Friday, August 26, 2016

A Perfect Example Of Why Science Outreach Is Critical: Science Needs Simplification!

There are many reasons why science outreach is critical in our world today.  In the past, the importance has been present.  Although, with the explosion of the internet and the devices along with the climate changes that are being seen, science outreach might be at an all time high.  Action needs to be taken with the help of a much-needed educated STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) population rising up through the educational ranks as we speak.  With that in mind, we still have a long way to go.  Below are two examples of why we need to communicate science more effectively.  These two examples have relevance to the spread of the 'Zika' virus occurring in the United States today.

Science Is Not Properly Communicated!

Yes, science is really not properly communicated.  At present, the method of dissemination is either through an academic conference, a poster, a speaking engagement, or through a research article.  Here is an example of an abstract of a research paper taken from Nature Molecular Psychiatry titled "Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder In Adults: A Systematic Review And Meta-Analysis Of Genetic, Pharmacogenetic, and Biochemical Studies" shown below:

The adult form of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder has a prevalence of up to 5% and is the most severe long-term outcome of this common disorder. Family studies in clinical samples as well as twin studies suggest a familial liability and consequently different genes were investigated in association studies. Pharmacotherapy with methylphenidate (MPH) seems to be the first-line treatment of choice in adults with attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) and some studies were conducted on the genes influencing the response to this drug. Finally some peripheral biomarkers were identified in ADHD adult patients. We believe this work is the first systematic review and meta-analysis of candidate gene association studies, pharmacogenetic and biochemical (metabolomics) studies performed in adults with ADHD to identify potential genetic, predictive and peripheral markers linked specifically to ADHD in adults. After screening 5129 records, we selected 87 studies of which 61 were available for candidate gene association studies, 5 for pharmacogenetics and 21 for biochemical studies. Of these, 15 genetic, 2 pharmacogenetic and 6 biochemical studies were included in the meta-analyses. We obtained an association between adult ADHD and the gene BAIAP2 (brain-specific angiogenesis inhibitor 1-associated protein 2), even after Bonferroni correction, with any heterogeneity in effect size and no publication bias. If we did not apply the Bonferroni correction, a trend was found for the carriers allele 9R of dopamine transporter SLC6A3 40 bp variable tandem repeat polymorphism (VNTR) and for 6/6 homozygotes of SLC6A3 30 bp VNTR. Negative results were obtained for the 9-6 haplotype, the dopamine receptor DRD4 48 bp VNTR, and the enzyme COMT SNP rs4680. Concerning pharmacogenetic studies, no association was found for the SLC6A3 40 bp and response to MPH with only two studies selected. For the metabolomics studies, no differences between ADHD adults and controls were found for salivary cortisol, whereas lower serum docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) levels were found in ADHD adults. This last association was significant even after Bonferroni correction and in absence of heterogeneity. Other polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) such as AA (arachidonic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DyLA (dihomogammalinolenic acid) levels were not different between patients and controls. No publication biases were observed for these markers. Genes linked to dopaminergic, serotoninergic and noradrenergic signaling, metabolism (DBH, TPH1, TPH2, DDC, MAOA, MAOB, BCHE and TH), neurodevelopment (BDNF and others), the SNARE system and other forty genes/proteins related to different pathways were not meta-analyzed due to insufficient data. In conclusion, we found that there were not enough genetic, pharmacogenetic and biochemical studies of ADHD in adults and that more investigations are needed. Moreover we confirmed a significant role of BAIAP2 and DHA in the etiology of ADHD exclusively in adults. Future research should be focused on the replication of these findings and to assess their specificity for ADHD.

What was your take on this abstract?  Here is another abstract from the same issue of Nature Molecular Psychiatry titled "Changes For Clozaprine Monitoring In The United States" shown below:

Clozapine is a unique compound that is particularly effective for treatment-resistant schizophrenia (TRS). The use of clozapine is limited, however, due to the 0.8% risk of agranulocytosis,1 which necessitates a strict monitoring of neutrophil counts to detect early neutropenia and prevent progression to agranulocytosis.

First and foremost, I must admit that one of these is an article -- specifically a 'review' while the other is a "news and commentary" -- which means that the formats are quite different.  Still, the abstracts are extremely different.  Why?

What about if I show you an abstract from a different journal?

How about the journal 'Nature Chemical Biology'?

Here is an abstract from an article titled "Progress And Prospects For Small-Molecule Bacterial Imaging" shown below:

Fluorescence microscopy is an essential tool for the exploration of cell growth, division, transcription and translation in eukaryotes and prokaryotes alike. Despite the rapid development of techniques to study bacteria, the size of these organisms (1–10 μm) and their robust and largely impenetrable cell envelope present major challenges in imaging experiments. Fusion-based strategies, such as attachment of the protein of interest to a fluorescent protein or epitope tag, are by far the most common means for examining protein localization and expression in prokaryotes. While valuable, the use of genetically encoded tags can result in mislocalization or altered activity of the desired protein, does not provide a readout of the catalytic state of enzymes and cannot enable visualization of many other important cellular components, such as peptidoglycan, lipids, nucleic acids or glycans. Here, we highlight the use of biomolecule-specific small-molecule probes for imaging in bacteria.

