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Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities

Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities has 50 remote-ready activities, which work for either your classroom or remote teaching.

Biology 103 Fall 2006 Forum

Comments are posted in the order in which they are received, with earlier postings appearing first below on this page. To see the latest postings, click on "Go to last comment" below.

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Greetings ....
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2006-09-03 13:16:49
Link to this Comment: 20252

Welcome to the Bio 103 course forum area. This is an interestingly different kind of place for writing, and may take some getting used to, but I hope you'll come to value it as much as students in other courses have.

The first thing to keep in mind is that its not a place for "formal writing" or "finished thoughts". Its a place for thoughts-in-progress, for what you're thinking (whether you know it or not) on your way to what you think next. Maybe simpler, imagine that you're not worrying about "writing" but instead that you're just talking to some people you've met. This is a "conversation" place, a place to find out what you're thinking yourself, and what other people are thinking, so you can help them think and they can help you think. The idea is that your "thoughts in progress" can help others with their thinking, and theirs can help you with yours.

So who are you writing for? For yourself, and for others in our classes primarily. But also for the world. This is a "public" forum, so people anywhere on the web might look in. That's the second thing to keep in mind here. You're writing for yourself, for others in the class, AND for others you might or might not know. So, your thoughts in progress can contribute to the thoughts in progress of LOTS of people. The web is giving increasing reality to the idea that there can actually evolve a world community, and you're part of helping to bring that about.

Glad to have you along, and hope you value/enjoy sharing the activity of trying to make sense of life.

getting started ...
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2006-09-04 12:32:15
Link to this Comment: 20258

Glad to meet you all, and to hear your various reactions to the course style. I'll be interested in hearing at the end how well it works for each of you. In the meanwhile, have a look at one or another (or both) of the articles I mentioned at the end of the class today and add your own reactions/questions to those I outlined? The questions and the links to the articles are both in the course notes.

1st day of class notes
Name: Margaret B
Date: 2006-09-05 19:24:55
Link to this Comment: 20272

I think that a class where we end up teaching ourselves and our peers and learning from ourselves and our peers is going to be a wonderful experience (or at least I hope it is).
Number one: I know absolutely nothing about biology.
Number two: I'm kind of scared to be one of the first students to post something here.
Number three: here goes nothing!

What are genes? What is heritability?
Genes are what dictate who we are (isn't that vague). Heritability is the ability for something (like a gene) to be passed from parents to children.

Why are some things more affected by genes than others? What else matters? What role does randomness play?
Height, early onset heart disease and early onset Alziehmers are affected more by genes than life span is. Other factors in predicting someone's life span include their environment, conditions durring pregnancy, accidents, chance. Randomness plays the role of, well, classifying the findings that don't really suggest a true pattern in how genes dictate (or don't dictate) aging.

What is aging? Cancer? Why do they occur?
Well, Cancer occures from a mutated gene in a cell. And aging occurs from...well, aren't they still debating this?

Should scientists look for an aging gene? a cancer gene? Should scientists try and prevent aging? cancer?
I'm not a big science person, but if we tried to find a cancer gene and an aging gene, what would we do with the information other than stop the pregnancies? I guess, it can be good to know that your child isn't going to have cancer. But how can you be totally sure that she will?

How come "The scientific view ... has swung back and forth"?
Because scientists can't decide if aging is dictated by environment or genes.

Name: Hannah
Date: 2006-09-05 21:32:13
Link to this Comment: 20277

My first forum post! It's about the two NY Times Science articles on genetics and the questions below.

Genes are part of the DNA code that determines a person’s physical characteristics, including susceptibility to disease. Children inherit genes and the corresponding characteristics from their parents, depending upon dominance.
Some parts of a person’s “fate” are strongly affected by certain genes, like the gene for colon cancer. I don’t know why some genes carry more weight than others, but there are definite effects; the NYTimes article stated that for colon cancer, having the gene increases risk twenty times over.
But the relationship between genes and lifespan is limited and not nearly so clear-cut. I attended a Bio 101 class, and the Professor spoke about how they were going to approach biology from a “systems biology” point of view, which is how the scientists looking at the lifespan gene problem seem to be thinking. It’s a newer approach, and it consists of not looking at individual parts of a system (like organelles, or tissues, or any one entity at any level) but at the way they interact, and it’s very complex. Similarly, lifespan is not affected by any one gene but by the infinitely complex interactions that a person has with his/her environment throughout his/her lifetime. So randomness and chance have a key role in determining lifespan; fate (genes) has little to do with it.

Since PGD is such a new procedure, I will be very interested to hear what children like Chloe think of the story of their creation. That could help to answer the question as to whether scientists should try to prevent cancer using PGD, but it will probably also raise more arguments. I think I might feel a little “fake” if I were selected for certain traits, but I am still just not used to thinking about life that way, so easily manipulated. And although most people agree that selecting against a predisposition to cancer is very different from selecting for traits like athleticism or high cheekbones, in a way it’s still eugenics.

Scientific theories are always changing because new discoveries are made constantly, and new knowledge affects the way scientists look at what they knew already. And sometimes just a general belief which has always been wrong has to be set right, like the common “knowledge” that not eating spicy foods eases heartburn, which apparently is false according to Science Times. The science of PGD in ten years will certainly be very different from what it is today.

Reaction: Live Long? Die Young? Answer Isn
Name: Moira Nada
Date: 2006-09-05 22:31:26
Link to this Comment: 20279

I had expected genetics to play a greater role. I am surprised by the fact that identical twins usually die more than ten years apart. It hadn’t occurred to me that two people with the same genes and very similar life experiences, exposures, and stresses can have such differences in their life spans.

On a different vein, the average male dies between age 68 and 69. Am I the only one who find this alarming? I had no idea that the majority of men were dying so young!

If genetics and heredity have so little to do with one’s probability of developing infirmities like heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s, then why do doctors always ask about family history when taking medical histories-if really it only nominally increases our probability of having the same disease. While it does make some sense that physical traits like weight are very heritable, knowing that something as hard to define as personality is exponentially more heritable than life-span is something I had not imagined.

From what I can collect, scientists are not sure of very much when it comes to the area of life-span. There is a chance that longevity is genetic or hereditary, but only in rare cases. There is not much of a formula for extending your life span. So I say be active, safe and take good care of yourself while we all wait for the solution to figuring out life-span reveals itself.

Professor Turned Pope
Name: Annabella
Date: 2006-09-06 10:53:10
Link to this Comment: 20284

I liked this article and am encouraged that a professor who understands evolution could become the Pope, and not shy away from such controversial conversation.
As I read more of the article I found more to like. For one thing, they said that the pope holds that though one can believe in evolution in general, that to use it as some sort of proof that there is no unified benevolent source from which the energy of all life has come and is still coming and perhaps even directing evolution and life, would be a mistake. (OK, so I added a little of my own.)
I agree with this on two levels. First, just because we have evolved from tiny cellular organisms to what we are today simply tells me that there must be something that set this all in motion. The more we picture life as a machine, the more that machine needs an inventor and mechanic.
It's a little ironic, the more scientists try to exclude the idea of a unifying field that is the stuff of life, the more they make a case FOR it!
I also agree with the pope's view on the level that to remove the idea of "the mystery of life" from our thoughts removes about 99% of the least for me it does. And since I can't figure out any other reason that we are on this planet other than to enjoy ourselves, it would be a terrible disservice to remove 99% of the fun. One of my favorite activities is to marvel over the incredible sophistication and kindness that must have sparked evolution and thereby life. I love that feeling of reverie and humility at the thought that I might be just a cell in the toenail of something so much greater than I am that I have not even a concept of it, though it surrounds me everywhere. Even the Earth itself might be a cell in a toenail of a great something.
I don't know that it's true, neither do I know that it's not true. Since my life is made up of my thoughts, and I can choose what to believe, I choose thoughts I enjoy. That's why I don't use evolution to eradicate the existence of God...because it is just more fun for me not to. What I don't appreciate about this whole debate is the either/or aspect of it, and the idea that each side feels it has to prevail over the other.
How about this type of celebration of diversity...all ideas on evolution are welcome as long as they increase the fun factor in the lives of those who hold them, and no one's idea is allowed to preclude anyone else's. Isn't that what diversity is all about? Isn't that at least partly why we are so worried about losing all those bird species?...because we don't know yet how important a part each bird plays, but we know it makes a contribution of some sort. So it is with ideas.
I saw that this pope is very willing to share ideas and to protect diversity with respect to them.
BRAVO! Keep up the good work.

more to think about ...
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2006-09-06 12:56:23
Link to this Comment: 20289

Interesting conversation in class today about people's experiences with science classes, reactions to "seriously loopy science". On experiences ...

not relevant
not learning, just remembering
have to get certain answers
relevant, hands on
explanation instead of formulae
see connections
pieces fit togther
discovering self
"research is me-search"

And on loopy science

You're welcome to leave your thoughts on one or more of these issues instead of/in addition to thoughts prompted by the articles mentioned earlier.

The Class in General
Date: 2006-09-06 15:00:15
Link to this Comment: 20290

I'm really excited about this class, mainly how it will make science relevant to everything, not just something that involves chemistry or physics. So even if I decide that I don't want to do anything that is directly involved with science, science is all around, and we come in contact with it all the time, unbeknownst to us. That's the thing about this class that seems really cool; it relates to everything.

Stem Cells, Life Span & Cancer
Name: Mia Prensk
Date: 2006-09-07 15:14:49
Link to this Comment: 20302

Today's New York Times reports an article entitled "Gene Is Called a Deep Link Between Life Span and Cancers;" It discusses the findings released yesterday by three biologists who have uncovered what they describe as "a deep link between life span and cancer in the form of a gene that switches off stem cells as a person ages" (NYT). There are several great implications of this finding that have to deal with the correlations between aging, cancer and stem cell production. The most striking to me is that the research here is a BLOW to opponents of research on human embryonic stem cells because as a person ages, this gene, Ink4, increases in production, and that the production of the gene causes adult stem cells to cease from divinding, thus deterring a greater risk of developing cancer, but demonstrating the fact that adult stem cells are not of "infinite proliferative capacity." So basically, those who claim that research can be conducted solely on adult stem cells because they are strong enough to rebuild tissue may be in error- young stem cells are more resilient. Clearly, I do not understand all of the biological science behind this research, but I find it very interesting- perhaps a hopeful discovery for the support of human embryonic stem cell research, which I support. After all, I recently saw a bumper sticker that read: STEM CELL RESEARCH IS PRO LIFE.

I am interested in understanding more about stem cells, stem cell research and whatever it is that stem cells are capable of doing. Please check out the article if you have time- it also includes helpful tips such as the fact that calorically restricted diets increase life span and prevent cancer (because such diets reduce cell division)!

Here is the link to the article from 7 September 2006 by Nicholas Wade:

Furthering Stem cells, life span and cancer
Date: 2006-09-07 16:47:58
Link to this Comment: 20303

Sorry it took so long to post.
I have to agree that it is interesting that people are so morally concerned with life that they forget that research can help improve life. If people like Louis Pasteur and many others hadnt reasearched to improve medication, how would the conditions of our life today be?
Science is constantly evolving to improve the society that we live in. We wish to cure diseases that have been killing millions of people without any correlation (after all, everything is a carcegin, might be spelled incorrectly) and to work on the research through cells can help this. I think people worry that scientists may start to try more complex items, but when our lifestyles are at stake, it may be worth the exploration.
Also, I agree that stem cells and longer life are intersting to look into. I wouldnt mind doing extensive research on genes, as genetics are helping the world that we live in today.

Science is Dynamic
Name: Sarah Mell
Date: 2006-09-07 20:17:54
Link to this Comment: 20304

Like many other people, I'm also very excited for this course. I've never taken a science class that discusses and is critical of traditional methods of teaching science. Our discussion of science as a dynamic process really hit home for me. I always thought of scientific conclusions as concrete truths, whereas now I know that nothing is ever certain. I tend to take scientific articles too seriously, but now that I know to approach these studies with scepticism, I don't feel as vulnerable. I look forward to what tomorrow's class will bring.

Bio 103
Name: Kaari
Date: 2006-09-08 00:08:35
Link to this Comment: 20307

Bio 103 is a godsend. I'm so happy about the way this class is going to be taught. As someone with a learning disability, I have never been able to completely grasp math and science classes. For years I have felt stupid and lesser then the rest of my classmates, because I would sit at my desk and never fully understand what the teacher was saying. That is, because I couldn't visualize the science or place it into a context I could grasp, I was lost. I have never understood the world in absolutes, in right and in wrong, and therefore Professor Grobstein's talk on Monday and on Wednesday on the differences between "linear science" and "seriously loopy science" really spoke to me, and my learning style.

Anyone else like science?
Name: Meagan "&#
Date: 2006-09-08 10:24:52
Link to this Comment: 20310

Sounds like a weird question, but does anyone else in Bio 103 absolutely love the natural sciences? I've gotten the impression from various sources that Bio 103 is for people who don't like science (the course was even officially billed as "Biology for those who haven't taken a biology class in high school") but I know I can't be the only one who's taken a bunch of science courses in high school and yet is in this class.

I find biology really fascinating in particular because I'm curious about the way the world works (and for that matter, how I work), and biology gives me those answers. Granted, we spent all of last class talking about the fallability of science, but no matter how politically incorrect it is to call something "scientific fact," I'm perfectly comfortable using that term - it doesn't prevent me from realizing that there's always something new to be discovered.

Also, to go with my first question, does anybody else read Scientific American? I was subscribed to it for a long time when I was younger, but not anymore; I'm thinking about buying a digital subscription, because that's easier than having magazines delivered to my dorm.

Sorry for the long post... :-)

-- Meagan "Пероша" McDaniel

live long, die young?
Name: Meagan
Date: 2006-09-08 12:55:37
Link to this Comment: 20313

I found the New York Times article fascinating. But not for the reason I should have.

I think it's absolutely fascinating that we, as humans, feel the need to control when we're going to die. Find a list of factors to make a prediction. The article made it fairly clear that we're not any clearer on the matter than we were in the middle ages. Still, we're going to study it.

That isn't to say that we have *no* control over our lives--eat well, exercise, get enough sleep. But living your life healthily won't stop that car accident.

I guess I am just in awe of the way most Westerners have an intense fear of the unknown so they turn to science for an absolute that it cannot provide.

continuing on science ...
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2006-09-08 13:03:39
Link to this Comment: 20315

Interesting distribution of feelings in class today about giving up "facts" and "truth", with most disinclined or uncertain about doing so and a few seeing it as providing some attractive openings. Curious to see how people feel about this at the end of the semester. Intrigued too by peoples' interest in the "where is the center?" question. Are perhaps not unrelated issues:

For two thousand years people have believed that the sun and all the stars of heaven rotate around mankind. Pope, cardinals, princes, professors, captains, merchants, fishwives and schoolkids thought they were sitting motionless inside this crystal sphere. But now we are breaking out of it ... The universe has lost its centre overnight, and woken up to find it has countless centres. So that each one can now be seen as the centre, or none at all. .............. Life of Galileo, by Bertold Brecht, 1943

Genetics and Aging
Name: Annabella
Date: 2006-09-08 13:05:10
Link to this Comment: 20316

I loved this article, but was surprised by one gaping omission of possible causes for aging and dying. There was no mention of beliefs, or the power of beliefs on our bodies.
There is no question that our beliefs about our bodies have a tremendous role to play in the body's condition. Pharmaceudical companies ( a fancy name for drug makers) spend fortunes trying to nullify a powerful force in healing which "throws off" thier studies as to the effectiveness of thier new drug. That force is commonly called "the placebo effect". It has proven itself to be very effective in healing wounds, healing from surgery, making one resilient against desease and aiding desease recovery. In fact, in double blind tests, placebo recipients are found to heal more quickly than recipients of the real drug, according more to thier outlook than what it is their physical body is receiving as far as treatment is concerned. What the placebo effect states is that if the patient believes they will heal as a result of their treatment or drug or whatever, they are many times more likely to do so, regardless of whether they received a placebo or the real treatment. To reword this, one's thoughts are more important in healing than one's physical.
Drug companies are spending fortunes trying to come up with ways to nullify the placebo effect so that they can make objective observations about the effectiveness of their drug, but to no avail. The placebo effect is too powerful, and so far has been impossible to remove a patient's thoughts about the test from the patient.

So why isn't one's outlook about life even mentioned in the article about why we age and die? Reading the article was sort of like reading a list of possible contributors to our aging and dying and crossing them off as having any effect.
Our thoughts run everything else in our bodies. It is because of our thoughts that we eat the way we do, whatever that way may be. It is because of our thoughts that we do what we do and so on. Our thoughts are at the root of everything that happens to our bodies. All the way to accidents, that don't seem to be related to our thoughts. But let's take an auto accident. If it were my top priority for me to not be in one, I wouldn't get in the car. Everyone knows that if you get in a car, you could be involved in an accident.
But our thoughts effect our bodies in a very direct way as well. Our thoughts release our own body's drugs into our bodies, and these drugs are 100% effective to do whatever it is our thought had in mind. A great book discussing this phenomena in a biological framework is called "The Biology of Belief" by Candace Pert, a research scientist who graduated from Bryn Mawr. Great reading.
So I was not surprised to find that the authors of the article on this didn't come up with any tangible explanation for longevity or health. They were looking in the wrong place.

Live Long Die Young
Name: Ingrid
Date: 2006-09-09 10:18:51
Link to this Comment: 20319

To be honest before taking this class not only I hated science, I also was scare because I thought that this subject was only for genius. By taking this class I have not only change my mind about science I have also learned that all of us can understand it because is part of our daily lives. What are genes? Genes to me are hereditary trades pass down from parent to children. The characteristics that determine one’s physical traits—the way we look, diseases sometimes we inherit. Genes are what make each and everyone of us different. However, when there is a pair of twins things could change, they look alike, act alike and many other things. Nevertheless, twins according to the article “Live Long Die Young” they die at different time in life. For I while I thought about it and I made my own conclusion twins cannot always be together at every single moment therefore they are expose to different environmental conditions and this could affect their life.

live long/embryos
Name: Karen Gins
Date: 2006-09-09 11:42:54
Link to this Comment: 20321

I thought the two articles- Live Long? Die Young? and the Couples Cull Embryos, were really interesting. It's strange to think that there's some massive, missing factor in determing how old each of us will live until. The media teaches us that if we eat certain foods (that change almost daily) and exercise, we have our best chance to lengthen our lives, but there's something missing from that- there's no real pattern that's been discovered that proves that all of us who follow these guidelines will live longer than those who don't. While some diseases are more prone to those who don't take as good care of themselves, there are all of these genetic mutations that occur that there's little solid information about, or at least no information to be able to tell who will have what until it's already present. It's unsettling, and as science starts finding patterns, the genes will continue to mutate further- will they ever catch up to each other?
I think it is ethical to terminate embryos that are known to carry some predisposition to certain diseases or cancers. I don't think it would be ethical to do it if someone knew their baby was going to be brown eyed, and wanted blue eyes, or if it was a boy and they wanted a girl. It's a little unfair to know that this child is being born with a higher chance of developing something that will devastate them and their families later in life, if there's something you can do to help stop it. I see how people are questioning this, claiming that they wouldn't have been born and going into an existential crisis, but I think that if there's a way to prevent something horrible from happening, then that just seems like the right choice. If you're bringing something into this world that you're going to love more than anything, then why not find out, before this baby develops into a real crying, kicking child, that there's nothing you could have done to prevent them from getting really sick? It does seem a little selfish, and maybe I'm justifying it because I know it's something I would think about doing, but I think these scientific advances in this area are making it so that each child has a better chance of a healthier, and by that, happier, survival.

Ontological Questions:

What is Li
Name: Simone
Date: 2006-09-09 12:54:37
Link to this Comment: 20323

I was intrigued by our somewhat existentialist discussion in class on Thursday and the ongoing Forum dialogue regarding the questions ‘What is life?’ ‘What is science?’ ‘Why do we study it?’ ‘Does Life = Science?’ I found those inquiries addressed in an article by Harold Osborne, a British Aesthetician, and I’ve extracted and synthesized some of the quotes from the article so that perhaps they could be of some help to our online discussions.

I. “Why study Science?”

Science as a Means of Establishing Order out of the Unpredictability of Life

“In its elementary manifestations the search for order is an essential attribute of life at its various levels, far below the emergence of consciousness; even the most elementary forms of life are permeated with an inborn propensity to seek regularities. The superiority of human beings lies in their higher degree of flexibility, the less restricted character of their curiosity and their broader sense of relevance. Some insects and bacteria developed to a sharper acuteness the abilities to detect and respond to regularities within more circumscribed environments, achieving complex, successful and beautiful systems of adaptation” (291).

II. “What is Science?”

Contradistinguishing Theories and Laws; Hypotheses as Acknowledgement of Human Fallibility

“The aim of scientists is to formulate [universal] organization in intellectually apprehensible laws of nature. For, in the words of Karl Popper, scientific laws are statements asserting regularities or constantly conjoined kinds of events. They are supported, and sometimes suggested, by repeated observations that things of a certain kind are in fact regularly conjoined with things of another kind. But scientific theories are not derived solely from repeated observations. They may be large imaginative assertions of order and regularity going beyond observed experience, sometimes going beyond the possibility of observed experience. Science in the latter sense began in 2500 B.P. (years before the present) with the Ionian Greeks of Asia Minor. Typical were the hypotheses of Thales that the Earth is supported by water, on which it rides as a ship, and of his follower Anaximander, who declared that the Earth ‘is upheld by nothing but remains stationary owing to the fact that it is equally distant from all other things’…Such hypotheses could not be confirmed or refuted by modern experience and observation. What is called modern science was made possible by the revival of the belief in human fallibility, for which Nicolas of Cusa and Erasmus of Rotterdam were largely responsible. Hypotheses are now regarded as tentative and conjectural, intended to be tested by experiment in order to be verified or refuted. Therefore they must not only provide an imaginatively satisfying picture of reality, but they must allow one to deduce observations over a wide field so that experiments can be devised to corroborate or invalidate the hypothesis” (291).

III. “Does Science = Life?”

Science Necessitating Subjective Observations Accumulated from Life Experiences

“Of course, perceptual awareness is also essential to science. Logically and in practice, direct awareness is prior to understanding. Perception precedes understanding, for what is perceived is what needs to be understood. Perception is required in order to test and verify the generalization of scientific laws… In practical life one normally perceives in order to classify and compare, and this is the sort of observation that science develops. Scientific laws deal with regularly conjoined kinds of events, and imply that things and events were perceived and discriminated into kinds. The prior (if unconscious) activity of discriminatory percipience is implied in the very possibility of forming order and regularity. It involves abstraction from the totality of sensory input, in the sense of segregating what is essential from what is irrelevant, the purpose being to assign each percept to a class or group or kind, the members of which are regarded as indistinguishable for scientific generalization” (291-292).

According to Osborne “natural order involves the following concepts”: 1. “Predictability” 2. “Classificability” 3.”Measurability” (293).

Osborne, Harold. “Concepts of Order in the Natural Sciences and in the Visual Fine Arts.” Leonardo, Vol. 14, No. 4. (Autumn, 1981), pp. 290-294.

aging and genes response
Name: Sarah
Date: 2006-09-10 14:21:27
Link to this Comment: 20335

One thing that I like about the nature of this biology class is that the so-called truth is in a process of evolution, and finding the truth, in fact, is not as important as the journey or quest itself. As we discussed in class, news headlines go from "AN APPLE A DAY DOES KEEP THE DOCTOR AWAY" to "APPLES CAUSE CANCER". To me, at least, it is very brain-melting to switch from the idea that science is hard and linear to science is about creation and discovery. Ultimately, however, it is the latter philosophy (in my mind), that spurns scientists onward, either consciously or not. If science was hard and "right", then how would we, as scientists, move forward? Getting it "wrong", in a sense, is apparently right. Another interesting bit that I picked up is that science results aren't always conclusive- responses to experiments can be "random". "'There are two phases of randomness...the randomness of life experiences. The unlucky ones...get hit on the head or get mutations that turn a cell into cancer. And there are random events in development' (Finch from Live Long? article)". Randomness resonates with me, and I was glad to see it plays a part in science, along with getting it wrong.

