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The Ionian Enchantment

June 7, 2011

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture and discussion with Jeff Forshaw, Professor of theoretical physics at the University of Manchester.  The lecture marked the beginning of The Ionian Enchantment, a part of Transform at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, a two week programme of events that explore new ground by looking at things differently.  The Ionian Enchantment is “a celebration of science at its most inspiring – from the cosmos to virtual particles to baboons” through a series of performances.

Yesterday’s lecture was about particle/quantum physics and observing the Universe in a completely different way.  Professor Forsham underlined some basic truths of the Universe, such as that a particle exists in many places at the same time.  My personal favorite of the night was the section on how time and space are both malleable.  Einstein’s theory of relatively showed that space and time are linked and malleable.  One of my favorite quotes by Einstein which explains this is: “When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity.”

The Andromeda Galaxy, the Milky Way's closest neighbour, 2.5 million light years away. Creative Commons License.

Experiments have been conducted that show the different speed of time on Earth versus in space.  The Andromeda Galaxy, the Milky Way Galaxy’s (the galaxy we live in) nearest neighbour, is 2.5 million light years away.  If humans travelled in a shuttle at nearly the speed of light, according to the time on Earth, it would take 2.5 million years to get there.  However, for the people in the shuttle, it would only take fifty years.  Therefore, a couple of astronauts could venture to Andromeda, have children, and their children would return to Earth, 2.5 millions years having been passed.

Professor Forsham is the co-author (with Brian Cox, host of the BBC programme, Wonders of the Universe) of the popular science book, ‘Why does E=MC2 (and why should we care?).’

E. Coli Outbreak Continues in Europe

June 7, 2011

The E. Coli outbreak continues in Germany and other European countries, causing a total of 22 deaths and infecting more than 2,200 people in 12 countries.

The World Health Organization have determined that the outbreaks are due to a rare strain of enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) O104:H4.  This strain has been seen in humans before but never in an outbreak.

Numerous tests have been conducted to determine the source of the outbreak.  Initially, it was thought that Spanish cucumbers were the source but that was later found to be untrue.  The next most likely source was thought to be bean sprouts from a German farm but the first test on these bean sprouts were negative.  Out of 40 of the bean sprouts tested from the farm in Uelzen, 23 tested negative.  EU agriculture ministers are to hold an emergency meeting as efforts to determine the source continue.

What is E. Coli?

June 1, 2011

Escherichia coli or ‘E. Coli‘ as it is commonly referred to, is a large and diverse group of bacteria that live in the intestines of humans and animals.  There are many different strains of E. Coli, most of them being harmless.  However, there are some strains that can cause sickness.  Some strains cause diarrhea, others can cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia, and other illnesses.  The presence of E. Coli in water, although now always harmful, is often used to determine whether the water is contaminated.

Photo public domain, Center for Disease Control

E. Coli, when we hear about it in the news, is often associated with foodborne illness.  This is because some strains of the bacteria, such as E. coli O157, produce a toxin called ‘Shiga toxin.’  The group of bacteria that make this toxin are referred to as ““Shiga toxin-producing” E. coli, or STEC for short.  These STEC strains can cause severe, bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps, followed by serious organ system damage such as kidney failure.  One can be exposed to these strains through contaminated water or food, particularly fresh produce and undercooked ground beef.

There have been a number of E. Coli outbreaks in the United States.  In 2006, there was quite a large outbreak of E. Coli in bagged spinach.  Currently, there is an outbreak occurring in Germany, which has already led to 17 deaths.  More than 1,500 people in nine nations, although most of the cases are in Germany, have been infected with enterohaemorrhagic E.coli (EHEC), which still falls under the category of STEC E. Coli.  Originally, officials believed that the outbreak was caused by Spanish cucumbers, however, have concluded that this is not the source.

While washing fresh produce and ensuring meat is always properly cooked can slightly reduce your risk for foodborne illness (in the case of meat, cooking properly is essential) , it cannot fully protect you from it.  Especially in the case of fresh produce, where exposure to high heat to decontaminate isn’t an option, it is essential that good practice begins in the field.  Fresh produce is most at risk for microbiological contamination during growth and processing.  In order to protect consumers, growers and companies need to be responsible during those primary stages.

Radiation Dosage Chart

May 27, 2011

I came across this Radiation Dosage Chart and found it very interesting.  Even the slighest dosage of radiation seems intimidating but the truth is, we are exposed to radiation on a daily basis, whether from minerals in the ground or solar rays from the Sun.  This chart does a good job of putting exposure to radiation in perspective.  Plus, if you purchase an instantly downloadable hi-res PDF for $2.50 / £1. 50, all the proceeds go to the Japan Crisis Relief.

Iceland’s Grimsvotn Volcano Erupts

May 22, 2011

Iceland’s most active volcano, Grimsvotn, began to erupt yesterday at 5:30 pm local time.  The plume has risen to a height of 50,000 feet.  The volcano’s last eruption was in 2004.  This comes a year after Eyjafjallajökull, another volcano in Iceland, erupted causing nearly a week of interrupted air travel.  Many European flights were cancelled, causing around ten million travelers to be stranded.  It marked the largest closure of airspace since World War II.

The eruption at Grimsvotn is not likely to have the same impact on travel as last year’s.  A small ban on air travel within 120 nautical miles of  the volcano has been implemented until authorities can determine what effect the ash will have.  However, Grimsvotn has a different type of ash compared to Eyjafjallajökull.  Instead of being fine-grained and continuous, the ash of Grimsvotn is coarse and heavy, so it is more likely to fall rather than remain suspended in the air.

See footage of the volcanic eruption here.

‘Nuclear Power: It’s Not Rocket Science’ Podcast

May 1, 2011

This edition of the Science for Everyone podcast takes a deeper look into nuclear power.  Join me as I discuss nuclear power basics with Professor Simon Biggs of the University of Leeds.

Music: “Sweeter Vermouth Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Creative Commons “Attribution 3.0”


April 11, 2011


My name is Sophia and I am currently pursuing a master’s degree in science communication.  For my undergraduate degree, I received a B.S. in biology.  While doing laboratory research at my university, I realized that I wanted to fulfill a more communicative role in science which led me to where I am today!

On this blog you will find everything science: news, media, podcasts, etc..  If you would like to know a bit more about a particular subject in science or have any questions, please email me or comment in this blog.  I would be more than happy to address them.

I am currently in the midst of creating a podcast about nuclear power.  If you have any questions about nuclear power that you would like to be answered on this podcast, please comment on this post.

More to come!  I hope you enjoy the site.

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