Saturday, May 20, 2017

9 DANGEROUS SCIENTIFIC WORK LOCATIONS

I read an article about scientists who work on location rather than in a lab…the ones whose labs are out there, in dangerous places and situations where most of us would never go.

So, in no particular order, here are nine of these dangerous scientific work locations.

1)  Inside Volcanoes
When you think of geologists your first thought is usually the study of rocks and various landforms, something safe and basically stable. But for the branch of this particular science known as volcanology, things are definitely less stable and certainly a little hotter. Having been to Mt. St. Helens, Washington, after the explosive eruption and viewing the devastation first hand, I'm very familiar with the story of David Johnston, the thirty year old volcanologist who was on duty at the time of the eruption and was one of the fifty-seven people who died in the eruption. Volcanologists study the intense heat and chaos inside active volcanoes, and recently a team of three researchers descended inside the Marum Volcano on Ambrym Island off the coast of Australia (pictured above) to study lava flows inside. Wearing a heat-resistant suit, one of them descended 1200 feet into the volcano’s crater to capture video footage of the lava’s movement. Normally, scientists use robotic cameras mounted to small helicopters to do this extremely dangerous work.

2) Tornado Country
The movie Twister gave us a good look at what storm chasers do, and those who live in the part of the U.S. referred to as Tornado Alley see the results of their work on the news when the storm conditions are present that produce tornadoes. Collecting data on storms is a tough process. Getting close to a tornado is risky on a good day, and self-proclaimed storm chasers run that risk all the time. Even with such advanced technology as Doppler radar giving us the overall picture of a severe storm, some scientists claim there is some data that can only be gathered at ground level. One of the most noted tornado researchers, Tim Samaras, routinely drove in front of tornadoes to place cameras and pressure sensors to record the velocities of objects swept up by the storm. Unfortunately, in 2013 Samaras, his son and another storm chaser died in an Oklahoma tornado.

3) Biosafety Level 4 Labs
Laboratories that deal with germs and diseases that can be dangerous or fatal to humans are given a biosafety rating from one to four. Facilities that deal with Level 4 are where the really bad stuff happens. One of the most notable is the integrated research facility located at Fort Detrick, Maryland. The laboratory is housed in a nondescript three-story office building—an airtight, pressurized environment restricted to only thirty researchers. The germs they work with include epidemic diseases like Ebola. The facility has airlocks that separate it from the outside world and anything that leads outside the building, such as light fixtures or electrical outlets, is sealed in epoxy to prevent even a single germ from escaping. Scientists are given a seven-minute showering with virus-killing chemicals before they leave.

4)  Underwater Caves
The ocean is a massive mystery to humanity, covering the majority of the Earth’s surface. Even though it's part of our planet, we seem to know more about outer space than we do the depths of our oceans. One of the most interesting areas under the ocean's surface are what are known as blue holes, underwater caves that can reach as deep as 600 feet below sea level. These caves have difficult topography. They vary in size from massive, sprawling caverns to holes barely big enough to admit a human. Diving there can be very dangerous with unpredictable currents. Despite the dangers, scientific rewards are huge with both biological and archaeological finds waiting to be discovered.

5)  Tree Canopies
Forest ecosystems are made up of distinct layers, each with its own climate and variety of plants and animals. It’s a simple task to study the layers nearest the ground, but botanists have lots of questions about what’s happening up above. And that’s where canopy research comes in. Scientists at Humboldt State University climb to the top of trees that can exceed 350 feet in height, anchoring their bodies to the trunk. From that risky perch they can observe the canopy ecosystem…as long as they don't lose their balance. At the top of the trees, researchers have discovered a whole ecosystem of moss, lichens, and even whole new trees and bushes growing from dead stumps.

6)  Amundsen-Scott Station
Originally built by the United States government in 1956, the Amundsen-Scott Station sits squarely on the south pole. With temperatures ranging from minus 13.6 degrees Celsius (minus 56.48 Fahrenheit) on a nice day to minus 82.8 degrees Celsius (minus 181.04 Fahrenheit) when winter is in high gear, it’s one of the most inhospitable regions on the planet. Even though blizzards and intense winds are common, astronomers spend months at the station because the six months of total darkness during winter makes Amundsen-Scott a perfect place to observe the night sky. Other researchers study the movements of the Antarctic ice sheet—the station itself moves about thirty-three feet a year as the ice drifts.

