What we're talking about Physics vs. Fishy Footballs Monday, January 26, 2015

Physics vs. Fishy Footballs

So, as mentioned yesterday, I got an email asking me about the weird scandal involving the Patriots and underinflated footballs, so I wrote a piece for the Conversation on the subject. since a few people had beaten me to citations of the Ideal Gas Law, though, I decided to bring my own particular set of…

The low-level cold I’ve been nursing for a month now finally exploded into the full unpleasantness of my usual winter illness Saturday, or else I would’ve been more active following up on my Deflategate article and my ideal gas law post. As it was, for most of the day, I could barely keep on top…

One of the cool things about working at Union is that the Communications office gets media requests looking for people to comment on current events, which sometimes get forwarded to me. Yesterday was one of those days, with a request for a scientist to comment on the bizarre sports scandal surrounding the deflated footballs used…

When it was reported that many of the footballs in the AFC Championship game were inflated below the required minimum, the triumphant New England Patriots were accused of cheating. Looking for an explanation, Chad Orzel whipped out some footballs, a freezer, and the Ideal Gas Law to do some delving. Physically, air pressure depends on the volume of a gas, the number of molecules contained therein, and temperature. Since the volume of a football (versus a balloon) doesn't change much depending on the amount of air inside, a change in temperature was the best chance for an innocent explanation. But Chad writes, "unless they did the pre-game testing of the balls in a sauna, or the post-game investigation in a meat locker, thermodynamics alone can’t get the Patriots off the hook." According to the Pats, they do some special mumbo jumbo to the outside of the balls before filling them to the required minimum pressure, after which the pressure settles down. Um, what? Chad writes that this explanation suggests the Patriots have "been preparing balls that were technically illegal for a long time." Underinflated balls are said to be easier to throw and catch, especially in the rain.

Channel Surfing

Life Science

A paper was recently brought to my attention via a Creationist. It was the usual ‘HAHAHA! Oh you silly Creationist! This paper says the opposite of what you think it says!’, and I was going to write a blog post along that usual theme. Fazale Rana, ‘Vice President’ of ‘Research and Apologetics’ at Reasons to…

Financial information has to be reduced to the simplest possible form for me to follow. Fortunately, a reader, Brian, has been extracting the data from Answers in Genesis’s Form 990 tax information, and this chart tells me what I need to know.

Hint for science journalists: if the hook to get readers to pay attention to your story is to warn them to sit down because a 19th century “law” of evolution has been shown to be wrong, you’re going to irritate scientists, who will then write rude blog posts sneering at your writing. That’s the case…

Physical Science

“I lie on the floor, washed by nothing and hanging on. I cry at night. I am afraid of hearing voices, or a voice. I have come to the edge, of the land. I could get pushed over.” -Margaret Atwood We had a great run with Messier Monday, followed by a fun mini-series on Mini-Movie…

While I’ve managed to generate a lot of blog traffic talking about football, I sort of suck at turning that into book sales. Sigh. I am, however, continuing to do interviews in support of Eureka: discovering Your Inner Scientist, the most recent of which is this one with WICN’s Inquiry, hosted by Mark Lynch. This…

Science Teaching researcher Prof. Nir Orion  recently returned from Peru, where his award-winning Blue Planet teaching unit was adopted by the Peruvian Ministry of Education Q: You have been working for many years to get schoolchildren out of the classroom setting. Why? A: Schools in general and science teaching in particular are supposed to teach…

Environment

A video by Kevin Cowtan about Christopher Booker‘s accusations of data tampering. A quick response to an article by Christopher Booker in the Telegraph. The video features a prototype tool for investigating the global temperature record. This tool will be made available with the upcoming MOOC, Making Sense of Climate Science Denial (http://gci.uq.edu.au/mooc), where we…

About 20 million people are currently under a blizzard warning, and double that under a winter weather advisory, for a storm moving into the Northeast today and tomorrow, with snow falling though Wednesday. Thousands of flights have been cancelled. Wind will be at tropical storm force, and occasionally, hurricane force, and coastal flooding is expected…

The closing of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power plant didn’t make many headlines, but for me it brought back a flood of memories and an important lesson.

Humanities

Rarely do poverty and optimal health go together. In fact, income is consistently tapped as a major factor underpinning a person’s opportunity to live a long and healthy life. Unfortunately, children don’t fare much better, with low-income children facing increased risks of poor health and development. So, just how many American children face this challenge today? Four out of every 10.

I’m not in the mood for heavy blogging just now, so how about we discuss something light and frivolous. Like the meaning of life. Back in July, I wrote this: Answers about our origins have no implications at all for questions of meaning and value. Arising through blind, uncaring forces in no way implies that…

As more research is emerging on the potential health effects of fracking, a new study — perhaps the largest to date of its kind — has found that people living near natural gas wells may be at increased risk for adverse health impacts, including skin and respiratory conditions.

