Tuesday, January 31, 2017

President's Executive Order on Immigration Harms Science Research

Science impacts every aspect of our world.  There is not any part of the world where science plays no part.  When politics interferes with the science world, science is then localized and trivialized to a simple problem that can be solved with a stroke of a pen.  Since science is not localized, but global, executive orders like the recent ban on immigrants entering the United States potentially will harm science.  A recent article in the trade magazine 'Laboratory Equipment' titled "Trump’s Immigration Ban Hurts Research, Science" reminded me of this very crucial fact.  In the paragraphs below, I offer a few thoughts on the matter.

Politics Affects Science

People vote to elect politicians to both houses of congress.  Those elected representatives decide based on their constituents beliefs how to fund science research.  As you will see in a couple of days (next blog post), politicians need to be more educated on the importance of science.  Science is a global operation.  Scientists try to convey the message to Washington on the importance of science and its role in society.  

Last November, I wrote a blog post that had the "20 questions" from the organization "ScienceDebate.org" -- which contained the top 20 questions each candidate should answer regarding the most pressing needs of science.  In a follow up blog post, there were other groups that followed with additional questions regarding science funding.  Of course, this was all before the election.  Since then, a lot has changed in the sense that science funding is completely up in the air.

As I mentioned above in the introduction, a recent article in the trade magazine 'Laboratory Equipment' reminded me of the importance that immigrants play in the role of science research in the United States.  Here is an introduction of the article highlighting the point:

Politics aside, speaking solely in the context of scientific research and innovation, President Trump’s recent Executive Order to ban citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, including green card holders*, is harmful to America’s research, development and innovation pipeline.

Today’s research is inherently global. Scientists collaborate with foreign researchers for a multitude of reasons, whether it’s because their foreign counterpart is a leader in a specific area of interest, or because the foreign researcher is the perfect complement to the intended research. Either way, a foreign collaborator’s contributions to the research cannot be understated.

International travel is also a major component of modern research. Not only are scientists expected to travel abroad for conferences; they also often have to travel to fulfill their job and research requirements.

For example, hundreds of U.S. scientists flocked to Sierra Leone and other West African countries during the Ebola outbreak of 2014/2015. If the current Executive Order was enacted then, any U.S. researcher that traveled to help stop the deadly virus—but was born in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya or Yemen—would have been denied reentry into the U.S., despite their visa category.

International and national meetings are extremely important.  Networking in person is critical.  Recently, at a science fair, those skills kicked in with other science judges and proved extremely useful.   I wrote about that experience in a recent blog.  Without those interactions, science is left to be communicated through the digital and print landscape.  Journal articles are a great way to disseminate scientific results.  Although, there are a tremendous amount of details (experimental methods, obstacles, lessons, etc.) regarding experiments which are never transmitted in the journal article, but available through 'person-to-person' interaction.  Need I say more?

Communicating science at meetings is crucial to forwarding science research and funding.  Collaborations are made which can last a lifetime.   On the same plane of importance, accepting international graduate students into our graduate programs is critical toward advancing science around the world.  International graduate students either stay after obtaining their degrees or leave to return to their country of origin.  Either way, science is influenced in an unspeakable way for the benefit of man and the world.  I wrote a blog about this highlighting the importance of international graduate students making American scientists stronger

The author highlighted this in an excerpt shown below:

“Immigration strengthens the fabric of this nation and our University. Immigrants spark innovation, launch new businesses, and enrich our culture and arts. They are a precious national resource and invaluable to Penn,” she said.

As of this writing, 50 Nobel Laureates have signed a petition and open letter opposing the Executive Order. The Laureates are joined by 443 members of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Arts; 82 winners of Fields/Dirac/Clark/Turing/Poincare Medals, Breakthrough Prize, Pulitzer Prize and/or MacArthur Fellowship; 14,800 U.S. academic faculty members; and over 18,000 academic supporters.

Enhancing our culture and arts is just a couple of many aspects in which are lives are improved.  Scientists take an executive order very seriously.  Especially, since the executive order can have such a drastic impact on all of academic progress -- not just science.  The group of academic supporters have signed a petition which is shown below from the website "NoToimmigrationBan.com":

President Donald Trump has signed an Executive Order (EO) proposing a 90-day suspension of visas and other immigration benefits to all nationals of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Libya and Somalia. The unrealistic conditions required for discontinuing the suspension make it very likely that this EO will turn into a permanent ban. We, the undersigned academics and researchers from a variety of fields of study, backgrounds, and personal convictions, would like to voice our concern and strongly oppose this measure on three grounds:

1.    This Executive Order is discriminatory. The EO unfairly targets a large group of immigrants and non-immigrants on the basis of their countries of origin, all of which are nations with a majority Muslim population. This is a major step towards implementing the stringent racial and religious profiling promised on the campaign trail. The United States is a democratic nation, and ethnic and religious profiling are in stark contrast to the values and principles we hold.

2.    This Executive Order is detrimental to the national interests of the United States. The EO significantly damages American leadership in higher education and research. US research institutes host a significant number of researchers from the nations subjected to the upcoming restrictions. From Iran alone, more than 3000 students have received PhDs from American universities in the past 3 years. The proposed EO limits collaborations with researchers from these nations by restricting entry of these researchers to the US and can potentially lead to departure of many talented individuals who are current and future researchers and entrepreneurs in the US. We strongly believe the immediate and long term consequences of this EO do not serve our national interests.

3.    This Executive Order imposes undue burden on members of our community. The people whose status in the United States would be reconsidered under this EO are our students, friends, colleagues, and members of our communities. The implementation of this EO will necessarily tear families apart by restricting entry for family members who live outside of the US and limiting the ability to travel for those who reside and work in the US. These restrictions would be applied to nearly all individuals from these countries, regardless of their immigration status or any other circumstances. This measure is fatally disruptive to the lives of these immigrants, their families, and the communities of which they form an integral part. It is inhumane, ineffective, and un-American.

These bans, as proposed, have consequences that reach beyond the scope of national security. The unethical and discriminatory treatment of law-abiding, hard-working, and well-integrated immigrants fundamentally contravenes the founding principles of the United States.

We strongly denounce this ban and urge the President to reconsider going forward with this Executive Order.

The above letter is an example of what academics can do when 'academic freedom' is under fire.


The above letter is a sign that adverse effects come with restricting science.  Please cut and past the letter above and send an e-mail to the following e-mail address with the following instructions:

To add your name, please send an email to [send AT NoToImmigrationBan DOT com] from your academic email.
The subject of your email must be one line: name, award/distinction, title, affiliation
(e.g. John Doe, Nobel Laureate (Physics 1999), Professor, Harvard University)

Thank you for your support.  You are part of making the world a better place by ensuring that science is a global effort.  Science needs to be elevated.  I have written about the fact that science usually ends up buried on the back of the newspaper.  Science should be front and center.  If the public were aware that their tax-payer money is what drives research into creating new treatments for diseases, space flight to the outer limits of our understanding, along with building new technologies at the limits of detection (nanoscale) -- maybe they would feel differently about learning and motivating science research.  At the very least, this executive order has brought out the scientific community to rise up and shout to the world that an injustice is occurring.

Until next time, Have a great day!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Can 11 Trillion Gallons Of Water Fill 14,000 Dallas Cowboys Stadiums?