I think that these four abstracts illustrate the point.  Right about now, the reader (you) might be thinking the following regarding the three abstracts above:

What do those abstracts mean?

What science is being done?

Why are the words and sentences so complicated? 

Am I right?  Were you thinking any of the three questions above.  I know that I would be -- especially, if I had very little of a science background to serve as a starting point when reading them.

Science Communication Should Be Simple

In a recent TED talk by Tyler DeWitt titled "Hey Science teachers -- Make It Fun" the problem with communicating science is discussed in a simple and elegant manner.  Tyler is a graduate student at the MIT.

Below are two avenues by which a virus can infect a cell.  Given that the 'Zika' virus is spreading among the United States population, the stories below are completely relevant to current stories in the popular news press.  I paraphrased the speech by Tyler DeWitt and used 'still images' from his TED talk below.

Story #1 goes as follows:

The story starts off with a happy little bacterium who is occupying a medium -- say your stomach.  Over time the bacterium starts to not feel well as depicted in the slide below:

While pondering over the many reasons which might lead to a cause for the feeling, he looks down to notice the culprit -- a virus who is emerging from his body as shown below:

And with time, the situation is getting very worse while the viruses keep poring out from his body as pictured below:

Now there are two different viewpoints to describe the situation that is occurring.  From the standpoint of the bacterium, the situation is worsening exponentially with time hosting an army of viruses.  While, from the viewpoint of the virus, each little virus is thinking the following:

"We rock!"  From the viruses viewpoint, the first virus managed to get into the host and successfully propagate -- evolve.  In order to complete the mission of evolving a number of complex steps had to occur for survival to happen.  Lets review them from the standpoint of the virus.

First, the virus had to slip a copy of its DNA into the bacterium as shown below:

In order for the virus to proceed to copy its DNA, the virus had to destroy the DNA of the bacterium as shown below:

After gaining control of the bacterium by destroying the bacterial DNA, the bacterium will not propagate (copy) only the DNA of the virus.  The bacterium is serving as the host factory producing multiple copies of the virus as shown below:

The bacterium will continue to make copies of the virus since the 'blue print' has been changed from the bacterium's DNA to the viruses DNA.  Manufacturing the virus will not stop until the bacterium bursts due to holding 'too many copies' of the virus as shown below:

The above steps illustrate one avenue by which viruses "infect" bacteria to takeover as a host.

Is there an alternate way for the virus to invade the bacteria and take over to use as a host?

Yes!  There is -- which is outlined below:

The virus starts out as a "secret agent" as shown below:

With the ability to secretly insert its DNA into the DNA of the bacterium as shown.  The insertion process has no damaging effect like the first avenue of replication did in the example above.  The DNA appears to be normal inside the bacterium as shown below:

As mentioned, the secret agent is able to insert his DNA into the bacterium who is unaware of the insertion and lives life normally.  Over time, the bacterium reproduces/replicates itself and makes many copies of the "inserted DNA" which has been silent as shown below:

The silent/inactive inserted DNA is not recognizable to the bacterium until a "signal" is sent among the bacterium and the virus DNA pieces pop out and take control over all of the bacterium -- also shown above.  After the virus DNA has taken over the bacterium, the replication process of the virus occurs as shown below:

The bacterium have been turned into virus making factories.  Extended copies of the virus are produced in each bacterium until the bacterium bursts and releases all of the copies of the viruses as shown below:

And with that, the viruses have won by dominating and replicating through the bacterium.  Shown in the slides (which are still pictures taken from Tyler Dewitt's TED talk) are two different stories.

These two stories represent the two pathways by which a virus can attack cells!!!!

On the left hand-side of the picture above is the first pathway (the lytic pathway) -- where the viruses insert themselves and take control over the cell (bacterium) immediately.  Whereas, in the second pathway (lysogenic pathway), the virus inserts their DNA and that DNA stays dormant until a signal is sent.

Was that hard to explain and comprehend or what?

All science should be that simple - right?

Virtually, everyone who has graduated high school has been exposed to these two pathways in their biology class.  The difference is in the presentation of the material.  First, the presentation that each of us experienced was most likely more serious than the cartoon story above and certainly did not use cartoon characters like those presented above.

Why not?

The field of science suffers from a "seriousness" problem.  Which is to say, scientists, and the way that science is portrayed is too serious.  Science is meant to be fun too.  You can have fun doing science.  I do it every day!

