffusion occurs due to having a high concentration of water vapor in a small area and a lower concentration throughout the house.  There is something to think about -- that will occupy your mind for a while.

Thinking like a scientist is not a decision -- once you have been exposed to the concepts.  You might be able to get away with ignoring the concepts when viewing the environment around you for a short time.  Why would you want to do that?  Do the concepts above give you a headache?  No worries if they do.  Understanding the concepts behind science take time.  That is why education is a life long learning process.  As highlighted above, every day, new ideas and concepts about the world are emerging and in every greater detail.  Again, this is why learning science should be fun and entertaining and also a life long pursuit.  I hope that you never look at a boiling pot of water the same way ever again.  Until next time, enjoy the day!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The 1% Can Push Science Research Forward -- Example1: Bob Wright!

Typically, the majority of people walking the Earth have a bad impression associated with the class of wealthy individuals often referred to as "the 1%."  Why is that the case?  Maybe because of stories like that of Children from Wealthy Chinese Parents  who -- are tearing up the town of Vancouver in sports cars that cost a comparable amount to a house in the U.S. featured in the New York Times yesterday?   How about changing the lens with which we view the 1% for a moment?  How about a "series" on the 1% that actually use their money to promote good?

From here on out, everytime you see the title start with "The 1% Series That Move Science Forward -- Example: Bob Wright" -- this will be a short post talking about research that is funded by a member of "the 1%".  Sound good?  I think so.  That is not to say that I will have a post on this topic weekly.  Although, I will interleave the post with other topics like those covered in the past from the popular news.  This series will be an opportunity to learn about a different way of promoting research -- through the motivation of successful who have chosen to help move scientific progress forward with their wealthy earnings.  Without further ado, lets meet Bob Wright!

Money Moves Mountains!

There are many ways to promote good health and well-being through philanthropy in our society.  Why Bob Wright?  Who is Bob Wright?  Lets answer that in the reverse order.  Bob Wright has had an amazing career -- simply stated.  If you are interested in reading a semi-detailed account of his past, check out his "Wikipedia" page.  That page will have the broad strokes of his history -- his career and timeline with success -- but very brief.

For a more comprehensive story, read his new book titled "The Wright Stuff: From NBC to Autism Speaks."  Here is an excerpt about the subject matter from Mr. Wright's past that caught my attention from the Amazon Review of his book:

What does someone like that do when he retires? If he’s Bob Wright, he starts all over again. At almost the exact same time as Bob’s NBC reign was winding down, his grandson Christian was diagnosed with autism, a condition then poorly understood. Baffled by a lack of medical knowledge and community support, Bob and his wife Suzanne founded Autism Speaks, which in short order became the leading advocacy and research funding organization for this mysterious condition that so devastates families. They make a powerful team―the compassionate, charismatic, indefatigable Suzanne who won’t take no for an answer, and the analytic, efficient executive who poured all his business acumen into building an organization from scratch.

As the two story lines unfold in The Wright Stuff, readers will gradually see that both endeavors―revitalizing NBC and building Autism Speaks―reflect the same key management tenets that apply to any organization facing disruptive change.

You are probably wondering why I am mentioning an excerpt from a book review by an author from Amazon.  I was led to the book after watching an interview with Bob Wright and Charlie Rose on the Charlie Rose Show -- which is shown below:

The interview is around 15 minutes long.  I always enjoy watching interviews with professionals who are at the top or hold a high position within their company.  They have worked hard to get to the position that they currently hold.  The story is usually filled with "ups and downs."  Although, for the purposes of this blog, what would cause a CEO of NBC to start fighting for greater awareness or treatment for the emerging disorder of Autism.

In order to understand the cause or pursuit of such awareness, lets digress for a bit and look at the traits of successful people.  Many of articles, books, blogposts have been written on the subject -- what am I going to reveal that is new?  Nothing.  Lets review a bit.  If we were to ask Dr. Gregory Jantz, who has written in the subject in articles, he would probably cite excerpts from his work.  One such work can be found on the website "" titled "6 Traits Of Successful People."  Here are three of the six traits from his blog post:

1) They faced their fears—and conquered them.  
Most of us develop confidence by confronting our anxieties and discouragement, and determining to do what we have set out to do. When you admit that most of your fears are homegrown, you can make the decision to stop feeding them, hold them up by the roots, and regain control of your life.

2) They stayed focused and flexible.
Success will probably not come your way overnight. Progress takes time. Achieving anything of significant value not only takes long hours but demands long periods of courage and stamina. These attributes will help you do your job with greater confidence, provide you with more wisdom, and make you a more resilient person.

3)They refuse to give up on their dreams.
Whenever we have a dream, we must realize that there will invariably be dream-snatchers lurking in the most unsuspecting places. They may be well-meaning family members, colleagues at work, and even some we thought would be the most enthusiastic cheerleaders for our new venture. You will learn to accept these individuals as temporary obstacles around which you must either walk or run. Never allow them to determine your direction.

