Jeff Danner

2014 Predictions Part II: The Negative

Last week I set out my predictions for five positive science and technology news stories that I am expecting in 2014. This week I’ve got predictions for four negative ones. As with last week, each prediction begins with an imaginary headline. 1. Hurricane Cristobal to be Second Category 4 Storm to Hit Pensacola this Month Every year tropical cyclones form in the Atlantic and make their way towards the southeastern United States. Over the past century, an average of six strong storms – categories 3, 4, and 5 – made landfall each decade. Just as simple statistics govern how often a single person will be struck twice by lightning, they also tell us that one of these years the same city on our coastline will be devastated by a category 3+ storm more than once. I predict that 2014 will be the year that Pensacola will be the city. This sequence of events will convince all but the most ardent of skeptics that Global Warming is actually occurring. This will be particularly ironic since the events in question will not be related to climate change but are the simple outcome of math. 2. Food Riots in Liberia Enter their Third Week The United Nations estimates that one in eight people around the globe suffers from chronic undernourishment. A disproportionate number of these hungry people live in under-developed countries. Human...

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2014 Predictions Part I: The Postive

I decided to kick off the year with my predictions about what I expect to be the most significant science stories of 2014 – five predictions for positive stories this week and five negative ones next week. Each topic begins with an imaginary headline for the story. I’ll report back in December to let you know how I did. 1. “Kick and Kill” Offers Hope for HIV Eradication Antiretroviral (ARV) therapies have advanced to the point that, at least in first-world countries, HIV has become a chronic treatable condition rather than a death sentence. When taken regularly, ARV drugs can kill any cell in the body in which the HIV is actively replicating – a necessity for the virus to persist – and allow the victim to live a relatively normal life for decades. Unfortunately, HIV can hide from ARV drugs by lying dormant within certain cells for long periods of time. Therefore , HIV patients must take ARV therapies every day for the rest of their lives to be prepared for the day when the dormant viruses awaken. Researchers around the globe are testing a novel approach called “Kick and Kill.” Kick and Kill adds a second type of drug to ARV therapy which activates dormant HIV. While it may sound like a bit of a reckless move to intentionally stimulate a deadly virus within your body, as...

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Common Science 2013 Index

Below is my third annual index for Common Science on Chapelboro.com.  I’d like to thank my readers for their support and for all of the interesting questions I have received from you at commonscience@chapelboro.com.  Just follow the hyperlinks below to read any of this year’s stories. And if there is a topic you would like me to cover in 2014, send me an email. Happy Holidays from Common Science! 1.     A Follow-Up Question for Mr. Skvarla                                                    1/6/13 An evaluation of the North Carolina Secretary of the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources’ view that global warming is still an open question. 2.     Hemp, George Washington Grew It                                                         1/13/13 A review of the remarkable properties of the hemp plant and the history of why we stopped growing it. 3.     In Which I Reveal Myself to Be a Luddite, at Least Partly              1/20/13 A personal confession regarding my affection for hand tools. 4.     Perils of a Hyper Hygienic Existence                                                        1/27/13 Some of the health challenges presented by trying to keep all bacteria out of our lives. 5.     Bananas Will Never Grow in Barrow                                                        2/3/13 An explanation of why plants will not be able to migrate fast enough to keep pace with global warming and the implications of this for the world’s food supply. 6.     Dear God What is That Smell?                                                                     2/10/13 The science behind women’s superior sense of smell. 7.     Food Part...

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Smog, The Desolation of Shanghai

The news last week contained many pictures like the one above of a monumental smog enveloping the city of Shanghai, China. The smog resulted in many problems: construction projects were halted, public events were cancelled, and the city’s reputation suffered. Chinese authorities were ridiculed for trying to find a silver lining in the smog by suggesting that it would protect Shanghai from an aerial attack. In addition to being unsightly, smog makes life very difficult for people with asthma and other respiratory problems, and long-term exposure can result in lung cancer. The term smog was coined in 19th century London to describe a smoky fog. Here is the definition of smog from Merriam-Webster.com: A photochemical haze caused by the action of solar ultraviolet radiation on atmosphere polluted with hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen, especially from automobile exhaust. Hazes are created by particles which are small enough to remain suspended in the air but still large enough to scatter light. Light has a wavelength of approximately 1 µm (1 one-millionth of a meter, commonly called a micron). If light passes through particles which are smaller than this, such as the oxygen and nitrogen molecules in the air between you and the computer screen, then the medium is transparent. When light passes through a suspension of particles which are larger than 1 µm it scatters, which creates a haze. Smog is...

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Sudden Cardiac Arrest Part IV: The Frozen Man

This is the fourth and final column in my series on sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). If you would like to start at the beginning of the story, here are the links to Parts I, II, and III. In addition to reviewing the pertinent science, this series also recounts the story of my father’s survival of a SCA in April of 2012. At the end of Part III, my father’s heart had just been restarted after 20 minutes of CPR and four shocks from an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) and he was being transported via ambulance to State College Area Hospital. Although Dad’s heart was beating on its own at this point, he was still unconscious. During the brief transport from the squash court to the hospital, the EMTs began packing my father’s body in ice, the first step in a protocol called therapeutic hypothermia. As discussed in earlier segments of this series, a big risk for survivors of SCA is brain damage. This damage occurs via two primary mechanisms. The first comes from a cascade of events caused by lack of oxygen. Back in high school biology you learned about cellular metabolism (trust me, you did) and the importance of a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Among its several functions, ATP maintains the proper balance of salts within a cell. When deprived of oxygen, a cell can no longer...