In the next section before concluding, I will tie together the first two sections.  Namely, the seriousness of science -- which is a downfall and -- secondly, the language that is used.  Language seems to be the number one 'turn off' for students entering various fields of science.

Science Should Be Simplified!

Many of scientists that I know believe that making science simple is simply impossible.  Furthermore, the belief is centered around the idea that "dumbing down" science devalues the field.  This belief could not be further from the truth.  Let me explain why with more slides from Tyler DeWitt's TED talk above to illustrate my point.  There is no need to recreate the wheel.

In Tyler's TED talk, the two stories about the two possible avenues by which a virus can infect a cell were told.  And he used cartoons and very creative imagery along with simple words right.  Everything he said was easily digestible -- at least for me.

Textbooks often complicate explanations of science as do professional publications (i.e. journal articles -- as shown above).  Why do these publications use such complicated language to illustrate a point?  Because, that is the way the system is designed to be -- which needs to change.

In the example given in the TED talk above, the simple explanation might be something like:  Viruses make copies of themselves by slipping their DNA into a bacterium.   How would this look in the formal language inside of a textbook?  Here is an example -- a slide from the TED talk above with the informal explanation above and the formal explanation below:

Wow.  The two descriptions above look completely different.  The first (above) is one that I can relate to and would love to read.  Whereas the second (below) is completely a 'turn off' and might very well put me to sleep.  Here is the divergence of the majority of people's attention.  When the practitioners of science transition from the top to the bottom description -- a large percentage of the audience drops off too.

Why does this transition occur in descriptions?

Because, in the simple description, not every word is accurate.  After going through and editing the statement for accuracy -- 100% accuracy, the statement would look like the one shown below with corrections:

And this begs the question of science: can we describe science with slightly inaccurate descriptions?  I would argue that the answer is yes.  Why?  Because, a majority of the undergraduate education uses "toy examples" to illustrate the concepts and theories.  For example, in the undergraduate curriculum students learn about "ideal gases" and the ideal gas law.  The assumption is that gas molecules are "point particles" and do not "interact."  What does this mean?

Throughout the undergraduate degree process -- at least in Chemistry -- students are running calculations using the "ideal gas equation" to arrive at relations between chemical compounds.  Real gases do not behave ideally and computational coefficients are added to equations to take into account the 'non-linear' behavior.  The non-linear behavior arises when gas molecules react with one another or during the collision -- the molecules temporarily "stick together."  These types of properties are extremely complex and cannot be simulated with the limited (and great) computational power that society possesses today.  See?  This is why simplification can work.

Conclusion...Science Should Be Made Simple!

In order to capture the interests of the widest audience for science, the work has to be made simple.  A few professors worry about the simplification process attracting others to science.  Who cares if that happens?  Would we not want the best minds tackling the problems of society?  Yes, we would.  Science is meant to be fun -- not just serious without.

With captivating and creative descriptions by enthusiastic scientists like Tyler DeWitt, we have a great opportunity to engage a wider audience into science.  Although, if other scientists don't sign onto this line of thinking, the new avenue will run dry and we will be stuck with the same old 'broken' method of communicating science.

The world has changed over the decades.  Why shouldn't the communication evolve too to attract the widest array of audience members?  Technology is providing a whole new range of possibilities for the classroom to teach the message of science.  Why would we want to stick with the same broken method that has accomplished enough for the past few decades -- but is currently in need of an overhaul.

One of the overarching goals of this blog is to simplify science for everyone.  If you have an idea that you would like explained on the blog site, please leave a comment.  As you can see by reading the first few abstracts (descriptions of science studies in section one), we have a long way to go.  Lets all band together and demand a change of our system to move toward a more creative and captivating educational system for all disciplines.  Until next time, Have a great day.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Technology Allows Chemists To View Chemical Reactions -- Example: Sodium On Water!

As technology improves, our ability to realize on a deeper and much richer (in detail) scale the beauty of chemical reactions.  This is not to say that we have advanced to the degree to view complicated reactions in detail such that a total explanation is possible.  Rather, the advancement has led to additional questions through viewing reactions in progress.  Here I show as an example, the results of a new study on the reaction of a piece of sodium metal in water.

Sodium In Water = Explosion

Traditionally, students learn in general chemistry that when a piece of sodium metal is placed in a beaker filled with water, the following occurs -- which is shown in the video below from 'YouTube':

There is a whole lot of complex chemistry happening inside the beaker in the video above.  Why?  Because the dynamics of the reaction are shaped by multiple factors: shape of metal, changing surface charge, heat generated, and fluid dynamics -- to name a few.

