Sunday, December 11, 2016

Friday, December 9, 2016

Whoa, Fractals!

A section of a Mandelbrot Set
Fractals are sets of information that exhibit self-similar patterns at many scales. They've become rather famous because they can be expressed as beautiful geometric designs which are quite appealing to explore.

With our current era of digital video and graphic design, there's a lot that can be done with fractal visuals these days. I've recently been following artist Julius Horsthuis who renders some gorgeous fractal visualizations. Here's one of them, called Fractalicious 4:  

If you enjoyed the video, then definitely jump over to Horsthuis' website and watch some of the others there. There's definitely some awesome stuff that can be done with fractal designs.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Leland Melvin's Space Love Story

Leland Melvin is a NASA astronaut and one of those people who loves to give back through education and outreach just as much as living on the edge of exploration and research. In this episode of Space Love Story from The Planetary Society, Melvin shares his "ah ha" moment from when he was in space:

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Drunk History of the Discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation

Justin Long and Jason Ritter as Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson in the Drunk History episode "New Jersey"  

Drunk History is an absolutely hilarious show. Each episode features three pieces of historical account, all related by some theme or location, and all acted out by a mix of fantastic actors and comedians. The best part: the historical accounts are delivered by people who are ridiculously drunk, and the actors who portray historical figures all lip sync with the spoken words of the drunk story tellers. It's an incredibly fun way to learn about history!

One of my favorite pieces so far from Drunk History was when Jenny Slate tells the story of the discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson in 1964. The parts of Penzias and Wilson are played by Justin Long and Jason Ritter, respectively. This discovery, which showed that there is a remnant thermal radiation throughout the universe which derived from a time not too long after the Big Bang, when protons and electrons where combining to form atoms of hydrogen. This radiation, now often referred to as Cosmic Microwave Background, or CMB, was an important piece to our understanding of modern cosmology and the history of the known universe. 

Definitely check out the Drunk History piece on this discovery. It's called A Sound in Space:

Not only is it informative (though not totally correct), but Jenny Slate is absolutely awesome in this episode.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy the Pumpkin Pi

For those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope it's a very merry day for you (and that you get to eat some pumpkin pie!). Everyone else, I hope your year's harvests have been grand. Be they in foods that you worked through the year to cultivate, or maybe if your harvest this year comes in a bounty of happiness, health, and life, I hope you have some time to reflect on what life has provided for you and what you've managed to provide for yourself and others. Cheers all! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A "Space Love Story" with Nichelle Nichols

Nichelle Nichols, the famed actress and singer who played the first incarnation of Uhura in Star Trek (and also, famously, was one of the first people to play a black female character who was not a servant or slave on American television), has been a longtime supporter of space science and space exploration. 

In the video below, as part of the Planetary Society's series "Space Love Stories", Nichols talks about when she fell in love with space and why she supports the Planetary Society. Check it out:

Friday, November 11, 2016

Narcissi by Anatomy of the Sacred

Digging this tune. "Narcissi" by Anatomy of the Sacred has an ethereal background with a powerful guitar rhythm and strong vocals. Definitely fits in with Anatomy of the Sacred's description of themselves from their website:

Female-fronted symphonic metal duo Anatomy of the Sacred makes elegant, soulful music ablaze with powerhouse vocals, orchestral melodies and radiant harmonies draped over driving and resounding rhythms. Skilled songwriters, composers and artists Brenda Michelle Robinson (vocals) and Shane Krout (bass, guitar, vocals) experiment with opulent textures and unleash lyrics that float atop a sophisticated, intricately-woven tapestry overflowing with plush layers of electric guitar and bass... 

I also love the video. Two versions of what may be one woman, maybe out of place in time, maybe out of place in other ways, and the Magician. Definitely watch it and see what you think. However, I have to admit, one reason I love it is because my sister plays the Young Magician's Assistant. Check it out:

Saturday, November 5, 2016

"Hallelujah" cover by Pentatonix is incredible!