7)  Aquarius Lab
Operated by the National Oceanic and Aeronautic Administration, this deep-sea science station comes with a little twist. The human body is only capable of staying underwater for a short period at a time because decompression sickness (commonly referred to as the bends) can cause incredible damage when gas bubbles form and disrupt tissue. Some scientists have long-term research projects that need to happen in deep water, so they do it at the Aquarius Lab. This facility rests on the sea floor outside of Key Largo, Florida at a depth of 50 feet. Researchers spend up to ten days underwater at a time, studying the nearby coral reefs.

8)  Inside Hurricanes
Here’s another meteorological condition where some scientists like to get a little too close. The National Oceanic and Aeronautic Administration employs a number of flight meteorologists who take airplanes into the eyes of hurricanes to gather data on the storm’s strength and direction. They use two planes—one is a Gulfstream G-4 that has the easy job of circling the storm’s funnel, the second is a smaller propeller plane that actually penetrates the fast-moving wind to fly right to the eye of the storm. In addition to using Doppler radar on the plane’s tail, they also release a device called a dropsonde that transmits pressure and humidity data.

9)  Outer Space
And finally…there is literally no environment as hostile to the human body as the vacuum of space. Long-term weightlessness has negative effects on muscle tone, bone density and the immune system. Exposure to radiation in low-earth orbit comes at levels ten times higher than the normal dose on the Earth’s surface. And there’s also the fact that outer space doesn’t have any of that oxygen stuff our bodies need to function. Experimentation in outer space has led to a number of fascinating discoveries in fields as diverse as astronomy and cancer medicine.

And there you have a sampling of dangerous locations some scientists refer to as their lab (minus those white lab coats, of course).

Saturday, May 13, 2017

19 Things That Kill More People Than Sharks

And by things that kill, I'm not referring to crime or war.  Some are bizarre and others more common place.  A recent survey provided a list of cause-of-death statistics that I found interesting and thought I would share with you.  I actually found two lists, one a list of 10 Incredibly Bizarre Death Statistics and the other a list of 20 (all the 10 items from the first list are on the list of 20 plus 10 more).

Sharks reportedly kill 5 people annually.  But that's a small number compared to other bizarre causes of death.

Roller Coasters are responsible for 6 accidental deaths annually.  Overall, the risk factor for injury while riding a roller coaster is very low.  In the U.S., people take about 900 million rides a year.

Vending Machines kill 13 people a year.  What?  A crazed vending machine out on a killing spree?  Nope, the deaths are a result of the vending machine toppling over and crushing the unfortunate person who happened to be in the way.

High School Football is responsible for 20 tragic deaths annually.

Ants kill 30 people annually.  There are over 280 different species of ants that can kill with the fire ant and siafu ant, both found in Africa, among the most deadly.  Ants live in colonies that can reach 20 million ants in a single colony.  Once an attack begins, ants can easily overpower their prey.

Dogs kill 30 people annually in the U.S.  There are approximately 4.7 million dog bite victims in the U.S. alone with 1000 of those treated in emergency rooms.  Most of those victims are children who were bitten in the face.

Jelly Fish are responsible for 40 deaths annually.  Most jelly fish are not deadly, but some can cause anaphylaxis which can be fatal.

Tornadoes kill an average of 60 people annually, with some years having more tornado outbreaks than other years.

Hot Dogs are responsible for 70 deaths annually, primarily from choking.

Icicles kill 100 people a year in Russia.  This happens when sharp icicles fall from snowy rooftops and land on unsuspecting victims on the sidewalks below.

Deer are responsible for 130 annual deaths.

Bathtubs account for 340 annual deaths, primarily from people slipping and falling.  They die either from a fatal blow to the head or knocking themselves out and drowning.

Falling Out of Bed results in a surprising 450 deaths a year.  According to the Center for Disease Control, falling out of bed produces 1.8 million emergency room visits and over 400,000 hospital admissions each year.  The very young and very old are most at risk with people over 65 faring the worst.

Shopping On Black Friday gives us 550 annual deaths.  A U.S. phenomenon, that mad scramble for bargains the day after Thanksgiving which is the busiest shopping day on the year.  The name Black Friday referring to a financially good economic situation, the day that retail businesses operate 100% in the black for the rest of the year (all income being profit, rather than the loss after deducting expenses related to being in the red).