Over the last few weeks here in California, there has been an unusual amount of rain dropped on the region.  Despite this large volume of water (which I will write about in a week or two), the state of California remains in need of a substantial (enormous) amount of water to get out of the drought.  According to a news article from "CNN" titled "Northern California drenched, but state's drought far from over" the total rainfall needed to relieve the state from the long drought is around 11 trillion gallons of water.  Show below are three slides (screen shots) from the video embedded in the article that highlight the massive amount of water needed:

According to their estimates, the enormous volume of water equates to the following volume:

Filled 14,000 times:

I could not get this out of my mind for obvious reasons.  At the time of the article, I was busy with work and could not take the time out to verify the claim.  The time has come to verify the claim by the news agency "CNN".  In the paragraphs below, I will show you (the reader) how to work out the math to verify the claim -- that 11 trillion gallons of water equals the volume required to fill the Dallas Cowboys Stadium 14,000 times.

Dallas Cowboys Stadium Volume?

Last week, I was at a science fair as a judge.  I wrote about this wonderful experience.  As I mentioned in that post, one of the best parts of the experience is to discuss various ideas with other judges and teachers.  I was throwing out the statistic of 11 trillion gallons being able to fill the Dallas Cowboys Stadium 11,000 times to an elementary school teacher.

At first, she was confused as to how I would find the volume of the stadium.  I said the process is quite easy.  Just ask Google the following question:

How much space is inside the Dallas Cowboys Stadium?

Here is the image of the response that I see shown below:

Either source has the appropriate amount of information to determine the volume of the Dallas Cowboys Stadium.  Although, a search through each article will reveal that the site "TwistedSifter" has the volume stated as equal to 104 million cubic feet.  That is easy right?

Next, with  the volume of the Dallas Cowboys Stadium known, the units in which the values are expressed need to be the same before dividing them by each other.  As the parameters that are given stand at the moment, the following are true: A) The total water needed to relieve the drought is 11 trillion "gallons" and B) the interior space of the Dallas Cowboys Stadium is equivalent to 104 million "cubic feet."   Not the same units.

Either, the total volume of water expressed in units of "gallons" needs to be converted to units of 'cubic feet' or the opposite before we can proceed with the calculation.  For the purposes of this blog, lets go with converting the value of the volume of the Dallas Cowboys Stadium from units of 'cubic feet' to units of 'gallons' as shown below:

Now we have the interior volume of the Stadium in units of gallons rather than units of cubic feet.  Which is to say, 104 million cubic feet of interior space is equivalent to 778 million gallons of space.

The calculation is straightforward from here.  The two volumes needed to divided over to yield the number of Dallas Cowboys Stadium could be filled with 11 trillion gallons -- supposedly 14,000.

According to our calculation, the answer is that 11 trillion gallons of water would fill 14,139 Dallas Cowboys Stadium.  That is not the same as 14,000 Dallas Cowboy Stadiums.  Inspecting this answer led me to ask the following questions:

1) Why were the initial calculations off by the volume equivalent to 139 Stadiums?

2) What is the difference in volume between 14,000 Stadiums and 14,139 Stadiums?

To answer the above question the following calculation is performed as shown below:

The results of the calculation revealed that to ignore the 139 Stadiums is to ignore 108 billion gallons of water!


The results of the calculations revealed that there was a difference between what was reported and the actual value.  In the video cited produced by the news agency 'CNN' stated that 11 trillion gallons would be equal to filling up the Dallas Cowboys Stadium 14,000 times.  The results obtained above show that actually the number of Stadiums which could be filled is closer to 14,139 times.  Further, that the difference is equal to 108 billion gallons of rain.  Although, to be fair, the methodology of the news agency employees who calculated the statistic is not known.  Which raises the following questions:

Maybe the employees at 'CNN' used a slightly different volume?

Maybe the employees at 'CNN' decided to 'round off' to the nearest thousand and neglect 108 billion gallons of water?

Regardless, as I have shown you in the above paragraphs, arriving at an answer that is close to or more approximate to the reported value is possible.  You can do this yourself.  The information is freely available as I showed.  I encourage you to practice by yourself. Additionally, if you find an interesting statistic that you would like me to repeat, then place a note in the 'comment' section below.

Until next time, Have a great day!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

STEM Outreach Is Useful For All Participants!

Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to participate in a science fair at a local elementary school as a judge.  I participated last year and had a wonderful time.  Additionally, I wrote about the fact that the projects presented at the science fair should be age (and grade) appropriate.  Here is the blog post regarding the continuing need in science fairs.  With the digital age of technology emerging at a rapid pace, the ability to present a science project is easier than ever and make the presentation look professional.  Still, when you are a judge at a science fair judging 3rd grade posters, the level of detail should not exceed the grade or skill level.  At the same time, having the family involved in a 3rd grader's science project brings everyone into the project -- which elevates STEM overall -- and that is a good outcome for participant.  Before I dive into the blog post, the following question should be entertained:

What is STEM?

STEM is an acronym which stands for: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).  The combination of the physical and life sciences along with emerging technological fields and the mathematics which solidifies the group as a whole.  The reach of STEM is broad based and cannot be overstated! Currently, there is a need to elevate the amount of students heading into colleges to pursue a career in one of the fields encompassed by STEM initiatives.  Additionally, to protect our environment and the health of our nation (and world), a basic understanding of issues which the basic student or enthusiast can impact with an education or knowledge of the broad areas of STEM is important.  In the paragraphs below, I want to touch on the what I learned from the experience and how useful such outreach is for each participant.

What Is A Science Fair Judge?

A science fair judge is a special person.  No, I am not just saying that because I participated recently as a science fair judge.  The first time that I watched my wife -- Kayla -- who is also a scientist participate as a science judge, I honestly thought the following: "that is so nice of her...but I think that this is a waste of my time -- personally."   Oh, how arrogant I was and ignorant.

In order to participate in certain science fair events, you usually have to take time off of work.  The judging usually occurs during the day time while school is in session.  That in of itself requires a person to think of others and take time out to further a cause that they believe in.  Last year, I was a science fair judge at the same elementary school as this year.  Unfortunately, due to privacy concerns on behalf of the parents and students -- photos were not allowed.  But that won't stop me from conveying the benefits of participating in such an event.

There was a mixture of participants this year which made the event a great time.  The total judging time took around 4 hours.  All together there were 7 judges: a librarian, a chemical engineer (petroleum engineer), a mechanical engineer, 2 biochemists, a computer scientist, 2 chemists, and a science teacher (retired).  Having a diverse crowd made the judging process that much more fun and interesting.  Each of us bring our own opinion and professional background to the judging arena.

Whenever scientists get into the same room, the feeling is probably similar to a group of medical doctors.  Without the humongous ego though.  Scientists are skeptical along with traditionally being results/data driven.  This carries over to the critique of 3rd grader science projects as you can imagine.  Each of us have our own idea as to the level of greatness a given project has attained.

I was surprised to learn so much from other judges at the contest.   Surprised because sometimes such events are usually judged by scientists who are judging posters at the speed of light to get done and go home.  Taking your time and giving each project a level of respect is important.  Treating the posters like you would a 'grant application' or a paper submission to a funding source is important.