Your jeans may cure cancer
Name: Cris D.
Date: 2006-09-10 16:10:57
Link to this Comment: 20336

According to a new report on BBC News, the dye we use for our blue jeans and ball point pens - called phthalocyanine - are being injected in gold nanoparticles, and then into human cells. Phtalocyanine is a photosensensitive cell-killing substance that exists in common dyes, but when combined with the gold nanoparticles and injected into cells, they can cause cancer cells to destroy themselves. Since cancer cells retain everything around them, they ingest the worst effects as well; phtalocyanine is not dangerous to healthy cells, which is why we can use jeans and pens without any worries.
It is amazing to think that such a simple substance in which we rely on and utilize in our everyday could possibly hold the answer to curing a devastating disease such as cancer. Of course, there does exist several treatments and preventive devices (not pure "cures", however) such as stem cell research, alternative medicine, and chemotheraphy, but when and which one of these will deliver one of those impossible "sure-cures"? Our bodies are highly intricate, complex systems whose abilities to regenerate, self-cure, and fight have barely begun to be fully explored and undertstanded.

But for now, keep those jeans in your closet.

You can find the full article here:

Deadly Beauty - seeking perfection
Name: Priscila R
Date: 2006-09-10 16:12:58
Link to this Comment: 20337

After reading the following article ( and seeing the extent to which people go to look "beautiful", I wondered what it is that makes us want to look a certain way. It is clear that the beauty has been redifined throughtout history; in the middle ages for example, it was attractive to look pale (for this reason many noble women drank vinegar immediately after waking up). Larger breasts, fuller lips, non-wrinkled skin are all characteristics that are seen as ideal in our society today. The question is, how did this "ideal look" become the envy of so many people? Some say the fault lies in the media - but could this possibly have been the only medium for such a massive perception on what it is to be beautiful? Is it cultural? Most likely, but I wander if there is a part of human brain that is accountable for such perceptions?

Live Long? Die Young? and Friday's class (9/08)
Name: Kelly
Date: 2006-09-10 16:26:16
Link to this Comment: 20338

I was reading the article about live long/die young on the nytimes and I found the aspect of studying twins to be interesting. I took genetics my senior year of high school and unfortunately, we never got to the topic of twins. How is it that two people who have spent their entire lives together grow up to have contrasting types of health. For this question found in the NY times article:

“The big debate is, is it possible for there to be a few genes that are protective or is it going to be so complicated that we won’t be able to figure out the genetic factors? Is it going to be that some people are just lucky?”

From what I've observed through hearing stories and reading articles, it seems that predicting death is more on the random side. It occurs through diseases that are inheritted and it occurs through diseases that are not inheritted or by non-disease related accidents (i.e. car crashes).

Friday's class:
During the discussion of linear science vs seriously loopy science, I found that a type of seriously loopy science would be the weather. The predictions of the meterologists are always not certain (especially when being caught in a thunderstorm without an umbrella in hand) and new observations are made when we are experiencing the environment for ourselves.

I think science as a practical tool makes more sense in the past than it would now. In the past, people used science as a way of life, given the examples of how navigators began believing that the earth revolves around the earth rather than the sun revolving around the earth. Now, I think that people use science less and less because they depend on electronics more to help them perform their daily tasks.

Name: Carolina
Date: 2006-09-10 16:33:29
Link to this Comment: 20339

The interminable battle between Faith and Science continues. Two different schools of thought with two very different explanations for the origin of Man and so much hostility for each other in between. It is interesting to see how, on both sides, the story told now begins to change as science and faith become more and more unexplainably interlocked and finally, after centuries of stiff denial that God has anything to do with science or vice-versa, other possibilities emerge. Finally they are beginning to ask the question, could science and religion be one and the same? We spoke in class about the strict, reasonable trial and error process and how it cannot in truth lead scientists to be absolutely sure of anything anywhere in the world. This requires some belief in science then, to TRUST that the sun will rise and set tomorrow and that gravity won’t switch off suddenly. And that is where faith quietly comes in.

Live Long? Take Bio?
Name: Georgia L
Date: 2006-09-10 18:12:34
Link to this Comment: 20341

The discussion in class about seriously loopy science, and the collections of observations which lead to new observations has been very intruiging. While I knew this class was intended for non-majors, I didn't really think that it would go so far as to change the way I look at science in general. My experience in three years of high school science was far from exhilarating or even the least bit interesting- but I am quite happy to leave the scientific method out of biology and give it another chance.

I read the article "Live Long? Die Young?.." and I, like a lot of others, found the relationship between twins to be unique. While it made sense, it wasn't something I would immediately consider when looking to research life spans among relatives. I think that twins have the unique situation of having very similar life experiences on top of their shared family history and genetic traits. Siblings who are not twins may have very similar characteristics, but also may have moved far away from one another, or had very different experiences growing up. In the case of Mrs. Tesauro, she and her sister may have been very similar, choosing to get married and have children, but she chose to be very independent, and not comply with her family's ideals. Maybe this should be taken into account when studying why she is living a much healthier life in her old age. I think this in some way relates to Annabella's comments about one's mental condition relating to one's health. I liked how she related it to the effects of placebos, and I think that it can really make a difference on one's life. If you believe you are going to die at 60 because every single female before you has had a stroke in her 60s, and you live your life in submission of your fate, does that up your chances? Maybe not scientifically, but there's something to be said for those who maintain a healthy, active life style, challenging both their bodies and their minds.
In any case, if this class is teaching me anything, it's that all science is not necessarily scientific- and certainly not true...

response to first week of class
Name: Arielle
Date: 2006-09-10 19:00:14
Link to this Comment: 20342

If science can never be absolute truth - a scary thought for those who believe everything they're taught while an obvious observation for those who have taken some notice of science's unrelenting evolution - then I think we can take a double-perspective on what scientists tell us or what we as scientists discover. Yes, I know that my body's cells are dehydrated when I experience the "feeling" of thirst, and that my body begins a complicated process to inform my cognitive self of this dehydration, but I can also believe that extra-environmental factors may inform me of this thirst. For example, many religious people have no faith in evolutionary theory. However, using a double-perspective of sorts, we may come to grips with the "truth" of evolutionary theory with the idea that a supernatural and even spiritual force launched the existence of the first creatures on earth, or even the explosion we call the Big Bang.

Also, while I was listening to the class discussion about the earth's shape and dimension, I was curious about our physical lack of feeling the speed of the earth throttling around the sun and its daily rotation. My friend once asked (and at the time, I thought she did rather stupidly) why we can't take off in an airplane and just hover while the earth spins beneath us and then land when we're positioned correctly over the Denver airport or wherever. If we take our legs and run in the same direction the earth is spinning, do we cover more ground aided by this spin?

Live Long? Die Young?
Date: 2006-09-10 21:53:35
Link to this Comment: 20343

The place of randomness in this article alarmed me. Science has always been
portrayed as knowing all the answers,and knowing how to apply them to everyday life. To hear that there are a lot of things that science can't explain, and that randomness is relied on after a certain point, is strange. It also brings about the question, if nothing can be proven certain, and if certain things can only be explained, why bother at all? And also, can't randomness be overused to explain things that are possible to find out, but that just haven't been yet?

Loopy Science and a Different Understanding of Age
Name: Corey
Date: 2006-09-10 22:00:04
Link to this Comment: 20344

As this is being my first post on the forum, I want to preface it by saying a few, non-scientifical things. First of all, I do not, in any way, shape, or form, consider myself a scientifically inclinded person. Secondly, because of recent class discussion involving seriously loopy science and the revelation that white lab coats are not needed to make observations and conduct experiments, I have realized that although I might feel one way about a particular subject, I am going to constantly reevaluate why it is that I feel this way, perhaps make some new observations, and change, or not change, accordingly.

That being said, I read the article entitled "Live Long? Die Young? Answer Isn't Just in Genes." This article has been thouroughly discussed throughout the forum and I am going to try to not repeat any of the aforementioned ideas. The way that I am going to approach this article is to relate it to my experiences. One of the main points that I got out of the article was that genes, although important for many of the things in our lives, are not a good predictor of a persons life span. This makes a lot of sense to me and is the view that I have on a lot of different issues. I am one who leans toward the nurture side of the nature vs. nurture debate. I realize that what you are given is important, but to me, it is what you do with it that means the most. While reading this article, a number of personal stories relating to this topic came to my mind. Although I am not comfortable discussing these stories, the basic idea was that the people who stay active, both mentally and physically, into their old age tend to be healthier. For instence, in the article it said that Mrs. Tesauro was a bit of a tomboy who worked her way through college and earned a masters degree and is active to this day while her twin was not as academically inclined, barely finishing highschool. While I am obviously not saying that smarter people live longer or anything like that, I think that the connection with being a more independent and active person while your are younger will help determine, perhaps more so then your genes, your health at a later age. A sidenote, I am also not dismissing the importance of genes. If every women in your entire family had breast cancer, then it is definetly something that you should keep an eye on. What I am saying is aside from any horrible by chance diseases or accidents, a persons life span is determined by the way that they live their life.

Anthro + Bio = Meaning of Life
Name: Georgia
Date: 2006-09-10 23:04:10
Link to this Comment: 20345

So with all this talk about the scientific method vs. seriously loopy science, I was a little disappointed to open my brand new $100 (paperback) text book for anthro and find "The Scientific Method Explained" on p. 15. However, the book is not a total loss since it admits on p. 16, "The goal [of science] isn't to establish "truth" in any absolute sense, but rather to generate ever more accurate and consistent explanations of phenomena in our universe."

Maybe Prof Grobstein is on the right track afterall....

On Faith, Evolution, and Life
Name: Katherine
Date: 2006-09-11 13:41:10
Link to this Comment: 20348

There are several issues brought up in class today that I wish to discuss in the forum.
First is faith versus fact. Which story is better? Evolution or Divine Creation? This question was of course a subjective one, and I myself like the idea that there is someone greater than I who has a plan in which my life plays some ultimate purpose; however, I can’t help feel a bit of derision towards the idea that this belief should find its way into the scientific classroom. Not that it shouldn’t be discussed; but that it shouldn’t affect our understanding of what we observe in evolution (which seems to me a fairly observable fact).
Science, to me, has nothing to do with believing in god. I feel like the belief that ‘god created and therefore why are we questioning?’ is one that is detrimental to learning and growing as enlightened, educated individuals since it, in many cases, halts questioning.
Truth (perhaps?): there is probably not an ACCURATE definition of anything scientific, there is always much more to be observed and recorded. But where I see science in my daily life, I have so far, in nineteen years, been able to observe and record faith. I’m not knocking it, but I don’t believe the believing answers any of the questions I attend class to answer.
Second thing I wish to discuss in this forum is the idea of a definition of life. Well, see, now I’m just afraid to voice a definitive opinion since we’ve pretty much established that there is no right answer that can’t be disputed. I know how I define my own life, and how I know that I live. But I can’t define the term in any other terms.
I suppose I can try. What are antonyms for Life? Death? Inaction? What about the process of Life: living. I keep coming back to life equaling action. I think of the French word for life, Vie, and I think of other words like vivant, meaning living or alive, or vivre, which is a verb meaning to live…an action. But that doesn’t really answer any questions. Plants don’t really act, but they’re alive and I think they’re alive because I know they can die. I’ve seen a dead plant. However, if there are no conscious thoughts, if you can’t act, if you’re only act of being alive is to not be dead, to not use nutrients, then are you really alive? If a patient is brain dead, if they can’t think, can’t act, and are in what a doctor calls a vegetative state, then are they alive? I don’t know. I think that if something consciously utilizes nature in order to maintain some sort of active status then it is alive. I think life require action, even if it’s action not seen with the naked eye, as long as there is action, something is living.
In regards to the question about flying to mars and trying to discover life, I just wouldn’t accept the mission in the first place because I’m not qualified to make that judgment. I’d need to know a lot more about life than I do now.

week 2
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2006-09-11 17:17:15
Link to this Comment: 20350

Never fear. Earlier postings haven't been lost, just moved so what's here doesn't get too long. You can find earlier postings in the forum archive.

Glad to have Katherine's thoughts from class this morning. Was interesting that seventeen people said they preferred story 1 about "existing life forms (including humans)", none preferred story 2, and only three preferred story 3. Suspect some people didn't weigh in .... because ... ?

What ought to be the role of "belief" in a science classroom? And what about the idea that none of the three stories are EITHER "provable" or "disprovable"? How should one deal with the existence of different but equally not "provable/disprovable" stories? As a scientist? As a person?

I was also intrigued this morning by the notion that knowing things are uncertain makes at least some people feel LESS vulnerable, rather than more so. For two different reasons. One is not having to worry all the time about whether one has found the "right" answer. And the other is that the existence of uncertainty provides the room for one to be oneself an influence on what happens. For more on these themes, see Writing Descartes ... .

stories of evolution
Name: courtney m
Date: 2006-09-11 20:37:19
Link to this Comment: 20352

I was very intrigued by the discussion today in class. I was raised in a very Catholic environment (this means Catholic grade school and high school). However, I was exposed to all three versions of how the universe came to be. I don't really see what the controversy is in schools nowadays. Each story holds its own legitimacy and should be viewed as not being the absolute truth. It has been said in this class that science is never certain, well neither is your faith. I prefer the story of evolution over the story of Creation from the Bible because it makes more sense in the modern world. I can actually look in a museum and see proof of evolution over time. I just have to believe my religion, no facts and no proof; it just is. I give credit where credit is do to all three acounts of the story of the beginning. I don't see a problem in teaching each version in schools. What needs to remembered is that nothing is certain in either science or religion.

Thoughts about class today
Name: Meagan H.
Date: 2006-09-12 00:29:29
Link to this Comment: 20355

Throughout today's discussion on evolution theory and creation theory, I think a few members of the class jumped to a few conclusions concerning the theory of creationism.

Firstly, the etymology of creation theory has been reconstructed to 'intelligent design' for, what I perceive, two reasons. One, in order to make the theory more palatable for those in the world who are staunch advocates of the existence of separate spheres. One for science. One for religion. Secondly, I don't think the word 'creationism' aptly defines exactly what many scientists of sound mind believe.

This article from the BBC might add some insight into intelligent design theories.

Secondly, I think it is incredibly important to keep in mind what we discussed on the first day of class. Science is not absolute. It's a really good observer. But it cannot by any means dictate specific rules. I think that Arielle made a good point in saying that just because the sun rises every day, it might not rise tomorrow.

Nothing in this world is certain. But faith, faith can be somewhat certain. Faith in God, god, nature, cosmic energy, or a myriad of deities provides for humanity some sense of certainty that our lives here are not in vain. It provides certain rules of engagement, it provides laws with which most, if not all, humans abide by in order to keep order in society.

For those who back the theory (stress on the word theory) of intelligent design, it is possibly some way of providing more faith to a theory. More certainty to the theory of evolution, a theory that has met (even among those staunch separatists) a lot of criticism.

I don't want to support one theory over another, because I have my own misgivings about both theories. But I just want to engage you guys to think for yourselves. Don't buy in wholeheartedly to the liberal propaganda anymore than you allow yourself to buy into right-wing thought.

Just, please, think for yourself.

Evolution and faith
Name: kelseymc
Date: 2006-09-12 17:56:31
Link to this Comment: 20371

This seems a little off topic now that the group before me has changed the topic, but I wished to return to the earlier subject of Evolution verses Intelligent Design (I wish to refrain from the term Creationism as it can easily be refuted by the term that I am about to use)and as I see it, the theory with the strongest physical evidence, evidence that I have been told is physically the truth. Even though I have to accept that this evidence could be false, it is shown to be logically acceptable.
There is physical evidence of natural selection shown most famously on the Galapagos Islands and with the finches that live there: living things must adapt or die. Through many environmental factors and different forms of physical means allow for these organisms to create a new way of life, through what we assume is genes. However, this may be random or it may not be random as it is perfect and has a way of working.
Which comes to my point. This perfection of life, regardless of the single instances and exceptions, generally works with nature and futhers itself (evolve dare I say?)and originally must have come from something.
Entrophy, it is impossible for something to come from nothing. The chaos of evolution must have began at some original point and must have started from something. And what was this something? A god? A chance? When it comes down to it, and as already stated, one must have faith in sciences as much as one must have faith in the belief in something infinite that creates life and order from nothing.

Biology Inspired Architecture
Date: 2006-09-12 19:53:47
Link to this Comment: 20374

Biology Inspired Architecture
Name: Mia Prensk
Date: 2006-09-12 20:06:52
Link to this Comment: 20375

While reading today's Science Times of the New York Times, I came across an intriguing article about a biomedical research institute in China that is being designed based on the structure of cells- surface bulges representing proteins in the cell membrane are to be meeting rooms while indoor pools are modelled after mitochondria. Although the institute in Chengdu has not been constructed yet, the associate director of the Center for Biomedical Engineering at MIT believes that biologically inspired architecture will motivate children to study biology, and furthermore, that the design of the building is natural, being that cells are a product of nature. Although many people think the design is hideous, you can judge for yourself by looking at today's Science Times where some computer generated images are displayed. After all, this building is biology, and as the associate director of the Center for Biomedical Engineering commented, "It's biology . . . How many people hate trees?" Maybe we should draft new plans for Park, ones that contain indoor mitochondrial pools.

Is it Alive?
Name: Annabella
Date: 2006-09-13 12:59:40
Link to this Comment: 20390

What is Alive?
Class Discussion Intro Bio 9/13/06
Annabella Wood

Interesting discussion on trying to define what is alive and what is not. Fascinating that we never got any closer to a consensus at the end that we had at the beginning. Looking even further, how strange it is that there is no consensus in the world either about this question. One would think it would be a question that has been asked ever since there were cognitive thinkers to pose it. But for some reason the question persists.

And it will persist. As long as there is more than one person asking the question, it will not be answerable. That is because it has a different answer for everyone. The individual’s answer depends on their upbringing, environment, culture, perspective of self and others, experiences, hopes and dreams. Hopes and dreams? Yes, hopes and dreams. Because part of one’s answer to “What is alive?” lies in the usefulness of the answer to precipitate a certain hope and dream for the individual’s future. And this is just a short list of all the causes of variants in the answer to this age old question.

The question, “What is common sense?” was also posed…and left unanswered. I propose that what is common sense is a product of one’s cultural upbringing. It was generally agreed that it was a matter of common sense that the sand was not alive. That is true in conventional western thought. Yet if it had been a classroom full of Buddhist Monks, it would be considered common sense to believe that the sand is alive. Common sense can not be measured independently from cultural context.

I was brought up in the western culture, and took on the western perspective by default. But as time went on, the western story of life no longer served my purposes, and started searching for a more useful story. As a result, I find myself exhibiting little common sense in the Bio classroom.

For instance, the list of description of aspects that distinguish living things from non-living things proposed by the professor rang hollow for me. Not that I felt the aspects didn’t describe living things, they do. But it also described things that western common sense would say are not living.

Take a large rock, for instance.
1) it has an improbable assembly. (The word “improbable” is another of those nasty little words that requires definition, and again, can only be defined according to context. But I will use it here with the understanding that it has no real meaning until defined.) It sticks up or out or all over separately from whatever surrounds it, be it sand, moss, grass, dirt, water or whatever.
2) it loses its improbable assembly upon “death.” It wears down, it disappears…
3) Time span to become dust? Are we determining whether something is alive according to how long it takes to become dust? The rock is not alive because it takes too long to disassemble its improbable assembly? If it takes longer than a certain amount of time to disassemble, then it wasn’t alive? Who is to say how long that time frame would be? If we are putting time frames on proof of life, I will use this later to prove that Joshua trees in the Mojave are not alive, because they go hundreds of years without change. Of course, this goes against western common sense.
4) requires energy input. All things, whether conventional western thinkers consider them alive or not require constant energy to hold together. That is the nature of physical matter. The measurement of how much energy is required is quantified in Einstein’s equation E=MC2. Certainly a rock would fall into this category.
5) semi-homeostasis meaning it pushes back when you poke it. If you use your hand to punch a rock, the rock will break your hand. Therefore, by this definition, it portrays semi-homeostatic qualities.
6) can change on their own. The rock will change over time. Left in the environment considered crucial to support other life forms, such as animal, the rock will disassemble more rapidly than without environmental input, but either way it does disassemble.
6a) The Joshua tree, and endangered specie of tree in the Mojave desert, is considered alive by most conventional western thinkers. Yet many of them do not change a detectable amount over the course of a human lifetime. So by the time limits given in condition 3, the Joshua tree would not be considered alive, for it changes too slowly, as the rock disassembles too slowly to qualify for life.
7) reproduces with variation. All around large rocks one finds little rocks of the same type. All of the little rocks are differently shaped, sized, etc. They all came from the larger rock, as part of itself.

As stated earlier, I don’t disagree that living things exhibit these qualities. I just think they describe all things. Of course, that would work for me, as I believe all things are alive. As another student bravely put forth in class, if it is on the earth, it is living.

An opinion put forth in class that I find disturbing and would like to explore further is the notion that the Earth itself is not alive. I don’t care what anyone believes for themselves, but the ramifications of their belief is of concern to me, as it affects their actions, and thus others. It is the notion that the Earth is not alive that makes it conceivable for us to kill it without conscience. To put it another way, it is the notion that the Earth does not fall into the narrow common sense parameters of what is alive (in western thought) that makes it OK to not treat it as if it were alive. As a result, its systems are being changed because of our actions upon it, which are directly contrived from our beliefs about it. The fact that it is commonly conceived to not fall in the realm of living things is bringing about the possible extinction of all of that which does fall within those narrow parameters.

It is for this reason that I feel the old story about what is alive is not serving us well anymore. We must re-examine our story of life itself to come up with one which will serve us, if indeed we feel that the continuance of our specie is a worthy goal. The story that the Earth is not alive is to the story that it is alive as the story that the Earth is flat is to the story that the Earth is round. It is old, and though it serves on a personal, daily basis, in the big picture, it no longer serves.

the origin of life
Name: M.E.
Date: 2006-09-13 19:30:41
Link to this Comment: 20397

I was brousing online looking for possible web paper topics and came across Wikipedia's article on the Origin of Life. I started reading it and was intrigued by the level of scientific theory and hypothesis that surround one of the most perplexing questions of all time: How was all this created in the first place? It's hard to imagin that something came from nothing, but at the same time its difficult to believe that somewhere out there is a power that created all life. Science and the Church seem so adament in their evolution/creationism theories that it's difficult to know which way to look at the situation. What I gathered from the Wikipidia is that scientists and people in general have been trying to solve this question for decades and will probably continue to study indefinately, narrowing hypotheses but never reaching a fact. Anyway, it's an interesting article... check it out.

Life on Other Planets
Date: 2006-09-14 20:12:54
Link to this Comment: 20414

I am so intrigued with the idea of life on other planets. By "life," I don't mean little green men, or marvin the martian, but something that resembles something on Earth, such as the water found on Mars or the landscape of the Xanadu Region of one of Saturn's moons. If we're lucky, we'll be able to further investigate these planets; if we're REALLY lucky, we may be able to get a better understanding of the develpment of Earth from observing the other planets.

Name: Claire
Date: 2006-09-14 20:51:34
Link to this Comment: 20415

In this week's New York Times Science Times, there was an interesting article regarding Pluto's status as a planet. I couldn't help but think back to our first day of class and how someone brought up the fact that putting Pluto's status as a planet into question was an unnerving notion, in that it forced her to rethink certain boundaries and definitions. The New York times article went on to describle details about Pluto's orbit and the Kuiper Belt as well as the idea that the solar system has and will change over time. So far, this class has really forced me to question many of my ideas about the definitions of things, and in reading this article I wondered that if in several years scientists will come up with new ideas to support that Pluto's status in the solar system.

Name: Kali
Date: 2006-09-15 00:04:08
Link to this Comment: 20419

This class has forced me to question not only the definition but also the categorization of things (like in Wednesday's Lab). This questioning has made me realize that changing pluto's status from planet to "dwarf planet" or the number it has just been assigned shouldn't be suprising. We are in a constant quest to make things more organized and the changing of pluto from planet to whatever is merely a new way of classifying things that may or may not be more wrong or right and will probably eventually be changed. For example if we were to return to planets "nearer" or "farther" 10 years after the fact I'm fairly certain that the plant systems would be completely different because new knowledge would have been gained about the plants that we never thought to include in our classification.