You may be wondering what the other three traits are of successful people.   The remaining three traits are not any less important toward success.  They are: 1) Maintaining optimism, 2) Thinking with their hearts, and 3) Using "stumbling blocks" as stepping stones.  As you can see, these can be considered just as, if not, more important than the previous three traits.  Of course, all six traits blended together form a complete set of traits to tackle any problem.

At this point, you might ask -- what does a psychologist know about business or successful people?  Fair enough.  Aside from treating various types of successful people as patients, an education into the psychology of success from a mental health standpoint.  If you are not convinced that the traits match what a 'business person' would say, then I can refer you to a professional (CEO) who consults as a 'business coach.'  Read the article out of "" titled "Top 10 Qualities Of Highly Successful People" by Lolly Daskal and compare the similarities to the six traits outlined by Dr. Gregory Jantz.  Ten qualities presented by Lolly Daskal.

How do these qualities translate into funding scientific research from outside the profession?

What do I mean by this last sentence?

These traits emerging from a very successful CEO of NBC can produce results.  If we disregard the money that is raised by Bob Wright, isolate the effort down to the skills that he possesses professionally.  His business was to elevate ratings in various networks -- in a very general sense.  Couple that with the ability to donate money and get support from other very successful people.  Now, the ability to "move mountains" is quite possible.  But he has done so with failing and learning along the way.  Lets look at the research being conducted and funded by Bob Wright.

Autism Speaks!

In the interview with Charlie Rose above, Bob Wright talks about the emergence of his foundation -- "" -- with his wife Suzanne.    As is the unfortunate case with most proactive people fighting to find a treatment for a disease, Bob's story was no different -- his grandson was diagnosed in the following manner.  Here is an excerpt from the above interview:

In 2004, he was two and a half years old. We had gone through six months prior to that -- it was about this time of the year, right in this kind of semi cold thing. And he -- he was losing all of his identity over a period of six months, as if people were coming in at night and stealing -- they were stealing his vocabulary. They were stealing his dexterity. They were taking his health away. And we watched this whole thing happen. We ended up at Columbia Hospital -- when I was on the board of New York Presbyterian at the time and ended up at Columbia. Three days later and $12,000 later, he got a diagnosis that said there's a lot of things wrong with him but we can't really help you. He's autistic, and we don't have a protocol to deal with autism.

Can you imagine being on the board of a prominent hospital and hearing that there exists no "protocol" to deal with your grandchild.  Many people probably have the unfortunate experience of hearing the terrible news regarding "no protocol" without having clout and influence.  What did Bob do as a result?  Give up?  No.   Knowing that nothing is was going to change in the form of protocol, he decided to educate himself on the current state of research -- knowledge gathering (another trait of successful people).  Here is the description of his initial pursuits into finding out the current state of research and treatment from the interview above:

Not going to change. So, we ended up, you know, out on our own sort of and we couldn't believe it. We got into it. I went to the hospital. We got a lot of information out of the hospital about what it is, after that, and what they do about it. A neurologist and a psychologist and psychiatry and it was all pushed into that world, the world of psychiatry and neurology. We're not in the M.D. world, the typical M.D. world was like out. We traveled around a bit. We went out to see different groups. We met with people. Everything was very depressing. People were -- money was a huge issue. There was no insurance. There was no coverage. Parents were having to -- one was having to quit work to take care of the child. The other one was away all the time working. They couldn't come up with enough money to cover it. They were living off credit cards. We bumped into Bernie Marcus--

 He called me up and he said I need to talk to you. You're going around talking to people, I understand. Let me tell you my story. And he said I put a lot of money into this and I've been on a number years and quite frankly I failed in my expectation and the reason is there's no awareness of this. I can't build awareness at the medical level. I can't build it up at political level, at the hospital level. Maybe you guys, if you're going to want to do something, I'll support you. I'll be a major financial supporter if you want to take this challenge on. So, we talked about it a lot and I contacted a couple other people and I got Phil Geyer, who is the long time CEO of Interpublic, the largest ad agency in the world at the time. Mel Karmazin came on board. The Slatkins too. Laura and her husband both came on board.

Awareness!   He found out that awareness was the main impediment to a cure or treatment of autism.  Second, he used his background as a CEO of NBC to find a solution.  Instead of just giving up, he decides to gather very successful people at spreading awareness regarding important issues (autism being one).  What caught my attention the most was that he demanded that the pace be set by himself and procedure through which to run a non-profit.  Here is another excerpt:

Yes, but not Phil. Phil is just a great close friend. And lastly, Andrew Robertson, who had no connection with autism, but was a really up-and-coming advertising executive of BBDO. Today, he's the president, and he said, "I'll help you because they like to take on -- not for profit charges if they really believe in it. That was our core and that took -- I said this going to be run like a business. This isn't going to be one off to think, I want audited financials from day one. I want to be registered in every state. I want to be registered as an entity that can raise money and then can operate and be licensed in every state. Any place there is restrictions, we need to follow the law.

