Tag Archives: Science

Plutonium and an Announcement

Plutonium is element 94 and as such it has 94 protons in its nucleus. There are twenty known isotopes of plutonium with half-lifes ranging from 14 years (Pu-241) to 80 million years (Pu-244); there are no stable isotopes of plutonium, so it is only found naturally in trace amounts and most plutonium in use was created by human activity. The most obvious use of plutonium is in nuclear weapons, and the production of Pu-239 has made it the most abundant of the plutonium isotopes. The atomic bomb “Fat Man”, which was dropped on Nagasaki in 1945 used 6.2kg of plutonium, and 1-4kg of plutonium is considered to be all that is needed to build a well-designed nuclear device. Nuclear fuel is also a viable use of plutonium, the space probes Cassini, Voyager and New Horizons all use a plutonium, probably Pu-238, fuel source. Finally, if you ever have the opportunity to eat plutonium, don’t. Particulate plutonium can enter the lungs, where it decays and could cause radiation poisoning or cancer. Besides, plutonium tastes like metal.

Now, I’m off school for the next couple of months, so expect more Apocrypha. I don’t plan on setting up a formal schedule right now, but perhaps in the future I will. Anyway, have a great summer (or winter for you southern hemisphere people)

-kogan56

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Filed under Meta, Physics, Science

Sildenafil

Sildenafil (other uncommon names: 1-[4-ethoxy-3-(6,7-dihydro-1-methyl-7-oxo-3-propyl-1H-pyrazolo[4,3-d]pyrimidin-5-yl)phenylsulfonyl]-4-methylpiperazine, or C22H30N6O4S) is a common prescription drug originally synthesized by a group at the Pfizer’s facility in Sandwich, Kent, UK for use as a hypertension and heart disease drug, however, clinical trials found little impact on heart disease. It does however work well for treatment of a specific type of hypertension called pulmonary hypertension as well as altitude sickness, which may be experienced by mountain climbers and pilots, and another disorder. Some rare but serious side effects of sildenafil include stroke, heart attack, hypotension, and sudden hearing loss. Although illegal to use without a prescription, there is recreational use of sildenafil which is not diminished by the drug’s brand name and notoriety. Finally, the 2007 Ig Nobel Prize (not to be confused with the Nobel Prize) in Aviation went to an Argentinian team who discovered that sildenafil positively impacted how quickly hamsters recover from jet lag. Bonus points if you can guess the brand name of sildenafil (no cheating).

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Filed under Biology, Medicine, Science

Nature’s Bad@$$es: The Pen-Tailed Treeshrew

I’m changing the “Historical Bad@$$” series to the “Bad@$$es” category, which will also include different species of animals.

Like many treeshrews, the pen-tailed treeshrew has a high brain-to-body mass ratio, but unlike other treeshrews, it is nocturnal. Also, its diet consists mainly of alcohol. The pen-tailed treeshrew spends several hours each night drinking fermented nectar from the bertam palm tree equivalent to 10-12 wine glasses of 3.8% alcohol. The pen-tailed treeshrew does not get intoxicated, despite alcohol levels that would affect humans, because they make extensive use of an alcohol metabolism pathway not highly used in humans.

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Filed under Bad@$$es, Biology, Science

Historical Bad@$$: Nikola Tesla

Yes, Tesla. The Serbian-American inventor who worked for Thomas Edison, who was obsessed with the number 3 and died broke trying to tend for an imaginary pigeon that shot lasers from its eyes (the term laser hadn’t been invented yet though). He has an SI unit named after him (the tesla, represented by the symbol T, is a measure of the strength of a magnetic field), and his inventions include no less than:

  • Alternating Current (AC, still in use today)
  • The light bulb (namely the fluorescent lamp, still in use today) and neon lighting
  • Radio (Tesla let Marconi, the person credited with radio, use 17 of his, Tesla’s, patents)
  • Radio (invented 18 years before the person credited with its invention)
  • X-ray photography (Tesla x-rayed his own hand as a test, and he knew of the dangerous effects of x-rays)
  • The remote control
  • The electric motor
  • Wireless communications

He also:

  • Had the first hydroelectric plant at Niagara Falls built
  • Experimented in cryogenics
  • Held patents for the predecessors of transistors (used in computers)
  • Sent the first radio transmissions into space
  • Determined the resonant frequency of the Earth
  • Almost destroyed a New York suburb using a resonance machine (also known as an earthquake machine)
  • Reproduced ball lightning in his laboratory (a feat not attained since)

Finally, Wardenclyffe.

