Friday, August 21, 2009

Fun with Mathmatical Modeling

Have you seen this paper on modeling a zombie infection outbreak? It's awesome.

"In summary, a zombie outbreak is likely to lead to the collapse of civilisation, unless it is dealt with quickly. While aggressive quarantine may contain the epidemic, or a cure may lead to coexistence of humans and zombies, the most effective way to contain the rise of the undead is to hit hard and hit often. As seen in the movies, it is imperative that zombies are dealt with quickly, or else we are all in a great deal of trouble."

Sure, having a published paper on Zombie attacks is like the coolest thing ever when you're a grad student, but I bet it raises a few eyebrows when these guys go up for tenure.

via Freakonomics via The Park Bench

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Galileo vs. Newton

File this under "funny because it's true" or maybe "sad because it's true"?

"The point of the comparison is to contrast two competing modes of scientific communication, as embodied by our two heroes."

Why is making science accessible such a crime in academia? Why are those who deign to speak to mere mortals looked down upon by so many of their colleagues?

On a lighter note, my favorite part of this blog post is that the majority of the comments revolve around whether or not Newton died a virgin. Seriously.

Thanks for the link Emily!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Countdown to the Moon day at the Air & Space Museum

Yesterday I spend the day manning a table at the National Air & Space Museum as a "Lunar Expert" to help them celebrate the 40th anniversary of the day that Apollo 11 launched. According to the little counter they gave me, over 800 people stopped by my booth to learn about "Moon dust". I had a bunch of images of soil grains from my own research, plus some lunar soil simulants and a handful of 3D analglyphs donated from a colleague at Lehigh (which were clearly the hit, man people really love those 3D images). I love doing these public outreach things, but I have to say I am always amazed by both the sophistication and the sheer ignorance of some of the questions I get asked.

A few of the things I was asked yesterday:

Is this real Moon dust? - referring to the two jars of soil simulants I brought (yeah, I'm sure NASA would have no problem with me leaving half a pound of lunar soil on an table in the middle of a museum full of people).

Was Night at the Museum II filmed here?
- turns out it was, I didn't know that at the time though, and also, I'm not an information booth. There was also a question about the new Transformers movie, although I'm pretty sure that one was not filmed in the museum.

Is Moon dust radioactive?
- I get this question from time to time and I don't understand where that comes from or why people would think that.

Have we figured out any good uses for Moon dust yet?
- There were at least a dozen people who asked me some version of this question, because apparently there is no reason to go back to the Moon unless we can mine it for something. I tried to turn their question into a discussion of in situ resource utilization and explain how the soil contains all the elements we need to survive and make rocket fuel, so if we can figure out how to extract it we can "live off the land," I think that worked with about half the question askers, the others just seemed disappointed, apparently "oxygen" was not the answer they were looking for.

Did you collect these samples yourself? - I swear, I'm not making this up, there were two people, two, adults, at separate times, that genuinely thought I might have gone to the Moon myself and brought back my soil. One seamed really taken aback when I said that no one had been to the Moon in my lifetime, the other was like, "oh yeah, that's right". Wow, it's interactions like that that really scare the bejeezus out of me. How do these people function in normal life? It reminds me of a hairstylist I once had that thought the Sun and the Moon were the same thing, it just got dimmer at night (true story).

Not to worry though, for every left field question, there were plenty of bright and curious types of all ages with good questions. There was one guy who stayed for like half an hour just firing one question after the other, he was awesome, he kept apologizing to the gathering crowd for monopolizing me and they were like, no, we're learning so much from your questions, keep going. And the kid who was allergic to dust and wanted to know if he would be allergic to Moon dust too - that's a great question. (For the record, probably not, most terrestrial dust allergies are due to dust mites, which lunar soil doesn't have, but at least two people during Apollo one astronaut and one flight surgeon, experienced "hayfever-like" symptoms after being exposed to lunar dust.)

All in all, it was a good time. The museum was crowded, people mostly seemed interested and engaged. This was the first "Moon day" the museum has done, they normally do a "Mars day" but made an exception this year for the anniversary. I hope they don't wait until the next bit anniversary to do it again. I mean, Mars is cool and all, but come on, give the Moon some love too!

The Apollo 14 landing site from LRO

This is just too cool! You can see where they walked! More images of some of the other landing sites can be found here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

LCROSS impact might upset the aliens

According to this guy, the LCROSS mission which launched last week (That's it in the picture. I was there! It was awesome!) and will impact into the Lunar South Pole on October 9th of this year (mark your calendars), breaks international law, and may rile up the Moon's alien colonists.

I've got to tell you, the thing that bothers me most about this article is not the ridiculousness of the whole alien thing, it's that he talks about this supposed alien base being on the "dark" side of the Moon. People, the Moon doesn't have a "dark" side! It has a near side and a far side (or "backside" but I've been told that because "backside" had other connotations I should avoid using it). The far side has a two-week long night, followed by a two-week long day, just like the side we get to see.

Also, and I realize this is a minor point in the scope of his overall arguments, but the US never signed the Moon Treaty, and therefore, even if LCROSS did violate it (which it doesn't), it still wouldn't matter.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

New Paintings

Some recent paintings:

Titan and Enceledus

Four Moons

Earth and Moon #4

The Great Moon Rock Heist

So, this article came out about a month ago now, I'm a little behind (see previous post), but I just couldn't let it slip by.

It's a rather entertaining read. It's the story of how an intern, Thad, stole some Moon rocks from JSC back in 2002, or I should say, it's Thad's version of the story. Although Thad and I never crossed paths, I too was an intern in building 31 and then a grad student and then a postdoc, and I can assure you that nearly every word of this account is totally fabricated, with the possible exception of this, my favorite line, "Sometime between the heist and its resolution, Tiffany and Thad arranged the Moon rocks on a bed—and had sex amongst them." Ugh, the contamination! Not to mention, that can't have been comfortable.

The truth is that the safe Thad and his girlfriend stole was from a scientist's office not the vault, and the altruistic spin he tries to put on his escapades, that he was taking "returned samples" that no longer had any scientific value is ludicrous. All of the Moon rocks have scientific value, even samples that have been previously studied, and these particular samples had been allocated to the safe's owner for use in specific experiments.

Thad has served his sentence and is apparently now trying to get a book deal. I wish him luck. No, on second though, I don't. What an ass.

Life update

So I haven't posted a blog entry in months. I blame Facebook and Twitter for eating up all my free internet time. Also, I moved across the country, again (for those keeping score, that's the 5th time in 6 years), and started a new job (not a "postdoc" or a "fellowship", an actual job - I know, I'm shocked too). Still working for NASA, but now I'm at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville Alabama. Alabama is one place I never thought I would end up living, and while I'm still adjusting to the Southern culture, I have to say that Huntsville is actually a great little city. So here's hoping I don't have to move again for a while, because moving sucks. In the meantime, I will try to get back to at least semi-regular posts here, and I also occasionally post at the Women in Planetary Science blog.