Leonard Cohen's song "Hallelujah" is lyrically deep and moving and has been covered many times. The Jeff Buckley version of the song is easily my favorite. However, I just heard the cover of this great song by Pentatonix and knew I had to share it. The video is chilling, with the singers standing in a desert landscape, as they melodiously belt out Cohen's words. If you like "Hallelujah", then you'll probably like this video:

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Jamie Dupuis' Cover of Comfortably Numb on the Harp Guitar is Exactly What You Need to Listen to Right Now

Okay cosmobiologists, music lovers, chilled souls, and all around fun-lovers... Check this out. 

The harp guitar is a fantastic instrument, especially in the hands of someone as skilled as Jamie Dupuis. In this cover, Dupuis takes on Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb and it is absolutely beautiful. Get your minds ready to hear something incredible!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Carbonate Rhombohedra and Arctic Sulfur

Here's a beautiful image that I took of one of my samples from Borup Fiord Pass. As I write up my dissertation, I'm going back through all of the data and trying to synthesize everything into one report. This image won't be used in my dissertation, but it's still pretty awesome. The image was taken using a scanning electron microscope (SEM). The scale bar is 10 microns (about one quarter of the width of one of my beard hairs!). The blocky looking structures in the middle are rhombohedra of carbonate minerals while the globular looking things around the top and right of the image are globules of elemental sulfur. This material was collected from the surface of some fresh snow and ice that had been blown out of a glacial crevasse while we were at our field site in the Arctic. I'm kind of sad that I don't have a good way to use this image in the dissertation, but glad that I can share it here!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

As the Beard Groweth

My beard has been growing for 1.42 years. To celebrate, I made this profile pic to show of my manly mane of hirsuteness.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Heavens Above a Mo'ai

Here's your awesome for the day! This picture is called "Orion Above Easter Island" and was taken by Yuri Beletsky on 5 October of this year. The image definitely makes me want to get my butt to Easter Island to see such a beautiful sight. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Soponyai's "A Day in the Astro Camp"

"A Day in the Astro Camp" is a composite photograph taken by Gy├Ârgy Soponyai. This image is a composite of images taken over 33 hours and planned for over 2 years. This 360x180 photo appears to show a tiny planet, with a field and trees on its day side and the red streamers and lights of the local inhabitants partying on its night side. The image was taken at the annual Astro Camp of the Hungarian Astronomical Association, so those inhabitants are probably some space nerds in their own right. The little world presented in this image almost seems to be lofted over a sea of star trails. The arc of the orbit of the International Space Station adds the little off-set arc below the globe. You can find more info about this image at Soponyai's Flickr as well as on the Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Down to the Wire

This cosmobiologist is finally in the death throes of a Ph.D. program. I recently learned that I have to have my dissertation finalized here in the coming early months of this fall. Yikes! It's going to be a pretty stressful time finishing everything up, but I'm definitely looking forward to the next part of my life (maybe a part where I can get paid for more than only a small fraction of my work). Here's to hoping that I can crush this thing and be ready to give an awesome dissertation defense at the end (which is coming sooner rather than later).

Friday, August 12, 2016

Hoping for Clear Skies

We're heading out to the west of the state of Colorado today to hike into the woods somewhere nice and dark to go camping. Most importantly, we're hoping to get clear enough skies to see the Perseids Meteor Shower. This year's shower has been touted as possibly being even more stunning than usual. Here's to hoping for clear skies!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Squirrel On the Run

Not much to say today, so here's a video of a squirrel stealing a GoPro camera and running through the trees with it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A Wild Moon Dance

I write a little bit of fiction almost every morning. I find it helps me to keep myself sane, by releasing some of my pent-up creativity and my thoughts. Though I usually don't have full control over the writing as it comes, sometimes I like what I've written enough to share it. 