New Video Of Sodium In Water

Recently, an article appeared on the website "" titled "Tamed Sodium In Water Comes Out Of The Blue" in which a new high speed video recording shows in detail more chemical information about the reaction of sodium in water.  Here is the video below:

In the first video, the description is given by the authors in the current article as the following:

Philip Mason and Pavel Jungwirth of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic in Prague and colleagues in Germany have done just that. They explain that under normal conditions, as soon as sodium touches water, electrons flow rapidly from the alkali metal to the water, forming hydrogen and hydroxide in a strongly exothermic process. In earlier work they showed that the outpouring of electrons leads to an enormous positive charge on the piece of metal, which makes it so electrostatically unstable that metal spikes shoot into the water, raising the surface area of metal in contact with water and accelerating the reaction in a so-called Coloumb explosion.

The chemical reaction which is described in the paragraph above can be written as the following:

In the reaction above, sodium metal (denoted by Na) reacts with water (H20) to form sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and hydrogen gas (H2).  Note: Both "2"'s in the previous sentence should be subscript as shown in the reaction equation above.  After looking at the reaction equation above along with the two videos, the following questions naturally arise:

How is the first video different than the second video?

Is the camera speed different?

How are the thermodynamics of the reaction "controlled"?

Here is the description by the author of the article mentioned above:

The team has now found a way to take control of this instability in a sodium–potassium alloy by adding a small amount of hexanol or by gently placing the alloy drop on water under an argon atmosphere. Held temporarily in this non-exploding state, the team could use a combination of high-speed camera imaging and visible and infrared spectroscopy to observe and characterize the system through each stage of the reaction.

The alloy’s low density and the generation of gas buoys the drop and reduces interactions with water while continuous flushing with argon precluded ignition of the hydrogen. The team were able to observe the characteristic blue color of free electrons in solution – solvated electrons – with the naked eye. The slow motion film reveals that the energy-releasing reaction proceeds steadily, with the metal drop glowing red hot and eventually evaporating. The final product is a perfectly transparent drop of molten hydroxide that is briefly stabilized on the water as a result of the Leidenfrost effect, the same effect that lets water droplets bounce on a hot stove. The hydroxide droplet ends its life by whirling around the vessel for a few seconds and ultimately bursts spectacularly as it cools.

As I mentioned above, there was a whole lot of complex chemistry going on in the beaker above.  To be able to slow the evolution of the hydrogen gas down in order to view (in greater detail) the difference in charges as the electrons go into solution is absolutely amazing.  Mind blowing!

The researchers did a great job of discovering how to slow down the dynamics of the potentially explosive reaction.  By changing the following parameters: drop height, surface reactivity, and fuel consumption rate.  Lets briefly go over the differences of the two videos.

In order to control the dynamics (i.e., control the explosion), the researchers found in the study that the rate of reaction figured in the 'drop height.'  Meaning, if the researchers had just dropped a chunk of metal into the beaker of water, the reaction would have been a much more vigorous reaction (more explosive).  This suggests that the drop height adds an energetic factor to the rate of reaction.

The shape of the metal along with the surface made a contribution to the rate of reaction too.  In the current study, the researchers chose to place a "spherical drop" of liquid alloy (alloy is a mixture of two metals) onto the surface of the water.  Additionally, the surface of the water had a small layer of hexanol to slow the reactivity down further.  This realization is important toward future research on alloys and explosion dynamics.  Furthermore, the placement of the drop along with the hexanol reduced the evolution of hydrogen gas on the surface.

Typically, as seen in video #1, the metal is placed on the surface and the evolution of hydrogen gas acts like an additional fuel to generate either heat or an explosion.  The researchers reduced the evolution of hydrogen gas by blowing 'Argon' gas across the surface.  Argon gas is inert -- meaning -- the gas will not react.  Inert gases are ideal to use when heating or mixing explosive materials in a closed container.  The absence of oxygen reduced the chance of ignition.


The results above show the impressive advance that high speed cameras offer to research chemists.  Furthermore, the ability to study the reaction dynamics in greater detail help researchers explain each step in greater detail than was previously possible.  Just think, 10 years ago, this was not possible to explain due to the inability to capture the video on camera.  Technology is absolutely amazing.

The ability to study controlled explosions offer greater advances in the future of manufacturing munition and fuels.  Anytime that a research scientist has the opportunity to study a reaction in much-much-much greater detail, he/she should take the opportunity to do so.  As we study videos such as those above, we learn how to better understand the reactivity that is occurring inside the beaker.  Explosion dynamics are difficult to study do to the inherent instability of the reactants and the fast pace of the reaction.  Furthermore, there exists a huge safety factor to be concerned with.  Although, having the ability to slow down the reaction by understanding the parameters which give rise to the explosive properties brings us one step closer to understanding explosion chemistry in greater detail.  The results further validate our current understanding of science and help drive us into the future.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

How Does The Weight Of A Floating Oil Rig Compare To The Eiffel Tower?

What is the first idea that forms in your mind after looking at the picture below?