Naturally, as a scientist I am always interested to see how the progress of running a non-profit organization with a goal to spread awareness and search for a treatment that involves science research will unfold.  Bob Wright has been at this for 11 years now and his foundation "AutismSpeaks" is covering a large amount of great ground.  If you visit the website for the foundation "", you will find simple format of a website that is rich in information.  I love how the layout is simple and to the point.  That in of itself helps dramatically to raise awareness.

The core basis of autism is rooted in the genetic footprint of the inflicted individual and trickles from and to other family members.  Therefore, to find "biomarkers" or genetic markers, the research is intensive in genetic screening -- which costs money.  Although, in the 11 years running, the cost of sequencing a genome is dropping dramatically in cost.  This is great news!  Why?  Because in the case of the research that is being conducted to search for markers for autism, there is hope that  other diseases might be explored via the genetic profiling too.   To really understand the impact and scope of the problem, here is a 4 minute video taken from the website -- which is worth watching:

With 10,000 families volunteering to give genetic data, there is bound to be advances.  Of course, here is where the current "bottleneck" resides -- processing the data.  As highlighte in the video, google has jumped on board to help with the project which is super reassuring.  Google is a data analytics company and will undoubtedly move the field of awareness and research into autism forward.  Not to mention any other disease research that might come out of this global effort.

Now, the importance of having a member of "the 1%" push scientific research forward is completely apparent.  Imagine if every person who was categorized in this category of wealth devoted as muc of their time to finding cures as Bob Wright has done?  Where would we be?  Often, the thought arises in the publics mind that research is mainly funded by public institutions -- like the National Science foundation or the National Institutes of Health -- the top two in the U.S.  That is not the case every time.

A part of the time, businesses and nonprofits like AutismSpeaks can apply for small grants to fund research which could turn into a profitably venture.  Other times, the money has to emerge from the "private sector" which very well could turn into a government venture (the reverse case).  One hand feeds the other at any given period of time in a general sense.  That is why a person like Bob Wright can make such a large difference.

Here is a video of the progress that "AutismSpeaks" has on their website under the page "10 Years Of Autism: What We've Learned About Autism."

The problem with research into various diseases is the complexity that is involved.  As Bob and Suzanne Wright have learned over the years, diseases are now unfolding as a combination of genes and pathways.  The observation now increases the complexity.  How?  In the past, researchers might alter "one gene" at a time in a "mouse model" and then observe the result in a research environment.  How do you accomplish this if the number of genes is in the tens or hundreds?  How do you tackle such a difficult problem?

Work done by the Simons Foundation that was investigated by Professor Wendy Chung is truth telling of the complexity of searching for the causes of autism.  Her work with screening a few thousand people unveiled numbers that caused researchers to take a step back and consider different approaches toward finding treatments or cures.  The current estimates are that there are 200-400 genes that cause autism.  This is the reason why autism is thought to be a "broad spectrum" disorder.  The range of the disorder is complex as shown in the diagram below:

The realization caused researchers to take a step back and think about an adaptive approach to tackling the issue at hand (the complexity).  Below is a diagram that was proposed by Prof. Wendy Chung's research group -- which was taken from her TED talk in 2014:

I like this slide.  The reductionist approach is easy for a chemist to understand.  Genes sit near the bottom of the hierarchy.  Although, the impact of translating a gene correctly impacts each of the categories above and manifests itself to the disorder that is visible in the child walking around us.  Therefore, the research approach is of significance and I commend Prof. Wendy Chung and non-scientists like Bob and Suzanne Wright for dedicating time and resources to pursue genetic clues.


What else is there to say?  Bob and Suzanne Wright are heroes.  Each of us decides how to form a perception or opinion regarding the class of wealth in which we resides.  Furthermore, each of us can form opinions based on experiences and environmental clues about others in the distribution of wealth (spanning from the 1% through to the 99%).  Each of us has the ability to form whatever opinion we would like.  And each of us can convey that opinion to other family members and friends and colleagues at work.

What type of opinion do you have of your own wealth status?  Are you in "the 1%"?  If so, what is your opinion of "the 1%" label?  Are you in the 99%?  If so, what is your opinion?  Does your opinion involve "resentment" that you do not have a huge amount of wealth?  Are you healthy?  Maybe you have a huge amount of wealth by having a large amount of health (you are healthy)?  As you can see, all the money in the world cannot help if the resources are stacked against you or non-existent.  Awareness is the key.

The next time that you hear about the label "the 1%" think about this post.  Furthermore, what are you doing to raise awareness of the much needed treatment for various diseases?  Or are you sitting around wishing you had more?  What traits do you possess?  Any of those listed above for a successful person?  Remember that success does not always have to involve money or accumulating large amounts of wealth.  Although, in this case, using that success to produce success is an admirable pursuit by Bob and Suzanne Wright.  Think about it.