Lately, I've been using some daily flash fiction writing challenges from to prime the engines. They're really just suggestions of using three words together in your short story, though I sometimes just use them as a prompt to find another idea (and I don't always write a full story). Today's challenge was to use the words 'trance', 'moon', and 'wild' in one writing, so I wrote the following story. Here it is, for your amusement, "A Wild Moon Dance":

Ian stumbled along the side of the road. The light from the near-full moon shining through the trees cast zebra stripes of light against the dark of the night on the road. The crickets and cicadas and other insects of summer were blasting their raucous symphony of screeches and buzzes into the night’s air. Ian kicked at the larger pebbles on the side of the road as he walked. He’d watch them tumble away, never moving in a straight line. “She’d kick me like one of these stones if she could,” he thought to himself, “but that’s what I get for thinking it would work out this time.” 
Ian was wrapped in his own thoughts, so much so that he hadn’t even noticed when the trees had ended and the road had set out in the middle of some large fields. “No one about for miles,” Ian said aloud once he had lifted his head to see where he now was. He had walked this way dozens of times before, and driven down this road too many times to count, but now the road and the fields, set within a moonlit summer evening, had something different about them. Ian felt the hairs on the back of his neck raise up as he looked around at his world. That glowing orb of moonlight cast mini shadows behind every blade of grass and every little stone. It gave the world a depth that made Ian feel comforted. 
Not knowing why, Ian stepped off of the road and onto the grasses in the field beside him. He hiked along the field as it rose to a hill. At the top of the hill, Ian looked around: the road back behind and below continued off into the hills, the forest where the road emerged, more trees and hills now in the direction that Ian had hiked. Nothing but fields and forests, hiding out the rest of the world only miles away where people slept in their homes, drove in their cars, or worked at their businesses. “No one but me,” Ian thought, “No one but me.” 
Ian felt his feet start to kick from under him, stomping back and forth. One foot would kick out and his hips would twist, then the other foot. Without knowing why, Ian started to dance. He spun his whole body about, and began dipping his head up and down. His arms startled twisting and pumping along with the rest of his body. Taken up in a trance, Ian danced in the moonlight on the top of the hill. He felt a wildness beat into his heart. He smelled the Earth and the grasses and the world on the wind. He began stomping his feet down a bit harder, giving himself a rhythm, drumming a beat that the Earth had known longer than humanity. The wild worked itself into Ian. He felt sweat begin to drip down from his forehead as he lost himself in the night. 
But then, a familiar and yet distant noise broke into Ian’s perception of the evening. Ian spun toward the forest where the road emerged to see the approaching lights of a car. Ian kneeled down in the field at the top of the hill and watched. The lights danced about as they grew stronger, ripping through the trees as the car emerged from the wood. The sound of the engine assaulted the night. Ian watched as the car continued on, knowing that the person driving most likely had taken no notice to the wild out here in this moment of the night. As the car passed along the hills and disappeared into the night, Ian chuckled to himself. This was real. He was here. This was the night and he was alive. 
Ian stood up and began to slowly walk away from the hilltop in the field. He had a long walk ahead of him yet before he made it home, but he knew that this night he would enjoy every single step and be more alive in the walk. “No more worrying about what might have been and what might be,” Ian told himself, “Not tonight, at least.”

Monday, August 8, 2016

A Cosmobiologist's Bust in the Stars

I've been playing around with some graphic design lately using the program Affinity Designer by Serif. I used to do quite a bit of graphic design work when I was working for my father's sign business, Impact Signworks, back in Pennsylvania. Now I'm learning more graphic design to help make myself a better communicator of science. I took a photo of myself from the Famelab USA 3rd Season national final from this past May and created a bust of myself out of it. I figured I'd set it in some stars and share it here. I definitely have a long way to go, but it's a start.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Cosmic Traveler: Photo by A. Garret Evans

Today's APOD is this beautiful composite image of the Milky Way, Saturn, and some of our closest stellar neighbors over a stargazer's head in Maine. Some detail has been added to show where constellations and Saturn are at. Just looking at this picture makes me want to get out and go stargazing as soon as I possibly can. The heavens above have so much to offer, for sights and for thoughts.