Source: BBC News

The photograph is of an oil rig platform that floated ashore after breaking free from a 'tow boat' off the shore in Scotland last week.  What was the first thought that arrived in your mind after viewing the picture above?  Maybe there was no significant thought.  On the other hand, maybe your mind is racing like mine was with follow up questions:

1) How did that get there?

2) How much fuel is still in there?

3) How much has leaked out?

4) How do you dismantle such a large object?

5) How much does the oil platform weigh?

Over the course of a week (and many news cycles), four of the five questions have partial answers.  The remaining question is #4 -- how is an oil rig like the drifted oil rig mentioned above properly get dismantled by crews -- in a safe manner?  In order to understand the process of dismantling a gigantic structure (like an oil rig), we must understand the dimensions of such a structure.  Furthermore, in order to understand the dimensions of an oil rig, a metric needs to be used to compare to oil rig platform to.

How Much Does An Oil Rig Platform Weigh?

If you have been following recent news feeds, there have been various articles detailing the enormous structure that happened to float ashore.  Here are a couple still frames of tweets shown below:

In the two pictures above, the size of the gigantic oil rig platform is placed into perspective by the ocean at one side of the oil rig.  On the other side is the hillside.  This blog post is not about the size and scale of nature (the ocean and hillside -- maybe later).  Returning to the oil rig platform that looks small from afar, here is a video (less than 2 minutes) to shed light on the enormous size of the rig.  The video shown below is from an 'ABC News' article titled "Massive Oil Rig Washes Ashore in Remote Scotland":

The video above shows an enormous oil rig floating.  If you stare closely at the video, the gigantic structure slowly floats displaying the force of the waves pushing the structure in toward the shore.  Stop and think for a moment of how powerful the waves must be to push a structure which weighs 17,000-tons into the shore (Source: 'The Sun' news).  In order to drive home the point that the oil rig which washed into the shore, here are two more pictures shown below taken from the BBC article:


In the three images above, a human body is shown in each to illustrate the scale.  The first time that I saw these pictures, I sat and just thought about the dimensions of the platform.  Oil rigs are and asymmetrical shape and should not be towed.  New pictures emerge daily from different visual perspectives that amaze me continuously.  An example is shown below from "BBC":

Now that the gigantic oil rig platform has been put into perspective.  

How do we start to understand the dismantling process of such a structure?

From a perspective of the weight of an object, the oil rig platform weighs around 17,000 tons.  In order to understand such a structure, we need a metric.  By metric, I mean an object which to compare the structure to with an equivalent weight or an integer value of the weight.

What structure would suffice to use as a metric?

To determine that, first, lets look at the shape of the oil rig.  The "Transocean Winner" is defined as a "sub-submersible" oil platform as shown below in the image taken from the "Wikipedia" page for 'Oil Platform':

Source: By Office of Ocean Exploration and ResearchNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

The "Transocean Winner" oil rig is categorized as number 7 or 8 in the image above.  In order to find a structure to compare the oil rig to as a metric, we should look for a "tower" of some sort.  Do you know of one to compare the oil rig to?  If so, write in the comments section and I will write a update post with the appropriate calculation.

How about the Eiffel Tower in France?  

Eiffel Tower vs. Transocean Winner?

In order to compare the two enormous objects, the weights of the two need to be known.  The Eiffel Tower is shown in an image below take from the 'Wikipedia' page:

Source: Benh LIEU SONG

The Eiffel Tower is enormous.  Built for the world fair as a monument for France, the tower is a popular tourist attraction with a visitation center and a restaurant.  Furthermore, the structure is made of metal and can serve as an appropriate metric to compare the weight of an oil rig platform.  We need a weight for the Eiffel Tower.  Lets ask as shown below:

The weight of the Eiffel Tower is 7,300 tons.  At first sight of the value, I was a little surprised to find out that the weight of the oil rig platform (which was reported to be 17,000 tons) was greater than the Eiffel Tower.  Since the weights are both expressed in units of 'tons' a direct comparison (division) is possible as shown below:

What does the result mean?  The result of the calculation above means that the oil rig floating off of the shore in Scotland weighs just under 3 times the weight of the Eiffel Tower.  Therefore, just under 3 Eiffel Towers would be required to match the weight of an oil rig -- like the "Transocean Winner" in the pictures above.  Amazing.

Although, when you stop to think about the function of each object, the difference in weight makes sense.

What is the difference in function of the two enormous objects?

The Eiffel Tower serves as a tourist attraction.  Not to say that the structure is static.  The weather surrounding the structure with height varies tremendously.  In order for the Tower to withstand forces of nature, the structure needed to be designed accordingly.  For the design of the Eiffel Tower, I defer the reader to the "Wikipedia" page.