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It’s The Extraction, Not The Emissions, That Matters

Since personal obligations have kept me busy this week over Thanksgiving, I will not be publishing the conclusion of the “Sudden Cardiac Arrest” series until December 8th. This week, I am reprising a column from September, 2012, with this new introduction, which I hope will help to shed some light on two recent, but seemingly contradictory news stories. In 2013, carbon dioxide emissions in the United States were down by 3.7% compared to 2012. In stark contrast, gloggbal emissions, at a staggering 10 billion tons, were 2.1% higher than in 2012. As I explained in “If We Mine it or Drill it, We’re Going to Burn It,” news stories which focus on carbon emissions are inherently misleading. Since the air in the atmosphere is all mixed together, it does not matter from which country the emissions originate. The parameter that truly matters is the rate at which we are extracting carbon, in the form of coal, oil, and natural gas, from below the ground. The widespread utilization of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) combined with horizontal drilling in the U.S. has resulted in a significant increase in extraction of natural gas. Natural gas is difficult and expensive to export, so nearly all of this increased supply is being burned in domestic power plants to make electricity. As more electricity in the U.S. is being generated from natural gas, the amount produced...

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Sudden Cardiac Arrest Part III: First Aid

This is the third installment in a series on the science of heart disease set against the backdrop of my father’s experience of having and surviving a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). If you’d like to start at the beginning, here are the links for Parts I and II. Also, please note that the first aid advice below is culled from the American Heart Association and the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association. At the end of Part II, I promised that this week I’d teach you how to save a life. So let’s get started. When you come upon someone having cardiac distress the first order of business is to determine if they are having a heart attack or a cardiac arrest. A heart attack victim will exhibit some combination of the following symptoms: pain, shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, sweating and weakness. Since the person’s heart is still partially functioning, he or she is likely to be conscious. In this situation you need to keep the person as calm and comfortable as possible and call 911. You should only consider transporting the person to the hospital yourself if contacting emergency personnel is impossible. In a sudden cardiac arrest the victim’s blood stops flowing. He/she will lose consciousness, stop breathing and will not have a discernible pulse. This is an extremely serious situation which impacts approximately 800 Americans a day....

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Sudden Cardiac Arrest Part II: Heart Attack or Cardiac Arrest

Last week in Part I of this series, I reviewed the structure and function of the heart and let you know that my father suffered a sudden cardiac arrest in April of 2013.  Dad is fine and helping me write this series. This week, I’ll explain the difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest, a rather important difference that not many people fully understand. Your heart has a network of arteries and veins which deliver and withdraw blood as part of your normal circulation; it does not absorb the oxygen it needs for itself from the blood it pumps. Rather, oxygenated blood is provided to the heart through the coronary arteries. Depending on genetic make-up, diet, exercise habits and other factors, many people develop a build-up on the inner walls of their coronary arteries known as plaque, which is composed of white blood cells, cholesterol and fat. The build-up of this plaque is known as coronary artery disease. In certain situations, particularly during exertion, plaque in the coronary arteries can be deformed or dislodged such that it completely plugs one of the coronary arteries, preventing blood from reaching part of the heart. This is a heart attack. During a heart attack, the portion of the heart which is deprived of oxygen is damaged. This damage can be partially repaired with time, but scar tissue in the affected...

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Sudden Cardiac Arrest Part I: The Heart

On Friday April 13, 2012, I received a frightening call from my mother. She was en route to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, PA while my father was being transported there via helicopter. Earlier that afternoon, he had collapsed on the squash court from a sudden cardiac arrest. As I proceed with this series, I’ll tell you the rest of the story. For now, let me put you at ease and tell you that the story has a happy ending. In fact, Dad is collaborating with me on these columns. In our family, we refer to this event as “The Incident.” The Incident and its aftermath inspired me to learn much more than I ever expected about the functioning of the heart, heart disease and the treatment thereof. Given the prevalence of heart disease in the United States, the information in this series is, unfortunately, likely to come in handy to many of you. In Part I, I will focus on the functioning of the heart. This picture should be helpful. Given that the heart is effectively just a pump, its inner workings are quite approachable to me as an engineer. The heart has four chambers: the right and left atrium at the top and the right and left ventricle at the bottom. Like most industrial pumps, the heart also has check valves which only allow one-way flow of...

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The Physics of Your Fireplace

If you have a gas fireplace in your house, I have something surprising to tell you about it. The switch on the wall which turns on the flame is not connected to the electricity in your house.  Understanding how this switch works requires an explanation of both the thermoelectric and piezoelectric effects.  Who knew you had such sophisticated physics occurring in your house? Before we proceed, a brief explanation of electricity is in order.  Electricity is the flow of electrons through a conductor like a copper wire.  In order to induce electrons to move you need to create a zone with a high concentration of elections and another with a low concentration.  The difference in electron concentration between the two zones is the voltage.  The larger the concentration difference, the higher the voltage. If you connect these two zones with a conductive material, electrons will flow from the zone with high concentration to the zone with low concentration.  That’s electricity in a nutshell. There are several ways to create voltage.  I reviewed how power plants do it in an earlier column, Electricity Production 101.  Batteries make voltage using chemical reactions.  Solar panels make voltage by capturing energy from the sun.  Your gas fireplace generates its own voltage in two ways, by deforming crystals and by heating dissimilar metals. Let’s start our discussion of the fireplace by lighting the pilot. ...

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