Confused in Belief
Name: Maggie Boh
Date: 2006-09-15 10:58:23
Link to this Comment: 20423

So we have the three stories:
1. No God and never was a God.
2. No God now, but it started us off.
3. God now, and it started us off.

I think it's easier to either believe one or three, because with two: how can you believe that there was some supreme being that was great enough to start us off, but then deserted us?
Anyway, why is this really relevent? Is science about believing, about questiong our beliefs, about finding new things to believe, about trying to prove our beliefs are somehow more right?
Do we find an anomoly and then change our beliefs? Do we try to somehow fit the anomoly into our beliefs?
Do we just forget our beliefs and start with a clean slate?

I get a little confused when people trust so strongly in something they can't see. How can we base science on something that we have no real proof of?

Quotes of the Week
Name: Hannah
Date: 2006-09-15 16:41:18
Link to this Comment: 20424

I'll comment on two Prof. Grobstein quotes from this week that I really liked. They relate to each other, although the first is from Mon. and the second from Weds.

"The only way to do good science is to think about things you don't think you have to think about."
"The rate of mortality among living things has been 100%."

The theme of this week seemed to be the importance of not taking things for granted and not making assumptions: thinking about life, where we came from, and how we continue to exist, things that (ironically) are very easy to ignore. Even the fact that our lives are going to end is a strange thing to accept unthinkingly, as we do on a day-to-day basis, especially considering we don't really know WHY we die. Because life always has ended in death, I didn't really think about it, but in the context of "seriously loopy science," death is just another theory. Like everything else, it can't be proven. (Only DISproven...interesting...)
What I would love is for humans to find life on other planets. Like Prof. Grobstein said, it really is the most important quest in biology because having another biosphere to compare ours with would be like going from two dimensions to three in our understanding of life. As our discussion today suggested, it might be hard to identify life as such if we find it, and if extraterrestrial life is very different from terrestrial life, extraterrestrial death is probably not the same either.

Name: Karen Gins
Date: 2006-09-15 16:57:37
Link to this Comment: 20426

I think the idea of not knowing what is alive from what is not is really interesting. After all the discussions of trying to define and distinguish life from death (or non-life?), I began to wonder just how significant it is to separate one from the other, and just how important that characteristic of life is when describing something. Do things that are, as we would put it, 'alive', have more value than things that are not?
If we saw a hurt cat, we would be more upset than if we had seen a broken chair. Using this logic, you could say that more feelings are attached to something alive because of an ability to relate more to it. However, by this same logic, if we saw a dead spider on the ground, versus an important photograph of a lost relative in shreds, one may be more upset by the (non living)photograph. While this logic is based on one's own feelings and reactions, making this example relative in respect to each person, I think that, while we all differ tremendously from each other, we've been raised to see the world, overall (rather than detail by detail), in very similar ways. I think there's more of a likelihood to be defensive about calling something important to someone dead because of the feelings attached.
I don't think that defining something as alive or dead holds as much meaning as the feelings we have attached to the words, but maybe that's the significance of words themselves. Biologically, I think life and death are probably the most important distinguishing categories of all words, but probably the most frightening, since neither can be controlled by humans and both change as time goes on. It's interesting to take what we've learned and break it apart, seeing all the stuff we've just assumed forever, and now actually thinking about it and realizing we may not see it the same way.

Silent Spring Revisited?
Name: Sarah Gale
Date: 2006-09-16 15:26:32
Link to this Comment: 20432

This might sound super-dorky, but I was personalizing my Blackboard layout, and I chose to have a mini New York Times update for health and science. One article title that caught my eye was "W.H.O. Supports Wider Use of DDT vs. Malaria". I read the article, completely stunned. It was like the Environmental Movement never happened. Later in the piece, the author wrote about Rachel Carson's findings about DDT and its effect on birdlife, but maintained that small amounts sprayed in homes were safe. I find it hard to believe that any amount of DDT is safe, even if it kills malaria-carrying mosquitoes. I don't even use DEET bugspray on my body, and the fact that 17 countries in Africa spray households to combat disease is a horrible thought. The worst part about the article was the argument of the environmentalist group, Beyond Pesticides. They said that using DDT “causes greater long-term problems than those that are being addressed in the short-term.” That's all? It was a very weak repsonse.
I read more about DDT, and I found that, yes, it works and many countries use it. But the problem with using pesticides is that they lose their potentcy and the bugs resist it, causing scientists to make stronger formulas. And the cycle continues, leading to harsher and harsher chemicals and fiercer and fiercer mosquitoes. Some studies even showed that DDT was ineffective against some species, yet it is still used. So now,not only are countries battling insects with chemicals, but chemicals that don't even work. This is a flawed practice, and I will try to find if there's a better solution.

Name: Kelly Soud
Date: 2006-09-16 16:32:06
Link to this Comment: 20433

Going back to which of the following stories do you prefer about the creation of earth, I find the part about supernatural beings to be interesting. My question is, is if there is indeed a supernatural being, then who created that being? How did that being come to exist and how does that being have the power to create/start the beginning of earth's existance?

As to what is life, I think that there is a clear distinction to what life is. I agree that "reproduces with variation" is an important part of life. Through my observations/research, I believe that life has to be created by another living organism. For the example brought up in class by the professor about mules, I would say that it does not matter that mules cannot reproduce themselves because they were reproduced with variation.

I think that life can also be defined by what is organic and what is inorganic. Organic = alive, Inorganic = not alive. However, these terms raise the questions as to what does organic mean if one does not use the commonly accepted definitions used by many scientists today.

For one of the last questions posed in class about why organisms stop growing at a certain point, my answer is that it is too hard for the organism to properly maintain its life functions after a certain point and therefore, they limit their size.

Name: Meagan McD
Date: 2006-09-16 16:59:34
Link to this Comment: 20434

First, in case anybody else actually cares about scientific podcasting, here's Scientific American's podcasts page. Search for Scientific American in iTunes to find both their shows (or Odeo, or whatever other podcatching tool you use).

Secondly, I really liked our class discussion about how you tell if something is alive or not. Obviously, if you want to decide if something falls in a category, you have to first define that category, which I think we haven't done yet. I'm still waiting on that! :-) But I'm also interested in the idea of a distinction between animate, inanimate, and conscious, and how that applies in medical situations. I had a friend once who underwent emergency surgery and was "dead on the table" for about ten minutes before they revived her. But what does that mean, exactly? I mean, she's alive now, and I haven't ever observed anything else "come back" from the dead, so was she really dead in the emergency room? No? But if her brain and heart and stuff weren't working, then was she just...unconscious? Ah, I don't know. It's all so confusing. (I guess this ties back into people in comas and "vegetative states" and all of that...)

-- Meagan

Date: 2006-09-16 18:53:45
Link to this Comment: 20435

This week's quest to define life and the qualities living things possess has been fascinating. These seemingly basic questions have resulted in philosophical and religious arguments and have forced us as students to look beyond what we were forced to memorize in high school biology class. Sadly, my natural response to questions like "what charaterizes life?" is whatever I was force fed in high school. I love the way this class actually forces me to THINK, question, and observe natural phenomena. For example, in retrospect the concept that living things are highly improbable assemblies seems basic, however, it took us an entire class to even come near this conclusion. I really like the way this class is forcing me to, if I may use the trite expression, "think outside the box".

Are Puffy Planets Alive Too?
Name: Corey
Date: 2006-09-16 20:12:31
Link to this Comment: 20436

I was rereading some of my notes from class and was looking over the previous comments made and it got me thinking about how we determine what is and is not alive and why they are that way, what are the characteristics of life? I also read an article on the New York Times website,, about the discovery of a planet circling a star about 450 light years away. The unusual thing is that the planet is bigger then Jupitar, but has less density then a cork.

So this got me thinking about how we characterize what is and what is not alive. This quesion was not answered in class, but then again, has it really ever been answered? Is there a definition out in the scientific universe that everyone who reads it can agree? I think not, and that is because of people's cultural experiences, system of beliefs, and personal persepectives. But this is all besides the point. The real question I want to address was brought up in class. Is the earth alive?

I, being of my own set of cultural esperiences, system of beliefs, and personal perspective, quickly answered the question with a simple "no". There is no arguement. There is no gray area. The earth is simply no alive. There are millions upon millions of organisms that live off of the earth and there are millions upon millions of ecosystems that survive only because of the earth, but the earth itself, the rock and the magma and the gases and all, is not alive. Simple and easy as that. Or so I thought. Very soon after I answered the question, a number of other opinions were expressed. Some were in line with mine and some were not.

I must admit that I had/have a lot of trouble understanding how a person can say that the earth is alive. Of course, we can say that it is metaphorically alive and that the spirit of the earth is alive, but to say that the rocky mass floating around the universe is a living organism is an idea that I just can't get my mind around. So, like I said earlier, I was reading an article about this newly found planet that was "puffy". Scientists cannot figure out how the planet is able to stay so hot and how is it able to stay so big. Although this article was very interesting and I suggest that you all read it, it was not the content of the article that I am going to discuss. While reading this article, I began to wonder, if people consider the earth to be alive, are the other planets alive as well? What are the reasons or justifications for saying that the earth is alive? Is the earth alive just because there are living things on it or is it something else? If not, could this newly found, puffy planet be alive as well? What about Mars, where water was found recently. If there is life on Mars, is Mars alive too? Just a thought that I hope will spark interesting and informative debate.

One last thing on the same topic of whether or not the earth is alive, a comment was made that I really want to talk about. It was to the effect of, if the earth is not alive, then that means that people don't have to treat it with the respect we would another living thing and because of this way of thinking, it is changing because of our actions. I took this comment very personally. Just because I do not think that the earth is a living thing does not mean, in any way, that I treat it badly. Since when was it determined that life was the only way to put a value on something? Just because it is not alive does not mean that it is not necessary or useful. And the earth is changing, no doubt about that, and probably for the worse. But it is not changing because of peoples beliefs that the earth is not alive so we don' need to be mindful of it. It is changing because for years and years we were doing harmful things to the environment without knowing that they were bad. As time went on and new observations were made, people began to realize that extent to which their actions affected the earth an all the organisms living upon it. Now that we are armed with more information, our behavir as people needs to change. But just because people do not believe the earth is alive, it does not mean that they feel like they can kill it without conscience.

Name: Moira Nada
Date: 2006-09-16 21:20:14
Link to this Comment: 20438

I'm fascinated by how heated our debates have grown over how to define life. I think that this class is reaffirming a believe I have held for a while; some things are too complex to define. I feel that we could philosiphize and discuss what it is a be alive for many years and not reach a decisive conclusion. Not that we should stop just yet- because our class has a really nice diversity of opinions. There was one thing I caught it class though that made me think. The possibility of categorizing life into:

* Inanimate

* Animate

* Conscious

I just think this could bring an interesting new way to look at our definitions...

concept for life
Name: M.E.
Date: 2006-09-17 22:00:34
Link to this Comment: 20452

I continued thinking about the generalized “concepts for life” that we collaborated on during class and came up with my own criteria for living organisms. It makes sense to me that any organism that is alive should have a functioning internal system capable of undergoing a natural chemical or biological process that contributes to its success, well-being, and life cycle. For example, plants undergo many processes that allow for their very existence such as photosynthesis and respiration. There is no outside “force” that changes the plant’s capability to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen or food for itself. Animals, including humans have hundreds of chemical and biological reactions happening within us every day from hormonal reactions to digestion, and we never stop to think: “oh, I stubbed my toe. Let me send a neurological message to my brain telling me I should be in pain.” And that’s just one example. Cells, too, use diffusion, respiration and reproduction in order to exist. On the other hand, common sense tells us that rocks are not alive. When we poke them they don’t react, they don’t reproduce and are not semi-autonomous. The best I can conclude about rocks is that they are large deposits of minerals. The closest thing to a chemical reaction they have is erosion, which is not only external, but is caused by something other than the rock itself, such as acid rain. On the controversial topic of viruses, my standpoint is that they are alive. Just like plants, animals, and cells, viruses have internal processes that allow them to duplicate DNA and reproduce identical viruses to continue and increase its survival.

What IS the point of life? I don't know, but here
Name: Priscila R
Date: 2006-09-17 22:36:24
Link to this Comment: 20453

By dictionary definition life is “the condition that distinguishes organisms from inorganic objects and dead organisms, being manifested by growth through metabolism, reproduction, and the power of adaptation to environment through changes originating internally”. It is interesting that this is the kind of definition the class searched for when we were first asked the question, “what is life?” While we attempted to explain in scientific terms what we thought the answer should be, we soon realized that what was being asked was to merely understand how it is that we distinguish between living and non-living in our everyday lives. After having given the discussion in class and the above “typical” definition some thought, I believe the importance distinction between the living and non-living is what is accomplished during the life time of the organism. Using the nonliving classroom table as an example, just like a human being it will exist and eventually break down into the materials it’s composed of (even though it may last longer than a living human). However, what it does not contribute anything. A human grows, reproduces and depending on the person, may change the world he lives in. If a living thing is not going to contribute anything, or at least pass on its genes to insure the survival of the species, what is the point of life in the first place? All living things serve a purpose and have a distinct place and function on earth.

The Science of Categorizing
Name: Simone
Date: 2006-09-17 22:39:25
Link to this Comment: 20454

Our discussion on Friday about why scientists categorize things, if those categories are human constructions, and whether they are "real" has been prominent discussion in the news as well.

The need for a new method of categorizing the planets in our solar system and establishing new nomenclatures for these categories became necessary as new telescope technologies began to reaveal distant "objects" that rival Pluto in size. In late August, at the International Astronomical Union (IAU) conference in Prague, astronomers determined that Pluto, Ceres (the small planet between Mars & Jupiter), and Eris (a planet slightly larger than and further away than Pluto) were to be termed "dwarf planets."

All at once our textbooks were wrong. Our understanding of our solar system had been entirely altered. And the public was shocked. But this time people, not just scientists, questioned the faceless men in lab coats who reached this decision about our solar system. The historic decision rocked the blogosphere, made headlines, and inspired a petition that is currently being circulated urging the IAU to reinstate Pluto as a planet.

It may be interesting to watch this issue as it progresses. Maybe by the end of the semester we'll be able to answer Prof. Grobstein's questions about whether there is a "right way" to categorize things...

Here's an article if anyone is interested...

Name: Georgia
Date: 2006-09-17 23:02:19
Link to this Comment: 20455

I have enjoyed both the in and out of class discussion that this class has sparked. Some arguments, while not completely convincing, have challenged my initial perceptions of what is alive, and I appreicate that.

I still have trouble considering the entire Earth to be alive. I would like to think that the many organisms and ecosystems on the Earth are alive, but the mass of Earth itself, as a giant rock floating through space is not alive. However, when I stop thinking solely along the lines of my own observations and learned perceptions of what is alive, I am forced to reconsider. I find that when I think about other cultures or societies that accept and live by the notion that the Earth is alive, and should be treated as a living thing, I realize the limitations I have set on my definition of living things. I am not interested in picking apart the critieria Prof Grobstein presented for living things, and trying to argue that things like a table and a rock could be considered alive, because we could do that forever and not constructively further our conversation. However, listening to peoples different perceptions of the Earth and discussing in general whether or not things are alive because of a concious intent or physcial characteristics is important.

I started off thinking that the discussion of things being alive or not wasn't a particularly difficult thing to determine, however, I have realized there is much more to the debate of life in and beyond Earth than whether something can move or not on its own.

In response to Sarah--Silent Spring Revisited? et
Name: M. Hume
Date: 2006-09-17 23:19:49
Link to this Comment: 20456

I also read the BBC article about WHO backing the use of DDT, despite numerous warnings about the adverse health effects upon humans and their environment.

What you have to understand about the WHO and many other international institutions is that politics play far more of a role than it should. And not interpersonal politics, I'm talking economic politics as well.

For example, there is a particular strain of TB that the WHO refused to treat because they proclaimed it too expensive. They would literally allow these people to keep living, keep infecting others and then die. Along came Paul Farmer, a medical anthropologist out of Harvard who still believes in humanity. With a few trial runs of a drug he got from Harvard, he proved WHO wrong. Now, and only now, do they treat this strain of TB.

Secondly, I once ran into a man who worked on malaria in Africa with the WHO. He was horrified by how stupid many of the employees are. They emphasize the use of mosquito nets--completely forgetting the fact that the time when mosquitos are most likely to bite, everyone is outside. He tried to convince the team to develop a lotion that did not use DDT, but to no avail.

I guess what I am saying is that there are immensely stupid and dense people in the world. There are those who like to cut corners. But what you need to do is stick with it. Prove to the WHO that there are alternatives to DDT.

Secondly, I was playing around on BBC Science and found that contrary to my prior opinions, scientists actually anticipate meeting forms of life on other planets. I would suggest it if you have a few minutes of free time. Apparently, rocks are also a suggestion that life could survive on another planet.

Improbable Assemblies
Name: Ananda Tri
Date: 2006-09-18 01:28:04
Link to this Comment: 20457

Because we have not discussed anything biological that caught my attention I will write on a topic that is relevant to more than just biology. A few years ago I was taking physics class with a Professor Arthur Zajonc who teaches at Amherst College. He is a member in various research groups involving atomic level physics, and he takes part in discussions involving the idea of religion and where it fits into science - where the two meet, conflict and agree. Professor Zajonc told us of course many things, but two remain in my mind and continue to pop up when I hear things like “improbable assemblies”. Firstly he told us about an experiment conducted with particles and the direction of their movement when in reaction to in their environment. The particles behaved in one way judging by the results of a test and another when the experiment was observed by a “camera”. For some unexplainable reason the particles reacted strongly and unexplainably to a completely innocuous object in their environment. Secondly Professor Zajonc told us that in the study of science one starts on a large scale and moves to smaller and smaller levels of structure and function. He told us that everything is ordered and makes sense on each level, that it is clear how things function and give rise to the order on the level following them. Eventually though, he said, on the lowest level that science has been able to discover, there is utter chaos. The question here is how does this chaos suddenly jump into order on the next level up? What force creates order out of chaos, and how does the presence of an observer change the reaction of moving particles?

What is living? What is dead?
Name: Kaar
Date: 2006-09-18 10:07:55
Link to this Comment: 20458

According to, alive is defined as “having life; living; existing; not dead or lifeless.” But, what exactly does that mean? As “scientists” in school we are taught to look to observations to support or not support our theories. is not a science dictionary; however, its definition is the most readily available to the masses, which I believe is problematic. How does one establish living vs. dead? Or determine consciousness vs. without consciousness? What tools can I use to prove or establish one or the other? For example, as Masha said, the Jain religion views not only animals but all roots vegetables as consciousness and therefore alive. Yet, vegetarians or vegans would eat roots without qualm. How are these things determined? Does one have a higher spiritual level if they believe that all “living” things are alive? This is once again where the mix/clash of science and spirituality leave me feeling like a confused mass of pointless arguments and theories. If I can’t even differentiate many sharp distinctions between the animate and the inanimate without getting bogged down by “What ifs” then I will never be able to differentiate between the conscious and the un-conscious. What scares me is I think that I am okay with that.

Name: Arielle
Date: 2006-09-18 10:23:06
Link to this Comment: 20459

I appreciated Karen G's comment about the injured cat vs. the broken chair. Perhaps something emotional allows us to justify our conclusions about what is alive and what is dead. One of our classroom criterion for establishing what is "alive" is that energy courses through it, and it is dependent on energy (both to absorb and "excrete") to exist. I thought back to one of my high school teacher's experiences with thyroid cancer treatment. She told me that after she took a radioactive pill (part of her chemotherapy), her doctors told her that everything she touched would become slightly radioactive. They warned her to use only one set of dishes and silverware for at least a week after taking the pill, and then to throw away those dishes. Now, I know that I'm not doing much justice to the exact accepted science of radioactivity, but I am concerned with our class' principles of life. Maybe this is just an exception, but a medicinal pill is randomly ordered, has boundaries, has energy contained within it, etc. Its energy can be transferred to treat cancer and also to destroy a spoon! (Wouldn't we all like to have THAT superpower...)

Name: Arielle
Date: 2006-09-18 10:27:25
Link to this Comment: 20460

I would also like to respond to Kaar's comments about Jainism and vegetarianism. I am vegan because I do not wish to be responsible for the suffering of animals. However, I recognize the argument that plants also have life spans, and although we may not be able to hear a carrot scream when we pull it from the ground, it may feel a pain indistinguishable from our own as humans. I believe in respecting the life span of all creatures, but I believe more strongly that the livestock industry has done more to damage our earth's ecosystem as a whole, and that my sympathy for a cow raised for slaughter is greater than my sympathy for a carrot raised to be yanked from the ground.

A marvel of being alive
Name: Masha
Date: 2006-09-18 14:18:49
Link to this Comment: 20463

During the last three class discussions I was fascinated by how far we went in questioning the significance of the word 'alive.' First of all, it is paradoxical that being alive is the premise for any human action and yet never have I heard a discussion on what it actually means to be alive. For example, recycling. Coming from such turbulent country as Russian Federation, I was always slightly sarcastic about the zealous recycling concerns since in my country people do not have time to worry about it due to the overflow of unresolved economic, social, and political problems. My fiance's family, that is French, is very particular about having seven separate recycling bags in the house. This summer, when I questioned such recycling enthusiasm, I was answered that the Earth has to be kept ALIVE and it is every human's duty to participate in this process. Now, I ask myself whether this recycling passion comes from the social obligation or these people actually DO know WHY they are recycling and think about Earth as a living organism. I suppose, once I meet a person who will be able to explain to me how Earth is truly kept alive by extensive recycling, I will also become a fan of that.
Another thing that bewildered me during our class discussion on what it is to be 'alive' is that to me being 'alive' always meant to be a THINKING organism capable of COMPREHENDING its purpose in participation of the life cycle. Now, it turns out that my perception of this word is rather egoistic and would be too philosophically coded. My present goal is to diviate from this perception of mine and question how it relates to those, for example, who recycle to keep the Earth ALIVE.

Scientific method
Name: Masha
Date: 2006-09-18 14:29:05
Link to this Comment: 20464

Today I discovered a new significance of the word scientific that shed light on the direction our class is taking. The word 'scientific' always intimidated me since I associated it with biological experiences, knowledge of terminology, and memorization of chemical elements. In fact, I believe that such narrow-minded approach comes from me growing up in a family and surroundings not at all affiliated with science in any way. Apparently, I formed a stereotype even of the words with the 'science' root. As I learned today, 'scientific' means of study of physical and natural world based on the observation and experiment (moreover, this is the definition givenby Oxford dictionary). Thus, for example, if I, as a Theatre Design major, track back to the stone ages the development of the 'performance' doing research, it would be a 'scientific' approach to the matter. The bridging of such gap of stereotypes surprised me to a great extent and made me question the amount of streotypes that I bred in my head during my 22 years of existence.

Name: KelseyMc
Date: 2006-09-18 18:59:18
Link to this Comment: 20465

It was mentioned today that the article about the pesticide DDT. I would think that of all organizations in this world, the World Health Organization would be concerned with how the pesticide D.D.T. would affect the health of the people in Africa. I can understand that people would want to help prevent the disease that kills off so much of the population each year, but the long term effect could be disastrous. I am not just speaking of the birds, because we now know how the pesticide can affect our animal populations, but of the eventual problems that will happen to our world and to ourselves.
I know it is a little cliché to say this, but we are all really very connected here in this world. We all take energy from one another, and if that energy is polluted, it will hurt rather than hinder us. Also, it must be said, the African people do not have the extreme levels of processing and packaging that many western countries have. It creates problems with their food sources when you consider what they could eat that could have eaten the pesticide.
As human beings, we tend to believe that because of our intellect and higher abilities, that we are not responsible for our planet. But as mentioned before, we have no right or good reason to abuse our planet. As we saw in class, the Earth is not the only thing here or there or anywhere. We are surrounded, but we do not want to mess up what we have.

We Are Small
Name: Moira Nada
Date: 2006-09-19 16:21:33
Link to this Comment: 20474

I have heard people mention before that this class has made them reevaluate their perceptions, or question things they were taught. Well I was raised to always try to see multiple sides to any theory or argument. So I thought this class wasn't going to be as life changing for me as for some of my classmates-which is fine. But then I got to class on Monday and Prof. Grobestein continued the exercise of zooming out on a section of Earth. As our planet contimued to fade into the distance and "nothing", my jaw dropped. I was so suprised by how incredibly, infinitissimily small we really are! Just think about what a big deal our day to day lives are. But really, our entire planet isn't even a speck of dust in the grand scheme of things....