As far as the oil rig is concerned, the function is to serve as a platform for drilling oil far beneath the ocean surface.  How far you might ask?  For this class of oil rigs, the distance is typically around 200 to 10,000 feet.  WOW!  

You can imagine that the oil rig design needs to be able to withstand the weathering due to the moisture (salt concentration) around the rig.  Additionally, the ocean is not static.  The ocean is not forgiving either and exerts a tremendous force in all directions with time.  Varying based on weather patterns -- which also contributes to the huge weight difference.  An additional function is to temporarily store oil in the rig.  

Where is the oil stored?  

Maybe in a future post, I will answer that in more detail.

How Much Oil Was Stored In The Oil Rig?

After hearing about the accidental occurrence of the oil rig floating ashore, naturally, one might wonder whether there was any residual oil stored in the rig that leaked out into the environment.  In order to answer that question, we can look to the news site "BBC" for an answer:

Last week it emerged that the two other tanks had been breached during the grounding and more than 12,000 gallons (56,000 litres) of diesel oil lost.
Eight experts scaled the rig at Dalmore beach on Lewis with ropes on Sunday and were able to check the two other tanks.
Six more workers are due to join them later this week.
Efforts are to be made to pump the diesel oil still in the hull, 137 tonnes, to other tanks above the waterline.

The total amount leaked thus far has been around 12,000-gallons -- which is small by comparison to other blog posts regarding oil spills on this site.  None the less, any oil spill is too much to have enter the environment and damage the surrounding beaches or marine life.  Too many accidents like these are occurring as a result of "offshore drilling" and need more regulatory oversight.

In the excerpt above, the remaining oil in the 'hull' is around 137 tons.

How many gallons is contained in 137 tons of oil?

To answer the question, a conversion factor needs to be known.  The density needs to be known which is a conversion factor from weight to a given volume.  A relation of weight and volume of a substance is given by its density.  For oil, which is a complex mixture of hydrocarbons of various chain lengths, the density can be approximated.

If is consulted, the results are listed below:

For the purpose of approximation, we can use the value of 900 kg/m^3 for the density of crude oil.  That is the value for the density is 900 kilograms per cubic meter.  If the value for the weight of the oil above is inspected, the weight is expressed in units of "tons."  In order to calculate a volume in cubic meters, a conversion from units of "tons" to "kilograms" is needed which can be obtained from  For each ton, there are 907.185 kilograms.

With the conversion factor from units of 'tons' to units of 'kilograms' in hand, the amount of gallons can be calculated as follows:


According to the result, there are 34,480 gallons in 137 tons of crude oil.  That is just over 3 times the amount of crude oil that has already leaked out of the oil rig platform according to the news account above.  Amazing.


Given the results of the calculations above, the length of time needed to dismantle the oil rig that washed ashore last week.  Looking at the Eiffel Tower in a picture gives me a new respect for the manufacturers of the "Transocean Winner" oil rigs.  In the coming weeks, the dismantling process will be fascinating to watch.  Hopefully, the news will show the various stages and continue to report about the process.  Even though the dismantling process might not be "hot news" -- covering the process is crucial to show the public another perspective of the oil drilling industry.

Until next time, have a great day!

Monday, August 15, 2016

How Much Rainfall Has Dropped On Louisiana?

In certain parts of the state of Louisiana, there have been reports of up to 30 inches of rainfall.  Here is a still photo taken from a broadcast on the website '' shown below:

In the picture above, the heaviest hit city is Watson with 31.39 inches of rain while the least hit city is still covered in 18.14 inches of rain.  Quite a distribution of volume over a large region.  Couple the distribution of rainfall shown above to the video taken from the news website 'NBC' titled "Louisiana Flood Displaces Thousands" shown below (less than a minute in length):

How do viewers process the destruction that is caused by such heavy rainfall?

Below are a few calculations to determine the extent of volume of rainfall hit in certain parts of Louisiana.  By understanding the magnitude of rainfall in certain regions, a perspective can be drawn to understand the tragic amount of rain that has hit the state and displaced thousands of residents.

How Large Is Livingston Parish Louisiana?

Recently, an enormous amount of rainfall has fallen in various parts of the world in the last month.  On this blog site, I have covered a few with calculations to provide a perspective: China, Mexico, Macedonia, and Elliot City (Maryland, USA).  Along the same line of reasoning, the amount of water should be determined that fell on the geographic region -- Livingston Parish, Louisiana.  With a volume of rainfall calculated, a direct comparison with other storms could be possible.

Here is a picture from the 'Twitter' account of the news site ''Los Angeles Times" shown below:

7000 people displaced?  Oh my goodness.  The amount of water must be significant.  In order to calculate the volume of water, the dimensions of the geographic region of Livingston must be determined.  Following along the same methodology of past posts on this site, let's ask  Here is the results shown below:

How about square feet?