Here's some info on the picture from APOD: 

"What if you climbed up on a rock and discovered the Universe? You can. Although others have noted much of it before, you can locate for yourself stars, planets, and even the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy. All you need is a dark clear sky -- the rock is optional. If you have a camera, you can further image faint nebulas, galaxies, and long filaments of interstellar dust. If you can process digital images, you can bring out faint features, highlight specific colors, and merge foreground and background images. In fact, an industrious astrophotographer has done all of these to create the presented picture. All of the component images were taken early last month on the same night within a few meters of each other. The picturesque setting was Sand Beach in Stonington, Maine, USA with the camera pointed south over Penobscot Bay."

Friday, July 29, 2016

Gimme Some Shelter from All of This Accounting!

AbGradCon 2016 was a success! The conference was a lot of fun and we heard about lots of great science that graduate students and early career scientists in various disciplines of astrobiology are conducting. We also had some really fun events that went along with the conference.

Sadly, for me, now comes the time when I have to crunch the numbers, compile receipts, and submit financial reports for everything from the conference. Definitely not looking forward to it, but it has to be done, so here's some of what I'm listening to as I run the numbers today: Gimme Shelter from The Rolling Stones!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

FAN-O-RAMA looks like it's going to be all kinds of fun

Some people are putting together a live action fan film for Futurama, and it looks awesome! Here's the teaser trailer:

Find out more at their website:

Monday, July 18, 2016

AbGradCon 2016

This cosmobiologist won't be writing a lot here in the coming week. I'm one of the organizers for the 2016 Astrobiology Graduate Conference (AbGradCon), to be held at the University of Colorado Boulder. This conference is going to be lots of fun. I'll review everything once (if?) I survive all of the logistics of bringing this thing together.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Crabby, Crab, Crabby, Crab, Crab.

There's a neutron star in the middle of the Crab Nebula, and that sucker is spinning 30 times every second!

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Hester (ASU), and M. Weisskopf (NASA / MSFC)
The above image was released on Astronomy Picture of the Day recently. It shows the illumination of the Crab Nebula from the Crab Pulsar (the rightmost of the two bright stars in the image). A pulsar is a neutron star which is highly magnetized and spins rather quickly, emitting radiation. The Crab Nebula itself is made up of the remnants of a large star that collapsed long ago, blowing off lots of material and forming the Crab Pulsar neutron star. The spinning of the pulsar drives the illumination of the nebula. 

The image of the Crab Nebula above comes from a composite of x-ray and optical light data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope. The video below shows the two different types of image (x-ray in blue, optical in red) in seven different sets of images from November 200 to April 2001. Those images have been looped many times to create a video, where you can see the swirling stellar winds moving through the nebula from the pulsar.

The Crab Nebula is beautiful, but that beauty can find new meaning when we consider the processes that formed the nebula and are affecting it today.

Here's a wider image showing the Crab Nebula in all of its glory. Let this one sink in...

Crab Nebula (NASA)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Some adulting math for the modern American

That all sounds about right...

You can find more of Corinne Mucha's illustrations and comics at her website, MaidenHousefly.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Juno's first in-orbit picture of Jupiter and Galilean Moons is awesome

NASA's Juno spacecraft, now in orbit of Jupiter, has taken its first in-orbit image of the Jovian system. This incredible image was taken by the instrument JunoCam from ~2.7 million miles away from Jupiter.

Here's the information about the image from NASA (taken from the page where you can download the full-size image):
"This color view from NASA's Juno spacecraft is made from some of the first images taken by JunoCam after the spacecraft entered orbit around Jupiter on July 5th (UTC). The view shows that JunoCam survived its first pass through Jupiter's extreme radiation environment, and is ready to collect images of the giant planet as Juno begins its mission.
The image was taken on July 10, 2016 at 5:30 UTC, when the spacecraft was 2.7 million miles (4.3 million kilometers) from Jupiter on the outbound leg of its initial 53.5-day capture orbit. The image shows atmospheric features on Jupiter, including the Great Red Spot, and three of Jupiter's four largest moons.
JunoCam will continue to image Jupiter during Juno's capture orbits. The first high-resolution images of the planet will be taken on August 27 when the Juno spacecraft makes its next close pass to Jupiter.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. The Juno mission is part of the New Frontiers Program managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena."
This picture shows the relative size and structure of Juno and offers information about the instruments. You can find more info on the NASA page for Juno.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Adam - a short film created with Unity

Get ready to trip out. 