I was just amazed, and find it a little hard to comprehend, by how tiny we all are- even though when I look around, everything seems so big.

Name: Amelia
Date: 2006-09-19 18:49:04
Link to this Comment: 20476

I found Megan McDaniel's comment (concerning her friend who was declared dead on the OR table) intriguing and I would like to address it.

Our bodies have eletrical impulses running through them that allow signals to be transmitted from neuron to neuron. These neuronal connections (along with other body systems) permit us to do things like walk and think. If Megan's friend was declared "dead", then presumably all her internal systems, including impulses to and from the brain, had stopped. I think that unconsciousness means being unaware of something, but the ability to be aware is present. For example, while her friend was anesthetized she was unconscious of what was going on, but the doctors had the ability to wake her up and make her aware. So, since her friend was unable to regain consciousness for those ten minutes, she was technically "dead" (without the ability to think) not simply unconscious. I also believe that inanimate things do not posses a conscious, thus when her friend was dead on the table she was inanimate and therefore without a conscious. I think she is "alive" now because the doctors were able to get the electrical impulses moving through her body again (among other things).

Name: Annabella
Date: 2006-09-20 12:58:31
Link to this Comment: 20478

I have truly enjoyed the postings lately. I would like to discuss Kaar's idea that by asking these questions she is becoming somewhat frustrated and afraid that she will never find the answers...and she is slightly concerned that she is OK with that.
BRAVO! It reminded me of the old addage, "The more I know, the more I know I don't know." That sounds like silliness until one begins asking questions of their own suppositions. And what a worthwhile endeavor.
If indeed, nothing is for sure, then good that we would know we don't know something. At least we are getting closer to knowing something the more we know we don't know.
And as we get further and further from thinking we know, the easier it is to live graciously in this world, for how can we look down on anyone as being "ignorant" or "stupid" or any other insult we can think of. And when these ideas do come up into our minds, we may be thoughtful enough to question whether we can know that they are however we are describing them. In other words, we become better able to give everyone more room to be themselves and us ourselves, appreciating one another, our diversity, and our commonalities.

The Grand Sceme of Things
Date: 2006-09-20 18:45:39
Link to this Comment: 20487

During class today, I was surprised and delighted to see that things basically look the same at extremely large and extremely small scales. It definately put a new perspective on things! Monday's class really stressed how we are basically a speck of dust in the universe, which really goes against the egocentric science that we often hear. It was really refreshing to hear something different, something that could see the forest for the trees.

Size matters
Name: Claire
Date: 2006-09-21 16:25:07
Link to this Comment: 20498

The discussions we have been having in class this week about the incredible large and small scale of the universe have really got me thinking about the capacities of technology and human limitations. For example, if it takes light years to reach a certain vantage point to see our entire galaxy, will human beings ever be able to leave the Milky Way? Are we meant to leave our own galaxy? If so, this puts huge pressure on developing advanced technology and pushing the boundaries of our own physical limitations as humans.

Date: 2006-09-21 17:21:51
Link to this Comment: 20499

Name: Courtney M
Date: 2006-09-21 17:32:15
Link to this Comment: 20500

In Wednesday's class, we tried to categorize many different pictures of organisms on earth. There was not one person in the class who agreed with every categorization. Different people have different opinions about different things. Some pictures were more similar to others and then there were a few that looked like they belonged in their own category. I guess what I'm trying to say here is that earth supports a lot of different organisms; there are no two that are exactly alike. Humans are the most obvious example of diversity...ex: even identical twins are not exactly the same. I think it is silly to try to place these organisms into certain categories when we know that they will never truly fit. I think diversity is present on earth for a reason, but I'm not sure what that reason is. Maybe it is present just to spark debate when trying to categorize things in bio class.

New Species & New Danger
Name: Mia Prensk
Date: 2006-09-21 18:00:31
Link to this Comment: 20501

Off the the coast of Indonesia scientists have recently announced the discovery of 52 new aquatic species; these include 24 kinds of fish, 20 coral and 8 shrimp- there is even a shark that walks on its fins! However, conservationists are already worried that this area is at risk of being rendered inhabitable due to fisherman who use dynamite and cyanide, thus destroying this natural habitat. Basically, these species that we have only just begun to know may already be heading down the path towards extinction.
Upon reading a brief article about the discovery in the September 19 Science Times of the New York Times, I began to wonder about the other species out there that we haven't yet discovered- how many can there be? What is worse, will we even ever discover them if we destroy their habitats first and push them into extinction? How many species have already gone extinct as a result of pollution and destruction of natural habitats? Do we even know how much damage we are doing to the natural world and how many species are dying out as a result of human behavior? This to me is very startling and another reason to insist on protecting and conserving the natural world, the only world we have. I hope to learn more about not only what is out there in our seas and forests, but what we can do to help ensure its conservation and foster its flourishment.
For more information on the discovery, please see:

What is alive now?
Name: Kelly Soud
Date: 2006-09-21 20:17:25
Link to this Comment: 20502

The discussions from Monday and Wednesday have left me very confused and in doubt of my own perceptions of what is alive and what is not alive. Looking at the web images of the Earth getting smaller and smaller, while being surrounded by infinite space, makes it hard to imagine that we are the only living beings in the universe. I have never really thought about life on other planets, but I now fully believe that there is life somewhere else. I never realized how small the world is when compared with the rest of the universe because I've only thought of the Earth in comparsion to what I can see and touch. The last image that we saw convinces me, on some level, that Earth doesn't exist.

While looking at things at a big to small scale, the same doubt enters my mind. Pictures of molecules resemeble the pictures of outer space. Seeing how much nothingness surrounds these cells boggles my mind. It seems that we are made of things that have so much nothingness inside, so would that mean that we are nothing as well? To be clearer on the issue, I think that someone said that atoms and molecules and DNA are not alive. Yet, if those things are not alive, how are we, then, alive? The notion that the composition of non-living things creating living things is paradoxical. Using this notion, it could then be said that the Earth (i.e.- air, dirt, water)is alive. (I think that there is a difference between being alive and living. Living things have a consciousness.)

Name: Georgia
Date: 2006-09-22 00:11:17
Link to this Comment: 20503

It's been interesting to see the changes in the pictures of earth and things on the earth changing in the past week. I don't think that it is impossible or completely paradoxical to believe living things are made up from things we consider non-living. We consider a lot of factors when deciding whether or not something is alive, so the collection of non-living material may combine to fit all those criteria, but may not do so independently.
What the images make me think about is the great significance we give to our technologies, religions, and lives in general. I mean, if we are such a tiny part of the universe, its hard to completely trust organized religion in my mind. While I have to say I believe in God, how likely is it that we will one day find life on another planet and that life (if it even communicates in the way we do) will in any way, shape, or form, relate to our beliefs? And if they have existed and thrived as "life" on their planet, do living things need a God? Even if we do want to believe in God, a higher being, a supernatural force to the universe and world, or anything that you would personally feel comfortable calling it, when we have such knowledge of the space around us- why spend our lives preoccupied with "who's right?" I'm not specifically directing this question at our class, I'm saying that there are wars throughout history, all over the world, from small fights to all out wars over differing religions- and if we, as concrete human beings, are so insiginificant compared to the vast expanse of space, think of how little our ideas and beliefs matter in the grand scheme of things.
The other thing I can't stop wondering is if we thought that the world was flat 600 years ago- how wrong are we about the world and our universe right now? Who's to say those images are completely accurate- and who knows in another 600 years how primitive our present technologies will look. I guess that's the point we've been making in class about science being only a tool to getting it "less wrong" and not exactly getting it right- we could have a completely different view of the universe and ourselves in it in the next 200 years- not such a long time in the grand scheme of things. It's just interesting to think that all the advances we think we're making will one day seem so simplistic.

Hypoallergenic Cat
Name: Kali
Date: 2006-09-22 00:37:21
Link to this Comment: 20504

According to a video clip from the bbc the ALLERCA LIFESTYLE PETS company has developed a hypoallergenic cat. Is this a good or a bad thing? Should people spend $4,000 a pop for a such a cat? For that matter is it worth spending $500+ on a purebred cat? It would seem that there are already enough cats in need of homes. Wouldn't it be more productive to fix the problem with ourselves (that being the allergies to cats) rather than the cat? Currently, there are shots that deal with an allergy to cats (but not dogs). Anyways, I'd be interested to see what anyone else on the forum thinks.

ALLERCA.COM (the hypoallergenic cat company)

Life in the Universe
Name: Hannah
Date: 2006-09-22 14:37:44
Link to this Comment: 20506

I have some unrelated (or not directly related) comments/questions:

1. I love that website we've been looking at that presents different scales. It's very similar to the mini-film "Powers of Ten", which I watched in my Astronomy class last year (learning about biology in astronomy, the opposite of this class! Clearly they are closely-linked sciences). The film has the "camera" constantly moving outward, from a man lying on a blanket in a park to the known universe, then back down to earth, into the man's hand, all the way down to quarks. It also reminds me of the scene at the end of the first Men In Black movie... Everything is relative. Looking at these images is breathtaking and a little scary, especially when Prof. Grobstein uses the words "vanishingly small" to describe earth (and, of course, ourselves) within the universe. We just don't count, at all, on a cosmic scale.

2. We called galaxies and the patterns galaxies make improbable assemblies, but (to my knowledge) the only force present in making those assemblies is gravity. Is gravity really so improbable? Life has many forces working together to assemble its parts (I think), gravity being one but not the only one. And at the atomic level, there are quantum forces, different from gravity, that give atoms their organization. I wonder if these forces are complex enough to be called "improbable" as well? It's interesting that there are forms of organization even at very big and very small levels, but the assembly of life forms seems far more complex that that of galaxies or atoms. There seems to be more going on to keep a person alive than to keep galaxy spinning, which is strange. I guess I'm still not sure what constitutes an improbable assembly.

3. Someone mentioned in class that if life didn't exist elsewhere in the universe, it would be an awful waste of space. That's the theme of the movie Contact, and it's obviously true. But is the "wastefullness" that we perceive in all the empty space a good enough reason to believe that life has to exist on other planets? In a way, because probablitiy dictates that if life formed randomly here, it almost definitely formed randomly somewhere else, too. I think this is a simple concept that most people who know how big the universe really is agree with.

4. Anyone who is interested by these size comparisons and hasn't visited the Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC, should go. They have an exhibit which shows linked size comparisons, with models, for everything there is. It goes from the known universe down to quarks as you walk around the planetarium sphere. There's also a timeline (because you can't really talk about space without talking about time, too) that goes from the Big Bang to now. All of human history is a hair's width at the end of a scaled walkway that is maybe 100m long.

Yakko's Universe
Name: Kali Noble
Date: 2006-09-22 19:49:17
Link to this Comment: 20507

It's a great big universe and we're all really puny...

Compliments of Molly Pieri! If you see her in the hallway smile, shake her hand, and ask her if she's lost.

Date: 2006-09-23 12:52:28
Link to this Comment: 20509

Math and philosophy repeatedly teach us that the answer is simple. You can hypothesize that things get simpler the smaller they get, or that they get simpler the larger they get. Equations can be simplified if we look for a way. The rule of relativity tells us it all depends on the perspective we take. I feel we as human beings are often too overcome with the infinite amount of smaller things to look at the bigger scheme. We can look at our skin, look at a snake’s skin and find we have nothing in common at all. Then we can take a microscope and find we both are made up of a uniform repetition of bundles which turn out to be made up of energy, which in the long run (at 10-17 power) are simply empty space.
Then we can look outside ourselves and find planets moving erratically, and realize it is not erratic movement at all, but movement around a single stellar body. Then we see this large body has a place in space along the arm of a larger body called the Milky Way, and there are more just like it waiting to be discovered. While our technological instruments prevent us from seeing the bigger scheme, is it possible from a philosophical point of view to hypothesize that there is an order to everything, in everything, no matter how chaotic it may seem?

Date: 2006-09-23 15:16:56
Link to this Comment: 20512

So I've still been stuck on this "what is alive?" question.
I know this is so last week or whatever, but here's what I've finally thought about (this morning).
Something's alive when its molecules grow. We grow from little into big. Plants grow from little into big. Fungi grow from little into big.
So maybe to be alive something has to grow from little into big?

Also, I keep getting stuck on the clasifying living things activity because I keep trying to figure out what is actually a living thing.

Has anyone read the Dr. Seuss book, Horton Hears a Who!?
Because the whole magnifying or decreasing the earth by the power of ten reminds me of the book.

Date: 2006-09-23 15:17:19
Link to this Comment: 20513

(^^) that was Maggie

the earth/life elsewhere?
Name: Karen Gins
Date: 2006-09-23 20:11:26
Link to this Comment: 20514

I really liked the day we talked about the Earth in relation to the universe. The Earth is all we really, really know. With just Earth, we still have tons and tons of questions about where we are and who we are and why certain things have certain behaviors. When we think about how gigantic-- how completely enormous the entire universe is, it makes everyday worries seem trivial. It's interesting how huge a discovery it was that the Earth is round, when, meanwhile, there are.. who knows how many other planets and galaxies we know virtually nothing about. Granted, we live here, so it's important to us, but what about all of those other places?
It's amazing how much space is out there, filling the distances between different planets. I wonder why a lot of the planets are so far away...if the space has some major purpose that I don't know about. I want to think that there has to be life on one of these planets, and that maybe the life is more advanced than ours.. and that they've been observing us, seeing what we've been doing, and have chosen, up to this point, not to contact us. If the Earth is the most advanced place in the entire universe... then there's trouble, since we're all so close to attacking each other with the deadliest of weapons. It's frustrating that we probably won't know for a long time what's going on around the universe, in terms of life. But maybe that's the way it was designed...for the element of mystery to be perhaps as interesting as the findings that will come.

Name: Annabella
Date: 2006-09-23 20:44:27
Link to this Comment: 20515

I just watched the animaniacs song, and thought it was great. It reminded me of a possibility that I love to think about, and have pondered for years. (I won't say exactly how many.) But the thought was provoked by the old TV series, "The Outer Limits."
In the show a kid had an ant farm. It was part of a science assignment. He loved to watch the ants. I started thinking about what the ants were experiencing. They were still busy like all ants, taking care of the chores from day to day. In fact, they were just like ants out in the world. I imagined that the ants didn't even know they were part of a science project.
So I thought about us. How do we know we aren't also subjects in a science project? Just like the ants, we go about our day to day stuff, thinking it all makes a difference. And we're right, because it makes a difference to us. But does it make any more difference than that?
What if the earth, solar system, Milky Way and all the galaxies are in a science lab of some advanced being's science project? How can we prove we're not?
Maybe we are in a seven year old's brief case, and he takes us to school once a week to show-and-tell. And maybe some of his classmates are bringing in other universes of their own. Sound crazy? Sure it does, but I haven't found anything to disprove the possibility. But I'm open. If anyone can disprove it, I would love the discussion.
And then the next question is, what difference does it make anyway? If we are in a "life farm" science project, life goes on anyway...until it doesn't.
Maybe we are part of a bookie operation, and "advanced beings" are taking bets on how long before we blow ourselves up. Maybe there's just no more to it than that. And when it's all over, and we've destroyed life as we know it on earth, some money will exchange hands and they'll all go home.

Name: Corey
Date: 2006-09-23 20:56:32
Link to this Comment: 20516

So I am bringing it back a week or two to the discussion of how humans came to be. Is it the theory of evolution or the theory of creationism? Does it really matter? For the sake of an argument, I'm going to assume that it does matter and it will facilitate some very interesting, passionate, and interesting conversation. This issue has been on my mind on and off for the last week or so and when I read this article, I knew that I would have to post about it.

So this article,, describes a recent discovery made by paleontologists in Ethiopia. A fossil of a 3.3 million year old little girl was found and it is said to be unprecedented in the history of paleontologisty. This is becuase "an analysis of the skeleton revealed evidence of a species in transition, the scientists said in interviews yesterday. The lower limbs supported earlier findings that afarensis walked upright, like modern humans. But gorillalike arms and shoulders suggested that it possibly retained an ancestral ability to climb and swing through the trees." To strengthen this arguement, the article reads, "The girl’s brain size, for example, was about the same as that of a similarly aged chimpanzee, but a comparison with adult afarensis skulls indicates a relatively slow brain growth slightly closer to that of humans."

So with this new discovery, the debate changes. With what seems like a perfect example of a specimen that supports the theory of evolution, the arguement is strengthened for evolution. But does it answer the question of where humans came from? Of course not. But for me, anyway, it puts things in a new perspective. Where there were holes in a timeline, there is now more concreate evidence of a transition from an ape-like animal to present day humans.

Date: 2006-09-24 14:04:07
Link to this Comment: 20517

Looking back on this week's discussion, I particularly enjoyed our in-class examination of spacial scales. The program Professor Grobstein used to show us the universe on an increasingly larger scale was really fascinating. It made the discussion exciting and suspenseful. I am still in awe of just how vast and unknown the universe is. How do I manage to go everyday of my life thinking about only what is in my immediate view? I never questioned what is beyond the earth, I just accepted space as a fact and didn't give it any further thought. It scares me that there are billions of stars in our galaxy and that black holes exist and that beyond our galaxy, there are many more unknown galaxies. I can't get that image of the shiny, jewel-like galaxies out of my mind. I always dismissed science fiction movies and books as being ridiculous and improbable, but now I'm not sure. What is the chance that we're the only planet in this entire vast abiss that sustains life? It seems highly highly unlikely that we are alone...

Key to the Universe...
Name: Simone
Date: 2006-09-24 15:34:32
Link to this Comment: 20518

I'm still fascinated by the notion of "categories" and how they are constantly being altered.

Three years ago, a supernova of unprecedented size was discovered. Termed SNLS-03D3bb, the supernova is twice the brightness expected, suggesting it arose from a star too massive to have existed. According to astronomers and physists, no white dwarf can be more massive than about 1.4 solar masses before it self destructs. SNLS-03D3bb excedes 1.4 solar masses, but has not self-destructed.

A potential explanation for the size of SNLS-03D3bb is that 2 white dwarfs merged to create it. However, the more likely explanation is that matter accumulated by a white dwarf from a nearby star could increase the angular momentum, causing it to rotate more rapidly. This theory would provide extra support against gravity and allow the white dwarf to become even more massive before exploding.

According to scientists, the discovery of this supernova opens up a pandora's box. It defies previous observations about spatial scale in the universe, gravity, and the make up of supernovas. As technology continues to evolve and allow more acute observations, discoveries like SNLS-03D3bb will continue to challenge our notion of categories. Like our reexploration of categories on planets Nearer and Farther labs, scientists will have to rethink definitions of size, shape, or whatever other variables they are using to categorize things on the infinite scientific scale as well as on the infinitesimal scale.

Mummified Dogs
Name: Masha
Date: 2006-09-24 16:45:29
Link to this Comment: 20519

This Weekend I came across an article in BBC-online journal about mummified remains of over forty dogs uncovered in Peru. Dogs, wraped in blankets, were buried next to their human masters and these burials are dated between 900 and 1350 AD. This discovery greatly bewildered archaeologists since so far only in Egypt animals had a previleged status of being buried with their human masters.
Article dedicated to buried dogs took me back to the class discussios on the significance of being alive and necessary level of high interactivity between living organisms.
Before, I would have assumed that the dogs would be buried alongside their masters due to the deep attachment of humans to their pets. However, something in the article caught my eye. The article spoke of a 'distinct breed', Chiriaya spheherds, that these dogs all seem to belong to. Apparently, these dogs were highly valued for their llama-herding abilities and were not even sacrificed to Gods. Now, this made me think of a banal saying that 'nothing is done for no reason' and there is always an interest basically in any human action. As banal as it sounds...So I assume that the dogs were not awarded an honor of being buried with humans due to their smartness or devotion, but due to their distinct FUNCTION and PARTICIPATION in interaction between different human organisms. That is to say, dogs, guarding llamas, performed so well their part in intercation with humans and helped them so much that maybe, out of gratitude (which makes it sound like a bargain between living organisms), these dogs were buried with their masters.
In fact, this little realisation is not new or special at all. This is just a perception new to me, because when I read this article my thought was channeled in a different direction from the one it would normally take.

Name: Sarah Gale
Date: 2006-09-24 18:29:53
Link to this Comment: 20520

I liked how the lab this week related to our discussions of scale- how looking at something with a more magnified perspective changes the manner in which one might classify. It was interesting to me how when we went up and down the scales with that AWESOME simulation that some of the images, despite the large difference in scale, looked alike. It led me to the notion that perhaps (and I'm sure I muttered it in class) the universe exists in a cycle of scale- starting from the lowest to the greatest, as we humans see it, but eventually it just repeats itself. What I mean is, maybe the universe is not a linear entity, but a pattern of shapes that cyclically continues. This is not something that could really ever be proven, but for me, it makes sense of how the scale of quarks looks somewhat like galaxy clusters (if I'm remembering the images correctly).

Name: cris d.
Date: 2006-09-24 21:23:35
Link to this Comment: 20521

After all our discussions on scales, definitions, and differentiations of life, a nagging thought resounds in my head - why do we feel the urge to categorize everything, even if our categorizations are (more than possibly) wrong? If not knowing/not being sure makes us less vulnerable, why do we even attempt to organize life (be it plant, animal, or human)? The variations of order and possible and impossible assemblies are infinitesmal, and we can barely begin to make sense of those assemblies on our own planet, much less of our galaxy. What drives our need to know things that are not true?

who cares?!
Name: Priscila R
Date: 2006-09-24 21:53:59
Link to this Comment: 20522

I think Cris made a very interesting point. Why bother? Why spend years of research and resources on something that is so untangeable? Why must we focus our energy attempting to explain or discover things that really, don't make any difference in our daily lives? I think part of the answer may lie in human nature. By nature (some may argue nurture, but that is a different debate) humans always ask the question "why?". It is in our nature as human beings to want an explanation for everything we see. Its quite remarkable how the simple act of looking up at the sky and wondering what its made up of can lead to so much. Although, without this curiosity that seems to pass from generation to generation, we may still have thought of the earth as flat.

week 4
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2006-09-25 17:25:01
Link to this Comment: 20525

I was myself intrigued this week by some peoples' discomfort that there may be some degree of "arbitrariness" in the some of the correlated characteristics used for classification in biology. Shades of an earlier comment in our class forum: To hear that there are a lot of things that science can't explain, and that randomness is relied on after a certain point, is strange. Thoughts about that? about temporal scales and evolution? About whatever else that struck you/seemed relevant this week?

Name: Amelia
Date: 2006-09-26 19:14:51
Link to this Comment: 20537

As we have discussed life in terms of scale, a lot of us have realized that there is a lot more out there that we don't know about than we thought, and it is in our nature to want to know everything, but will that ever be a possibility?

One major problem with wanting to know everything is that we do not have enough information to gauge that which "everything" entails. We know there is an incredibly vast amount of information contained within the universe and when we speculate on or question topics they are topics we already know something about (otherwise we wouldn't be able to ponder them, right?). So, I suppose what I'm asking is whether or not we will ever have enough knowledge of the universe to ever even be able to want to discover "everything" that's out there?
As others have mentioned in previous posts, we seem to have answers to that which is in our relatively immediate surroundings (i.e. things that can be investigated further by math, science, etc. from 10 raised to the -15 meters to 10 raised to the 13 meters), but how much will we ever find out about "everything" else, and how long will it take? I mean, think about how long it has taken us to learn about the existence of protons. Inversely, "everything" could just pertain to what we know about already, and as our knowledge grows the idea of "everything" could expland with it.

I feel as though exploration of the universe brings us back to the question of "why bother", because we don't need to about phenomena that lie far, far beyond anything that directly effects the Earth, do we?

Name: Amelia
Date: 2006-09-26 19:15:21
Link to this Comment: 20538

As we have discussed life in terms of scale, a lot of us have realized that there is a lot more out there that we don't know about than we thought, and it is in our nature to want to know everything, but will that ever be a possibility?