Teasing out the level of participation of the student and the family members is difficult to do in some situations.  A science fair project should fit the skill level of the participants.  Although, this year, I was talking to the science teacher (retired) and she had an interesting impact on me on multiple levels.  Why?

First, when the rules were being set before the judging session started, we were told to look at the folders out in front of the posters.  One of the qualifications was the bibliography.  Specifically, each students should cite at least ONE BOOK each.  School administrators were tired of seeing "online" references to websites such as "YouTube" on a given project.  Although, the generation participating in the science fair contest is growing up in a digital age.  Which means this requirement is rather outdated.

These students are growing up in a digital age.  Finding resources now requires engaging in an online search.  Rather than restrict the students to a local library which might or might not have the proper resources, the online world is sufficient for the emerging student of today -- being raised in the digital world.  This year differed greatly in comparison to last year in that we were able to interview the 3rd graders at their poster.  When asked: "where did you come up with this wonderful idea?" The common answer was: "From watching videos on YouTube".  A few years ago, I watched a "YouTube" video on how to change a Honda Civic car window motor and was thankful to have my window working a short while after the tutorial.  Therefore, how can we fault these children for searching online.

During my discussion with the retired teacher, she completely agreed that referencing a source from online is the new trend.  That is not to say books are no valuable.  An online search can reveal a rare book which might be out of print or completely hard to get your hands on a physical copy of.  The process of searching online for a reference and learning is a take home message that both of us agreed upon that outweighed the source of the information (online vs. library).  I enjoy spending time at the library on the campus (university) where I work.  But I can find a large amount of information on my laptop in my office too.  Each has their strong points.

Understanding the rules by which to judge the science posters is a process in of itself -- since we have 9 minds from different backgrounds coming together.  Nonetheless, the process is completely informative.  Ideas which you might not have thought of arise from others which are mind boggling to you.  At least, that has been my experience both years so far.  I will talk more about learned ideas in the next section.  The point is that simply participating with other judges presents the opportunity to talk and form rules and point out strong points (and weak points) about a given project -- which teach each of us about our respective professional work and opinions.

Not to diverge too much.  The chemical engineer was a retired petroleum engineer who lives in Porter Ranch in the San Fernando Valley.  The same Porter Ranch which was all over the news due to the exorbitant methane gas leak out of the Aliso Canyon Gas facility last year.  I was asking him about his position from being a resident which was completely fascinating.  He did not smell the gas too much.  Although his wife complained about the smell constantly.  He did mention that the industry was very much aware of the regulations and was rather 'complacent' instead of being 'proactive' in making changes which would have increased the safety of the site.

I mentioned that I wrote a blog post last year regarding the massive size of the well.  Further, a follow up blog discussed the misleading amount that was stored under ground.  He said that what surprised him most about the leak was that each gas well was supposed to have a "shutoff control valve" at the surface and at the bottom of the well in the event of a massive leak.  Had the leaking well had the "shutoff control valve" at the base (bottom of the pipe exiting the well), the leak could have been stopped instantly.  What a disaster?  What a complacent mistake in judgement?  But the 'bottom line' (profits) of the corporation is more important than safety.

This was one of a number of good conversations that might not normally be possible had we not decided to come and participate in this shared interest.  Elevating science in elementary school is extremely important.

3rd Grade Science Projects?

When I first showed up to judge, I was told that we would be judging 3rd grade science fair projects.  At first, I thought, when I was in 3rd grade, I was not interested in science and I loved just playing around on the playground.  Science was not my priority.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that the students of today differ greatly from myself and have a joy of science -- even at this young age.  Additionally, each has a seriousness about their projects which matched their enthusiasm.

Last year, the winner of the science fair was a young man who studied the composition of soil.  He took a large amount of time to write up his results and draw out his poster.  I wrote a blog regarding the event.  In that blog post, I discussed that science fair projects need to fit the age of the child engaging in the project.  Age-appropriate projects are important for the student to learn how to proceed with the project from the start to finish.  That means coming up with the idea to the execution of the project.  Obviously, the parent will have to help to a large extent with the execution of the project.  But the idea should still come from the student.

Although, I will touch on in a moment an argument raised by a retired elementary science teacher which caused me to pause and think twice about the strict requirement of age-appropriate projects.

What does a science project that is not age appropriate look like?

This year, an example of a science fair project from the fair that I participated at was a study of the 'drag' or 'turbulent' air coming off of a race car (indy 500 car).  Great idea.  But I am not sure that a student in the 3rd grade would have come up with that on her/his own.  Maybe by watching a race or two, a question would arise as to the reason for the giant fin on the rear of the car by the child.  I am skeptical that the student decided to study 'turbulent' behavior with a fan and a wing.  Furthermore, the graphics were great in the illustrations and I would be challenged to duplicate them myself.  This is an example of a project that is not age appropriate.

Another example would be of a project which makes use of an 'oscilloscope' to measure frequency and bandwidth of an incoming electrical signal.  A 3rd grade science project?  Really?  And in the students notebook, the analysis of the incoming signal was expressed by using calculus and functions typically used in signal analysis.  I was very skeptical of this project along with the previous project.

In both cases, the parents professional life might have heavily influenced the choice of a project to pursue.  Great ideas for a college student or a graduating senior in high school.  But out of the league for a 3rd grader.

How do you tease out the amount of participation of the 3rd grade student in his/her project?

Last year, the students were unaccessible to answer questions regarding their projects.  This raised the level of skepticism among the more advanced science projects (not age-appropriate).  The director of the program decided this year to have the students come in and be interviewed by the judges.  This provided the student with the opportunity to share their part of the project with the judges.

Having the students participate and explain their work gave them a sense of accomplishment.  I am not sure that I would have been able to do what these students did at the same age many years ago.  As I mentioned, I was more interested in playing.  The interviewing sessions turned out to be of great importance for the judges.  Additionally, giving the students a 'voice' is the first step toward producing a great science communicator for the future.

What is an example of an age-appropriate science project?

A good example of an age-appropriate science project this year was the study of bacteria (or germs).  I interviewed a student who chose to look at the effect of washing your hands versus the amount of germs present.  What?  The student chose to vary the amount of time spent on washing his hands versus the amount of residual germs that were present.

The student did a total of 3 experiments, one each day.  He would wash his hands for three different time intervals: 10 seconds, 20 seconds, and 60 seconds.  After each washing, he would swab (take a sample) from his hand and put the swab into a petri dish (a small cylindrical plastic dish).  Instead of growing the bacteria at a faster speed by using an incubator, he used the natural sunlight as a heat source.  An incubator is a container that provides a controlled environment to grow cells (source: Wikipedia):

In biology, an incubator is a device used to grow and maintain microbiological cultures or cell cultures. The incubator maintains optimal temperature, humidity and other conditions such as the carbon dioxide (CO2) and oxygen content of the atmosphere inside. Incubators are essential for a lot of experimental work in cell biology, microbiology and molecular biology and are used to culture both bacterial as well as eukaryotic cells.

After the bacteria had grown using the natural sunlight, he came up with a counting method to count the colonies that had grown in each dish.  With the numbers of colonies recorded, he plotted them on an excel sheet.  Over the course of the three days, the data was inconsistent.  Two days were exactly the same. Whereas the third day, there was a sudden spike (increase) in germs.