Here's a fantastic short film called Adam that was produced using the Unity gaming engine. I don't know when this might become a real game, but I think they could just take my money now...

The beginning of the film reminds me of the beginning of the film Pandorum, where a character is awakening from some kind of dormancy or sleep and having a difficult time figuring out where they are. Adam, whom we are led to believe is the mechanical being we see at the beginning of the film, appears to just be discovering that he/she/it is no longer a human being, but rather has been turned into a robot. We see Adam stumble out of the room where he awoke (like a baby emerging from a womb), only to discover more beings just like himself. We see a large industrial complex that Adam and the others are walking away from as well as humans who appear to be herding them.  We then see the two characters who we imagine Adam was dreaming of (or envisioning) at the very beginning of the film. They appear well-armed, but also worn from their travels. They also appear to be robotic beings themselves. As these characters approach, warning klaxons go off and the humans flee (what are they afraid of?). The two characters approach, playing Chopin's Nocturne in E-flat major Op.9 nr.2, and then the larger of the two interacts with the computers within Adam and the other mechanical beings. What does he do there? Whatever he does inspires Adam and the others to follow.

Here's some info from the designers on the world of Adam:

The film is set in a future where human society is transformed by harsh biological realities and civilization has shrunk to a few scattered, encapsulated communities clinging to the memory of greatness. Adam, as our main character, was the starting point of our visual design process. He was designed to provide a glimpse into the complex backstory of the world, by revealing himself as a human prisoner whose consciousness has been trapped in a cheap mechanical body.

You can find a lot more info about the design of the film and the characters (for instance, we learn that the two approaching characters are named Sebastian and Lu) on the blogs at Unity.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Geology Rocks! (The Rock Cycle Illustrated)

This awesome infographic from Geology Cafe shows some of the major
types of rocks and the cycles that relate them to each other.
(click here for a much larger version)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Wise Words from My Sister, on Love and Hate

My sister, Kelsey Lau

"I was going through some books today and stumbled upon my copy of Ellie Wiesel's book, Night, his autobiographical novel about his experience in the Holocaust.

His passing and the current political climate of the US prompts me to remind everyone that fear is often the greatest motivator of hate, and we have not been in short supply of either through the recent preliminary elections.

There will always be fear; hate will always fester, and you will always be challenged to lend the brightest of your light to the darkness. Just remember that it is you who makes the choice to either succumb to the things you fear or rise to meet them, and it is your responsibility to decide who it is you want to be and how you want to affect the world around you.

Maybe it's time for people to either revisit or experience for the first time the words and testaments of people like Wiesel, who have seen some of the worst of humankind, to remember why, when we are taught to love, there is a wisdom passed to us from lives we've never lived.

Be intelligent. Be informed. Do not let anyone tell you what to believe. Even me. But remember, you make a choice to react to the world in the way you do, and I sincerely hope that the choice you make is the one you think should ripple in this world. I hope you see the significance of the passing of Ellie Wiesel and realize how recent in history it was that hate was chosen over love, and decide whether you want to be the person who carries that consciousness with them or not."

Kelsey Lau (5 July 2016)

A recent photo of (left-to-right) Nick Ison, Kelsey, Me, and Ben Doyle.
Out for beers and memory making.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

"Voyagers" by Santiago Menghini

Voyager 1, traversing the heavens (NASA/JPL)

The Voyager spacecraft were launched in 1977, at a time when the alignments of the outer planets would allow for a "Grand Tour" of the Solar System. 