One major problem with wanting to know everything is that we do not have enough information to gauge that which "everything" entails. We know there is an incredibly vast amount of information contained within the universe and when we speculate on or question topics they are topics we already know something about (otherwise we wouldn't be able to ponder them, right?). So, I suppose what I'm asking is whether or not we will ever have enough knowledge of the universe to ever even be able to want to discover "everything" that's out there?
As others have mentioned in previous posts, we seem to have answers to that which is in our relatively immediate surroundings (i.e. things that can be investigated further by math, science, etc. from 10 raised to the -15 meters to 10 raised to the 13 meters), but how much will we ever find out about "everything" else, and how long will it take? I mean, think about how long it has taken us to learn about the existence of protons. Inversely, "everything" could just pertain to what we know about already, and as our knowledge grows the idea of "everything" could expland with it.

I feel as though exploration of the universe brings us back to the question of "why bother", because we don't need to about phenomena that lie far, far beyond anything that directly effects the Earth, do we?

Name: M.E. & Mag
Date: 2006-09-27 15:02:54
Link to this Comment: 20542

HYPOTHESIS: We hypothesize that larger organisms are made up of larger cells and smaller organisms are made up of smaller cells.

INTRODUCTION: To the human eye, it makes sense that the larger something is, the bigger its components would be. As larger organisms, their intake of energy, food, and nutrients would be much greater than that of smaller organisms. For example, we are assuming that a flower would be made up of smaller cells than a tree or a human.


Source Magnification Size
Human cheek 40x 62.5 microns
Buttercup root 40x 50 microns
Spirogyra 40x 37.5 microns
Paramecium 40x 35 microns
Earth worm 40x 25 microns
Pine needle 40x 12.5 microns
Pig intestine 40x 5 microns

CONCLUSION: In our experiment we found no pattern of a direct relationship between the size of the organism and the size of its cells. In our data we found that the size of the cells in different organisms vary in size and also that sometimes in the same organism the cells vary in size. The largest cell size was the human cell at 62.5 microns. The smallest, the pig intestine at 5 microns. Interestingly, the paramecium and the spirogyra, probably the most simple of the organisms had cells bigger than some larger organisms. We found this surprising. Based on these new observations, we can conclude that our original set of observations (that the cells of an organism vary with the size of the organism) is incorrect. We can only assume that life is much more complicated than we originally thought.

Then, now, and in another 1.5 billion
Name: Hannah
Date: 2006-09-28 17:00:22
Link to this Comment: 20557

I found it interesting how prokaryotic cells were the sole form of life for 3.5 billion years, and only in the past 1.5 billion years or so has life really diversified rampantly. Why did this change take so long? Prokaryotic cells necessarily lived in close proximity to one another throughout those billions of years, because they had to reproduce. How did it take so long for them to start working together?
I guess the answer has something to do with the fact that there was no "need" to become more complicated. As long as a living thing can easily preserve its life, it does not need to make any drastic changes to itself. I think that's a basic tenet of evolutionary theory. Eventually, the ones that worked together became so advanced that the single cells couldn't compete, so eukaryotic organisms came to dominate. It seems amazing that there was, seemingly, 3.5 billion years of "down time" before all the diversity we know as life came to develop, but maybe it's like any other population explosion.
It's also a little unnerving to think that we are only right in the middle of this process of evolution, and (like the universe expanding), it could continue to speed up. In any case, we have another 5 billion years to go before the earth is consumed by the sun. The life forms 1.5 billion years from now could be to us as we are to the prokaryotes of 1.5 billion years ago. That is, unless there is some sort of "threshold" for complexity of life, but do we have any reason to think there is?

Name: cris d.
Date: 2006-09-28 20:59:31
Link to this Comment: 20558

After all the discussion we've had (during class, lab, and on the forum) this is the only thought I have (articulated perfectly by someone we all know:
The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. He who know it not and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out can.
-Albert Einstein

We may not understand the universe, and perhaps questioning it is futile, but we must always hold on to the amazement of everything around us.

Life, the Universe and everything
Name: KM
Date: 2006-09-29 00:25:07
Link to this Comment: 20559

No matter how many times I see it or hear it, I will never cease to be surprised and astonished at home amazing life is. How can the perfection of life, the simple way that we are and come together (and not us) be just accident? The marvel of creation is that it is creation; it is very much beautiful and astounding.
Everything about life (whatever your definition is) is beautiful in that we are the improbable assembly that is able to function and be organized and livable (for lack of a better word) Whether or not the Earth and Universe were created by a creator, it is easy to say that life is fantastic and so amazing.

The mysteries...
Name: Simone B.
Date: 2006-09-29 13:26:48
Link to this Comment: 20563

Wednesday's lecture didn't really inform us of anything we didn't already know about time and spatial scale, but it's still a concept that we humans aren’t fully familiar with. We can never cease to be astonished by the immense consequences of time on a special scale.

I'm still stuck wondering how this entire universe, that is approximately 15 billion light years in diameter, could arise from nothing. Fifteen billion light years is a distance that would take 187.5 million average human lifetimes to traverse at the (impossible) speed of light.

It usually helps me to try to think about large numbers in relative terms. For instance, there are 635 billion potential combinations of cards that can be dealt to a single bridge player. There are 400 billion stars in our Milky Way. 150 billion pennies are currently in use in the U.S. 100 billion is the latest estimate of the total number of all the people who ever lived. There are 37 billion acres of land on earth. When graphed next to these numbers, 15 billion seems rather small. However, I've realised that these figures deal solely with quantity and not also with time. I seem to be incapable of mentally combining both time and space in order to comprehend the vastness of our universe.

My curiosity has now become a sort of amazement coupled with frustration. Again, Einstein's quote is helpful: "He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed."

The Beginning. The End. And Everything Else In Bet
Name: Corey
Date: 2006-09-29 18:45:58
Link to this Comment: 20564

So our universe began about 15 billion years ago. Our sun and our earth are about 5 billion years old. Life came into being a little after that. This all sound nice, but to really concieve of how long 15 billions years is is extremely difficult. Try and think about one year. Where were you one year ago? High school? Freshman year? Think of who your friends were and what you were doing, and then multiply that by 15 billion. Even more amazing is how little of that time has been occupied by humans.

Class this week has really gotten me thinking more about the world around me; its beginnings, its eventualy endings, and everything else in between. From everything to arbitrary, clumpy diversity and reproduction with varients to the Big Bang theory and the vast amount of space and time. How did we become the way were are? Evolution, meaning reproduction with varients? That sounds nice and, because its a theory, it can't really be disproved. But that also means it can't be proved...not yet anyway.

Although this is the theory of our exsitence that I choose to believe, the holes in evolutions timeline makes me wonder why we can't fill them in yet. Have we just not found the fossils of those other, arbitrarily connected characteristics of organisms that didn't work so they died off, or are those fossils we seek not even there? Does this give strength to the theory of Intelligent Design? That some powerful, divine (perhaps) figure created us and all that we know with some greater master plan in his/her/its mind? Again, this theory can't be either proven or disproven. So why do we discuss either theory? Why is it that we as humans need to know how we came into being? Or is that exactly what makes us human, our curiosity and thirst for knowledge?

Regardless, our quest for all of the answers will be a neverending journey...but I guess that is half the fun.

back to scale
Name: Mia Prensk
Date: 2006-09-30 11:48:29
Link to this Comment: 20565

Going back to the previous discussions on scale and spatial diversity, I was intrigued by a new reporting from reuters this morning stating that in California, researchers have discovered the world's tallest tree. The tree, a redwood that measures 379.1 feet tall, is located in the Redwood National and States Park in northern California and has been named Hyperion. Hyperion is a huge tree, supposedly THE tallest tree, which prompts me to question why and how we can even know what is the world's tallest tree if we haven't examined every huge tree in the world. Even more, what is the point of stating that Hyperion is the tallest tree if we can never be completely sure that a larger one does not exist. Just thinking about this huge tree brought me back to earlier class discussions on scale and spatial diversity and what this tree means in terms of the size of the rest of the world. That is a huge tree!

Name: Karen Gins
Date: 2006-10-01 12:23:16
Link to this Comment: 20567

Learning about categorizing and spacial relations changed a big part of my thinking scheme. We look so hard for similarities and differences, to say one thing is more alike to a than b, for the need to find some sort of pattern to explain the differences that take place.. but, in doing this, things happen that we don't expect and didn't prepare for, and so we try to account for these irregularities. Categorizing in this way becomes relatively useless, since it's in these irregularities- these mutations- that new things are created.. but where's the division line between the original, and the new?
seeing how small we are, and that there are things so much smaller than us, puts the world..universe..into perspective, sort of. Sort of, because I can't even begin to think about the extremes, or even the near extremes, of the size spectrum, and so it's this big thing i can't even think about that is directly related to us... it's really strange.

Cell Lab
Name: Maggie
Date: 2006-10-01 12:30:54
Link to this Comment: 20568

I still can't believe that bigger organisms don't have bigger cells. That totally blows my mind. But it's actually pretty cool to think about. I wouldn't have believed if I hadn't actually seen it with my own eyes (or through the microscope).
And, when I heard about how animal cells and plant cells were actually different, I felt like, well, whatever. How does this actually matter? So they say plant cells have walls and animal cells don't? How am I going to contribute or understand this anyway? And then, we did the lab, and I totally saw what it. It was as if I could actually practicaly use biology. And that's so much different than all the science that I've taken in high school. It makes me want to keep learning.

I step across Biology even in Art!!!
Name: Masha
Date: 2006-10-01 12:34:36
Link to this Comment: 20569

Today I realized that, as our course progresses, I am managing little by little to bridge the gap between what I understood as art and what I understood as Science. To be more precise, I am writing my first web paper on the development of perspective in history and its significance in art. I have already posted a comment dedicated to my new understanding of what professor Grobstein called a 'scientific method' but I never thought to go that far in my discoveries. The fact of the matter is that as planned I started my research on perspective from early Greeks and Egyptians going to Renaissance and Humanist movement and further to geometric laws developed by Brunelleschi and Alberti. Sure, Professor Grobstein explained to me that any research involving analysis and tracing back history is a 'scientific' approach. However, taking my research in perspective to the 20th century I came across a description of stereoscopy that is claimed to be the greatest break through in perception of space in both art and science since Brunelleschi and Alberti. As I explained in my paper, it is claimed that only stereo camera can solve the philosophical and aesthetic debates between artists and scientists for it allows binocular vision of the subject while, for example, Brunelleschi, in his discoveries of space was departing from monocular vision experiments. Thus, doing the 'scientific research' on the subject of art of my great interest I came at the end to the concepts of what I always perceived as purely 'biological', such as the nature of our two-eye vision and great mysteries of our two-hemisphere brains.
I conclusion I to admit that not as much did I learn through my research as I was astonished to see how my quest for art knowledge lead to what always frigtened me as 'science.'

What if It
Date: 2006-10-01 15:28:32
Link to this Comment: 20570

I really enjoyed this article, especially the questions it raised of whether parents or children get to make dicisions for the child. The intersex issue, while not a part of everyday life for most, is important to society as a whole because it deals not with just science, but also with individual and societal norms and opinions. It isn't an issue of simply a person dealing with it, but an issue for humanity as a whole.

scale in action
Name: Sarah Gale
Date: 2006-10-01 16:20:22
Link to this Comment: 20571

Over the weekend, my friend and I were hestitant to sign up for the MSA Fastathon- us both not thinking we could go without water for a whole day. To persuade both my friend and myself, I used the argument that one day without food or water, in the grand scheme of things, really doesn't mean a whole lot. Therefore, we might be able to manage the task at hand, seeing as there are so many other days in our lives that won't be spent fasting. This argument came to me after this week's discussions on scale. Thinking about life's activities in terms of a scale larger than human perpsective (an hour, a day, a week, etc.) makes those large sacrifices- like fasting or doing homework, seem doable. I appreciated that, and I was glad to put it up there with other applicable Bio 103 facts.

Small Scale, Grand Scheme
Name: Georgia
Date: 2006-10-01 22:45:11
Link to this Comment: 20572

I find Sarah's comment about the fasting in terms of scale interesting. It's also something I considered and signed up for, and I never really thought of it in relation to our discussion in bio class. Thinking of things on a spatial as well as temporal scale make a big difference in our lives. For the most part, the members of our class have grown up in a world where those scales are shrinking rapidly. Things that once took days and had to travel over miles and miles are now done easily and rapidly, creating an entirely new understanding of the Earth. It's always interesting to me to think about the generations that didn't grow up with the classic satellite image of the Earth in their science text books at an early age. While we take such an image for granted, our ideas of the world would be much different without it. Think about how it relates to people's perceptions of other countries, when there would have been little opportunity for extensive communication. Now with webcams, microphones, and satellite classrooms, someone across the globe can share there perspective with others who would have normally only had connections to those with similar backgrounds to themselves.

It is also something that relates to how we treat our world, seeing it as a defined image, rather than a vast, larger than life object in space, should make us realize how finite our resources are. Understanding things not just in the small scale of daily activity, but in the larger scale of many lifetimes has the potential to affect the world's policies and plans. I'm thinking along the lines of using harmful substances that destroy the ozone for example. While little effect may be seen on an individual level, we have discovered the harmful effects when that small scale use goes unchecked.

This post has very much reminded me of the movie "An Inconvenient Truth," the one with Al Gore, I recommend it to anyone interested in seeing more about how our changing view of the world and the greater understanding of how everything across the globe is interconnected can and should affect our policies. Just something to think about..

Narwhals "have individual voices"
Name: Kali
Date: 2006-10-01 23:55:43
Link to this Comment: 20573

It is known that whales "speak in dialects," but now in addition to this fact it has just been found that narwhals have their own individual voices. Scientists researched this by suctioning a digital recording device to three separate narwhals. Two of the recordings were able to be retreived and the scientists found that each whale had different "vocalizations, including whistle and pulsed sounds." While it had previously been known that dolphins do much the same thing as narwhals; narwhals are the first of the "toothed whales" to be found with distinctive vocalizations.

As a linguistics major I found this article from quite interesting:;_ylt=ArSmkHnmwA26t97pwr91kjCs0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTA3MzV0MTdmBHNlYwM3NTM-

Yahoo also provides/provides a link to audio clips of the narwhal calls.

Name: Kelsey
Date: 2006-10-04 20:31:05
Link to this Comment: 20598

I find the whole concept of chance and connections to be so interesting in Evolution. When you think about it, the two are hardly related except in the area of life. Life has, by chance perhaps, come together and made forms of life connected. Whether or not we evolved we are connected by simple factors such as cells and our own life. It is almost hard to say that we are separate organisms when at our basic level we are very much the same.

In our experiment, we were able to see that even water is so complex thatit is constantly moving. How much more complex are the eukaryotic cells that we humans are made of and that connect us to something as simple as a blade of grass?

The Sun
Name: Amelia
Date: 2006-10-05 17:30:01
Link to this Comment: 20625

As I was looking through my class notes, I found some information that went against my prior knowledge. I had written that it takes the sun's rays approximately 2 minutes to reach earth, but that number did not seem right to me. So, I "poked" (as Prof. Grobstein calls it) around online to verify what I had previously written. It turns out that light travels at 186,282 miles per second and since the sun is 93 million miles away from the earth this means that it takes 8.4 minutes for sunlight to reach us. Ok, just an interesting fact!

Here are some informative web sites about the sun if anyone is curious: (this one has a great picture!)

Time of Change
Date: 2006-10-06 00:03:07
Link to this Comment: 20627

It's funny, because when we talk about evolution and massive changes in class, it seems as if they happen in a matter of years; but, on the contrary, it takes MILLION of years for change to occur. It's hard to keep that in mind, because I can't even fathom such a large span of time.

Name: M.E.
Date: 2006-10-06 10:40:08
Link to this Comment: 20629

It is mindboggling to look at one tiny cell under a microscope and imagine that we as humans are merely the same thing, but a community of those cells orgaized and working simultaneously to acheive our state. A single cell seems so simple to us but when combined to create multicellular organism it is amazing to see what complex things can be created.

Atoms are so weird
Name: Hannah
Date: 2006-10-06 13:50:03
Link to this Comment: 20630

Talking about atoms today, I was reminded of one reason why I generally like biology more than chemistry. Obviously, they are related, but chemists usually work on a smaller scale. Bio can involve ecosystems, evolution, and animal behavior, which interest me because I can envision them. I don't really get atoms, though. I know what they are and that they comprise everything, but when I look at electron diagrams, it seems almost fake. Atoms are mostly space; on electron diagrams, it looks like the electrons are right around the nucleus. We know that's not true from the bumblebee/bacteria/virus pictures on the internet. Since atoms are mostly space and atoms are everything, everything is mostly space. How?? I feel as though nothing anyone can draw or explain about atoms will ever be enough to make me really appreciate and understand them. Chemistry equations are a way of using and explaining their properties, but chemistry never really helped me envision what they ARE.

Loss of 80%
Name: Annabella
Date: 2006-10-06 19:53:41
Link to this Comment: 20631

I loved it in class when we were asking the questions about extinction. Questions like, was it good or bad that the dinasaur extinction happened? Is it good or bad that we humans are bringing about another mass extinction?
I spent years actively protesting our callous and careless treatment of the environment, and spent most of that time very upset and unhappy. But then someone asked me, "Who died and left you to play God?" and those very questions came to me, and it changed a lot. It is another way of asking the same can I know what is good and what is bad?
I subsequently wrote a song about the ebb and flow of life on this planet, and it was completely pegged in class Wednesday, right down to the idea that the cockroach will be the next major specie after us.

The song is called, "The Cockroach"

As the speaker took the floor,
He said earth's been through this before.
Species prosper and grow to great size,
Suddenly they're no longer alive.

Just ask the next lizard you see,
Whatever happened to his specie.
He'll tell you somehow they got out of line,
Earth reduced them right down to his size.

After millions of years to reach her decision.
Earth gave the nod to homosapien.
Your turn to prosper and multiply,
But heed this warning, don't, don't ever step out of line...

We all know by reading history,
What the humans did is no mystery.
They trashed the Earth with their pollutants.
Now they're just those pesky, little, mutants.

So now my fellow cockroaches,
Our own time now approaches.
If we don't get ourselves back into line,
I assure you she'll do this again.
If we don't get ourselves,
Back into line...
She'll nod her head, one, more, time.

When is enough, enough?
Name: Georgia
Date: 2006-10-06 21:25:28
Link to this Comment: 20632

So I was reading this NYT article "Cat Lovers Lining Up for No-Sneeze Kitties," about these new hypoallergenic cats. The cats, bred in an "undiscolsed location," are being sold at the moment for $4,000 and only to those who have passed an extensive screening process and have been on the waiting list for two years. The company is called Allerca, and is based in San Diego, and has been working on the project for two years. The cats are bred so that their glands don't produce the protein that is responsibile for most cat allergies humans have.

I felt that this related to our recent discussion, in which Prof Grobstein brought up the evolution of dogs, who all have a common descendent, but now exists in countless different varieties with a number of different characteristics and features, sometimes based on human's preferences and needs. I find it pretty fascinating that we can play such a strong role in the evolution of a species, and the creation of a new kind of animal. Humans, however, are not limited to breeding animals, and have explored the possibilities with many plants and other organisms. What does this say about the part we play in our environment, and the future of the species we alter? Is something beneficial to humans always the right thing? Do we always know the consequences of the changes we are making? Those were just some questions that came to mind- not just in thinking about cats- but in our general control over our environment and ecological systems around the world.

All in all, what IS a PLANET?
Name: Masha
Date: 2006-10-07 15:01:55
Link to this Comment: 20634

In the course of our Biology class, I discovered a new activity I never imagined myself being into-looking at the science knews on-line. Now, having accumulated thoughts from a week of classes, I do a rapid navigation of some science-oriented websites looking for the information relevant to what we discussed in class or just for something that makes me ask more questions.

Thus, today I came accross website and read an article about 16 new planets that were spotted by NASA's in-space Hubble telescope, first of planets spotted in 1995. Apparently, these planets are called exoplnets or extra-solar planets since they are found beyond our solar system although within the Milky Way glaxy. These planets, each the size of our Jupiter, are also referred to by astronmomers as ultra-short-period planets (USPPs) because of their very short orbits that range between 0.4 and 3.2 days. These planets are also very close to their respective stars.

A few things stroke me about this article. First of all, the 'Bulge', a space where these planets were spotted is approx. 26,000 light-years away in the center of the Milky Way. This brought me back to the discussion of distance and scale we had in our class. I cannot process it in my mind that there is a machine that can 'spot' something that is 26,000 light-years away. How is that possible?
Secondly, of course, it is fascinating that there are still planets to be discovered. We also talked about it. The article affirms that the presence of these planets suggests a possiblility of many more planets, even billions, scattered throughout our galaxy.
Finally and most importantly, I do not understand, what is a planet? Oxford dictionary says that 'planet is a large round mass in space orbiting round a star.' However, we call Earth a planet and I identify it with something that is capable of producing life. Of course, we do not know if there is life on Mars or Jupiter, which we also call planets. However, the article says that the surface temprature of these planets is 3,000F or 1,650C. How can anything exist in such conditions? And then, what is the difference between a star and a planet and why in my mind do I associate the word 'planet' with a living thing? Well, one can say it is my own problem, but I suppose that is also something culturally engraved.
Lastly, why all these discoveries matter? We also raised this topic in our class this week and I suppose it is a legitimate question to ask. Professor Grobstein said, it is up to us to believe what we hear or not and to be bothered about it or not, which is fair. However, is the overridding goal of these discoveries accumulation of knowledge or strive to understand more what is life and where and how else and in what forms it can exist?
All these thoughts are very new to me....and they raise billions of questions in my head...

atom joke
Name: M.E.
Date: 2006-10-08 11:15:12
Link to this Comment: 20636

In response to our discussion about atoms on friday heres a bit of humor:

Two atoms were walking down the street. The first says to his buddy, "you know, I've lost one of my electrons." The second atom says, "Really? Are you sure?" And the first atoms replies, "YES! I'M POSITIVE!!!"

Name: M.E.
Date: 2006-10-08 11:23:25
Link to this Comment: 20637

Evolution says that what exists now is the result of diversified reproduction of what exisited before. The implication of reproduction with varience is that in order to forward human evolution people should reproduce as much as possible with as many variables as possible. Most, if not all, other living organisims do this; the only thing holding back this frenzy of reproduction is morality. Obviously, a developed conscience and ethical morals are part of human evolution, but are they in turn slowing down the process as well?

Name: Karen Gins
Date: 2006-10-08 12:49:24
Link to this Comment: 20638

in class, we talked about reproducing with variance and clumpy diversity. even in our own human population, there are significant differences between one person and another. we can recognize these different humans as alive, because we have a certain instinct about what has life and what doesn't. we haven't found definite life on any other planet, but who's to say their version of life looks anything like ours, and if that's true, maybe we do see it and maybe we keep getting signals from them, but we have no way to acknowledge it. maybe in those pictures of the planets that we have, from far away, there are tons and tons of living beings that can be recognized by each other in a photograph, but that we just recognize as grounding, non-living structures of the planet.

the earth is a gigantic ball of water, with a small amount of land that we inhabit. looking at a globe, or a picture of the earth, i thought it was really interesting to think about this sphere of water, where no water is spilling out or toppling over. we're bounded by gravity, but i wonder if there's a stronger force that keeps this gigantic amount of liquid from leaving it's bounded area. it's strange that it doesn't spill out of this sphere- that it's so perfectly confined to one area. even if it is just gravity holding it in place (with wind currents and other things playing smaller roles)...then that's still pretty amazing.

Getting it Less Wrong - Junk Food and Killer Spina
Name: Corey
Date: 2006-10-08 14:11:12
Link to this Comment: 20639

This one is a little off topic, but relevant to one of the main themes of our bio course so I think that it can slide. One of the first questions posed to our class was how can opinion swing from one extreme to the other? For example, one day chocolate is bad for you and the next day, it is an antioxidant. So when I came across this article,, I felt that I had to talk about it just a bit.

The main idea of the article is that some of the things that we thought were bad for us, such as chocolate and alcoholic drinks, can actually have positive affects on us. On the other hand, things that we thought were good for us, such as yoga and swordfish, can damage us. The article touches on everything from gambling thats help prevent depression in seniors to being a little overweight will help you live longer then thin people. It even delved into human actions, such as gossiping at the water cooler that "is a “sophisticated, multifunctional interaction” that clarifies social rules and alleviates depression." Who knew?