I was able to ask the question regarding the inconsistency of the data over the three day period.  He offered that the day in question could have been a day where more students were sick.  Now, this is a good answer from a 3rd grader.  The project was simple.

Further, the project was innovative since the 'microbiome' is a hot topic in the news along with 'antibiotic resistance.'  The student chose soap that was not 'antibacterial' soap -- to ensure the growth of germs.  Had he used 'antibacterial' soap, the measure of the colonies would have been virtually impossible -- since 'antibacterial' soap completely (or nearly) eliminates germs.   I thought that the student was well versed and chose an attainable science project which required little supplies but answered a very important questions.

I asked the student about the relevancy of his project to the environment of a hospital.  He mentioned that his project supported the reason why doctors have to 'scrub in' before surgery for a long period of time.  Doctors spend a very long time washing their hands before they enter the operating room to ensure that they have eliminated any source of bacterial contamination from their hands and arms.

What are the benefits of any science project 'age-appropriate' or 'not age-appropriate'?

I mentioned above that I learned a lesson from a retired elementary science teacher regarding participation in science projects.  Previously, I was strict regarding the level of difficulty regarding the science project.  If the project is too difficult, then the student does not participate and loses interest.  Basically, the parent is competing in the science fair project not the child.

Although, the teacher I mentioned, taught me that regardless of the science project, if the entire family is participating in a science fair project then more people benefit from engaging in STEM activities.  I had never thought of the process in that light before.  Getting the family involved in the project, means getting more people interested in STEM projects.

The student will have more opportunities to compete in science fair projects as he/she progresses through their education.  But the parents and family might not help out as the student gets older.  Therefore, engaging the entire family is engaging a wider audience to the benefits of participating in science fair projects.  Everyone learns about science.


I have shown that there are numerous benefits to being a science fair judge.  Everyone who participates in the process eventually comes out more educated from the experience.  Having the students participate with interviews greatly enhances their ability to communicate science.  Additionally, experiencing the enthusiasm of the student inspires the judges (at least me) to continue to engage in outreach.  The experience overall was very positive and I plan to continue to help out at as many as I am able to throughout the year.

The diversity of projects inspires scientist like myself who get caught up in projects that are advanced compared to the elementary level.  Science is about curiosity.  Science is about asking questions and seeking answers.  Science is a continuous journey of asking and seeking answers.  Science is about challenging yourself and your understanding of the world around you.  I encourage each of you to participate in a science fair -- either as a judge or a family member with a project.  I am inspired by these young children to do a better job at communicating science.  If they can do it at their age, then I can improve more at my age.

Until next time, Have a great day!!!!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Concept Of Sound Made Simple!

I have said this in the past and I will say it again -- I love simple explanations.  I love searching online for simple explanations of complex phenomena.  In the paragraphs below, I show an example of science made simple from the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science.

Science Communication Made Simple

The actor Alan Alda -- better known for his role of 'hawkeye pierce' (a doctor) in the military show "M.A.S.H.".  He went onto to have a super successful acting career.  While narrating a show about science, he started to think about incorporating 'improv' into science communication.  Out of that original thought process emerged the Alan Alda School for Science Communication.

There are classes and conferences offered on campus along with conference tours (around the U.S.) throughout the year.  In addition, there are challenges that emerge to inspire creativity and simplicity in explaining difficult concepts.  One such concept is 'Sound'.  The challenge is called "The Flame Challenge."  A variety of topics are chosen.  Here is the video for "The Flame Challenge: What Is Sound" below:

Physics Of Sound

The video above describing sound as the movement of pressure waves through air is consistent with the 'Wikipedia' page for "Sound":

In physics, sound is a vibration that propagates as a typically audible mechanical wave of pressure and displacement, through a transmission medium such as air or water. In physiology and psychology, sound is the reception of such waves and their perception by the brain.[1] Humans can hear sound waves with frequencies between about 20 Hz and 20 kHz. Other animals have different hearing ranges.

The physics of sound can be represented as a wave on a string.  The University of Sydney, Australia -- School of Physics hosts a webpage which is filled with examples.  One example is the representation shown below of a wave on a string:

In the illustration above, there are 4 graphical representations of the transmission of sound.  Starting from the top, the simplest representation of sound is a 'sound wave' represented by wave motion induced on a rope.  Starting from the left and working our way to the right, a single complete 'wavelength' is represented by the greek letter 'lambda'.  Waves are the most common representation of sound.  Usually, waves are represented in a pattern of waves shown on an electrical oscilloscope -- which measures wavelength and frequency.

The second illustration down is of 'atoms' or 'molecules' on the x-axis.  At first glance, the spacing is not repetitive and can be misunderstood.  In order to make sense of the spacing of the 'molecules' on the x-axis, we need to look at the graph #3 just underneath #2.  In the 3rd graph, the wave-like pattern is a graph of 'density' of sound distributed over the x-axis to form a 'sound wave'.  At the crest (the highest point) of the wave, the spacing is the smallest and compressed to represent a region of 'high density', whereas the 'trough' or low point is represented by larger spaces between 'molecules' on the x-axis.  This representation is more difficult to understand to most people at first sight.

Although, the common definition in physics of 'sound' is the transmission or propagation of sound through a 'medium' such as air or water.  In order to carry the sound wave through the air, the molecules of air will have to move like those in the 2nd graph above.  In the video above, the author did a wonderful job of representing the transmission of sound through air.  Lets take a look at a few of his slides to drive the point home.

In the first slide below, there are vertical columns of air molecules all lined up:

Notice on the left side of the illustration (along the wall) the word "speaker" is written.  This is to illustrate the point from which the sound wave will be generated -- similar to the speaker in your electronic devices.  At this point, there is no sound wave emerging from the speaker.

The slide below shows the emergence of a sound wave starting from the speaker:

The brown box (or dark orange) shows the emergence of a sound wave by the compression (smaller spacing of air molecules) starting at the left hand side.  As the wave propagates through a medium, the spacing will move from left to right as shown in the next three slides below:

and without the box, the wave continues to move as compressed molecules as shown below:

And ...

By now, the wave has traveled just under half-way across the medium in the illustration above.

The take home message is that sound can move through a medium such as air as a series of 'changes in pressure' as represented in the 4th graph in the first illustration above.  Now that you are educated in the transmission of sound, you can tackle an age old question regarding a tree in the forest.

Tree Falling In The Forest

Whenever science students encounter the section on sound in physics, the inevitable philosophical experiment is brought up.  The philosophical experiment is a test 'of observations and the knowledge of reality.'  According to the 'Wikipedia' page for the philosophical experiment, the question is stated as follows:

"If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"

The earliest mention of the problem was from the philosopher George Berkeley in the excerpt below:

Philosopher George Berkeley, in his work, A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710), proposes, "But, say you, surely there is nothing easier than for me to imagine trees, for instance, in a park [...] and nobody by to perceive them.[1] [...] The objects of sense exist only when they are perceived; the trees therefore are in the garden [...] no longer than while there is somebody by to perceive them."[2] (It is worth noting that the quote from section 45 is arguably a statement of an objection to Berkeley's view, and not a proclamation of it.) Nevertheless, Berkeley never actually wrote about the question.[3]

The question is simple.  Science students love to argue about this.  Of course, if you are not present, then the question really becomes simple if you stick with the rules of sound illustrated in the graphs above.  The statements can be made regarding the tree falling:

1) As the tree falls the sound that is generated is generated as compression of molecules in the medium (air) between the tree and the surrounding area.

