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SciTech Week #2
February 19th through 26th, 2011
The SciTech group is dedicated to the explication of Science and Technology. We welcome all diaries, essays, and discussions that teach or explain the wonders of the universe. "
OMG, When The Dam Failure Destroys Bakersfield
Wed Feb 23, 2011 at 08:30 AM CST
Our Top Story

Imagine a scene from a movie. Above the little town the dam looms in the pouring rain. Ominous thunder crackles through the clouds and we see waves lapping over the top of the earth structure, more and more water pours overtop the dam. Cut to another shot, some overworked public service employee (who has had his collective bargaining rights removed but stays on the job out of loyalty to the public) speaks into a cell phone “I tell ya Dan, this dam can‘t last! You have to get the governor on the horn and order an evacuation.”

A particularly large flash of lightning illuminates the dam above him, and he see the edifice crumbling and millions of gallons of water starting to pour out toward the unsuspecting town. With his last breath he says “I warned them we had to repair it! I warned them, why wouldn‘t they listen?”

Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Solidarity with Wisconsin edition)
Neon Vincent
Sat Feb 26, 2011 at 11:19 PM CST

Welcome to Science Saturday, where the Overnight News Digest crew informs and entertains you with this week's news about science, space, and the environment.

This week, Science Saturday stands in solidarity with the public employees in the Midwestern states--Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana--where Republican governors and legislatures are trying to take away their rights to collective bargaining by showcasing the scientific research from the major public research universities in those states.

Disease!: An "unprecedented epidemic"
Serpents Choice
Thu Feb 24, 2011 at 10:00 AM CST

A horrible plague sweeps across eastern North America. Few are spared.  Mortality rates are almost incomprehensibly to modern Americans.  50%.  90%.  95%.  100%.  What were once thriving communities are left as little more than collections of the dead.  Recovery -- what they call recovery, anyway -- takes decades, if not longer.  But calling it a recovery rings hollow; things will never be the same.  And for smaller, more vulnerable groups, there can be no recovery at all.

It sounds like something out of an overblown drama.  But in the 16th and 17th centuries (further west, into the 18th), it was the reality of smallpox among Native Americans.  Whole cultures, like the Gaunches of the Canary Islands, were extinguished.  By any metric, the loss is virtually impossible to measure.  It was one of the worst pandemics in human history, rivaled only by the great plagues of European antiquity: the Antonine Plague, the Plague of Justinian, the Black Death.

It is a tragic chapter of human history, and worthy of further examination ... but not here.  Because this diary series isn't about human tragedy.  Eastern North America is again bearing witness to a horrible plague, from the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec, down to the American Upland South -- so far.  As before, the mortality rates are almost so high as to be unbelievable.  90%.  95%.  100%.  Communities of thousands have been wiped out in a single season.  For less populous groups, the specter of complete elimination looms.

But this plague has not become the news story to end all news stories, or an impetus for widespread panic.  It has only barely entered the media's attention at all.  Because this isn't a human pandemic.

It is killing bats.

Afternoon Latte - Smithsonian Ponders Displaying Challenger and Columbia Wreckage
Something the Dog Said
Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 03:22 PM CST

I was not sure how I felt when I read today that the Smithsonian is thinking of displaying wreckage from both the Challenger and Columbia Shuttles. On the one hand theses the artifacts of the deaths of 14 people, on the other they are a significant part of the history of manned space flight. is reporting that the Air and Space Museum is creating a new exhibit called “Moving Beyond Earth” and they intend to deal with the details of the loss of both of the Space Shuttles. For those who might have forgotten, the Challenger was lost on take off when an O-ring on the right side solid booster failed due to low temperatures. This allowed the hot gas to pass through and ruin the structural integrity of the giant external fuel tank. At that point there was a massive explosion and the Orbiter was ripped apart from aerodynamic forces.

Science Tidbits
Mon Feb 21, 2011 at 02:31 PM CST

Once again the time has come to gather around and take a well deserved hiatus from all the politics of the day. Science talk is here. New discoveries, new takes on old knowledge, and other bits of news are all available for the perusing in today's information world. Over the fold are selections from the past week from a few of the many excellent science news sites around the world. Today's tidbits include rising seas will affect major coastal cities by 2100, a new way to estimate global rainfall and track ocean pollution, tick population plummets in the absence of lizard hosts, new material provides greater thermoelectric conversion efficiency, extinction predictor to help protect coral reefs, thawing permafrost will likely accelerate climate change in the future, promiscuity pays in the frog world, and oldest fossils tell story of oxygen in an ancient ocean. Gather yourselves. Pull up that comfy chair and sit by the fire. There is plenty of room for everyone. Get ready for one more session of Dr. Possum's science education and entertainment.

Focus Mental Health: Intermittent Explosive Disorder
Mon Feb 21, 2011 at 12:59 PM CST

This was originally posted on Motley Moose, but I thought I'd try it here to see if it gained wider readership or interest. Mental health issues are extremely important to me because I am in the field, and though this diary may appear apolitical to some, I very much consider dissemination of information about -- and reduction of stigmas associated with -- mental illnesses to be an important political/societal issue.

Below the fold is the diary as it was originally posted elsewhere. The topic is somewhat unusual, but I hope it will be of interest to some.

Pique the Geek 20110220: Phase Transitions
Sun Feb 20, 2011 at 08:01 PM CST

Everyone is familiar with phase transitions even it they are not familiar with the term. Amongst the most familiar is the melting of ice and the boiling of water to form steam.  Technically, these transitions are called fusion and vaporization, respectively.  There are more and we shall discuss some of them later.

All phase transitions are accompanied by changes in the free energy of the substance undergoing the transition, and this free energy has two components, the enthalpy of the transition and the entropy of the transition.  Unless very careful work is being done, the entropy change is often ignored because it, in many cases, is the lesser contributor.  However, it is never zero (except at absolute zero) and sometimes is the dominant factor.

Anthropological Sundays #1: Anthropology?
Sun Feb 20, 2011 at 06:17 PM CST

Ok, I'll go ahead and admit it: anthropologists aren't all that well known these days. Whenever I tell people that I am in grad school studying anthropology, I am often met by somewhat bewildered looks.  Not all the time--sometimes people seem pretty interested and answer "cool," or something like that.  But more people seem to be a little perplexed, and tend to respond with something like, "Anthropology?  Is that the study of dinosaurs?"  Or my favorite: "How are you going to make any money doing that?"  And while those answers can be a bit disconcerting (to say the least), they are actually pretty telling.  Anthropology, when it comes to larger public discussions and debates, tends lead a fairly invisible existence.  Is this because the general public is simply too disinterested in what anthropologists do?  Not really.  Is it because the general public is just a lazy, uneducated bunch?  No, I don't think that's it either.  It's because anthropologists don't publish much of their work in accessible formats.  Most of the really good contemporary anthropology--from cultural to physical--is bound up in academic journals that are by no means geared toward non-academic audiences.  If you read this types of publications, you know what I mean.

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