The whole reason that scientific opinion of various things change so often is because we are learning more about ourselves and the environment that we live in. As more and more observations are made and more experiements and tests and performed, new information is gathered. Then, going through the cycle of seriously loopy science, all of the new obervations and information yeilds a new summary, which may or may not need to be change in the future. Which is why, when videogames first came out and children were playing them all the time, a lot of studies came out suggesting that videogames fried childrens brains. Now however, it seems that they "help rather than hinder mental development in children...what parents always thought of as “cognitive junk food” may be more like the equivalent of green vegetables". But who knows, maybe after a few more studies, we will have found that green vegetables are actually bad for you.

dinosaurs, man!
Name: Arielle Sc
Date: 2006-10-08 14:21:10
Link to this Comment: 20640

Our discussions about evolution have led me to think about the self-conscious way in which we think about and discuss this concept. Are homo sapiens sapiens the end product of millions of years of evolution? Of course not. Natural selection and mutation will forever change recognizable species into foreign creatures in need of new or further classification. We think about evolution with respect to Creationism: Did a god make us or did something spontaneous in the universe occur and ultimately lead to our existence? We are constantly arguing this point, and others - Scopes Trial, etc. - just to determine how humans fit among the rest of the animal kingdom. We wish to maintain a cognitive stronghold on top of the rest of the animals, and so to admit that we've descended from monkeys, or even large mice, is difficult for us to understand. I think we should approach the topic of evolution's humans in a more holistic way; I think we should appreciate that we are just one unique species among thousands.

Humans as the end
Name: Maggie
Date: 2006-10-08 15:23:57
Link to this Comment: 20641

So I've been thinking about evolution. And maybe we actually are the end/solution to evolution. I mean, seeing how we can actually voice this theory -- which is more than any of our ancestors could have ever done -- maybe this means that evolution is somehow complete. Maybe this knowledge was the goal. Maybe we ARE the end result of evolution, evolution's goal? How do we know that we aren't? You probably think this is a pretty conceited, human-centric idea. But isn't assuming that we can actually know thatwe aren't the goal of evolution just as human centric?

Science Gets Precise
Name: Cris de Ol
Date: 2006-10-08 17:37:11
Link to this Comment: 20642

There exists a cosmic microwave background formation in our universe, known as blackbody radiation, whose temperature in the universe at one point in its emission hit 3,000 degress centigrade. After some really mysterious event occured, however, this radiation has cooled down to 2.7 degrees above absolute zero. So - what's the big deal?

The big deal is that that radiation has been cooling down for years and years as our universe expanded - supposedly after this mysterious event: the Big Bang! The discovery and exploration of this radiation was possible with the aid of NASA's COBE satellite, which helped these two guys Smoot and Mather measure the blackbody's size and eventually, temperature.

Again, what's the big deal? Well, Smoot and Mather's work is great new information for the support of the Big Bang theory, since its the only feasible scenario in which the cosmic microwave background radiation could have happened. Not only were they able to trace back the universe's history, but their work now marks a great improvement in cosmology's precision, which is huge news. A lot of work still has to be done to further our knowledge regarding the universe, but it is simply amazing that we are much closer to defining and understanding the beginning of the universe.

If you don't think that's enough of an accomplishment for Smoot and Mather, think again - the two men won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics just earlier this week.


Name: Simone B.
Date: 2006-10-08 18:38:49
Link to this Comment: 20643

I think that the question of whether or not we are the ultimate product of human—I'll say human in order to avoid being anthropocentric—evolution is really interesting. I've always assumed that though outward physical adaptations are more easily measured, there's also a lot of internal mental evolution going on within species. After all, didn't homo sapiens sapiens acquire that "sapiens" distinction from homo neanderthalis or homo erectus because of its unique rational and cognitive abilities? Assuming that we have achieved physical perfection (which is unlikely), will we ever cease to learn or to at least generate questions? If not, how can we consider ourselves a final, complete, or even perfect product?

On the other hand, the problem with considering cognitive evolution is that intellectual and emotional adaptations are more difficult to measure than physical adaptations. Intellectual human evolution can be traced and (subjectively) measured only through careful analysis of ancient artefacts. The skill required to create certain objects or works of art is a pretty good indicator of intellectual capabilities. Emotional evolution is much more ambiguous. Emotional changes can only be measured through the comparison of different individuals... I read once that during the winter in Scandinavia sunlight lasts for only around five to six hours each day. Usually, living and working for several months while it's perpetually dark outdoors causes severe depression, but Scandinavians have evolved a tolerance for darkness. No one is sure why, but Scandinavians are also some of the happiest people on earth. Perhaps, in a sense, they have evolved an "autotrophic" ability to create their own chemicals to stimulate their brains and to avoid depression during the winter. This is just one of the many emotional adaptations that have been observed in humans.

In addition, these intellectual and emotional changes may not just be happening to humans. Does evolution show that chimpanzees may be growing more intelligent as well? How does one measure intelligence in other species? According to scientists, emotional reactions have been documented in domesticated animals, elephants and grey parrots. Do they indicate a higher level of cerebral development? Were these traits acquired through evolution? Do pets evolve to respond to human needs?

Anyway, to return to the initial question, I just think that it's difficult to believe that we have reached a point of termination in human evolution because we still have so many unanswered questions and so many more unasked questions. Who knows, in the very distant future, we may even be able to add more "sapiens" to the name of our sub-species…

Response to Maggie
Name: Sarah Gale
Date: 2006-10-08 19:58:30
Link to this Comment: 20644

A few posts earlier, Maggie considered the idea that perhaps this is the end of human evolution, because modern humans have been the first (as far as we know) to relaize evolution- she thought that we, as a race, reached the goal of evolution. While this is an interesting theory, for the sake of argument, I would like to refute this statement. While it may be true that this point in human history is significant in realizing ( I don't want to say "discovering") evolution and using it as a theory, it can't be that we are at the end, because nature is not a linear process- there really is no end, as I see it- I've found that nature works in a cyclical manner, recycling forever, moving in a negative (or is it positive? I can never keep them straight) feedback loop. Hence, evolution has not stopped with us and the race at this point- as I understand it, evolution is not about acheiving the best of the best- it's about fitting into the surroundings, which are also in states of change.

An evolutionary arms race
Name: Priscila R
Date: 2006-10-08 23:14:11
Link to this Comment: 20645

Evolution has always seemed to me as something larger than life, bigger than anything I could ever explain or fully understand, and while I could think about it, learn more about it and even begin to understand it; I would never be satisfied. This proved to be extremely frustrating and to a certain point, useless. Our last class discussion brought up something that I thought was interesting: the evolution of diseases. One of the reasons I was so intruiged by this was because it pertained to something in everyday life. Perhaps I'm simply being selfish to care about an issue only because it is more likely to affect my generation, but the thought that problems we think to have overcome may fight back and outdo organisms much more complex than themselves is terribly frightening. What would happen if the evolution of disease-causing organisms outpaces our ability to invent new treatments? A better understanding of evolution itself would help prevent this, however; it is ironic that organisms "less complex" than humans cause such a threat and have the potential to do so much damage.

Name: Kali Noble
Date: 2006-10-09 00:12:25
Link to this Comment: 20646

In response in part to Georgia's post and my earlier post from September 22 (both regarding hypoallergenic cats). Apparently people who own pets are less likely to have allergies and asthma. Scientists ran an experiment to explain why it is that "families with a genetic tendency toward allergies often opt for a pet-free home, whereas those with an inherently lower risk are more likely to keep pets." The specifics of the study are explained in the yahoo science article:
Study supports theory that pats cut allergy risk;_ylt=AtYez3Xu7yam8JKjy615Aeis0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTA3MzV0MTdmBHNlYwM3NTM-
The scientists concluded that while some people who are allergic to pets choose not to have them, it only accounts for some "of the protective effects of pets presented." Basically there is some truth that "pets cut allergy risk," but no explanation as of yet. While there is no current explanation, why would anyone buy a hypo allergenic cat? At such a high cost hypo allergenic cats could not remove non hypoallergenic cats from the population, and to some degree having a "normal" cat is benificial.

Name: Kelly
Date: 2006-10-09 01:04:29
Link to this Comment: 20647

The idea that we are a part of evolution, that we are influencing evolution is a scary thought. This thought makes me wonder where evolution is taking us and where it could have taken the organisms on the Earth if certain things did not occur. The alternate realities that could have been are quite possibly just a difference in something that we now consider small and insignificant. This notion brings me back to the idea that there is life on other planets and perhaps they are going through the same type of evolution as us.

I am curious as to why organisms changed as a response to adapting to the environment and why they did not just die out. Was it part of an internal consciousness that caused this type of survival? Where did this ‘fight for life’ come from? Compared to the organisms that are alive today, did the organisms who are extinct now have less this internal consciousness (assuming that it is indeed this that makes organisms want to survive)?

Date: 2006-10-09 01:53:05
Link to this Comment: 20648

Annabella, would you consider performing your song for the class sometime this week?
Just a thought.

Name: Annabella
Date: 2006-10-09 20:26:20
Link to this Comment: 20651

I would like to put forth a story that could explain the scientists observations regarding pets and pet owners that Kali mentioned. Please bear in mind that I know nothing about which I am speculating.
But it seems to me somewhat similar to growing calouses! Yes, calouses. As I learned to play the guitar, my fingers hurt, a lot. But soon they were covered with calouses. Now it doesn't hurt nearly as much. A flu shot actually puts flu virus into the body, and triggers the immune system into building an immunity to that virus.
Perhaps pet owners have less alergic reaction to pets because they are constantly in an environment that keep their immunities toward the alergies strong.
That leads me to wonder if having all these cold medicines and such are actually weakening our immune systems. Since our immune systems don't have to fight so hard to get us over a cold because we have the medicines to do that, could that be contributing to all these new diseases with regard to weakened immune systems?
I would be happy to sing the song in class. With Prof. Grobstein's permission, I will bring in a guitar and do that on Wednesday.

You can never be too rich or too thin.
Name: Meagan H.
Date: 2006-10-10 21:14:02
Link to this Comment: 20655

You're dating this guy. He's got a nice body and he can read Tolstoy and make witty comments while you watch America's Next Top Model together. He's a keeper. What you don't know is that you might be dating him for more than all that. You might be dating him because it's written in your genes.

Scientists have recently found that our genes can dictate our choice in a mate from looks to wealth. Animals aren't the only ones that shop around for the best genetic mate--we humans do it too.

What is so interesting out this is that our society puts so much pressure on finding the right mate but maybe there's more of a determining factor than we think.

just a thought
Name: Meagan H.
Date: 2006-10-11 01:16:35
Link to this Comment: 20657

just cause it's interesting

Name: Moira Nada
Date: 2006-10-11 12:48:50
Link to this Comment: 20658

I didn't get to it last week, but I had made a note to myself to bring up the idea that some bacteria and viruses can transfer pockets of DNA from one being to another. The idea that all of us could be carrying around DNA that is not our own blows my mind. I had always thought of(and been taught) that DNA is about as individualistic as it gets. It's something that we so often thing of as infallible in our society-with absolute proof in trial resting on DNA evidence. That we are carrying around other species, and humans DNA around within us-and not even know it!- is really something to think about. I had looked at DNA as a TRUTH for so long, but it turns out to be more maleable than I had imagined...

One step further on the path to getting it less wrong: realizing that answers are never absolute.

Bill Clinton
Name: Mia Prensk
Date: 2006-10-12 12:06:48
Link to this Comment: 20668

I wanted to make a point to express my gratitude and appreciation for cancelling lab so as to allow us to attend the Bill Clinton/Rendell/Murphy Rally yesterday. It was an honor to hear our former president speak to us and receive his message- I feel that the rally was a great moment for Bryn Mawr College and for those of us who were able to attend. President Clinton was inspiring, encouraging, and extremely proactive and I am so thankful to have seen him. Thank you Profesor Grobstein for supporting political- consciousness raising!

Bill Clinton
Name: Mia Prensk
Date: 2006-10-12 12:07:04
Link to this Comment: 20669

I wanted to make a point to express my gratitude and appreciation for cancelling lab so as to allow us to attend the Bill Clinton/Rendell/Murphy Rally yesterday. It was an honor to hear our former president speak to us and receive his message- I feel that the rally was a great moment for Bryn Mawr College and for those of us who were able to attend. President Clinton was inspiring, encouraging, and extremely proactive and I am so thankful to have seen him. Thank you Profesor Grobstein for supporting political- consciousness raising!

Hydrogen bonds, etc.
Name: Hannah M.
Date: 2006-10-12 14:47:55
Link to this Comment: 20670

One thing about the hydrogen bonding that I remember from Chemistry was a practical reason why it's so important; Since the molecules are attracted to each other in that way, the cohesion allows trees to "pull" up water through their trunks. It's how trees grow so high without actually "pumping" water up to the branches. Very cool!

The periodic table is pretty amazing--I like how as you go across a row, the electron shell fills up, and then you can match up atoms in different columns very logically for bonding. Although the idea of an electron shell is, I think, kind of deceptive. Aren't all the electrons just in a random, energetic state, not dispersed according to how many belong in which shell? Does "electron shell" just help us think about bonding, or is that acutally how an atom looks? I'm not sure.

In any case: Thank you Annabella for the Cockroach song! I was so impressed.

Just When you Think you Have it All Figured Out...
Name: Corey
Date: 2006-10-13 00:38:34
Link to this Comment: 20674

So just when we think that we have it all figured out, scientists make new observations, come up with new ideas, and add a new variable which changes everything. According to this article,, the extinctions of rodents and mammal species are greatly influenced by the tilt and orbit of the earth.

The article explains that a group of Dutch scientists believe that the earth goes through a cycle in which there is a rise and fall in temperature, which has a drastic influence on the climate. "The cycles are associated with lower temperatures, changes in precipitation, habitats, vegetation and food availability which are the main factors influencing the extinction peaks." So if a particular species of mammal or rodent disappears off the face of the earth, it could be because of a "wobble" of the earth on its axis or a slight change in out orbit around the sun.

The scientists also say that we are currently at the beginning stage of one such cycles, but because the earths climate has changed do much in the past 3 million years or so, there is no real way to predict what will happen. So I guess we are heading into uncharted territory with regards to the environment and climate. Also, I am wondering how humans have affected the current cycle with things such as global warming and pollution.

PS Anabella, your song was really cool. I was very impressed. Kudos.

Name: Karen Gins
Date: 2006-10-15 22:09:57
Link to this Comment: 20687

I think it's interesting that a lot of the time very different things have similar or the same chemical components and it is up to the architecture to differentiate completely between one thing and the next. It makes you think of how easy it is to have a serious mutation... just one piece of the architecture changing slightly.. it's scary.

I've been looking through a bunch of books lately, on the universe, and cosmos, and speculations on how it all came to be. All the theories and reasonings are interesting (and hard to have any real kind of grasp on, most of the time).. but I think what I've been finding most frustrating is this no boundaries issue. The earth is confined to this sphere, in this solar system, in this galaxy. Around is a ton of space, with worm holes, and more galaxies, and probably- possibly- more universes. As I think of the universe now, it is boundless. It is our universe, larger than I probably could ever grasp by a ton. I don't understand how it can be boundless- how it just go on- and there's no end, no where it's going to reach..and to think that there may be more than one universe is so..unbelievable.

7 wonders of the World
Name: Annabella
Date: 2006-10-17 15:37:31
Link to this Comment: 20696

I noticed an article online today stating that "they" have noticed that 6 of the 7 wonders of the world no longer exist. Therefore, they are going to come up with a new list.

This got me thinking. Somehow, I hadn't considered something such as a "wonder" to be such an arbitrary thing. I thought it had more to do with intrinsic values of the item that it be considered a "wonder".

Now, I haven't spent much time in awe of the 7 wonders of the world. In fact, I have no idea what the old ones were, or that 6 of them no longer existed. The most I had thought about it was that it was a shame that anyone could think there wer only 7 wonders of the world, for I found much more than that to wonder about.

One thing I wonder about is how is it that someone can just say one day that the list of the 7 wonders was going to be changed? Who's in charge of determining what one considers a "wonder", and who put them in charge, and where did they get the authority to do that?

I find it a wonder that anyone would be so presumptious as to give themselves the job of doing that.

But then, I find the world to be a wonder-filled place.

Questioning the question
Name: Masha
Date: 2006-10-19 22:26:43
Link to this Comment: 20704

This comment was inspired by the lab report I have just finished writing.
I think that if I had to summarize what I learned so far in this class, I would say that I learned, in the process of analyzing the subject, to ask additional questions that lead me to further understanding. To give example, I wrote my lab report on the experiment we conducted studying the relation between the size of the organism and the size of cells constituting it. In the 'discussion' section following the 'methods' section I stated the mistakes that I initially made coming up with hypothesis. For instance, me and my partner assumed that the size of organism directly corresponds to the size of the cell without questioning which part of organism the cell was taken from, what is the function of that part, and what type or 'who'that organism actually is. Having finished that section of lab report, I realized, that what I did not do was in fact QUESTIONING THE QUESTION I was asked instead of assuming the direct answer to an apparently (to me) direct question.
As my lighting design professor says, the only way to learn is by doing. Thus, actually writing down my lab report about the experiment we conducted on Sep 26th, I ironically discovered the major error I made in assumption of my hypothesis.

clumpy diversity
Name: Cayla
Date: 2006-10-19 22:59:10
Link to this Comment: 20705

Earlier this week, I was eating a chocolate chip granola bar, and noticed how the chips weren't evenly distributed, and the marshmallow pieces were in clumps all over the bar. And then it dawned on me: CLUMPY DIVERSITY. No big deal really, but it made me chuckle, and then I finished the granola bar.

Cambrian Explosion
Name: Simone B.
Date: 2006-10-21 11:16:44
Link to this Comment: 20711

It turns out that the Cambrian Explosion may be less dramatic than it sounds. Scientists may have found a way to explain it as a process rather than a mysterious explosion.

In a 653 to 551-year-old limestone deposit in Souther China, the oldest known embryo fossils of primitive sponge-like creatures were found.


Digital analysis has allowed researchers to observe, for the first time, how cells began to divide during the Cambrian period. Until now, fossil records from the Cambrian period just suddenly changed and multicellular species 'exploded.' However, this embryo allows us to understand the evolutionary process that took place. It seems that the explosion wasn't as sudden as it seems. In reality, embryos and embryionic development became more complex as multicellular species became more complex. Even in today's sponges, the embroys are more complex than those of their Cambrian ancestors.

In a sense, the exploration of this embryo brings to mind the "chicken or egg" question. Further research is necessary, but could this be evidence on the side of the egg theory?

Just about computer games
Name: Masha
Date: 2006-10-22 23:22:07
Link to this Comment: 20722

I did not grow up with computer games. I was born in 1983 and Soviet Union fell apart in 1991 and did not see a computer game until I was 11. I am happy about that because I spent my childhood playing and inventing games, making toys and being outside with kids. Ever since then I unfortunately developped a slight astonishment towards people who can spend hours or even days tete-a-tete with computer. I would never want my kid, if I ever have one, to be more attached to computer than to reality of the real world with real people and outdoor activities.
This week I went to check out science knews on google, which I developped a little habit of doing by now. There was an article there, under Sci/Tech section, titled 'Games: Cosole Wars.' I opened it since I am interested in scientific evaluation of computer games since I am trying at times to fight my strong prejudice against them. To my surprise, the article did not mention anything except the new games coming out and prices for them. The introductory paragraph said, quote,
'For many kids, the holiday season just wouldn't be the same without wizards, warriors, and wide receivers dominating the big screen. You'll need to do plenty of strategizing of your own well before then to make sure everyone ends up with the game system they want.'
Then I realized that the scientific section was linked with Business Week online so then it became explicable that there was no direct reference.
I suppose that upset me. I am terrified by the popularity of computer games and the fact that there was such a blunt statment of their necessity in Sci/Tech/Business week article greatly upset me. I will go into more research regarding the scientific evaluation of computer games. I know, or rather I was told, that they do develop certain parts of the brain, your sense of logic and orientation, but, especially after this article, I feel a much stronger need to read the true scientific evaluation of that...I suppose my next comment will be concerned with this issue...

fall break thoughts
Name: Sarah Gale
Date: 2006-10-23 10:00:52
Link to this Comment: 20723

Welcome back, everyone! I did think a bit about science and biology over break- not everyday, mind you, but a few fleeting moments. One such moment was when my friend and I were walking in Times Square and stumbled upon a mini-oasis across from the Abercrombie and Fitch super-store. Amidst the gargantuan buildings and screaming advertisements, there existed a small tree surrounded by tall grass. It looked so out of place, especially since it only grew in small clumps on street corners. So often I completely separate metropolis from nature (think The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse), but here it co-existed. Of course, it was about this time that I discovered that the tree and grass is part of a set for a futuristic movie involving Will Smith and vampires, but this concept that cities were once spots of nature and that nature still can exist within city-bounds is still applicable. I don't know if anyone else thinks in this polarized way (city vs. the environment), but the notion I gained is that they are not polar opposites. They co-exist.

walking on water
Date: 2006-10-23 13:39:05
Link to this Comment: 20726

I thought what we discussed today in class was really interesting, especially the part about bugs walking on water. I can't believe I'm 18 years old and until now I never wondered how bugs managed to accomplish this amazing feat. However, after learning that the cohesion of water molecules is the reason why bugs can walk on water, I'm still kind of sceptical. How is the cohesion of water strong enough to support an entire bug? Maybe I misheard the explanation for this phenomenon. Can somebody clarify this for me? Thanks :-)

Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2006-10-24 09:13:11
Link to this Comment: 20732

Pictures worth a thousand words? ... Water Walking

Acidic Rhapsody
Name: Priscila R
Date: 2006-10-24 19:26:36
Link to this Comment: 20746

This person needs to get a life.....but funny.

The Periodic Table Redesigned?
Name: Cris D
Date: 2006-10-25 17:30:27
Link to this Comment: 20759

Since we have been exploring the period table and relationships between elements, I started thinking about its design. It's relatively simple - a large rectangular table divided by blocs, allowing one to see the number of protons and electrons and etc. on it immediately.

One of the drawbacks of the periodic table format we have come to know and love (and hate) is that it is increasingly difficult to add newly "discovered" or categorized elements without disrupting the simple format.

Apparently, someone has thought outside of the (periodic) box, and has come up with a new design for it. A man named Jeff Moran, in association with his company Electric Prism has redesigned the periodic table - or what he calls the "Periodic Spiral". The Periodic Spiral groups the elements in a sort of rhombus with an arm, and one reads it in a spiral, starting in the middle. This redesign tries to fix the shortcomings of the traditional table; in it, we can see where actinons (which are gaseous radioactive chemicals, like radon) and lanthanons (a rare-earth metal like lanthanum and cerium, for example) fit into the rest of the elements. The Periodic Spiral is also interactive, so by clicking on it you can see an element's configuration, description, oxidation rate, the relationships of hydrogen to noble gases and halogens, and a lot of other things.

Though it's certainly intimidating to look at the Periodic Spiral and to try to understand it, the resedign is certainly ambitious in the new information it tries to give its users.

Got you a little curious? See the Periodic Spiral for yourself at

Enzymes really are something
Name: Kelsey
Date: 2006-10-25 20:35:55
Link to this Comment: 20761

I don't think that I have ever really thought about what an enzyme IS until the lab today. With all of talk about molecules, it all seemed repetitious and the same old, same old talk about protons, neutrons, etc. But I understood today that an enzyme is something that is extracted, like a 'life force' so to speak of something else and it can be removed! It is strange to think that you can just take something out of a life, especially since before the concept seemed way too Scifi channel to me. What else can you take out of a life?
What can you do with an enzyme then? And since an enzyme has such a strange independent power, it seems odd that it is so fragile as well

Name: Cayla
Date: 2006-10-26 16:22:15
Link to this Comment: 20775

After talking about water this week, it's impossible for me to look at it the same way. It's something that we all drink and use everyday, but how many times do we REALLY think about what water is? Our discussion this week helped me realize that water is something really different than everything else. It's one thing to hear someone to say this, but seeing the way insects can walk on water, and discussing why ice can float has really helped me understand what I've always been told.

diversity because of assembly
Name: Annabella
Date: 2006-10-27 10:45:11
Link to this Comment: 20779

Thinking about the fact that so many diverse things can be made from just a few building materials and simple assembly rules makes me think of phone numbers.
How many different phone numbers are there in the country? Now throw in cell phones, faxes, pagers and what have you...the number is enormous. Yet the phone company has only 10 building blocks and 1 very simple assembly rule to use to make all these unique phone numbers from...the 10 digits from 0 to 9, and the rule that they must come one after the other. You can't superimpose one on another or blend two together in any way.
Every phone number must be 10 digits long, built from only 10 building blocks. That's it.
From that, they have come up with a seemingly infinte variety of phone numbers. We know it's not really infinite, but it is a very large number.

periodic spiral
Name: Annabella
Date: 2006-10-27 10:57:22
Link to this Comment: 20780

Thanks for the info and link to the periodic spiral. That's cool! It gives so much more info on each element and why it is where it is and why it does what it does.
And as I get all excited about thinking I am learning something, or that I can know something, such as more info about an element, I have to keep in mind that it is just a story that explains a bunch of observations. Even if it works great, it is still no more than a story.
But the story put out by the periodic spiral seems to give a lot more explanation than the old square chart.
Anyway, I enjoyed checking it out. Thanks.