Autoerotic Asphyxiation kills 600 people annually.  This is the act of strangling or suffocating (most often by hanging) yourself to heighten sexual arousal.  Depriving the brain of oxygen gives a person a dizzy, high feeling, however it's all too easy to make a mistake and accidently kill yourself while practicing this dangerous sex act.

Volcanoes kill 845 people annually.

Airplanes are responsible for an average 1,200 annual deaths.

Hippos come in on the survey with 2,900 deaths annually.  Many experts believe that the Hippopotamus is the most dangerous animal in all of Africa.  They weigh up to 8,000 pounds and can gallop at 18 miles per hour.  They have been known to upset boats for no reason and bite passengers with their huge, sharp teeth.  They are aggressive, unpredictable and have no fear of humans.

Texting while driving is responsible for 6,000 deaths each year.  A survey by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute reports that a driver's risk of collision is 23 times greater when they are texting while driving.

Lightning, the final cause of death on our list, kills 10,000 people annually.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

10 Things You May Not Know About Vikings

So…you think you know all about the Vikings?  Those seafaring Scandinavians who raided and settled coastal sites in the British Isles and beyond between the 9th and 11th centuries?  You've watched the movies and television shows, have been exposed to the caricatures and stereotypes.  But I'll bet there's a lot about the Vikings that you don't know.

1)  Vikings Didn't Wear Horned Helmets
Forget all those Viking warrior costumes you've seen in those movies, television shows, and pictures seen with the characters wearing those elaborate horned helmets.  Descriptions from the Viking age don't mention it and the only authentic Viking helmet ever discovered is horn-free.  This concept seems to have originated with painters in the 19th century, possibly inspired by ancient Norse and Germanic priests who wore horned helmets for ceremonial purposes long before the Viking Age.

2)  Vikings Were Known For Their Excellent Hygiene
What with all that boat rowing and decapitating their enemies, the logical assumption would be that Viking men must have stunk.  However, excavations of Viking sites have revealed tweezers, razors, combs and ear cleaners made from animal bones and antlers.  Vikings also bathed at least once a week, much more often than other Europeans of that time period.

3)  Vikings Used A Unique Liquid To Start Fires
The Vikings collected a fungus called touchwood from tree bark and boiled it for several days in urine then pounded it into a substance similar to felt.  The sodium nitrate in urine allowed the material to smolder instead of burn.  This gave the Vikings the availability of taking the fire with them on the go.

4)  Vikings Buried Their Dead In Boats
The Viking's boats were very important to them so it was a great honor to be buried in one.  It was believed that the vessels that served them well in life would see them safely to their final destination.

5)  Vikings Were Active In The Slave Trade
Many Vikings became rich through human trafficking.  They captured and enslaved women and young men while rampaging through Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Slavic settlements then sold them in giant slave markets in Europe and the Middle East.

6)  Viking Women Enjoyed Some Basic Rights
Viking girls married at age 12 and took care of the household while their husbands sailed off on adventures.  However, they had more freedom than other women of their era.  They could inherit property, request a divorce and reclaim their dowries if their marriage ended.

7)  Viking Men Spent Most Of Their Time Farming
Most Viking men swung scythes rather than swords.  True, some were callous pirates who only left their boats long enough to burn villages but most planted crops and raised cattle, goats, pigs and sheep on their small farms.

8)  Vikings Skied For Fun
Scandinavians developed primitive skis approximately 6000 years ago.  By the Viking age, Norsemen regarded skiing as an efficient way to get around and a popular recreation activity.  They even worshiped Ullr, the god of skiing.

9)  Viking Men Preferred Being Blond
Brunette Vikings, usually men, used strong soap with a high lye content to bleach their hair and in some regions also their beards.  These treatments also helped with a health and hygiene problem—head lice.

10)  Vikings Were Never Part Of A Unified Group
They probably didn't even call themselves Vikings.  The term simply referred to all Scandinavians who took part in overseas expeditions.  During the Viking Age, the land that is now Denmark, Norway and Sweden was a patchwork of tribes that often fought against each other…when they weren't busy creating havoc on foreign shores.

I still erroneously visualize the Vikings with those horned helmets.  It's an image that I grew up with and can't seem to shake.  :)