Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Stop Censorship

Critical thought and scientific literacy are at risk. One of the many tools to combat this vulnerability is the publication of and freedom to access information. Without an open exchange of observations, opinions, and interpretations we fail each other and ourselves.

But how can the US House and Senate bills SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act) compromise an open exchange of information?  While their stated goals are to end copyright infringements, they threaten to damage the free and open Internet you and I are using right now. Large media companies will be able call for the blocking of websites suspected of copyright infringement and the burden of proof will fall onto accused websites. With or without the resources, small websites will be required to police all user-contributed materials, not to mention defend themselves.

It's important to remember that the Internet, this free and open platform, is a global system of interconnected computers (and computer networks) that use a set of agreements on how computers will behave when connected. A free and open platform isn't a thing. To legislate and control an open exchange of information as a thing is dangerous, ineffective, and short-sighted at best.

SOPA and PIPA threaten the necessary development and practice of critical thought and consequently they threaten to weaken scientific literacy.

Find your senators and representative, it's that easy! I found mine:

Senator Dick Durbin
711 Hart Senate Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510

Senator Mark Kirk
524 Hart Senate Bldg.
Washington DC, 20510

Representative Daniel Lipinski
1717 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Catch a Falling Snowflake

And put it under observation!

It took you hours to shovel and brush the snow off your car. You're frustrated at the plows for blocking your driveway and at poor driving conditions. You've forgotten that graying piles of snow are mounds of tiny crystals.

I forget how frustrating snow can be when I stop to remember how beautiful it is.

No two snowflakes are the same! But all flake crystals have six sides due to the shape and bonding of water molecules. 

Up in the cold clouds ice crystals form on dust particles as water vapor condenses. Partially melted crystals cling together to form snowflakes.  

Figure Credit: Kenneth G. Libbrecht; Professor of Physics at Caltech
There are types of crystal shapes: plates, dendrites, needles, columns, columns with plates, and the beautiful dendrite plate stars.

Shape depends on the variations in temperature and humidly on a crystal's path to the ground. Every path, and therefore every snowflake is unique.

What kinds of snowflakes are landing in your backyard? Catch them to find out:
 You'll need falling snow, (chilled) black paper, and a magnifying glass (or not).

I put the black paper in the freezer for about a half-hour before heading outside, you don't want your snowflakes to land and melt. You might want to anchor the paper so it doesn't blow away. I still don't know where one of my sheets of paper landed.

 A cluster of snowflakes on a cold piece of paper. Maybe you don't even need paper:
 A snowflake on the chilled sleeve of my sweatshirt.
A snowflake lingering on my cold car.
  Perhaps you're up for more of a challenge?!

You'll still need falling snow, some liquid plastic spray (like Krylon Crystal Clear), and microscope slides (or piece of clear plastic/glass; be creative). 
Before catching snow, put the spray and slides in the freezer for about an hour, you don't want your materials melting the snowflakes. Spray the slides and let the snow flakes fall! The liquid plastic will form a shell preserving the snowflake's detail, resulting in a replica of your snowflakes.  .
 And if you have a USB-microscope you can photograph your snowflake on a slide.

Happy snowflake catching!