The beauty of enzymes
Name: Hannah
Date: 2006-10-27 16:34:28
Link to this Comment: 20782

Talking about enzymes this week brought back to my mind what I've learned about them in the past, but today I felt as though I understood them more fully than I ever had. I see now the way they actually work, literally breaking down the substrate by "forcing" it into a "keyhole." For some reason I had always figured, when I thought about it all, that the way they worked was more complicated than that. Like, maybe they used some kind of potent goo to dissolve the substrate, or something. But it's beautifully simple, really, and I like that. I also better understand the primary-quaternary protein structure, which is another way to make something really complicated out of simple parts, to perform a function none of the parts could complete on their own. The assemblies keep getting more and more improbable!

Facebook Trial
Name: Masha
Date: 2006-10-28 10:22:55
Link to this Comment: 20785

Ok, so I was inclined to write this comment either about computer games

(in general, taking this Forum opportunity, I feel I have to bring up somewhat science-related issues that have been bothering me since if not in this class, where else would I have such opportunity to ask any question I like?)-
Yes, so either computer games or about some interesting scientific article but instead I want to throw thre something about...Facebook.

I never used a Facebook and I dont have facebook account and I hope I never will. To me, Facebook is a pure waste of time although I do understand that it helps keeping in touch and contact with people.
I read this summer an article in Russian political magazine, that was entirely dedicated that week to concerns of Russian doctors and scientists with widespread of msn, aol, and facebook phenonmenon. The thing is, that even now to have a computer in Russia is somewhat a sign of wealth and among those who have computers not everyone at all has an internet since it is either too expensive either the provider (that is the case of place where I live) works very poorly. Thus, there is no Facebook in Russia and not so many people use MSN or AOL.
The article I read was concerned with Russian young people loosing the attachment with the real world and said that both MSN and Facebook (I would not entirely agree with that) serve an average person not to keep the contact with people, but rather satisfy this person's ambition of having a lot a lot of friends. THe article said, that interestingly, in MSN , for example, you do not have categories such as 'acquaintances' or 'people I know' but everyone is a Friend. Same with Facebook, when you open the account it says how many 'friends' you have. So Russian scientists were rather aware of danger of psychologically moving from 'real' to 'virtual' world, of unconscious destruction of human instinct to physically communicate and intercat with people and find 'alike'. What would be the purpose, they were wondering, in the long run, if you have 1000 'friends', it satisfies you psychologically and your instinct of physically very interactive and keeping up other instincts necessary for such contact are gone.
Well, this topic is extremly complecated and I would hope not to offend any big time fan of Facebook or MSN (which I use myself at times and it is very usefu), this is just a topic that intrigues me and especially here, in US, where as I understand, both of Facebook and instants messanger originated from.
I know I wont be in class on Monday but I hope that at some point we could dedicat 5 minutes to talking about this even in the light of our previous discussions such as 'what does it mean to be alive?'

improbable atoms
Date: 2006-10-28 11:07:27
Link to this Comment: 20786

After class yesterday, I spent a lot of time thinking about atoms and their improbable assemblies which do in fact make up everything in the world and beyond. It is fascinating for me to think that we can break down everything in this universe to atoms- not only our bodies but our emotions come from atoms. We are all just atoms! As I was contemplating this idea, I also began thinking about the age of the Enlightenment of the 17th century, an era of scientific progress which was then experienced the backlash of the 18th century movement of Romanticism, which criticised the 'inhumanity' and coldness with which the science of the Enlightenment reduced life and the universe to scientific explanations. Although I am a true believer of science, I can understand why others, especially in the 18th century, would be disillusioned by the perspective that everything is just atoms, and not something more spiritual or Godly. Same thing with the enzymes, or 'magic stuff;' I understand the romanticism of believing that there is simply something magic and mysterious about a substance because we have no other explanation for its unique qualities, however, I only believe in science. Anyway, class has really been pushing me to reflect on ideas that I had never taken much time to consider before, and I am very happy about that. Even our liberal arts education breaks down ultimately to atoms!

Universal Vastness
Name: Annabella
Date: 2006-10-29 10:42:08
Link to this Comment: 20792

"The universe is so vast it is not comprehensible by the human mind. It would be like an ant trying to understand the wonder of the internet. It can't be done.

The universe humbles us as it should."

As I read this it reminded me of the classes on perspective. It echoed some of the comments I heard in class about how incomprehensible is our lack of consequence in the universe. Though I agree that it is important to have some idea about universal vastness and humility, it is also important to keep in mind that we don't know whether there is any other life "out there" or not. Even if we think it inconceivable that there isn't life out there, that belief does not constitiute evidence.
As far as life being made up only of atoms and molecules, that seems a little short sighted to me. After all, all the planets have atoms and molecules, yet we find no life on them. So what is it that makes our atoms and molecules different from all those others?
It is not "unscientific" to wonder these kinds of questions. What I find unscientific is to sit back and say something like, "we can explain life in terms of atoms and molecules." when in fact we can only explain the assemblies in those terms. The assemblies are not life. If they were, we would have found life on every planet, for they have assemblies of atoms and molecules.
So as scientists we must keep on making observations and coming up with stories and then testing them and changing them to fit our new observations. The most glaring observation that has never been explained by atoms and molecules and assemblies is what makes the assemblies alive?
This is why I find it so hard to understand the rift between science and faith. Both are telling stories to explain this unanswered question. To be all on one side (molecular explanation or faith based explanation) is equally ignorant. The root of the word ignorant is "ignore" and that is what anyone who believes only in one of the two stories is doing. They are ignoring large amounts of evidence that both stories have value, and both stories still need a large amount of revision.

What are the chances?
Name: Corey
Date: 2006-10-29 10:46:09
Link to this Comment: 20793

Over the last few class periods, we have been spending a lot of time discussing water, its properties, and its bonds. One thing that was briefly mentioned but I found very interesting was the fact that water has properties that are not present in any of its constituents alone.

Although I know that waters properties are a result of its artitecture, it got me wondering as to how and why water is an especially unique and interesting molecule. How is it that a little collection of hydrogen and oxygen can yeild such astounding results? polar and hydrogen bonds and the idea of electronegativity.

Taking all of this into consideration, then think about the impact that water has on our lives. What would have happened if, when water freezes, it becomes more dense and not less. Or what about if, for some reason, water did not have hydrogen bonds and strong surface tension. Or what are the chances that polar and hydrogen bonds and electronegativity would all be properties of water?

Think of the effect on our lives. Would be even be here? I think the what is really at the base of all my questions is an issue of chances. What are the chances of one molecule having almost all the necessary properties that living things need in order to survive?

Also, my better understanding of water and its properties has led me to rethink the importances of discoveries of water on other planets and its implications for more life.

The Periodic Table unleashed
Name: Caro
Date: 2006-10-29 12:54:49
Link to this Comment: 20795

I'm wondering if anyone noticed the small article in the New York Times called "The Periodic Table Gets a Makeover", released October 23. It relates to our ongoing discussions about the improbable nature of the atom and its function, and the classifying nature of man in Science.
As it turns out, new elements with new properties are still being discovered by scientists, and they are frantically running around trying to find a way to make them fit into our periodic table. So they are rearranging the table into 3-D shapes, triangles, spirals, and other sorts of technological-looking set ups. As of now, the preferred "new and improved" periodic table suggests a snowflake shape, which you are supposed to read by starting at the center and working your way out in a spiral movement (they included instructions). Sounds like an error waiting to happen on someone's highschool midterm.
This idea of categorizing nature into a logical man-made system of thought once again proves complicated for both the scientist and the person at the receiving end trying to catch up to these scientific trends. Its faulty nature is evident in the "Biological tree", which divided species up by kingdoms, but there always seem to be a few animals who fall into categories in between. Is there another way of organizing things, a simpler way?

Who wants to be a millionaire?
Name: Katherine
Date: 2006-10-29 16:22:40
Link to this Comment: 20796

I refuse to believe that human's are unable to walk on water.

It's interesting to think that the earth is 75% water, because we, as humans, can't survive in the water for long periods of time; we're land dwellers (go watch waterworld!). So to traverse great bodies of water, mankind builds boats. The boats have shifted in shape, size, and utility, their main purpose being as a device to get from point A to point B because walking won't work. Today, we have all sorts of boats in order to more easily navigate bodies of water. There are man powered shells for rivers, sail boats for oceans, submarines, large cruise liners, and all sorts of others in between. However, it seems strange to me that, seeing how the world is 75% water, we really haven't figured out how to walk on it yet. Bugs can do it, the basilisk lizard can do it, and scientists know how they accomplish this feet (haha)...yet humans remain grounded.

A boat can sit atop the water with the weight of a human in it and not sink, so isn't there something that can be done to morph that buoyant property of a boat onto the bottom of a shoe?

There are such things as pontoon-like shoes that enable a person to walk across the water, but I think they must, on the whole, be unsuccessful, seeing as how I searched for shoes and came up with nothing. But if sneakers can be designed for maximum speed, distance, sprint, and walk, then why can't they be designed for water walking? What would need to be done?

Name: Moira
Date: 2006-10-29 17:57:06
Link to this Comment: 20798

So, I was sitting here eating dinner, spacing out a little. And I realized that what I was eating was complete. I worry sometimes that my meals are too heavy in one area (sweets, fruit, carbs) and deficient in others. But according to what we learned in class on Friday, foods have aspects of the others that we were not necessarily aware of, or that are not advertised as such. For example, carbohydrates like pasta and bread can also contain protein. But they are not usually advertised or marketed as proteins like chicken or fish are.

I just thought it was nice to see yet another instance where what I learned in class was able to provide me with something useful in my day-to-day life.

New Periodic Table?
Name: Angie
Date: 2006-10-29 19:44:37
Link to this Comment: 20799

It's so wierd to think that there is a new version of the periodic table. Since the first time I actually used and understood one in the 8th grade science to 10th grade chemistry, I never knew that scientists and other people would ever be using something different to categorize all of the infamous elements. It is hard to adjust to anything that isn't maintaining the status quo. I wonder if people will start to forget about the original periodic table altogether and only refer to the newer version.

lithium and disorder
Name: Arielle
Date: 2006-10-29 20:06:24
Link to this Comment: 20800

The fact that nature tends towards disorder at once amuses and disturbs me. Of course, a story like that helps to explain theories like the Big Bang, but I feel unsettled thinking that everything alive will become dead and that is a form of disorder. It is almost as if nature does not value death, even though decomposing matter can be very useful in rejuvenating ecosystems. Perhaps our social view of disorder as something negative provokes this response for me. I was reading on Wikipedia about lithium after our class discussion about atoms and how they exist exclusively in nonliving things. Lithium is hypothesized to have come into existence within the first three minutes after the Big Bang. Interestingly, lithium does not exist by itself on earth; rather, the metal exists primarily as lithium oxide because it is so sensitive to oxygen's presence. In salt compounds, lithium is often used as a mood stabilizer treatment for people with bipolar disorder. I think it is interesting that a theory of disorder like the Big Bang resulted in so many improbable assemblies of live and non-live beings. If lithium is one of the oldest elements on earth, it must be so because of a random chemical collision in space (as I imagine it in my head). For something so useful to exist and not exist at the same time amazes me. I have to give humans a lot of credit for figuring out how to use lithium for medical purposes, and in general, for inventing technologies that use the random things that exist on earth with us. Someone had to first isolate lithium atoms from their naturally existing compounds, and then someone had to recognize its healing properties. I wish the doctors writing prescriptions for lithium and the patients filling those prescriptions would take a historical and cosmic look at the element/drug. We might find a new appreciation for what the earth gives us and avoid synthetic cures for natural ills.

Name: Priscila R
Date: 2006-10-29 20:23:49
Link to this Comment: 20801

I agree with Arielle’s thought about feeling “unsettled thinking that everything that alive will become dead and that is a form of disorder”. It made me think about how while we can think of live as being random, it seems that everything serves a purpose and holds its place in the universe. While we can’t explain certain things, it seems like (from what we “know” or from the stories we have made up to explain them) that everything happens for a reason. There is a reason for why we sneeze, why birds can fly and why ice floats on water. I wonder if everything actually happens for a reason and we just have to discover the cause to predict the effect, or if we just create this “stories” in the attempt to link cause and effect but have got it all terribly wrong. Disturbing thought.

genes and attraction
Name: Courtney
Date: 2006-10-29 22:16:15
Link to this Comment: 20802

In Monday's class, the tpoic of genes and attraction was brought up. I thought it was a very interesting topic. I don't know what everyone else was told when they were little, but I was told that when I started dating I would look for guys who would have some of the qualities that my uncles had. After Monday's class, I wondered if that really held any truth. If it is true that your genes influence your choice in a mate, then wouldn't you want someone who would care for and protect you like your father/uncles had? I think it holds some truth to a certain extent but I would like to hear what other people have to say on the subject. It was just a thought that crossed my mind after class.

improbable atoms
Date: 2006-10-30 10:44:08
Link to this Comment: 20813

sorry, that was me, mia prensky, who wrote that comment earlier about 'improbable assemblies' of atoms. i just wanted to identify myself.

no subject
Date: 2006-10-30 20:24:40
Link to this Comment: 20816

Wow, writing in the forum completely slipped my mind this week- I was so absorbed in the lab report. I feel like an idiot...
So, something that grabbed my attention last week was our discussion of how life is magic (although every time that Paul said "life is magic", I thought of that Sarah Silverman movie entitled "Jesus is Magic"). Like someone else, I connected that idea that it's that magic element that makes the difference between animate and conscious. This whole concept added a layer to science that I enjoyed- a mystical, mildly unexplainable layer. And I liked that.

genome project
Name: Amelia
Date: 2006-11-01 21:21:19
Link to this Comment: 20842

Genome can be defined as all the hereditary information that is encoded into the DNA of an organism. Clearly genomes differ not only among species, but within them as well (no humans look exactly alike - except indentical twins - for example). So, what exactly is the genome project doing? How can it identify all the genes in human DNA and determine the sequences of the chemical base pairs that compose the DNA if we are all different? Is there a basic base pair structure that makes us human and variations on those pairs that account for our nuances (e.g. brown vs. blue eyes)? I understand that mutations are responsible for reproduction with variance, but is there a category on our DNA strands that stands for eyes and then under it base pairs that determine their specific color? If that is the case, is the genome project just using that "eyes" category and not looking at the specifics?

Name: Claire B
Date: 2006-11-02 09:02:54
Link to this Comment: 20848

This week's lab really got me thinking about how I can slow down my own heart rate by doing yoga breathing. I was thinking about how we were talking about why your heart rate speeds up when you excercise and i realized how in yoga, the whole idea is to keep your heart rate slow and controlled while you are going through really intense poses. You are not supposed to get your heart rate up (not even supposed to breath heavily or fast), but rather keep it at a calm and steady pace thoughout the entire session. I also thought it was really interesting that I had the lowest resting heart rate in the whole class, even though I never really do "cardio" workouts and have instead been doing ashtanga yoga 4-5 times per week for the past 7 years, because usually i associate people who have really low heart rates to be bikers, swimmers, and other people who excersize by bringing their heart rates UP.

Name: Kelsey
Date: 2006-11-02 16:53:46
Link to this Comment: 20853

During our lab this week, we learned about how our heart rates are all different from one another's and what can effect this. I was an outlyer, in a s sense because I am little and drink a lot of caffeine and yet still have a very low heart rate. I guess this just goes to show that science isn't definite, no matter what the facts that are taught to us say, there is really no order and nothing is really factual or positive.

Heart Rate
Name: Cayla
Date: 2006-11-02 20:50:01
Link to this Comment: 20854

I'm really intrigued by the question that was raised in this weeks lab, on what controls what we do; does our heart control itself, or does the brain control all? And with developments in science allowing people to function with false hearts (other things pumping the blood), is a heart part of the criterion for what makes us alive?

Going back to movement on small and large scales..
Name: Hannah
Date: 2006-11-03 16:06:26
Link to this Comment: 20859

The map we saw today of reactions that are constantly happening in the human body was amazing. Thinking about the complexity and dynamic nature of all those reactions, I am astounded that we can ever really feel like we are at rest.
Which reminded me of our earlier conversation about our place in the universe. Just like there are improbable assemblies on very small scales and very large scales, there are also constant motions and reactions occuring on small and large scales which we seem unable to directly perceive. Our metabolisms hum along without us being aware of them until we start to lose or gain weight or feel sick. At the same time we revolve and rotate around the sun and around the center of the galaxy without sensing this movement as it happens, only as we see the sun "rise" and "fall" and the seasons change. It seems like our own size/scale is the only one on which we can control or understand the movements taking place as they take place. The processes that are far smaller or far bigger than us are imperceptible. This is interesting because in a way it shows the relation of space to time (i.e., spacetime).....since movement implies the passage of time.

Date: 2006-11-03 16:41:08
Link to this Comment: 20860

I mentioned in my webpaper that harbor seals can distinguish the difference between the calls of their friendly resident orca neighbors (they eat salmon and other types of fish) and that of the not so friendly transient orca (they eat harbor seals) populations. Anyways, the gulf toad fish can also do something similar to that of the harbor seals, except with dolphins instead of orcas. Gulf toad fish are "prime prey" for dolphins and have learned to recognise dolphin language (if you will), and then shut up, because the gulf toad fish is capable of producing sounds. The head researcher, Luke Remage-Healey, came upon this discovery through listening to the fish's mating calls. To test his theory that the fish can recognise dolphin sounds Remage-Healey and his crew captured some gulf toad fish and put them in cages which were placed back in the mating grounds where the fish were found. They then played tapes of "common bay background noise" and dolphin sounds. Not only did the fish significantly lower their mating calls, but when tested immediately after the scientists dicovered a rise in cortisol (a stress hormone).
P.S. Here's the website

There's also an interesting article regarding wholphins at the bottom of the aforementioned article.

Name: Simone B.
Date: 2006-11-04 19:13:51
Link to this Comment: 20863

Once upon a time, when I was really little, I had a dog who started vomiting blood. It was pretty gross and I cried a lot. So we took him to the vet and discovered that he had eaten rat poison while he was at the park. He immediately went on a regimen of vitamins/pills and survived. :) Two weeks ago, while I was visiting my (forgetful little old) Grandma for fall break, she told me to remind her to take her blood thinner medicine. But then she also forgot which pill was her blood thinner pill. So I looked up the names of all the prescription medicines she had in her cabinet online and I eventually found the blood thinner. What this has to do with my dog vomiting blood is that, as it turns out, the active ingredient in blood thinner is a milder version of rat poison.

While I was looking over my notes from this past week, I realized that this blood thinner/rat poison story was a perfect example of the multiple funcitons of chemicals and how the quantity of a certain chemical has everything to do with the difference between life and death. My Grandmother NEEDS the blood thinner for her heart fibrilations, while the rat poison nearly KILLED my adorable dog.

So long and thanks for all the fish...
Name: Simone B.
Date: 2006-11-04 19:47:22
Link to this Comment: 20864

I thought that Kali's post on the sonic adaptations that gulf toad fish have in order to avoid being eaten was fascinating. It made me think about this article:

According to this article, if current trends continue, "there will be virtually nothing left to fish from the seas by the middle of the century."

I find this to be astounding! Isn't the surface of our planet primarily composed of oceans/seas/bodies of water? Doesn't this implicitly mean that marine animals are not only the most plentiful, but also the most biodiverse, of all animal species?

When I thought about this gloomy prognostic for marine life in the context of Kali's article, it occured to me that fish may have evolved this sonic adaptation not only to protect themselves but also to protect the predators that are hunting them down (in the long run). Because these predators rely on fish to survive, the fish may be doing the whole ecosystem (and not just themselves) a favor when they listen in on dolphin calls to avoid being eaten. They may be establishing other means of population control in order to delay extinction on all ends of the food chain. Perhaps these freaky adaptaions are telling us that nature is going to some extremes in order to avoid complete annihilation. But maybe I'm just overthinking it...

Your heart says please...
Name: cris d
Date: 2006-11-05 15:38:26
Link to this Comment: 20867

After our lab on heart rates, I wondered about what else can affect the proper and delicate inner workings of our heart. One of the most common acts that incites high heart rates (among other things) is smoking.

Apparently, someone who smokes will within the first minute develop a higher heart rate, and within ten minutes their heart rate can increase up to 30%! Of course these increases are only temporary and occur while someone smokes, but those who smoke various cigarettes a day will continuously have wavering heart rates. At the same time their heart rates increase, their oxygen level intake decreases as well. Over time, this combination can lead to irregular heart beats, or arrhythmia.

Just another (of 1930305473093,02303403 million) reasons to quit.

panic attack
Name: Arielle
Date: 2006-11-05 16:43:26
Link to this Comment: 20868

My participation in this past week's lab, I've decided, was a bit ironic. We started the activity by measuring everyone's "sitting" heart rate. I had just come down from a fairly intense panic attack and was not shocked to find that my heart rate was among the highest two in the class (Angely must have some sort of super-heart). We discussed in lab the correlation between stress and a higher heart rate, and I think I'm a prime specimen to examine this relationship. Stress often causes panic attacks in people, but my stress came after the panic attack, after disrupting the class, feeling slightly embarrassed, and acknowledging my heart's rapid thumping to a roomful of concerned peers (and professor). I was stressed because my heart rate was so high, even several minutes after my panic attack had subsided. The provocation of that particular panic attack is still unknown - sometimes they just hit me from out of nowhere - and I am entertaining the possibility that my panic symptoms may be cyclical. That is to say, my body went into high-stress mode during the panic attack, and my cognitive realization of the panic attack (acknowledgment of the attack, humiliation associated with social consequences of the attack, etc.) contributed to more stress and panic symptoms in my body. I usually feel like I can't breathe during one of these attacks, and once I'm able to make myself inhale and exhale deeply, I calm down and come out of the attack. Paul asked the class what the connection is between breathing and heart rate, and I'm willing to put out the guess/story that the brain's perception of oxygen intake via the lungs is key to this connection. The brain recognizes that the lungs aren't taking in enough oxygen or as much oxygen as the body is used to, and responds by quickening the heart, allowing the heart to pump whatever oxygen is available through the rest of the body. The heart is very utilitarian: It takes care of itself and it takes care of the other organs in the body. However, the heart must respond to the amount of oxygen available (as taken in through the lungs and as perceived by the brain) and perform accordingly. My short breaths stimulated a rapid heart beat and that's why my heart rate was so high. Any thoughts, witnesses?

Big Bang
Name: Sarah Gale
Date: 2006-11-05 16:54:17
Link to this Comment: 20869

I know this is a bit dated, but my mother sends me the Science Times, not knowing that I can get the NY Times in the dining halls or online. But anyway, I was reading the latest that she sent, and an article I found engaging was one entitled, "Knowing the Universe in Detail (Except for that Pesky 96% of It)". It basically talked about how in 1991, the Big Bang suffered skepticism and criticism, but in 1992, a scientist from UC-Berkeley (my mother's alma mater) found that NASA's "satellite Cosmic Backbroung Explorer, or Cobe" had picked up on some strange stuff, namely, radiation-cooling microwaves. These microwaves accounted for confusion that dealt with the question of how galaxies could result from small "splotches". This scientist, Dr. George Smoot, and the head Cobe scientist, John Mather, were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics this month, too. The article also talked about the different kinds of matter: 4% of the cosmos is "ordinary atomic matter", dark matter is 20%, and 76% is dark energy. So the article summed up with the fact that 4% of the cosmos is understood.
I felt like this article helped me in terms of scale and the universe and what we've been talking about these past few weeks. The Big Bang is a very interesting topic, and it seems like Smoot and Mather came upon some great findings.