Remember the Niagara Falls hydroelectric plant? Yeah, that was built to help provide cheap electricity to the Wardenclyffe Laboratory which would, get this, electrify the Earths atmosphere, providing free electricity to everyone. Unfortunately, the Wardenclyffe tower, from which electricity would be broadcasted, was destroyed in 1917. In October 2012 a crowd-funded project collected $1.37 million, plus a $850,000 grant from the state of New York, to build a museum to Nikola Tesla on the old Wardenclyffe grounds.

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Filed under Historical Bad@$$, Science

From the Archives: Historical Bad@$$es: The Moonwalkers (August 25)

In memoriam of the first moonwalker, Neil Armstrong, today’s fun fact is about the moonwalkers:

Nine manned missions to the moon have taken place since 1968 when the Apollo 8 mission was launched, and all have been undertaken by the United

States. Of those missions (Apollo 8, 10-17), six (Apollo 11, 12, 14-17) landed on the moon. The following is the list of people who have been to the moon (meaning they have at least been in orbit around the moon), in order of date orbited, then rank for mission. Those marked with an asterisk (*) walked on the moon during the indicated mission, those marked with a caret (^) are appearing on the list for a second time.
Apollo 8: Commander Frank Borman II
Command Module Pilot James Lovell Jr.
Lunar Module Pilot William Anders
Apollo 9: Commander James McDivitt
Command Module Pilot David Scott
Lunar Module Pilot Russell “Rusty” Schweickart
Apollo 10: Commander Thomas Stafford
Command Module Pilot John Young
Lunar Module Pilot Eugene Cernan
Apollo 11: Commander Neil Armstrong*
Command Module Pilot Michael Collins
Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr.*
Apollo 12: Commander Charles “Pete” Conrad Jr.*
Command Module Pilot Richard Gordon Jr.
Lunar Module Pilot Alan Bean*
Apollo 13: Commander James Lovell Jr.^
Command Module Pilot Thomas Mattingly II
Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise Jr.
Apollo 14: Commander Alan Shepard Jr.*
Command Module Pilot Stuart Roosa
Lunar Module Pilot Edgar Mitchell*
Apollo 15: Commander David Scott*
Command Module Pilot Alfred Worden
Lunar Module Pilot James Irwin*
Apollo 16: Commander John Young^*
Command Module Pilot Thomas Mattingly II
Lunar Module Pilot Charles Duke Jr.*
Apollo 17: Commander Eugene Cernan^*
Command Module Pilot Ronald Evans
Lunar Module Pilot Harrison Schmitt*

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Filed under From the Archives, Historical Bad@$$, History, Science, Space

Cherenkov Radiation (or the Photonic Boom)

I’m assuming many of you will know what a sonic boom is, if you travel fast enough through a medium sound waves will compress in front of you and produce a sonic boom. Of course, this only happens if you are traveling at greater than the speed of sound in a given medium. Cherenkov Radiation can be described as the light equivalent of the sonic boom. So here’s (a simplified version of) what happens. Nothing can travel at speeds greater than c, the speed of light in a vacuum, but light in a medium will travel slower than c and in that sense a particle could travel faster than light through that medium, and when a charged particle travels through a medium at a speed greater than light travels through that medium it excites nearby molecules, which in turn emit light. Doing this requires lots of energy, which is why it’s commonly seen in the cooling tanks of nuclear reactors.

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Filed under Physics, Science

Lengthy Post: Races, Historical and Modern

Race, a controversial topic, has been the reason for hate crime, genocide, discrimination, disenfranchisement and other atrocities. But what is race really? Race appears to be a human method for classifying other groups of humans, distinguishing “us” from “them”. Most determinants of race are outward physical traits, namely facial features, build and skin color. The last feature, skin color, is a prominent distinguishing feature of the races, which have been separated in color groups. Historically, the Caucasian peoples have been associated with white, East Asian peoples with yellow, North African, Middle Eastern and South Asian peoples with brown, Sub-Saharan and Australian Aboriginal peoples with black and Amerindian peoples with red. Still another racial definition is based on ancestral homelands. Caucasian people from Europe, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and Central and South Asia, Negroid people (these are historical terms, you can expect racism) from Sub-Saharan Africa and Australia, Mongoloid people from East, South East, North, and Central Asia, the Americas, the Arctic and some Pacific islands. Recent genetic research has uncovered some evidence of separate races, but based on adaptations to a homeland while retaining inter-race breeding capability (every different race is still part of the same species). A 1994 study set up 9 potential races: African, New Guinean & Australian, Pacific Islander, Southeast Asian, Amerindian, Arctic Northeast Asian, Northeast Asian, European Caucasoid and Non-European Caucasoid. Racial studies continue to be controversial, but perhaps through studying race we might learn it doesn’t exist.

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