Naomi

Dandelion Flight

image of a single dandelion with the two vortices of air above it

Dandelion seed with air vortex above filaments (taken from Cummins et al, 2018).

Today I learned: two years ago scientists finally figured out the secret to dandelion flight. A group from the UK found a new type of air movement (an air bubble/vortex that stays right above each seed, but doesn’t interact with it) that keeps dandelion seeds afloat. Each seed basically acts like a disk with a lot of holes in it that allows air to flow through. They also showed that the seeds can stay afloat so well and travel so far because of the structure of the seeds. Dandelion seeds are lightweight and plumed, which means that they can create air drag while still providing stability. So the next time you blow on a dandelion puff, you can think of each seed as a little parachute being carried by the wind. 

 

Reference: Cummins, Cathal, et al. “A Separated Vortex Ring Underlies the Flight of the Dandelion.” Nature, vol. 562, no. 7727, 2018, pp. 414–418., doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0604-2.

Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

front cover of Dr. Mutter's Marvels by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz on a white background. To the left of the book is a bottle with dark liquid, to the top a wooden container engraved with a floral pattern, and to the right the base of deep red goblet.Admittedly, I picked up Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz a few years ago because of the cover. I thought this book was going to be about a doctor in the 1800s and the crazy cases he saw and the surgeries he performed on people with serious deformities. But what I got instead was a book that was dedicated to showcasing Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter’s revolutionary thinking and beliefs when it came to patient care and medical student teaching. In the mid-1800s, Philadelphia may have been a rapidly-growing, modern city, but it was also an incredibly dangerous place. During this time, asthma, a broken bone, or a rotten tooth could just as easily kill you as yellow fever, cholera, or smallpox. Amidst all of this, Philadelphia was also the city with one of the oldest and most renowned medical schools in the country – the University of Pennsylvania. However, compared to what we expect of medical school graduates these days, very little was required of students in those days. Students often graduated with as little as a year or two of schooling, and essentially no practical, hands-on experience with patients. It should come as no surprise that patients were treated simply as cases, with little attachment or care shown to them by doctors. It was not a good time to fall ill. Continue reading…

The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson

the front of The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson against a background of old red brick and grassIf you’re the type of person who is into true crime documentaries or procedural/detective TV shows, then The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson is the book for you. This book is part history lesson and part step-by-step breakdown and tracking of the cholera epidemic that hit London in 1854, which killed about 700 people within a 250-foot radius in less than 2 weeks. Johnson doesn’t begin the book by dropping us right into the onset of the outbreak. Rather, he starts by vividly describing all of the jobs and people that were required to maintain Victorian London’s version of a waste management/recycling system. You begin to get a sense of the precarious balance that was present during this time between the booming population growth and the resulting waste removal problem. As with any economy, when there is a need for a service, especially when it’s an undesirable one, the cost of that service goes up and people decide to find a way to get around the need for it. In the case of London, their solution to the ever-increasing accumulation and removal of human waste was to just dump it into the river. Most of us as modern readers can easily predict how this would not end well, but as Johnson details in this book, there were many beliefs in place during the 1850s that prevented this realization and inevitably led to the cholera outbreak.

Continue reading…

The Philadelphia Chromosome: A Genetic Mystery, a Lethal Cancer, and the Improbable Invention of a Lifesaving Treatment by Jessica Wapner

The Philadelphia Chromosome by Jessica Wapner is placed partially on top of a silver matchbook with stickers and partially on a chunk hand-woven grey and blue blanket that is reminiscent of chromosomesWhereas my last review was for a book focused more on the individuals and retelling of an important historical period, this next book seamlessly blends the stories of the individuals and researchers with that of the science they were involved in. The Philadelphia Chromosome: A Genetic Mystery, a Lethal Cancer, and the Improbable Invention of a Lifesaving Treatment by Jessica Wapner tells a detailed story that spans from the discovery of a DNA mutation to the creation and implementation of a therapy to treat individuals afflicted with the cancer caused by said mutation. Wapner paints a very vivid scene of one individual who was diagnosed with the cancer, a type of leukemia, going in for a check-up following treatment with the therapy that could save his life. As a scientist who is used to working with blood samples, I know that bone marrow samples must be retrieved during check-ups for leukemia patients. Even still, when Wapner colorfully describes the gruesome bone marrow retrieval process, I’ll admit that I got a bit queasy. Eventually, we are invited into the immense relief that individual experienced when he was told the therapy was working and he had years more to live that he had never anticipated having. The story-telling here and in the rest of the book is masterful in the sense that we begin to fully appreciate the plight of these leukemia patients and just how important science and the resulting therapy was for them. Continue reading…

The Girls of the Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan

the front cover of The Girl son Atomic City by Denise Kiernan is visible with an open laptop and glasses in the backgroundIf you’re interested in a book that leans more towards historical non-fiction with some light science sprinkled throughout, then this is a great book to read. In just the introduction of The Girls of the Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II, Denise Kiernan does an excellent job of painting a vivid picture of this period of the 1940s in a “town” that most of the country did not know even existed. Very quickly, we are placed into the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee, where radioactive material was enriched for the atomic bombs. Oak Ridge, Tennessee may have been isolated from the rest of the country and shrouded in secrecy, but like any town packed with every type of person, it faced moral and social problems just like the rest of the country in the 1940s. Problems like segregation, sexism among the workforce, and the psychological effects of living in an environment where everything you do is a secret. Through the lens of the women of Oak Ridge and the atomic bomb, Kiernan tells a story that many did not know or fully understand for decades after the war ended, and yet everything in this book resonates with the problems and emotions that we experience today. Continue reading…

The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey

the front of The Wave by Susan Casey is visible on top of a silver MacBook with a sticker on it. Underneath these is a beach towel with different shades of blue stripesI am by no one’s definition an adrenaline junkie, but the introduction of Susan Casey’s The Wave is enough to get any reader’s heart pounding and mind racing from secondhand adrenaline. Casey’s ability to so vividly drop the reader into those first few harrowing, white-knuckle scenes is astounding. Despite being born and raised in California, the farthest I’ve been from the shoreline was the hour spent snorkeling along the beach for a school trip, and yet with Casey’s story-telling, it felt like I was on that ship in the middle of a storm that produced wave sizes that no one had predicted. Her writing style and the narrative she carries through this book stuck with me so much that even though it’s been four years since I first found and read this book, it kept me riveted the entire time that I re-read it. And perhaps more importantly, four years later, this book is still one of the first books I recommend to people who are looking for something non-fiction to read. Continue reading…

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach

a hand is holding Bonk by Mary Roach. Part of a silver laptop, glasses, and a blue and white bedspread are visible in the backgroundIf you’re looking for a book that will casually drop facts that will simultaneously make your mouth drop open in disbelief and make you want to share this factoid with everyone, then Mary Roach’s Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex is the perfect book. I don’t often outright laugh while reading a book, but my roommate can attest to the fact that every time I opened this book, there was something that had me laughing. Frank descriptions of the ‘sordid’ past of sex research, anecdotes from being a participant in a study, crazy stories that make you exclaim, and more, all come together to create her distinctive blunt, yet hilarious writing voice that entertains you and makes you invested in the story she is telling. Bonk is a wonderful showcase of the time and care Mary Roach routinely puts into the topics she researches. Continue reading…