Just by inspection of the magnitude of square feet -- 19.6 billion square feet -- immediately, you can reason that this storm is going to be large in comparison to previous storms mentioned.  Not to mention the video shown above.  With the area of Livingston expressed in square feet, the volume of rainfall can be calculated according to the expression shown below:

But wait, the reported amount of rain in Livingston was 21 inches of rain.  How many feet is that?  Just divide 21 inches/(12 inches/ft) = 1.75 ft.  With the height now expressed in feet = 1.75 ft, the volume can be calculated as follows:

Wow!  34.3 billion cubic feet of water?  No wonder the news accounts show cars floating down the streets in certain parts of the state.  As usual, the number becomes a reality when expressed as a integer of a metric.  Based on the past blog posts written about floods along with the enormity of the number above, the Mercedez Benz Superdome should suffice as a metric.

How Many Superdomes Could Be Filled With Rainfall?

The Superdome is shown below:

Source: Nwill21

How many Superdomes could be filled with 34.3 billion cubic feet of water?

In order to directly compare the volume of the Superdome to the volume of rainfall, the Superdome volume needs to be known.  The volume taken from the 'Wikipedia' site is listed at 37 million cubic feet of interior volume.  Now, that we have two numbers expressed in the same units (cubic feet), a simple division of the two numbers will yield the number of Superdomes which could be filled as shown below:

Oh my.  The results of the calculations indicate that the total number of Superdomes which could be filled with the volume of rainfall = 34.3 billion cubic feet would be 274 Superdomes.  Naturally, the number is large with such a enormous value of cubic feet of rain.  In case you (the reader) view large volumes in units of gallons with a better perspective, the conversion of units from 'cubic feet' to 'gallons' is shown below:

The total number of gallons of rainfall in the region of Livingston Parish over the course of a few days is equivalent to 256 billion gallons.  Amazing.  Again, how much water is in the sky?  Looking at this large number, a person has to view the atmosphere above them in a different light.  How much more water is in the air in 'humid' conditions?

To put the volume of rain into perspective, a direct comparison can be made with other storms.  Here are the following storms with the number of Superdomes in parentheses: China (4,640), Huauchinango Mexico (6.7), Macedonia(82), and Elliot City-Maryland-USA(56).


Looking at volume alone for the storm that has hit Louisiana is astonishing.  Next, directly comparing the number of Superdomes which could be filled provides a perspective of volume that is still difficult to grasp.  I have trouble visualizing 274 Superdomes.  Although, casting the volume in comparison to other recent storms helps slightly.  That, of course, is a relative comparison.

Forecasting the amount of rain is a relative number too.  But through the calculations shown above, the reader can gain a better perspective to match to the tragedy that is shown in the video above.  It is difficult to imagine a car floating down the street or a boat rescuing people from their houses.  Although, when you think of the volume of 274 Superdomes releasing all of the water contained in them and spreading that water over the area, the pictures from news accounts a cast into a perspective.  Until next time, have a great day!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Can One Community Organization Change Regional Transportation Habits?

Can one organization make a large dent in the regional transportation habits?  I believe the answer is yes.  By serving as role models and inspiring other community groups to promote change.  Do you believe me?  Awesome, I would not expect you to do so.  I would expect you to consider the facts and then see what progress has been made, then judge for yourself.  Are we good to go now?  No? Oh, the organization's name might be of use since I am asking you to answer a question that involves understanding the organizations mission.  The organization in question (by the reader -- not the author) is that of Los Angeles Rooted Youth Organizers.  Read on below to find out more.

LA Rooted Bicycle Camping Trip!

A few weeks ago, I got a chance to help educate a youth group from the organization Los Angeles Rooted about riding the Metrolink train with a bicycle.  The mission of the trip was to have the youth bring their bicycles on the Metrolink train in route on their bicycle camping trip to Castaic Lake.  Here are two pictures below:

Picture on board the Metrolin train (rail car filled):

Group photo opportunity after riding the train before parting ways.

At this point, you might be wondering how the relationship between Bikecar101 and Los Angeles Rooted began and ended up here.  To begin with, a brief background into the mission of Los Angeles Rooted might set the stage for the story.  Lets take a look at their website.

Los Angeles Rooted?

I first met the educators of LA Rooted on the Metrolink train just over a year ago.  I was headed back to Glendale from LA Union Station on a Friday afternoon.  Previously, I had attended a "RUN" conference -- Rail User's Network -- which was extremely informative.  While attempting to board the train with my bicycle, I found that each car was filled with bicycles.  This was pre-half-bikecar era (last year) and I was amazed.  At the same time, I was happy to see that the rail cars were filled.

I managed to squeeze on (standing room only) to the last rail car.  A fellow bicycle commuter/adventurer came up and attempted to make room to the existing stacked bicycles.  I could see that there really was no room available.  All of the bicycles were outfitted with camping gear.  I was taken back and amazed -- at the same time inspired.  The bicycle adventurer was none other than Johanna Iraheta of Los Angeles Rooted.