Voyager 1 traveled past Jupiter and Saturn, discovering volcanoes on Io and the thick atmosphere of Titan, before it was turned around to take pictures of the planets as it traveled beyond their orbits. The famous Pale Blue Dot picture was taken by Voyager 1 when it was over 40 times further from the Sun than Earth. Since that time, Voyager 1 has passed beyond the region of space where the solar wind from our star dominates over other stars; Voyager 1 is now an interstellar traveler.

Voyager 2, while not garnering as much fame as its twin, is the only spacecraft to ever flyby Uranus and Neptune. All of our best detailed information regarding those worlds and their moons comes from Voyager 2, which passed by Uranus in 1986 and Neptune in 1989. For instance, the odd surface of Neptune's moon Triton was revealed by Voyager 2, giving us the first hints that cryovolcanism is a process which occurs on the icy worlds of our solar system.

Recently, filmmaker Santiago Menghini has put together a short film highlighting the journeys of the Voyager spacecraft. Including photographs from the missions as well as sounds from the plasma frequencies of the planets, the film is a tribute to the successes of the Voyager mission. I highly recommend checking out the movie (below, or at Vimeo). Turn up your speakers' volume and full screen this one, you won't regret it.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Lindsey Stirling's video for The Arena

This video is everything a post-apocalyptic nerd is after. It has awesome costumes, dancing, fighting, cars that appear to have been beat and rebuilt, dramatic flare, shoulder pads bedecked in sparkling silver plates, and some guy wearing Wind In His Hair's chest piece... Give it a watch. If you like Lindsey Stirling's playing, then you'll love this new song. If you haven't heard of Lindsey Stirling before, then now's the time to give her a try:

Monday, June 20, 2016

Mark White on the Chapman Stick

The Chapman Stick is such a beautiful instrument. Ever since I first saw the character Gurney Halleck (played by Patrick Stewart) playing a modified version of the Chapman Stick in David Lynch's film version of Dune, I've been interested in these polyphonic, multi-stringed tapping instruments. I just heard some fantastic playing on a Chapman Stick by a guy named Mark White. Here's a sample of some of that playing for your listening pleasure:

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Depths of Time in a Starry Night Image

Image Credit: Brad Goldpaint
The APOD today is beautiful! The above image, taken by Brad Goldpaint, shows a starry night scene over the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in California, U.S.A. 

The trees in the image are themselves quite old, dating back several thousands of years, with one tree named Methuselah dated to 4,847 years old and another tree (not yet named) dating back to 5,065 years in age (these trees are considered to be the oldest known living non-clonal organisms). Some of those bristlecone pines stood long before Galileo turned his telescopes to the heavens; those trees bathed in starlight generations before Eratosthenes of Cyrene calculated the circumference of the Earth and developed a science of chronology; and some of those trees opened their branches to the world before people started laying the stones that would become the Great Pyramid of Egypt.

Goldpaint's night scene also shows the planets Saturn and Mars, of which the curators of APOD remark are "seemingly attached to tree branches, but actually much farther in the distance... These planets formed along with the Earth and the early Solar System much earlier -- about 4.5 billion years ago." In my recent talk, "This Thing is Older Than Your Mom" (which I gave for the 3rd Season finale of Famelab USA), I spoke of the oldest solid materials to have formed in our solar system. The calcium-aluminum-rich inclusions (CAIs) and chondrules that can be found in some of the most primitive meteorites are materials that formed before the planets as we know them. Those materials and others in primitive meteorites have given us insight into the earliest processes in our solar system, including the timing of the formation of our planets. That's how we can say that Saturn and Mars are over 4.5 billion years in age. The lives of the bristlecone pines would seem just a short blink of time relative to the ages of Saturn, Mars, the Earth, and our solar system. 