2) Noise is perceived by the human ear or a sensor (such as a microphone) which has a moving part that reacts to the compressed molecules transmitting the sound wave propagating through the air.

Returning to the 'Wikipedia' page for the philosophical experiment, an excerpt from the magazine 'Scientific American' elegantly states a solution to the problem shown below:

 The magazine Scientific American corroborated the technical aspect of this question, while leaving out the philosophic side, a year later when they asked the question slightly reworded, "If a tree were to fall on an uninhabited island, would there be any sound?" And gave a more technical answer, "Sound is vibration, transmitted to our senses through the mechanism of the ear, and recognized as sound only at our nerve centers. The falling of the tree or any other disturbance will produce vibration of the air. If there be no ears to hear, there will be no sound."[5]

Therefore, no sensor present (human ear, microphone, sensor) then the tree did not make a 'sound' as we perceive sound.  The pressure wave was generated but no sensor was present to transform that pressure wave into an audible sound!!!


In the paragraphs above, we learned that sound is generated as a change in pressure or density in the air or other medium (water, etc.).  Further, that if there is no sensor or human ear present, then no sound can be heard.  A more difficult problem is when you are standing in a crowd and cannot hear a speaker who is located far ahead (far away) from you.  Why can't you hear them?

The reason is that the amplification of the noise is not strong enough to transmit a wave to where you are standing.  That is why there are speakers lining up along a large crowd.  Noise will die out as the compresseion wave loses energy! When the volume is turned up on a sound system, the noise is amplified further to transmit the wave further.

Alan Alda is delivering a great service for the community along with the Kavli institute to educate the public about science.  Additionally, getting scientists on board with better (and simpler) communication is critical to the transmission of ideas and important concepts that affect science and society.  With videos like the one above produced by enthusiastic scientist, we are closer to educating the public about the importance of science and science communication.

Until next time, Have a great day!!!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A Moth And Donald Trump Share The Same Hair Style?

Looking around ourselves at our environment, one cannot help but be amazed at the diversity that exists in nature.  Yet, endangered species are on the rise over the last few decades.  How do certain species survive and others die out?  A well known theory exists to account for that phenomenon in biology and was discovered by Charles Darwin.  The theory of evolution by natural selection.  A general description of the theory is provided by Prof. Philip McClean of North Dakota State University:

Darwin's Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection. More individuals are produced each generation that can survive. Phenotypic variation exists among individuals and the variation is heritable. Those individuals with heritable traits better suited to the environment will survive.

He also provides a direct quote from Charles Darwin on his site:

Variation is a feature of natural populations and every population produces more progeny than its environment can manage. The consequences of this overproduction is that those individuals with the best genetic fitness for the environment will produce offspring that can more successfully compete in that environment. Thus the subsequent generation will have a higher representation of these offspring and the population will have evolved.

Since over production exists in a given population, only individuals with the best genetic fitness will survive.   After reading the above excerpts, one cannot help but asking the following question regarding "genetic fitness":

What is "genetic fitness"?

In the blog post below (which I promise to be short), I will provide an emerging example of what is "genetic fitness" with examples from the present environment.

Genetic Fitness

I decided to type into a search engine the two words "genetic fitness" and hit enter.  The first entry off of 'Google.com' was the following definition of "Genetic Fitness" from the website 'Dictionary.com':

The reproductive success of a genotype, usually measured as the number of offspring produced by an individual that survive to reproductive age relative to the average for the population. 

If you are unfamiliar with terms commonly used in biology, then you might be wondering what is a "genotype".  A "genotype" is defined on the same website "Dictionary.com" as the following:

1. the genetic makeup of an organism or group of organisms with reference to a single trait, set of traits, or an entire complex of traits.
2. the sum total of genes transmitted from parent to offspring.

The genetic make up of an organism is rather obscure when teasing out the meaning in relation to the above concept of 'natural selection'.  Genes are the code that is read to express proteins and on a higher level organ formation.  Your genetic makeup is the instruction by which you are made.  In your genetic makeup, for example, is coded the color of your hair along with other traits (eye color, ear size, foot size, etc.).  These are unique to your genetic makeup.

In relation to the theory of natural selection, those species with the strongest traits will survive generations.  Another example: if a population is selective to only people with brown hair over the course of generations, then a person with blond hair will not survive in that specific population.

A common example given in biology lectures is that of the 'peppered moth'.  The image below is taken from the website "Mothscount.org" shows two types of moths:

In the image above, one moth is black, whereas the other is peppered black and white.  The historical account during the 'Industrial Age' (in Europe) which ties into natural selection is described below:

Peppered Moths are normally white with black speckles across the wings, giving it its name. This patterning makes it well camouflaged against lichen-covered tree trunks when it rests on them during the day. There is also a naturally occurring genetic mutation which causes some moths to have almost black wings. These black forms (called 'melanic') are not as well camouflaged on the lichen as normal 'peppered' forms and so they are more likely to be eaten by birds and other predators. This means that fewer black forms survive to breed and so they are less common in the population than the paler peppered forms. This is the normal situation observed in the countryside of Britain and Ireland.

Normal and Melanic Peppered Moths (Chris Manley)However, in the nineteenth century it was noticed that in towns and cities it was actually the black form of the moth that was more common than the pale peppered form. Industrialisation and domestic coal fires had caused sooty air pollution which had killed off lichens and blackened urban tree trunks and walls. So now it was the pale form of the moth that was more obvious to predators, while the melanic form was better camouflaged and more likely to survive and produce offspring. As a result, over successive generations, the black moths came to outnumber the pale forms in our towns and cities. Since moths are short-lived, this evolution by natural selection happened quite quickly. For example, the first black Peppered Moth was recorded in Manchester in 1848 and by 1895 98% of Peppered Moths in the city were black.

Clearly, during the Industrial Age, the moth which was covered in soot that resembled a 'black moth' was preferentially chosen by natural selection to survive generations.  Sadly, the peppered moth has been in decline over the last century.  The above example illustrates that during a certain time period, one trait in a moth (color - black) was more 'genetically fit' than the other color pattern (black and white mixed).

Now that we have a grasp on the genetic fitness of a species in relation to the theory of natural selection, lets look at a recent example of a genetic trait which has been successful.  The example is currently of great interest in the popular news.

Current Example of Genetic Fitness

 Recently, scientists have discovered a new moth in Baja, California (USA).  The importance of the moth lies in a trait which might have been selected over the course of generations (who knows?).  An article appeared on the website "LabEquipment.com" titled "Donald Trump Moth Inspired by Yellow Head, Increasing Conservation Awareness" bringing awareness to the original paper which was presented in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."  The work was introduced by the author in the following excerpt:

Donald J. Trump, to be sworn in as the 45th President of the U.S.A. on Friday, is the namesake of a new species of twirler moth found in California and Baja.

Neopalpa donaldtrumpi, stands out for the yellowish-white scales on its head, according to the paper unveiling the new moth in the journal ZooKeys. That coloration was part of the inspiration of linking it to the new American leader.

