Thoughts #8 – On NASA’s Exoplanet Discovery ‘Beyond Our Solar System’

I heard the news that NASA was going to announce a breakthrough discovery a couple of days ago and as an astrophysics enthusiast, I was extremely excited.

Today, 22nd February 2017, NASA announces the discovery of seven new exoplanets orbiting a star – Trappist-1 only 40 light years away. Not only is this a record on its own, the content of the discovery is as or more so intriguing. Yes, we are talking about these as planets that could potentially support life. Each and every one of them are rocky resembling the inner four planets within our solar system – Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, and all have been claimed to have the possibility of supporting liquid water on their surfaces. The discovery is not only astonishing in this essence but also of the fact that Trappist-1 is rather small and dim allowing them to be temperate, thus perhaps be home to life.

Even though only three out of seven of the planets lie within the ‘Goldilocks Zone’ of the star system, this discovery opens up more pathways for interstellar exploration into these worlds, enables further research on their atmospheres and gives us a fairly good chance of looking for clues about life out with Earth.

Till next time,

Susan

 

 

Exciting enzymes?

So…I haven’t written a sole biology blog post in such a long time so I thought I would share some of the knowledge covered in class, more specifically on exciting enzymes.


Enzymes are biological catalysts made by living organisms which speed up chemical reactions. Each cell in our bodies is like a factory, constantly using up raw materials to turn them into useful products and also resulting in waste products. These reactions are usually slow if unaided by either heat or enzymes. This can be annoying in everyday life, for example, delayed respiration rates which rely heavily on enzymes. The food we eat in turn become the energy we use (vastly simplified). Continue reading

On Alcohols – Some High School level Chemistry

Alcohols are organic chemical compounds that consist of a hydroxyl group (-OH) attached to one or more carbon atoms within an alkane structure. Alcohols are a homologous series and have the general formula of CnH2n+1OH.

Examples of common alcohols include:

 

The OH attached within the alcohols result in higher melting and boiling points than expected for a compound of similar molecular mass. The hydroxyl group is a form of hydrogen bonding which is the strongest intermolecular force and gives rise to their stronger structure. This strong molecular structure takes more energy to break than the ones in compounds that are held together by London Dispersion Forces (weakest intermolecular force) or Permanent Dipole-Permanent Dipole attractions. Continue reading

Thoughts #7 -Shakespeare’s portrayal of gender inequality

This post is for the females in this world. I have long heard the stories of girls who were told to stay at home because the best ‘job’ they could ever have was being a housewife. Another told me that her own gran cut off all relations with her as she proceeded to university to achieve her own dreams and ambition. Apparently, this meant there were no school fees left for her younger brother. As much as this is discussed in our daily lives, this is an issue which is prevalent all throughout history. A prime example can be found back in one of the Shakespeare’s work. Continue reading

Dark Matter #1: Galactic Rotation Curves

After the death of pioneering astronomer Vera Rubin, I suspect many more people have become intrigued by the term Dark Matter. Something else that often accompanies this term is Dark Energy. Both probably sound like mysterious or perhaps evil forces of nature to an ordinary person – at least I thought so, but then I learned Dark simply implied that it doesn’t interact with light.

A friend’s sister, a frequent reader of Passion for STEM and also a physics lover herself suggested that I write something on dark matter. At first, I thought this may be a difficult task (and I still do) because of the amount of uncertainty regarding what it actually is within the scientific community.