Education

Science Teaching researcher Prof. Nir Orion  recently returned from Peru, where his award-winning Blue Planet teaching unit was adopted by the Peruvian Ministry of Education Q: You have been working for many years to get schoolchildren out of the classroom setting. Why? A: Schools in general and science teaching in particular are supposed to teach…

Dr. Thane Wibbels (University of Alabama at Birmingham) is interested in studying how temperature affects the sex of red-eared slider turtle embryos. For humans, the answer is simple: sex chromosomes. You know, the combination of XX means girl and XY means boy. Turtles are not that simple. Temperature is a factor in determining whether the…

Having made several mentions here of the two tenure-track faculty positions we were trying to fill, I feel like I ought to at least note the completion of the search. As of last Friday, all the papers have been signed with properly dotted i’s and crossed t’s, and we have two new tenure-track assistant professors…

Politics

The closing of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power plant didn’t make many headlines, but for me it brought back a flood of memories and an important lesson.

I’m not in the mood for heavy blogging just now, so how about we discuss something light and frivolous. Like the meaning of life. Back in July, I wrote this: Answers about our origins have no implications at all for questions of meaning and value. Arising through blind, uncaring forces in no way implies that…

In the week before his 2015 State of the Union address, President Obama took modest but important steps toward expanding US workers’ access to paid sick and family leave.

Medicine

This new year, researchers concluded that 2/3 of the difference in cancer risk between different parts of the body can be attributed to the number of stem cell divisions those parts undergo. More cell divisions reflect a higher risk as errors that occur naturally during the DNA replication process can contribute to the development of cancer. In…

It’s no secret to my regular readers that it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever be getting a job at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation (CCF) any time soon. After all, I’ve written posts about the CCF in which I’ve criticized its promotion of reiki, its establishment of a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) herbal medicine clinic, complete…

Oh, no, here we go again. In fact, before I get started, I feel obligated to show this clip, saying, just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in again: Yes, I know I’ve used this clip on multiple occasions before over years. However, sometimes it’s just so completely appropriate to how…

Brain & Behavior

Dr. Thane Wibbels (University of Alabama at Birmingham) is interested in studying how temperature affects the sex of red-eared slider turtle embryos. For humans, the answer is simple: sex chromosomes. You know, the combination of XX means girl and XY means boy. Turtles are not that simple. Temperature is a factor in determining whether the…

I came across an interesting study published last month in American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology on obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is a disorder in which the upper airway is repeatedly obstructed during sleep resulting in bouts of intermittent hypoxia (low oxygen concentrations). I had no idea that OSA is…

I listened to a really interesting story on NPR this morning about new discoveries regarding the flight patterns of bar-headed geese. These birds are known for their incredible ability to fly over the Himalayas on their annual migration to central Asia. Until now, it was often assumed that the birds reached a specific altitude and then simply…

Technology

Just a note to celebrate the life and times of Hedy Lamarr, who died on this day, 2000, at the age of 85. Lamarr had a very interesting career that involved major acting accomplishments, milestone acting events, and direct involvement in the invention of the technology that now forms the basis of WiFi, BlueTooth and…

I’ve decided to do a new round of profiles in the Project for Non-Academic Science (acronym deliberately chosen to coincide with a journal), as a way of getting a little more information out there to students studying in STEM fields who will likely end up with jobs off the “standard” academic science track. The fourteenth…

Few fish can survive the immense pressure of living in the deep sea. The Mariana Trench can reach around 36,200 feet deep with pressures of over 1,000 atmosphere. Scientists have placed landers at various depths ranging from 16,400-34,750 feet along the walls of the trench and have discovered what appears to be the “World’s Deepest…

Information Science

As you all have no doubt noticed over the years, I love highlighting the best science books every year via the various end of year lists that newspapers, web sites, etc. publish. I’ve done it so far in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. And here we are in 2014! As in previous years,…

As you all have no doubt noticed over the years, I love highlighting the best science books every year via the various end of year lists that newspapers, web sites, etc. publish. I’ve done it so far in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. And here we are in 2014! As in previous years,…

I’ve been intermittently profiling people with STEM degrees and non-academic jobs since 2009, as it turns out. One of the questions in the profile asks “What’s the most important thing you learned from science?” These have been some of the most interesting responses, so I thought it might be interesting, while I sit here and…

Jobs

Rarely do poverty and optimal health go together. In fact, income is consistently tapped as a major factor underpinning a person’s opportunity to live a long and healthy life. Unfortunately, children don’t fare much better, with low-income children facing increased risks of poor health and development. So, just how many American children face this challenge today? Four out of every 10.

MSHA fought for 20 year to eliminate the use of an average over multiple shifts to characterize miners’ exposure to respirable coal mine dust. It seems strange now to read MSHA announce the success of a new coal dust regulation by reporting the annual average coal mine dust levels.

Having made several mentions here of the two tenure-track faculty positions we were trying to fill, I feel like I ought to at least note the completion of the search. As of last Friday, all the papers have been signed with properly dotted i’s and crossed t’s, and we have two new tenure-track assistant professors…