“The specific epithet is selected because of the resemblance of the scales on the frons (head) of the moth to Mr. Trump’s hairstyle,” the paper posits.

 The author proceeds to tell the significance of the naming of the new species after our new leader (new President):

“By naming this species after the 45th President of the United States, I hope to bring some public attention to, and interest in, the importance of alpha-taxonomy in better understanding the neglected micro-fauna component of North American biodiversity.”

Neopalpa donaldtrumpi was discovered when Nazari “stumbled across” specimens among material stored at the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California Davis. The samples were distinct enough from another species, Neopalpa neonata, even though they share the same habitat, to justify naming the new critter, the author contends.

Ironically, the trait resembles another species with the same dominant trait -- President-elect Donald Trump.  The dominant trait turns out to be his hair style.  President-elect Trump's hair style has been his dominant trait over decades of building his business empire.  And throughout his campaign for office, his hair-style has brought him fame and success -- again a dominant trait which has won him visibility.  Here is a photo of President-elect Trump's hair-style from his 'Twitter' page below:

Now, lets compare that to the photographs provided in the article above shown below:

Source: Vazrick Nazari

If a side by side comparison is needed to drive home the point, I found a photograph in an article on the website "BBC.com" titled "Moth with 'golden flake hairstyle' named after Donald Trump" which is shown below:

Source: Vazrick Nazari/Getty Images

Upon inspection of the above images, the similar traits are pretty clear.  Which leads us to believe that the dominant trait or genetically fit trait of the 'golden flaky hair style' is a trait that might be conserved.  At least for the moth named neopalpa donaldtrumpi -- this seems to be the case.


A short lessen on the theory of natural selection has revealed that dominant traits are good to pass onto successive generations for survival.  In the blog post above, a moth species named neopalpa donaldtrumpi has been found that carries a "genetically fit" trait of "golden flaky hair" similar to our upcoming President (in a couple of days).  We have yet to see how successful the dominant trait is for Donald Trump.   The following questions remain to be answered:

Will the realization of a shared "trait" inspire President-elect to have a new found appreciation for nature?

Will that same realization result in an increase in science funding to study the moth in greater detail?

What broader implications will this naming have on science funding?

Will the trait last?  

Will one of his children take on the successful hairstyle?  

Who knows?

Hopefully, the answers to these questions result in a greater appreciation for the need to study nature.  That will entail more money being devoted toward science research.  With the discovery and naming of the new moth with traits similar to our new leader, this is exciting.  Stay tuned for updates as they arrive in my e-mail box 'hot off the press.'

Until next time, Have a great day!

Monday, January 16, 2017

How Many Bombs Were Dropped Per Hour In Combat In 2016?

As a subscriber to the magazine "Harper's Magazine" I receive e-mails with facts and statistics that are contained or discussed in the current issue.  An example of what I see is shown below:

If you were to zoom in on the second paragraph, the highlighted text would be visible as shown below:

Yep, you read correctly on the order of 3 bombs per hour was dropped in the year 2016 in the combined wars: Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, Syria and Yemen.  If you are the type of reader that I am, then the statistic will stick in your head until reproduced using dimensional analysis.  Maybe you have no interest in doing so?  That is fine too.  If you are interested in reproducing the calculation, keep reading below.

Bombs Per Hour?

The statistic was fascinating to me for a variety of reasons.  I did serve in the U.S. Military and know that in even "peace time" missions, bombs are dropped.  But the main reason why the statistic is interesting is in presentation.  The statistic is suppose to be thought-provoking -- which it is.

How does a person perform such a calculation?

In most cases, when a statistic (or number) is presented with a statement like "bombs dropped per hour over the course of the year," then the total denominator (number divided by) is a year.  Unless otherwise stated (broken down by month, week, hour, etc.).  Therefore, to reproduce the calculation, the following numbers are needed:

1) Total number of bombs dropped over the course of a year

2) The number of days in a year

3) The number of hours in a day

Yes, these are the only numbers needed.  We know that there are 365 days in a given year.  Unless the year is a 'leap year'.  And in a given day, there are 24 hours.  Right?  Since we have all of the numbers according to the image above, the calculation can be shown as a series of divisions which cancel out to result in 'units' of 'bombs per hour' as shown below:

Was that calculation difficult?

When I first confront a statistic like the one above, I look at all of the given (or available) information.  In science, we say "what is given in the problem?" to mean "what parameters are given to find relations to arrive at an answer?"  Pretty straightforward right?   Well, too often students stress about reading a math or science problem.

Conclusion . . .

In the excerpt given above, the Council on Foreign Relations cited the statistic of 3 bombs per hour throughout the entire year.  Based on the wording of the statistic, the year and total number of bombs were given.  Therefore, the average is over the entire year -- unless otherwise stated.

As you can see, the solution is pretty straightforward.  A solution is even easier if you write the math out in a linear fashion -- with units canceling out to arrive at the correct units as shown above.  Find a problem and try to solve it for yourself.  Try it.  If the problem is too difficult to solve, leave the problem in the 'comment section' below.   Now you have seen a solution to a problem, you realize that statistics will have a new meaning.

Until next time, Have a great day!!!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Find A Better Solution Instead Of Searching For A Way To Cheat The System

Working for a university has certainly shed light on the educational process at the post-high school level for me.  What never ceases to amaze me is the choices that students make in their effort toward achieving a good grade in a given class.  Rather than studying and working problems, a certain fraction of students will actually spend a large amount of time trying to figure a way to cheat in the course.  Of course, this does not apply to all students.  This begs the following questions:

1) What happens to these students in life?

2) What type of jobs do they pursue in life?

I will not pretend to have the answer to either.  Can I offer suggestions based on history?  Why not?  In the paragraphs below, I offer a couple of different routes taken by such students.  First, let me say that I do not believe these types of students are not above average students per se.  Alternatively, the students might be a bit misguided in their efforts.  Maybe that is by choice?  If so, that behavior will translate throughout their lives.

Cheating The System

Most of us know that to go down the path of 'cheating the system' is wrong and not stood for by most in the community.  When you look at large companies like Takata airbags or Volkswagen -- which both have been involved in scandals with the automobile, one cannot help what is the root of the problem.

Why do I mention this now?

Recently, I was reading an open letter by the famous activist lawyer Ralph Nader to Attorney General Loretta Lynch titled "Prosecution or Guilty Pleas for Corporate Crime".  The essence of the letter is centered around holding car automobile companies and other large corporate CEO's and upper management held accountable for crimes committed.


Ditlow called the Volkswagen diesel case one of the most egregious corporate crime cases in history.

“This is one of the most egregious corporate crimes I have ever seen,” Mr. Ditlow said. “When the Environmental Protection Agency set tough new standards for diesel engines, Volkswagen quickly discovered that its technology wouldn’t meet the new standards. But, what they did is, instead of sending their engineers to work, designing a new system to clean up the diesel, they sent their engineers to work developing a computer program that would instruct the diesel engine to only work the emission controls during the test procedure. And, when the diesel is out in the real world on the highway, to turn off the emission controls. So, in order to do this you have to have engineers who deliberately programmed into the computer system a cheat device, which would turn off the emission controls. Clear knowledge. Clear intent. And they got caught.”

Ditlow said that “in the U.S. there are nearly 500,000 of these diesels with the cheat devices on them.”