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Everything we know that exists: us, all living things, all nonliving things, all the stars, galaxies, asteroids and cosmic dust collectively gather under one title – Baryonic Matter, and it accounts for less than 5% of the known Universe. The rest of the Universe under current calculation predictions is dark matter and dark energy, making up roughly 25% and 70% of the stuff in the Universe. This is rather overwhelming as what we know and experience is only less than a tiny fraction of reality. Since dark matter cannot be observed because it doesn’t interact with light, or as we say the electromagnetic force, there is no direct way of detecting it so how do physicists know that so much of the Universe’s mass is dark matter and not just ordinary matter like dust? Continue reading

Plastic Surgery…in the war

This week I have received some exciting news. No, I didn’t win the lottery, if that’s what you’re thinking. Or discovered a cure for cancer. I received a letter from a certain university which more or less confirmed my research placement for the summer of 2k17. However it’s is on the condition that I am accepted through the Nuffield summer placement. Without exaggeration, I opened the acceptance email and I gave myself a high five (sad, I know).
The short email was formal of course but I would like to summarise it to a brief ‘you go girl!’. This was I had waited for, my chance to discover a side of medical research, which is fundamental to medical discoveries. I will be undertaking a 4-6 week journey through the world of research based around infection, immune system and inflammation, so I decided it was appropriate to write this post surrounding this matter. So without further ado, let’s get started.

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Discussing Time Travel

dfhshrshtsrLast post I did a short guide on Special Relativity and I briefly mentioned time dilation which touches on the concept of Time Travel. Time Travel, like Parallel Universes or Teleportation is something that at a glance seems improbable, “beyond the boundary of physics” and just a complete work of science fiction, but interestingly enough all three of these areas are studied in-depth within the field of physics.

Einstein thought about space as a piece of fabric and essentially called it the fabric of space-time. We can think about time as a dimension, like length and width and height, there is a temporal dimension. Time travel is simply our progression through this dimension and we are all time travelling at this very moment because we are experiencing the passing of time. Time travelling to the future is a crucial everyday task, and it happens more naturally than people may acknowledge.

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Stem, Stem and STEM

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Stem cells, and nope I don’t mean the acronym for science, technology, engineering and math which this blog is focused on. (hint hint – self-promotion, there are also many other interesting posts which Susan and I have written). I mean the unspecialised cells which have the ability to cure currently untreatable diseases. In plants, these cells are known as meristems, usually found in the root and shoot tips. In our bodies there are two types of stem cells. Continue reading

The Basics of Special Relativity

Albert Einstein is probably the most popular scientific figurehead in modern culture with his iconic messy hair and white lab coat. His image has been deemed by many people to be the stereotypical scientist. He is one of the favourite picks by young children to dress up for Halloween and his name is also a synonym of words such as “genius”. Additionally the very recent announcement of the detection of gravitational waves once again awakened people’s admiration for , however despite his immense popularity, most of the public have no idea what pioneering contributions he had made in the field of physics. Einstein’s breakthrough came from his work on Gravitation through his developments of two successful theories: Special and General theory of Relativity, with General Relativity becoming one of the two great pillars of modern physics, the other being Quantum Theory. In this post I will attempt to cover the basic concepts of Special Relativity.

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Frack on, or frack off?

Image result for fracking process
Diagrammatic representation of the hazardous process

Profits, prices and power has become the priority for most of us, to the extent that we have depleted the natural resources made available to us with no regard for our future generations. Such is the case in “hydraulic fracturing” which has become polarised in recent years; however few people are aware of the process involved. Some have enforced that fracking is a revolutionary way to extract “cleaner” energy such as shale gas. Shale produces even more green house gas emission more than coal and other conventional fossil fuels during combustion. While others believe it is the solution for oil dependency and therefore lower oil prices. Put simply fracking is process to extract fossil fuels, similar to offshore oil rigs. What distinguishes fracking from other methods is the location. Most of us imagine the heavy industrial machinery to be to be planted in the most remote parts of the earth but fracking offers direct access to shale gas in the comfort of your back garden. And it is not only our lush gardens that are under threat, national parks and “protected” heritage sites are also in danger of ceasing to exist. With this ever-increasing threat to private property, can we continue to observe from the side-lines any longer? Fracking Countries strive to become independent oil producers whilst firms create a monopoly of fuel provider in hopes of lowering oil prices for consumers.I will explore the ways that the disadvantages of fracking heavily outweigh the advantages.

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