However, the oldest of the old, the most ancient of the ancient and venerated of the venerable, in this beautiful image are the stars stippling the night's sky and the band of white of our Milky Way Galaxy. At best, a single person may be able to see 2000 or so stars at night, yet we can see the illumination of our sky in a milky white band due to the illumination from hundreds of thousands of millions of other stars in our galaxy (most shining from somewhere near the plane of the galaxy). Some of those stars may be much younger than our own Sun and planets, while most of them are quite older. Sadly, a recent report in Science Advances estimates that at least 80% of the world's population lives under light polluted skies, so that as much as one third of the global human population can no longer see the Milky Way at night (we are truly stealing our history from our children by taking away the night's sky). While we should take a moment of pause and reflection at the fact that most people cannot observe the Milky Way, at least we can look on images like Goldpaint's picture at the top of this post and consider the depths of time that have passed on our planet, in our Solar System, and in the Milky Way Galaxy that surrounds us. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Winners from the 2016 International Earth & Sky Photo Contest

Popping open Astronomy Picture of the Day on my laptop this morning revealed a fantastic image of the night's sky over Reine, Norway, with the yellowed lights of an island village tucked beneath glacially carved landforms while the night's sky above swirls, alight with the green ghostly glowing of the Aurora Borealis:

The photo, taken by Alex Conu, was the 1st prize winner in the 2016 International Earth & Sky Photo Contest. The theme for this year's contest was "Dark Skies Importance" and the photos were judged in many criteria under two main categories, showing the viewers of the images the beauty and glory of the night's sky, and also showing how terrible the light pollution problem has become (you may have heard of the recent study showing that at least 80% of all humans live under skies affected by light pollution).

If, like me, you love to see fantastically beautiful images of the night's sky, then definitely check out this video showing off several of the best photos from this year's contest:

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

NASA's "Mars Explorers Wanted" Posters

NASA and Kennedy Space Center have unveiled a new series of posters available for free download. These posters, called "Mars Explorers Wanted", show some of the possible jobs that will need to be filled by Mars explorers of the near future. You can find the full series here: Mars Explorers Wanted.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Scientific Studies on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

In case you missed it, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver ran a fantastical piece recently on how the American public tends to utterly fail at understanding scientific studies. Our own lack of critical thinking and scientific literacy has made it far more likely for people to misread and misunderstand the results and conclusions of scientific studies, not to mention the fact that there are now way too many people who will believe utter bullshit as long as someone makes it sound "sciency". 

For instance, I recently saw this piece of shit post going around on Facebook claiming that research had found that people with blue eyes were able to hold their alcohol better. Of course, that's not really what any researchers had claimed. The report in question was recently published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B: Neuropsychiatric Genetics (you can find it here: Sulovari et al. 2015). In that research, a study of a subsample of 1,263 Americans of recent European decent had shown that there was a possible correlation with lighter eye color and the predisposition for alcohol dependence. The authors of that paper themselves pointed out that replication of the study would be necessary before accepting their conclusions, even though a study of only 1,263 people is very unlikely to be too conclusive given all of the possible complexities of such a sample-size limited study. The research in question is exciting and may be an indicator that there is some relationship between the genes that cause eye color and the genes that may make us more likely to become dependent on alcohol, but it in no way implies that having blue eyes makes you a better drinker or a tougher person or anything ridiculously silly like that. 

I highly recommend checking out the following video from Last Week Tonight. You can trust me, I'm wearing a lab coat!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

This Thing is Older Than Your Mom!

On May 13th of this year, I had the honor and the pleasure of competing in the Famelab USA science communication competition's national final. 

Famelab allows early career scientists and communicators of science an opportunity to improve their skills through educational workshops while also competing against one another by giving short (3 minutes or less) speeches using no slides and, at most, one prop. For this year's final event, I gave a speech titled "This Thing is Older Than Your Mom", where I talked about my favorite meteorite from my personal collection and about how old some of the materials in meteorites can be. 

Delivering this talk was another step along the way for me to build a career as a communicator of science. I fumbled a bit on the Q&A session of the event, but it was still a lot of fun and a huge learning experience. For the two days leading up to the final event, we were given a masterclass to develop our skills led by the magnificent Malcolm Love.