Johanna explained that the group of bicycle campers that were traveling together planned a weekend away in Ventura.  How cool is that I thought?  I explained that this was motivation to have a dedicated bicycle car on each train and pointed out to the parked "bikecar" across the way at LA Union Station.

I thought to myself after getting home, I need to look this organization up.  We have common interests.  Here is what I found on the mission statement on the website -- which was super cool and inspirational:

LA Rooted’s is based on education rooted in ancestral wisdom and environmental stewardship, community advocacy, self care and food justice.

Our educational theory strives toward a positive coexistence between humans and nature. Based on developing and nurturing non-exploitative relationships, LA Rooted aims to challenge social and personal activities that conflict with harmonious relationships with nature, others and ourselves.

The message above immediately resonated with the beliefs and motivations of the members of Bikecar101.  As highlighted above, the motivation is to teach sustainable and healthy living: living a healthy life (cultivating wellness among each member of the community -- building up to the world), taking care of the environment (reclaiming grey water, promoting green chemistry, and reducing each person's carbon footprint - to name a few).  The result is a better world community living in a better (more sustainable) environment.

LA Rooted was founded by three educators -- Johanna, Rio, and Brenda.  These three educators are super motivational and inspirational.  The "focus" above is expanded upon while scrolling down the page on their site to include the exact strategy of educating the community in sustainable and healthy living all around.  I would strongly suggest to check out the website which is full of content -- great examples of educating the public to be better stewards of the environment and the community around them.

Part of the education extends into sustainable transportation.  During the summer Youth Organizer Training program, the educators encourage using bicycling to travel around on the adventurers planned to educate the summer volunteers.  Here is where Bikecar101 was fortunate to get involved.

As I mentioned above, one of the outdoor activities that LA Rooted planned on making a reality was to take a group of students on an adventure (a bicycle camping) that involved bicycle as an active mode of transportation.  We were fortunate enough to be able to take part in the transportation portion of the adventure.

How did we take part in a portion of their adventure?

How did our contribution line up with the focus of LA Rooted's Organization?

Bikecar101 has a "3T" program which is as follows: 1) we pay for the tickets for a group of bicycle riders (1-15 riders) on the Metrolink train, 2) each rider will receive a "Bikecar101" t-shirt for free, and 3) a photograph is taken while on the train and off the train with bicycles.  It is that simple.  Our mission is to advocate for and educate the public about bringing bicycles on board all trains (Metrolink and Metro) in Southern California.

The opportunity was great and was aligned with the focus of the organization (LA Rooted).  We are greatly appreciative of having the opportunity to have spread the word about our mission.  Additionally, last winter, Kayla and I took our first bicycle camping trip which was motivated by LA Rooted.  Remember when I mentioned that I met the educators on the train on their camping trip?  That served as a motivational example of the geographical possibilities with a bicycle and a train.  Here is a picture of our first camping trip last winter with a bicycle and train component on Metrolink shown below:

Thank you LA Rooted for the motivation to go on the trip!  This is a direct example of regional influence of their inspirational actions leading others to change too.

The educators of LA Rooted are extremely motivated to educate the community around them to live in a healthy and environmentally friendly manner.  This includes using active modes of transportation.  On the trip shown above in the pictures, there were 21 participants in total.  Imagine if each of those 21 participants spoke about their adventure to around 50 people each.  That would reach into a 1,000 people who got to hear about using public transportation with a bicycle.


I think you get the message.  With the coordinated efforts of wonderful organizations such as LA Rooted, Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, Streetsblog, and other community organizations training riders to use active modes of transportation, a definite change will emerge over time.  Each community has to do their own work to inspire those around them to change.  Furthermore, communities should come together and discuss challenges, strengths, and weaknesses that each have.  Through the exchange of ideas, the region as a whole becomes stronger in advocating and educating the all age groups to engage in active modes of transportation.

The story that I told of the camping trip above along with the educational experience that Bikecar101 had with LA Rooted shows how change can occur across a regional area.  Johanna, Rio, and Brenda motivated Kayla and I to go on a bicycle camping trip.  Additionally, seeing other bicycle adventurers and bicycle commuters pushed us into forming the nonprofit organization Bikecar101.

In closing, at the end of the summer, LA Rooted had an "Art Exhibit" with the theme: "Movement for the Earth" -- which displayed the many activities that the Youth Organizers accomplished over the summer in order to advocate for the Earth.  Here are a few pictures from that event shown below.  We look forward to continuing to work with LA Rooted to promote community change which will translate into regional change!

"Food Corner"

Bicycle "Wheel of Fortune":

Self-Care Station: Mindfulness and Meditation!

Wonderful Food & Awards Ceremony:

The End!