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Nuclear Fission was Invented by 2 Billion Years Ago

By Allison Kubo Hutchsion 
Although humans first witnessed nuclear reactors in 1942 with the development of the Chicago-Pile by Enrico Fermi, natural fission reactors existed billions of years ago. Fission is the process of breaking apart atoms of heavy elements such as uranium. Energy is released during fission in the form of heat and can be harnessed in fission reactors to produce electricity. Fission is separate from radioactive decay where an atom spontaneously emits some radiation which can be timed by the half life. Fission is instead initiated by a neutron colliding with an atom and splitting it. One fission pathway commonly used is that of U235, a uranium atom which has an atomic weight of 235 with 92 protons and 143 neutrons. In order to produce fission a fission event, an atom of U235 is bombarded by a neutron when this neutron collides with the atom it splits into two fission products and produces heat and more neutrons. If these neutrons then collide with another U235 atom …
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Capturing the Calima: How Citizen Scientists Help NASA Study Saharan Dust Storms

By Jeremiah O'MahonyThe Canary Islands spent a few days of March 2018 shrouded in Saharan dust. Calimas, two-to three-day-long gusts of sand and warm wind named for the haze they cause, reduce visibility to a few hundred feet and leave a film of fine dust when they finally move on. They’re a seasonal hazard, so this was far from the first time it had happened. However, it was the first time NASA had put out an open call for citizen scientists to record the sky above their heads. Undeterred by the hazy view, some anonymous Canary Islanders downloaded NASA’s GLOBE Observer app and began to record. They took photos in each cardinal direction, and—crucially—upwards. They uploaded their observations, rubbed the Saharan grit out of their eyes, and went on with their day.
NASA founded GLOBE, short for Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment, over two decades ago to get school children involved in the scientific process. “That’s really how GLOBE started,” said GLOBE Clou…

It’s Past Time to Take Out Our (Space) Trash

By: Hannah Pell
On September 22, 2020, NASA and the U. S. Space Command announced that they were tracking an unidentified piece of space debris that appeared to be hurtling toward the International Space Station (ISS). It was predicted to pass by within only a few kilometers, dangerously too close to chance, at 5:21 p.m. CT. The astronauts boarded the Soyuz spacecraft “out of an abundance of caution,” and NASA controllers fired thrusters to redirect the ISS out of the debris’ trajectory. The object — later identified as a piece of a Japanese rocket launched back in 2018 — whizzed by the ISS at 14.6 km/s (more than 30,000 mph). Crisis averted. 

This close call was the third time this year alone that the ISS had to maneuver to avoid a potential collision with space junk. (The ISS has maneuvered a total of 27 times since 1999 to avoid possible collisions). “In the last 2 weeks, there have been 3 high concern potential conjunctions. Debris is getting worse!” NASA administrator Jim Bridensti…

100 Seconds to Doomsday

By: Hannah Pell

On 23 January 2020, the Doomsday Clock was calibrated to 100 seconds before midnight — the closest it has even been — by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the organization in charge of the clock. Because the Doomsday Clock is set no sooner than annually, this decision was made even before the COVID-19 outbreak could be taken into consideration; the idea that humanity is now more than ever closer to widespread disaster than even before the pandemic is certainly a chilling one.

What is the Doomsday Clock, and why is it important? It turns out that it is rooted in the history of modern physics, as a product of 1940s nuclear physicists’ shared concerns about the potential destructiveness and widespread threats of their very new science. However, its lasting impact is as a catalyst for public debate about the complex yet integral roles of science in society.

Eugene Rabinowitch and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists THE ATOMIC SCIENTISTS SPEAK UP, reads a he…

Have We Talked Enough About Hair

Originally written for https://www.tamiawilliams.com/blog - TamiaWilliams 

 This is my mom's favorite picture of me as a child. On the back, it's dated Oct/Nov 2001 - Tamia - 5yrs old. I have no recollection of this day, when the picture was taken or the events leading up to this moment. (I do know I went through a phase where I refused to smile without showing my teeth.) Lastly, I remember that hairstyle.

As a child, the weekends were meant for extracurricular activities and washing my hair. Every two weeks my mother would gather my hair products, clean off the kitchen counter, and wash my hair in the sink. I hated wash days as a kid, that meant soap in my eyes, meticulous combing of my hair and tears. I vividly remember the tears, (yo girl is tender-headed).

So when I sing Solange's Don't Touch My Hair I sing it because I'm tender-headed (and also because you should actually never touch a black woman's hair!)

I've learned to love my hair and her many cu…

In Quarantine, the World is Quieter

By Allison Kubo Hutchison 
Earthquakes are well known to cause seismic activity in the Earth but you probably aren’t familiar with “football quakes”. Anthropogenic seismic sources such as football games also produce detectable seismic noise that seismologists can pick up on their instruments. In urban settings, road traffic, public transport have all been studied as seismic sources. This is an important consideration as scientists listen for warnings of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions within the noise of human activity. We have to be able to tell what signal is fluid moving in the crust potentially indicating volcanic activity and what signal is a touchdown.

Since the declaration of the global pandemic in March lockdown measures have resulted in as much as a 50% decrease in urban seismic noise. The sounds of ambient life have quieted as people stay in their homes and disband large gatherings. A recent study released Sept. 11 quantifies the global quietness as we all observe this…

The Skinny On Skin

What makes skin so tough?
Originally published: May 4 2015 - 11:45am, Inside Science News Service
By: Lisa Marie Potter, Contributor

(Inside Science) -- Skin has to be flexible enough to jump, crawl, and kick with us. It also has to be resilient enough to withstand our falls, scrapes, and cuts. Scientists have marveled at skin's strength for years without knowing why it's so durable.

Now, scientists have identified the mechanical properties that give skin its toughness. Their findings are the first to show that collagen, the most abundant protein in skin, moves to absorb stress and prevent the skin from tearing. In the future, this knowledge could help us use nature's blueprint to make better synthetic skin and improve the strength of man-made materials.