I'm so happy to have had the opportunity to share some of my knowledge with a wider audience through Famelab. If you're interested, you can see the other talks I've given before at Famelab events by checking out the page they created for me.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The University Rover Challenge 2016

I'm heading off to the deserts of Utah to help staff the University Rover Challenge (URC). The URC is a robotic competition where undergraduate student teams from around the globe design and build Mars rovers over the course of a year, and then they bring their robots to Utah, where we challenge them in tasks like supporting an astronaut in the field, servicing equipment, looking for signs of past or present life, and in testing their rovers by driving through a terrain obstacle course. It's a fantastic event.

Here's a cool overview video of the URC from one of the events' sponsors, Protocase:

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

High Flight, by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

A Canadair Regional Jet CRJ-900, like the one I'm taking back to the U.S. in about an hour

I'm jumping on a plane to fly back to the U.S. from Canada here in a short bit. While thinking of flying, I found the following poem, by John Gillespie Magee, Jr. Magee was an aviator and a poet, and his poem, High Flight, has served as an inspiration for aviators, astronauts, and adventurers of all sorts. 

High Flight

"Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air....

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

– Put out my hand, and touched the face of God."

John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Where in the World is Graham Lau?

I've been travelling and doing so much lately that I haven't been keeping up with my blog. Last week, I traveled to Washington D.C. to compete in the Season 3 national final of the Famelab USA science communication competition. I didn't win the competition, but it was so much fun and I learned a lot more about sharing my passion for science and knowledge with other people. Here's a pic of me on the stage during my final talk, titled "This Thing is Older Than Your Mom":

I took a much needed stop back in Pennsylvania to see friends and family after that. It was refreshing to hit up the ol' stomping grounds again. Here's a pic of my little sister, Kelsey, and I, along with my long time buddies Nick Ison and Ben Doyle:

Sadly, I only had one day back in Boulder after all that travel before leaving on my next trip, a stop to the Canadian Light Source in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. The Canadian Light Source (CLS) is a synchrotron particle accelerator where researchers can use the x-rays produced for a wide range of scientific endeavors.

A panorama looking down at the ring of the CLS synchrotron
My lab mates, Jena Johnson and Julie Cosmidis, and I use the Canadian Light Source to do something called STXM. STXM stands for Scanning Transmission X-ray Microscopy. The technique allows us to use x-rays to produce nanoscale to microscale images of our samples and to collect spectroscopic information about the materials. For instance, we're using STXM to figure out what kinds of sulfur and carbon molecules are in our samples and how those sulfur and carbon molecules are related. I'm currently sitting in a lab at CLS preparing more samples for our last evening of experimentation and data collection. 

A scanning transmission x-ray microscope at CLS

Tomorrow, it's back to Boulder for a good week of rest and catching up on work before I head off on the next adventure: the University Rover Challenge (URC). The URC is a three-day robotics competition held in the desert of Utah, where undergraduate university teams compete against one another with robotic rovers that they've designed and built (usually over the course of an entire year). The event takes place in Utah to simulate a robotics competition on Mars. The teams will use their rovers to look for signs of life, to assist astronauts in their work, to perform maintenance or servicing tasks, and to scout out terrain in the desert environment. I've been to the URC many times, serving as a volunteer and Director of Logistics. I always learn a lot about robotics and have a great time seeing these teams in action, but I also love the back-breaking work and camping out in the desert. Here's a picture from the Cornell Mars Rover team, showing off their Ares rover from last year's competition:

Hopefully, after I return from the URC, I'll have some serious time to get deeper into writing up my dissertation. It's scary to say it, but I'm looking to wrap up my Ph.D. program late this year, so there's a lot of work ahead making all of that happen. However, sometime in June I'll be coming back and writing posts about all of these adventures I've been on and sharing the best photos and videos, so stay tuned!

Ad Astra Per Aspera!

Enjoying A Clean Shave and a Haircut at The Rook and Raven Pub in Saskatoon (no, I'm not shaving off my beard. But I am enjoying a fun drink made with Kraken rum, cola, Guinness, and hibiscus syrup. Yum!)