“Across the world there are many millions, as many as 11 million vehicles in every country, polluting the atmosphere, causing adverse health effects. And, one study here in the U.S. said that there be as many as 60 deaths due to this corporate crime by Volkswagen.”

If that was not a corporate crime then I do not know what is.

Takata Air Bag:

On Takata, Mr. Ditlow said this: “Up through the year 2000, almost every airbag inflator made worldwide, including by Takata, used sodium azide as a propellant. Very stable. If it broke down it just simply degraded and there were no adverse effects. If you had to replace it, you had to replace it. But, what Takata did in the beginning of 2001 was to change the propellant to ammonium nitrate, an incredibly powerful explosive. It’s what Terry McVeigh used to bring down the government office building in Oklahoma City. It’s what a lot of terrorists in the Mideast are using in the improvised explosive devises. And so, yet this propellant that Takata used, it was known to degrade, known to explode, they put it into the airbag inflator to save, once again, a few pennies per inflator. And so, they knew immediately, once these inflators were put into production that they were failing, they were exploding, and when they exploded they sent the shrapnel of the housing into the occupant compartment. And, if you’re behind the steering wheel and you had no other choice at that time, you are very likely to be killed or seriously injured.”


In either case, the decision to cheat the system was not made at the engineering level as we have found out as these two scandals have carried out in the popular news.  Ralph Nader includes this fact in his open letter:

“The government in the U.S. the governments throughout Europe and the rest of the world  …  send the responsible executives to jail,” Ditlow said. “This is not something that a rogue engineer did. This is something that management approved, because, you cannot sell a car unless you get it certified by EPA. And, top management always looks at that. Because, if it can’t sell the car, you’re not going to make money. And, the way they made money this time was they cheated.”

These two incidents cause the public to view the corporate world with a large degree of skepticism in their practices.  When the corporations do not have the best interest in mind of  the consumer (as far as safety is concerned), then the confidence in the corporation is lost by the public and the bottom line of the company ultimately suffers.

One Bad Apple Is Unlikely ...

Furthermore, if one corporation has developed this technology to evade emissions testing in the United States, chances are the entire industry has followed suit.  Right about now, you may be thinking the following: "Mike, that is rather presumptuous to say don't you think?"

Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just release a statement accusing Fiat Chrysler of cheating on emissions testing too.  The article appeared in 'The Washington Post' under the title "EPA: Fiat Chrysler software enabled emissions cheating" contained a video shown below which is under 2 minutes in length and worth watching -- as parallels are drawn with Volkswagen.  Here the video below:

Another company cheating the system.  Imagine that?  Whenever I read an article like this on cheating the system, I wonder about the risk management personnel working at these companies.  The risk management employees have appeared over the decades referred to as "Bean Counters."   Bean Counters are defined by Merriam-Webster Online dictionary as:

a person involved in corporate or government financial decisions and especially one reluctant to spend money

The translation is a person who determines how to minimize risk or keep costs down dramatically.  One common calculation carried out over the years by bean counters is to determine the cost of a legal suit versus replacing the faulty part.  Meaning, considering accidents and potential deaths in a legal suit, is it cheaper to keep a faulty part on a car or change the part?  No company likes to admit that such calculations are ever carried out.  But, history shows that such calculations are carried out quite frequently.  Amazing.

Risk management is a field that the average person is not very familiar with.  An introduction to the field of 'risk management' is given below taken from the first two paragraphs of the 'Wikipedia' page:

Risk management is the identification, assessment, and prioritization of risks (defined in ISO 31000 as the effect of uncertainty on objectives) followed by coordinated and economical application of resources to minimize, monitor, and control the probability and/or impact of unfortunate events[1] or to maximize the realization of opportunities. Risk management’s objective is to assure uncertainty does not deflect the endeavor from the business goals.[2]
Risks can come from various sources including uncertainty in financial markets, threats from project failures (at any phase in design, development, production, or sustainment life-cycles), legal liabilities, credit risk, accidents, natural causes and disasters, deliberate attack from an adversary, or events of uncertain or unpredictable root-cause. There are two types of events i.e. negative events can be classified as risks while positive events are classified as opportunities. Several risk management standards have been developed including the Project Management Institute, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, actuarial societies, and ISO standards.[3][4] Methods, definitions and goals vary widely according to whether the risk management method is in the context of project management, security, engineering, industrial processes, financial portfolios, actuarial assessments, or public health and safety.

Is your head spinning after reading that paragraph?

If you are a visual person like myself, then the following example of 'risk management' will solidify the meaning in your mind.  Below is an example of the analysis done for the International Space Station by NASA taken from the 'Wikipedia' page for 'risk management':

Source: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA):NASA Johnson Space CenterOrbital Debris Program Office - Orbital Debris Education Package

Shown above is a model of the International Space Station.  After the risk management team evaluated the structure, the resulting color coded model was generated.  The areas shaded in the color 'violet' are the areas with the lowest probability of impact.  Whereas, the areas shaded with the color 'red' indicate the points on the structure (space station) with the highest probability of impact.  

Models like the one generated by NASA above are generated by various industries for various products.  The decision comes down to changing the 'bottom line' (profit) for safety or absorbing the legal cost at a profit.  Whenever I think about a company caught up in a decision where consumer safety is pitted against profit, I would hope that consumer safety would win out.  Unfortunately, there are examples in history where this was not the case -- too many examples.

Furthermore, when one company engages in risky behavior, chances are others in the industry engage in the same type of fraud.  Again, from 'The Washington Post' article above:

“It is no surprise that the VW investigation has prompted enhanced focus on the automotive industry,” the University of Michigan law professor said. “When corporate misconduct occurs, it often reflects industry practice, not just the wrongdoing of a single company.”

The severe penalties levied against Volkswagen and, in particular, individual employees signals to companies that the Department of Justice intends to pursue and prosecute corporate decision-makers more intently than it has in years past, said Carl W. Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor. Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates released a policy directive in September 2015 that said holding individual executives accountable is “one of the most effective ways to combat corporate misconduct.”

The first paragraph tends to confirm what has been said above.  Whereas the second paragraph tends to give us hope that more prosecutorial scrutiny in the decades to come will help minimize the bad actors (industry fraud).  With the current administration arriving in just over a week of President-elect Donald Trump, lets hope that we proceed forward with more restrictions to safeguard the consumers in our nation rather than turn back the clock.  It is up to each of us as consumers to keep a watch on any industry operating in the U.S. market.


Just like the students that spend more time in and out of class trying to cheat on homework and exams, there will be corporations engaging in the same behavior.  Is this just a human trait?  To take the easy way out?  Turns out that the easy way out is to actually take the route that is truthful.  Be honest with yourself and your work.  Work hard.  Play hard.

With regard to corporate wrong doing, we all have a responsibility to our fellow American to watch out for such abuses and to report them when visible.  No one wins when someone dies as a result of a faulty part.  No one wins when consumers are sickened or injured by a poisoned product.  No one wins when a patient takes a pill (or medication) made with compromised ingredients sourced from unknown sources which leads to mass illness.  Regulatory agencies exist to actually ensure safety in consumer products.

