Posts Tagged ‘science’

[Warning!  this post contains adult content!]

I spent most of Saturday and part of Sunday weeding the rock garden beds in the backyard, and I couldn’t help but notice something weird.  There were lots of boxelder bugs out and about– but that’s pretty typical here.  The weird part is that 9 out of 10 of the bugs I saw yesterday were attached to another bug:

Most of these bug pairs were not sitting still– oh no!  they were scuttling about in one direction or another, like a push-me-pull-you.  I thought the first one I spotted was amusing, but then as I realized that almost every single one of them was in this condition, I started to feel sorry for the very few that were just walking around on their own.  And my thoughts that I should go in to get the camera so that I could illustrate this blog post became less and less urgent.

Well, it is spring, I thought, time for the “birds and the bees” and all that– but when I started noticing hordes of tiny flame-red soft-bellied bugs accompanying some of the adult boxelder bugs, my amusement turned to concern as I wondered if we need to worry about an infestation.  As it turns out, though, my internet research showed that these critters feed almost exclusively on maple seeds– which explains why we see so many in our backyard, as it is dominated by one of the oldest, biggest silver maples in town.  They don’t eat other plants, they don’t bite or sting, and they’re pretty inoffensive in every way.  And, they’re even a humorous interlude when you’ve got your head down over a bed of weeds for a few hours in the springtime.

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Supermoon tonight

Are you ready for the Supermoon tonight?  Here’s last night’s (almost) full moon over the Coors plant and South Table Mountain, the view from our front deck.

Tonight’s supermoon, or perigee moon, is supposed to happen at 11:34pm EDT tonight (a much more kindly 9:34 for me!).  For some more science-y information about the phenomenon and some other more dramatic supermoon effects elsewhere in the solar system, see this article.

Wherever you are, may your viewing be clear and exciting!

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My chemistry class is wrapping up: only 2 more lectures until the end of the semester.  I’ve learned a lot, but have not mastered anything at all.  What do I mean by that?

Well, I’ve sat in on the lectures but not taken any exams.  Therefore, I didn’t study, nor did I do any homework problems.  When the semester started, I did try to do some of the homework and the practice quizzes, but quickly got frustrated with the mire of SI unit conversion and algebraic equationing required.  And this is a non-calculus-based class!

Not that I hate math or can’t do it.  I liked math a lot in high school, and took the AP calculus exam, which got me some college calculus credits.  And, it’s not that I dislike the chemistry or can’t do it.  I could do all the work required for the class, and get a good grade, too.  It would just take about 10 times the amount of energy and thought that I’m currently expending.

So, what was the point?  I ask myself now.

On the chemistry professor’s recommendation to the class, I’m now reading a book called The Disappearing Spoon, by science writer Sam Kean.  It’s a narrative journey through the periodic table of the elements, combining historical anecdotes and the chemistry behind them.  It’s well-written, a good read that I would have enjoyed even had I not been taking chemistry.  So why couldn’t I have saved myself the classtime and just read a few books like that?  Well, for one thing, I wouldn’t have stuck with any books that got more technical than Kean’s does.  And class lecture definitely gets technical.  So, I understand the book at a deeper level because of chem lecture, and the two are self-reinforcing.  I still am not agile with calculations or conversions, and cannot spout orbital levels, compound names, or oxidation numbers off the top of my head.

I do have dim memories of the topics, however, and can dredge them up from my memory, or my notes if necessary.  So it was worth something.  Now, I just wonder, should I take Chemistry 122 in the fall?

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Dumbbell in a donut

Back in 11th grade, I found chemistry to be one of the most boring and dumb classes ever.  My teacher, Mrs. Young, was trying to exceed the standards for NY public school students and give us a leg up on future science education, but I was, unfortunately, seated amongst other students who were much more funny and interesting than what in my opinion was a rather tedious branch of the sciences (actually, now that I think of it, there was just one boy who probably was the source of distraction for all of us…).  I made it through the year with a B average or higher, but I swore I’d never take chemistry again.  For someone who planned to go on in one of the sciences, this was a pretty gutsy pronouncement, and it explains my ever-so-brief career as a college physics  major, followed by long stints in the English departments of several universities.

As if in cosmic retribution for my haughty adolescent pronouncement, this semester I am taking CHGN 121, or General Chemistry 1, at the School of Mines where I work.  Perhaps “taking” is too strong a word: what I am actually doing is sitting in on the lectures and sort of reading along in the text book.  The goal is to become a better reference librarian to chemistry and chemical engineering students, for chemistry has a voluminous and confusing body of reference literature associated with it.  But part of me- an older, wiser, more mature me– wants to learn and come to love the subject I spurned in high school.

I’m still unsure how it will all turn out.  Until last week, the class covered material that I recognized fairly easily from my high school days.  Now we’re working on quantum mechanics, a new topic for me, but one so charged and freighted with cultural allusion that it’s difficult to tell if I will master it with true scientific knowledge, or merely appropriate it as a literary scholar. My metaphorically-oriented brain keeps thinking about The His Dark Materials books (The Golden Compass, etc.) and The Matrix as we learn about the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, antimatter, and the generally weird behavior of electrons.

And then there are weirdnesses that are just funny.  The dumbbell in a donut, for example, describes the orbital path of an electron around the nucleus of an atom.  Since electrons behave like waves and not particles, the only way to describe the position of an electron is in terms of the shape that its wave form makes, and one of these is the dumbbell in a donut shape.  And that makes me laugh and think of Homer Simpson.  Mmm… donut… Hey!  who are you calling a dumbbell?!?

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