The issue facing the nation at the moment is the lack of funding for such agencies which are greatly understaffed and under resourced.  Corporate entities understand this and have financial backing to send lobbyists to Washington to counter any regulatory proceedings from occurring.  What you and I have in the game is the end product.  Although, we also have a voice.  We have the ability to call our local representative or write a letter like the one above written by Ralph Nader.  Each of us has a responsibility to ensure safety -- keep this in mind.

Until next time, Have a great day!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

How Long Would It Take To Travel Around Earth Going 4 Miles Per Second?

Have you ever wondered how much time you would have to set aside to travel around the Earth while traveling 4 miles per second?

Is this a normal question that everyone asks themselves?

In the paragraphs below, I will entertain the first question while using dimensional analysis to arrive at an answer.  As for the second question, I will shed some light on the matter.

Missile Technology

Over the last few years, North Korea has been testing various stages of nuclear weapons.  The end game would be (supposedly) into a rocket that would fly over the ocean and into the backyard of America.

Is North Korea close to achieving its goal?

You would have to ask the professionals in the field of 'foreign policy' and nuclear analysts about this topic.  At this point, you have probably guessed that the reason I ask the questions above is to get a grasp on the aerial capability and reach of various missile defense systems.  In the current post, I will restrict myself to the 'ground based missile (GMD) systems designed to thwart off an attack by countries like North Korea and Iran.

The question in the title arose out of an article in the 'Los Angeles Times' newspaper titled "The nation’s missile-defense system has serious flaws. So why is the Pentagon moving to expand it?" in which the author discussed the need for tremendous investment into long range missile technology at a very steep cost.  Here is the paragraph that caught my eye:

The interceptors are three-stage rockets, each with a 5-foot-long “kill vehicle” at its tip. In the event of an attack, interceptors would rise from their underground silos and soar toward the upper atmosphere. The kill vehicle is designed to separate from its rocket in space, fly independently at 4 miles per second and crash into an enemy warhead.

Over the course of decades, the US has designed missiles with precision and accuracy that is unparalleled.  Currently, lawmakers are concerned with the cost of the program which is weighed against the early results of the GMD system tests.  The cost of the GMD program (as it is called) is estimated to be $4 billion.

To date, no decision has been made on exactly where the system will be installed.  Regardless, the geographic region in which the system is finally constructed stands to receive a boost to the local economy in the form of jobs and money to the region.   Therefore, the bidding process is a huge deal by politicians on the local and federal level.

The threat level is credible with the recent (as in today's news) article on the website 'CNN' titled "North Korea sends message to Trump amid threat to fire missile 'at any time'" with the following introduction:

North Korea says it could launch an intercontinental ballistic missile "at any time," even as Pyongyang appeared to offer Donald Trump an avenue for future talks.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have risen considerably since leader Kim Jong Un said in his new year's message that the country was close to testing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of delivering a nuclear weapon to the US mainland.
In a statement Sunday, a spokesman from North Korea's foreign minister said "the US is wholly to blame" for the development of its missile program.

According to the news, certain countries like North Korea are moving forward with their missile technology and have the U.S. in their sight as a target.  With the advent of spaceflight over the past few decades by various countries, the following question arises with regard to the development of missiles traveling around Earth:

Why is designing a missile so difficult when rocket technology is developed to send cargo into space?

The answer has primarily to do with the accuracy and target.  Distance is an issue.  First, the missile has to have enough power to reach the target.  Second, the accuracy is critical toward landing in a geographic region.   At first sight, these considerations might seem trivial.  Although, in the next section, designing a missile to counter another missile traveling at speeds of 'miles/seconds' is shown to be quite difficult.

Imagine the on board sensor system alone which must react to the oncoming missile -- in our case to destroy a threat.  The system must react toward any changing flight of the oncoming missile.  This might seem trivial if the target was 'static' -- i.e., not moving.  But at speeds of 4 miles per second, the accuracy is very difficult to achieve.

A Single Lap Around Earth?

After reading this article, I could not get the speed at which the missile will fly out of my head.  In fact, my mind started to wander in search of a "metric" to use to analyze the speed with.   The object that finally resonated with me was the Earth.  At the speed of 4 miles per second, distances have to be fairly large to compare the value to.  Otherwise, the answer might not make very much sense.

With that being said, I decided to go through the dimensional analysis.  Below, I will walk you (the reader) through the calculations necessary to arrive at an answer.  To start with, the circumference of the Earth is needed.  That is the distance to travel around the Earth in a single trip.  If we consult the 'wikipedia' page for Earth, the value of the circumference is stated as: 24,901.461 miles at the equator (the middle).

Next, in order to determine the time that is required to travel that distance, we need an expression for velocity.  Shown below is a simple expression for linear velocity:

Note: in the current calculation, I calculated the time based on an assumption of a linear system -- neglecting gravitational forces along with other considerations.

With the expression for velocity above, there is "delta x" in the numerator and "delta t" in the denominator.  The initial question that was asked was the time that would be required to travel a given distance (around the Earth) at a certain velocity.  Therefore, to solve for time, the above expression for velocity needs to rearranged to solve for time as shown below:

Now, we have an expression that will give the time required if we input the distance and velocity.

To solve the expression above, the distance (circumference of the Earth) is inserted along with the velocity of the traveling object as shown below:

Wow! The result states that if a rocket is traveling around the Earth at 4 miles/second, the ship will take 6,225 seconds to travel around the Earth one time.  For those of us who do not think in 'seconds', how do we reconcile 6,225 seconds?  A unit conversion is required from units of 'seconds' to units of 'hours' as shown below:

The result above makes more sense to the average person's perception of time.  To travel around the Earth in a rocket at a velocity of 4 miles/second, a single trip will take 1.7 hours -- just under 2 hours.

What does the result suggest about the content of the article above -- missile defense?

Can you imagine trying to design a missile to travel at a speed of 4 miles/second?

Further, can you imagine trying to imagine designing that missile to hit a moving 'counter missile' from an enemy?

The logistics and precision behind these missiles is absolutely amazing.  The cost and difficulty matches the challenge.  Having a threat from a country with nuclear missiles is a serious issue if you are on the list of targets.  Therefore, investing in technology is crucial toward countering such a missile that is aimed at our country.

North Korea has had success in testing nuclear weapons last year.  I wrote a blog last year describing the force of such a weapon.  Now, imagine the force contained in a flying missile coming at our country?  Quite difficult, but scary at the same time.  Hopefully, the current technology is available to counter such a threat.


Just imagine if your car or bicycle could travel at 4 miles per second.  You could circle the Earth in just under two hours.  Now that you have the method by which to complete the calculation above, you can choose other distances:

How long would a missile take to reach the U.S. from India?

How long would a missile take to reach the U.S. from North Korea?

You can verify the answers that I calculated:

1) India to United States = 8,431 miles -- therefore, a missile would reach the U.S. in 35 minutes.

2) North Korea to United States = 6,423 miles -- therefore, a missile would reach the U.S. in 27 minutes.

Wow! That is not a lot of time to defend oneself from a nuclear threat.  Precision and dependability are of the up most importance.

In the article above, the estimation of cost to update existing missile system is pegged at $40 billion. Regardless of the avenue ahead, the technology (missiles) that is being developed is now better understood by carrying out the above calculation.  Having a grasp on the difficulties and cost of current technology allows us as citizens of the United States to influence policy making in a more informed manner.