Name: Angie
Date: 2006-11-05 19:50:55
Link to this Comment: 20873

This weeks lab was really interesting. I'm still trying to understand why my heart rate was 157!! To me thats just insane. I mean how could it possibly have been so high. I'm trying to remember what I was thinking of at the time my heart rate was taken, but I have no clue. I know that I wasn't really that stressed because this past week I haven't really had that much work to do or any for that matter. I know stress causes an increse in heart rate so it would have made perfect sense if these results were calculated 2 weeks ago when I had a really important midterm to worry about, but I just don't understand what caused it to be so dramatically high. I don't know, maybe Arielle was right. Maybe I do have some kind of super-heart! Okay I know this would be impossible but it would be so cool if I did. As we were trying to determine what accounted for different heart rates, we couln't really find a pattern. I guess what we learned is that there is no direct or definite correlation with the causes of heart rate. What really puzzles me is how Moira was able to change her heart rate by a significant amount by just thinking of stressful factors in her life. This is so unbelieveable fascinating!I mean i've always heard people say that it was possible, but I've never actually experienced it firsthand.

Exercise and Heart Rate
Name: Courtney
Date: 2006-11-05 20:19:59
Link to this Comment: 20874

I thought this week's lab was very interesting. I knew that heart rate was not completely normal when one was just relaxing, but it was really cool to actually measure heart rates. Mine turned out to be in the middle of the class on Tuesday's lab, which I thought was strange because I exercise a lot and had been exercising before the lab. I thought my heart rate would be higher than it was even though I was just resting. It made me think if the type of exercise one does before measuring heart rate has any effect on it. For example, I had a dance rehearsal before lab- even though it was hard exercise, does it affect the heart rate differently than running does? It was just something I thought about over the weekend.

fats and cholesterol article
Name: Mariellyss
Date: 2006-11-05 20:30:55
Link to this Comment: 20875

Although class this past week was interesting, I did find it a bit hard to follow. I spent some time this weekend reading about fat and cholesterol levels and how they effect our bodies. I was interested to find that both are essential to our well-being and we actually need to have a slight exess of both in our blood at a time. I found this great

fats and cholesterol article
Name: Mariellyss
Date: 2006-11-05 20:31:49
Link to this Comment: 20876

Although class this past week was interesting, I did find it a bit hard to follow. I spent some time this weekend reading about fat and cholesterol levels and how they effect our bodies. I was interested to find that both are essential to our well-being and we actually need to have a slight exess of both in our blood at a time. I found this great article the Harvard School of Public Health that was really interesting; you should check it out. One thing I found really interesting was that the worst type of fat for you, trans fat, is produced just by being heated in the presence of hydrogen. Also saturated fats, generally "bad" fats are taken from animals, while unsaturated fats, the "good" fats are taken from plants. As animals ourselves, I find it odd that our bodies are more capable of processing these plant fats than the animal fats.

Name: Priscila R
Date: 2006-11-05 20:53:59
Link to this Comment: 20877

Lately we have been discussing how at very small scales, the slightest difference have enormous effects. This led me to think about mutations. The first thing that comes to mind is genetic diseases. At some point in my academic career (its all a bit of a blur now) I learned about how changes in DNA caused by mutation affect the protein sequence, and thereby messing up the sequence. What didn’t occur to me was mutation’s role in evolution. If it wasn’t for mutation’s contribution to the variation of the gene pool, there may very well have been much less diversity on earth. To be honest, I don't really know where I'm going with this, I thought iut was interesting how I never realized how these two parts of the course came together (even though now it begins to look quite obviours). I also wonder how much these mutations actually effect evolution and if there is any way of predicting what future mutations may occur.

Deep Breathing and Heart Rate
Name: Corey
Date: 2006-11-06 00:54:14
Link to this Comment: 20880

Just a quick response to the question poised by Arielle regarding the amount of oxygen in the lungs and its potential effects on heart rate. During our lab, Gerogia and I tested how the number of times a person breathed over a certain time period effected their heart rate. What we thought was that the more times a someone breathed, the higher their heart rate. Our results showed that this was not necessarily true. So we concluded that on either end, the two extremes in breathing (breathing evry 2 seconds and holding your breath for all 30 seconds) show fluctuations in beats per minute. However, when you are breathing at a rate more consistent with normal patterns, in our case, between ten and fifteen seconds per breath, your heart rate is not dramatically affected and is pretty consistent with your normal sitting heart rate.

When we presented this to the class, it was actually Arielle who posed a question similar to the one she brought up in the forum. When thinking about it logically, it would make sense. Take, for example, our experiement when we held our breath for 30 seconds. Our results showed that the average beats per minute turned out to be 65.32. But wouldn't it make sense, like Arielle pointed out, that a persons heart rate would be significantly higher. This could be true because the brain realizes that there is no new oxygen coming in from the lungs, and it has its own mini panic attack, skyrocketing the heart rate. Or, it could be that the heart has to work extra hard in order to circulate what little oxygen it has left. Depending on the personality of the person, it could be a combination of the two. If a person has a particular fear of sufficating, this would probably contribute to their average heart rate. But thats besides the point.

So when I read Arielle post it got me thinking. One reason that our results may have produced the results that they did was because the subject had to take a deep breath, then exhale, and then the 30 second time period started. So, if what Arielle (and me to a certain extent) think is true, this makes sense. It is because the person took a deep breath, which brought a higher then normal amount of oxygen into the body, that the heart rate did not rise. It was because there was still enough oxygen left in the lungs. Thus, the brain did not become paniced and the heart did not have to work extra hard. This could also relate to Claire's comments about yoga. In yoga, you are performing intense movements COMBINED with deep breathing. Perhaps this is why a persons heart rate stays constant. Just a thought.

Name: Kelly
Date: 2006-11-06 01:14:35
Link to this Comment: 20881

It is really amazing that the slightest changes in the assembly of atoms or in a molecule can lead to things as different as a human and a rock. In response to Priscila's comment above, I took genetics last year and discussed genetic mutations. Learning that most mutations are the results of missing or having an additional chromosome is quite frightening. To think, anyone of us could be affected with a serious disease because of a 'malfunction' of DNA, the smallest things that make up our body. With this thought, however, it seems that this small thing is not as small as we imagine since DNA is everywhere in our bodies. Can the question then be is DNA really a 'small thing' (because some people see it on a molecular scale) or is it a 'big thing' (because it is found all over)?

Heart Rate
Name: Georgia
Date: 2006-11-06 01:37:38
Link to this Comment: 20882

I, like many of the people who have posted above me, really liked the lab this week and our experiments with heart rate. As I was scrolling through, I started to think about the effects of deep breathing on heart rate, and how Corey and I found it wasn't directly corollated. That is, our heart rate didn't drop a lot when we were breathing significantly slower. We concluded that there were more factors related to heart rate than just breathing, and that it may not be a purely physical impulse. We ran into trouble with readings when we were thinking about something stressful or distracting.

Overall, I was intrigued by the question of whether or not heart rate is caused by physical or psycological effects. As Arielle said, her panic attack escalated because her heart began to work extra hard to get more oxygen, but at the same time, that wasn't the best thing for her, and everyone tells someone who begins to panic to breathe slowly and deeply. If you can change how you think when you are having a panic attack to calm yourself down and regulate your breathing again, is your heart really taking care of itself?

"Dolphin May have 'remains' of legs.
Name: Kali
Date: 2006-11-06 09:40:03
Link to this Comment: 20885

Okay, so this morning I was looking at yahoo news and came upon this article (see subject of comment). In Japan researches have captured a bottlenose dolphin with "an extra set of fins that could be the ramains of hind legs" which would further support the already proposed/known/not entirely new concept that ocean dwelling mammals once lived on land. By already proposed/known/not entirely new concept/fact I mean that the fossil record has already shown this.

In addition to the fossil record whale and dolphin fetuses also have hind protrusions which dissapear and become some other part of the whale or dolphin fetus respectively before birth. Occasionally this obviously, as demonstrated by this shall we call it mutant dolphin, does not happen. What is special about this dolphin's mutation is that the second set of flippers it has are well formed in contrast to other dolphins with such a mutation that only have stumpy fins.

It should be noted that these fins are signficantly smaller than the front fins and it has not been immediately determined as to whether or not the fins were used "to maneuver". The dolphin is being held for X-rays and DNA tests, which implies that it will be released after these are done.

Here's the article if you would like to read it:;_ylt=AjCOedXSe45fNudu5zQZsH_MWM0F;_ylu=X3oDMTA3ODdxdHBhBHNlYwM5NjQ-

Good/Bad Chemicals
Name: Meagan McD
Date: 2006-11-07 23:27:07
Link to this Comment: 20899

I found an interesting article on the BBC talking about another "report" concerning the effects of chemicals on neurological development, here. The BBC article says that this chemical report doesn't have many facts (observations!) in it, and is trying to scare people by playing on their lack of knowledge about chemicals. I'll just quote the article, it says things better than I do:

"The resulting publicity will further devalue the word "chemical" which, over the years, has become increasingly meaningless as campaigners present chemicals as something that can be avoided, or eliminated, and that cause only harm to health and damage to the environment.

The reality is that, despite fears that our children are 'pumped full of chemicals' everything is made of chemicals, down to the proteins, hormones and genetic materials in our cells."

This reminded me of how we were talking in class about how no substance we eat is inherently good or bad for us, because everything serves many purposes. It's the same sort of idea. Quoting the article again:

"And although some fret about the "cocktails" of chemicals we are exposed to, a potent brew of complex chemicals is present in a humble cup of tea — which contains healthy polyphenols, for example.

Plenty of "natural chemicals" (whatever that means) are nastier than synthetic chemicals — think of alcohol or those in tobacco smoke. And all potatoes – not just the green ones — contain some poison (solanidine alkaloids).

Whether a substance is synthetic, copied from nature or extracted directly from nature, tells us nothing much at all about the dangers it poses.

The phobia about chemicals has been fueled by many factors: claims about chemicals being "linked" to diseases often tell us that a chemical was present when an harmful effect occurred, rather than really showing that the chemical caused the damage."

I'd given this idea some thought before, but now it makes much more sense. A lot of times it seems like anything that's "natural" is called good and anything "man-made" is called bad, but now I realize that "good" and "bad" are meaningless labels for chemicals. How can a chemical not be 'natural'? Because it was made in a lab? That's silly. People are nature too! :-)

Just one more way that Bio 103 is changing my world...

-- Meagan

Name: Moira
Date: 2006-11-08 13:04:01
Link to this Comment: 20908

It is counterintuitive to be told that the most probable state for life is disordered, but it does make sense. We are taught to try to organize ourselves, our lives, our rooms, etc. When really they are MEANT to be disorganized. That small things such as us growing older, or leaves falling off of trees are all extensions of the Big Bang is something that forces me to take a much larger outlook on life. I neve thought of myself as something that was in a constant state of flux, not actually solid, or something that is in an inevitable state of falling into disorder. This world, which appears so full of improbable assemblies, is actually more disorderly than orderly, and that's the way it should be.

The next time I clean my room, instead of lamenting my inability to keep it together when I notice piles accumulating on the floor, I will embrace this as part of life's water wheel.

Rearranging waste?
Name: Priscila
Date: 2006-11-08 21:28:01
Link to this Comment: 20929

During class discussion today, Prof. Grobstein mentioned how the laws of Thermodynamics are important in the preservation of the environment. The notion that our waste cannot actually be destroyed or really ever disposed of is a worrying idea. While there are certain things that can be recycled, other things are not. This got me thinking about the processes that different elements undergo to become harmful waste. Presumably, if we are able to create waste we should be able to retrace the steps and return it to its previous state. I am sure, this is not that simple (or it would have already been done), but this idea of re-arranging environmentally damaging waste into, harmless waste is an interesting one.

probable/improbable assembly
Name: Karen Gins
Date: 2006-11-08 23:17:25
Link to this Comment: 20936

I really like the idea of thinking of things as a way of story telling, trying to get ideas and theories less wrong, combined with thinking of the same things in terms of probability. In class we've talked about improbable and probable assemblies... we, as humans, are highly improbable. In the constant state of flux, we're just one stage in this big scheme, where the
'big scheme' itself must have some ending that seems impossible to see or predict. Maybe it never ends... maybe the flux does last forever, as there was nothing before the big bang, and that could just have as well been defined as an ending instead of a beginning (even though all new beginnings come from endings..). It's strange to think that this is life- all we think about, all of our cares, everything about us, is just one speck, if that, in the scheme of the universe.

Name: Cayla
Date: 2006-11-08 23:45:11
Link to this Comment: 20939

The one thing that I have learned again and again in lab is that 'normal' is relative to the individual. While there is always a cluster of personal data that is close together, there are always extremes on each side. These 'abnormalities' do not appear to be based on any observable factor, which was shown in last week's heartrate lab. Even if someone's heartrate or reaction time is greatly different than someone else's, it is normal to them, because it is what they are used to dealing with.

Infinite Diversity
Name: Georgia
Date: 2006-11-09 00:14:51
Link to this Comment: 20943

I liked Moira's comment about things being naturally disordered, and how it is a human inclination to put everything in order. This relates to our discussions of classifications, and how it is so difficult to find the right categories in which to place different species of plants and animals. Just as it is diffcult to keep something in its place- when its natural tendency is to spread out and disperse energy, according to the second law of thermodynamics. While it isn't directly related, I found it interesting that a process that occurs on a smaller, molecular level, reflects larger activity among species. Perhaps plants and animals evolving into new species, interbreeding, and the mutations of different genes are a way of disorganizing the existing "order" in the world. Things are progressing into a natural state of variation and as they remain in flux and change they are diffusing characteristics into as many new life forms as possible.

Name: Kelsey
Date: 2006-11-09 21:06:18
Link to this Comment: 20954

It is amazing how ordered the disorder in us can be. We are made of things that, by nature, should not come together so nicely. Yet we are alive and work in such an ordered way. If the nature of the World is to move from a less probable assembly (order) to a more probable (chaos)than the human life is unnatural in our universe. We are an unnatural assembly because we are against what is really supposed to happen.

Name: Maggie
Date: 2006-11-10 10:35:38
Link to this Comment: 20956

Moira’s comment about disorder while cleaning your room really got me thinking. I wasn’t able to visualize the disorder/order concept before. But now I see our rooms and it’s like – bam – disorder. And disorder is the easiest way to leave things. Making a mess is supposed to be what happens. So when little kids leave food/toys everywhere, they’re just doing what’s more natural in the world, creating disorder. Maybe we need to follow the kids’ example and make a mess.

I also found Georgia’s comment about how maybe plants and animals evolving is just another way of creating disorder. It makes sense – we mix up all our chromosomes and we create new organisms, which makes it even harder to classify, which makes disorder. That being said, classifying organisms goes against the natural disorder, and scientists (and students) have been pretty preoccupied with the classification of living things. It’s just interesting.

Chemosynthesis and the waterwheel
Name: Hannah
Date: 2006-11-10 17:25:53
Link to this Comment: 20957

I was wondering what kingdom the chemosynthetic organisms at the bottom of the ocean fit into. I found out online that archaebacteria include chemosynthetic bacteria, but nothing about the larger wormy plant-like things or other larger organisms. If we found them on planet nearer or farther, would they have been plants? I don't think so, but am not sure.

The waterwheel system of energy exchange is amazing. It's interesting how life could not exist without ATP, but we can't call ATP the key to life because life could not exist without enzymes or other proteins (ie DNA, RNA) either, or without carbohydrates. There is no one molecule responsible for life, at least not for life on Earth...

Chemical Planet
Name: Maggie
Date: 2006-11-12 16:03:46
Link to this Comment: 20963

Meagan McD wrote that potatoes have poison in them. That's kind of a freaky thought. By eating mashed potatoes we're poisoning our kids. But I guess it fits in with the whole consuming a substance in moderation. Everything has chemicals in it. We're full of chemicals. It's wierd to think of that.

Name: Mia Prensk
Date: 2006-11-12 17:09:33
Link to this Comment: 20964

In a world where everything is essentially the compiliation of disorder and randomness, I wonder if the the notion of perfection or normality actually exists. How can something be perfect if it is the product disordered randomness? How can the human body be perfect or normal if it is the product of this randomness, embodying the ultimate disorder that then defines order in the world? Thinking about lab last week and reaction times, I wondered about the perfect human body, and I concluded that it was a myth because how could randomness ever produce something perfect- what is perfect? What is normal and how do we define it, or how would we even know if it ever existed given that we cannot create or destroy the disordered order that makes the universe what it is?

carbs and cancer
Name: Caro
Date: 2006-11-12 17:42:33
Link to this Comment: 20965

I am really fascinated by our recent talks on enzymes and the function of carbohydrates and cholesterol in our bodies, and the thought that even a slight change in the quantity of any of these molecules could offset our normal function in catastrophic ways.
Although it was done it 2004, I found an article that related to the importance of balance in the human body on a molecular level. Posted on Science Daily, it was a study done on the correlation between a high-carb diet and a propensity for breast cancer amongst Mexican women. (Apparently a Mexican diet is distinguished by a significantly higher carbohydrate intake and lower protein intake than other western countries.) They found that those who derived 57 or more percent of their total energy intake from carbohydrates incurred a risk of breast cancer 2.2 times higher than women with more balanced diets. They believe the correlation lies in the increased amount of insulin needed to break down sugary carbs, such as fructose and sucrose. They believe the over-production of insulin triggers the over-production of other cells, which in turn causes the formation of carcinogenesis in the mammary glands. Think of it like a chain reaction.
If you want to check out the site, it's

space pilot
Name: Arielle
Date: 2006-11-12 19:47:58
Link to this Comment: 20966

I pointed out in Monday's class, somewhat confrontationally, Paul's inconsistency in presenting science to us as a set of stories that help to explain the world based on observations, but then presenting concepts known as the "Laws" of thermodynamics. While his answer to my question was satisfactory - sometimes stories have been proven by so many observations and disproven so infrequently or not at all that these stories may be accepted as "facts" or even "laws" - I still feel like returning to one of my comments from earlier in the course. We trust (at least in this geographic area) each night when it gets dark that within a few hours, the sun will "come out again." We trust that rain will stop; we trust that the earth will continue its rotations and revolutions around the sun; we trust, we trust, we trust. I think it's important to remember that all science-knowledge acquisition involves a leap of faith because so many of these stories are based on past observations and none have the benefit of prophetic future observations to confirm themselves. With these laws of thermodynamics, the law of gravity, et. c., we trust their conceptual conclusions even more than we trust things that aren't labelled "laws," like the event of a sunrise or the presumable reliability of other earth and molecular functions. I loved that our second lab on "Oneself as a Biological Entity" coincided with this week's lectures on thermodynamics. Anytime we are reminded that we ourselves are part of this uncertain yet trustworthy system of science is an important process. Learning that life is possible without the sun - and here I am referring to chemosynthesis and deep-sea organismal life - is fantastic because it allows us to think of ourselves as reliant on just one form of life energy (the sun) while there are more. I'm not sure that NASA takes the right approach in its planetary expeditions; why do they not consider the fact that what is foreign ground (another planet) may produce foreign "life" like organisms that live inside the planet's crust or even underneath it? The excitement of space comes from our Earth-centric view of the universe. Wow, there are other planets, moons, and stars, that we can't even see or measure or name! We are still busy finding out about our own planet that we can't even imagine the huge potential of discovery that may await us beyond our Milky Way.

baby-makin' music
Name: Arielle
Date: 2006-11-12 19:57:33
Link to this Comment: 20967

I also wanted to discuss the idea of probable/improbable assemblies in the context of reproduction. My mom said she never believed in G-d until she had children. The very mechanics of a human being evolving from a sperm and egg are astounding. Obviously, a lot has to go right for this evolution to be successful: the environment must be conducive to embryonic and fetal growth (namely, the womb must maintain a hospitable temperature, chemical balance, moisture, and pH level, and the sack of cells that becomes a baby must have access to a system that delivers nutrition). To think that so many people exist in the world is astounding to me. So many things had to go right, from the moment of fertilization/conception right up to the moment of cutting the umbilical cord of the baby from its mother. Human beings are improbable assemblies, much like the camel from the photograph, and not even speaking of Darwin's theory of evolution, but our own evolution from sperm-and-egg to living, breathing person is at odds with the idea that everything tends towards disorder. Of course, the aging process, which is essentially the gradual failure of the body to function as a living entity, illustrates this trend towards disorder, but how is it that we must become more probable to become less probable organisms? Isn't that a waste of time for nature? What is balancing the disorder end of the see-saw when we become feti? Is it that people die at the same time as new people are born, and we can consider this an environmental order/disorder balance? Modern demographics show that more babies are born each year than people die. Wouldn't this then tip the balance towards order? Or do we consider life just the process of dying? (Kind of depressing...)

Genome Sequences: From Sea Urchins to Humans
Name: Simone B.
Date: 2006-11-12 21:06:53
Link to this Comment: 20969

Since we've been discussing DNA sequences and Genomes, I thought that this article was particularly fitting.
See article:

While studying the genome sequence of a male California purple sea urchin, scientists discovered that sea urchins actually possess many genes previously thought unique to vertebrates, along with an immune system of unprecedented complexity and a surprising array of sensory proteins that detect the presence of harmful bacteria. The function of these proteins are a mystery to scientists. Sea urchins rely on an entirely new model of sensory perception. Presently, scientists remain baffled by the exact function of the proteins.

Along with prickly spines to defend themselves from large predators, sea urchins may need their complex immune systems to defend themselves from the wide array of bacteria that are present at the bottom of the ocean. This may acount for why some species of sea urchins live up to a century.

According to scientists, "the sea urchin genome fills an important gap in mapped genomes and is in a position to illuminate what genetic characteristics define deuterostomes, vertebrates and, hence, human beings."

Hangovers & Drinking
Name: cris d
Date: 2006-11-12 22:07:05
Link to this Comment: 20970

We all know that while on Friday night that cheap keg beer you practically inhaled at Haverford seemed like a great idea, on Saturday morning it's comparable to an earthquake in your head. Now, experts have found out that the type of alcohol you drink can affect the type of hangover you will have.
Apparently certain types of alcohol have more congeners ("complex organic molecules")than others, which may influence the sort of hangover you get. Cheap alcohol and dark liquors especially seem to cause worse hangovers. Need to know more? Stay away from brandy, red wine, rum, whiskey, white wine, gin and vodkain huge amounts - they cause the worst sorts of hangovers. Cheap wines, and depending upon where they are from, can also affect how your body will react to it later.

So drop that "Banker's Vodka" in the trash and save up for some nice champagne.

Whole article:

response to Priscila
Name: Sarah G.
Date: 2006-11-12 23:18:03
Link to this Comment: 20971

I was just reading other posts when I came across Priscila's about waste and how she understood it in regards to the laws of Thermodynamics. From the prespective of "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle/Rot, Rest (in dumps)", the reminder that nothing is ever created or destroyed can be an alarming thought. I connected her idea with this poster that once hung in the hallway of my elemetary school- The poster was entitled "No, It Doesn't Just Disappear". It had a timeline on it, with different products and the amount of time it took for them to break down in landfill or other waste disposal areas. As I recall, the items like diapers took the longest. The image of trash in dumps really helped me to understand the laws. I mean, if you think about it, even during incineration, something still remains. So when I put things in the trash, it's not that things like wrappers or tissues are going to just disappear. No, my waste is a part of the world and will never go away. Just thinking about that and the disorder of waste (things just piled upon each other, rotting or not) really gets the idea of thermodynamics across for me.

Name: Kelly S
Date: 2006-11-12 23:18:33
Link to this Comment: 20972

I am conflicted with Arielle’s comment that maybe NASA isn’t taking the right approach in planetary expeditions. When there are still so many things to be discovered about the organisms and ecosystems on Earth, perhaps we should be spending more money on figuring out our own planet. I’m not saying that expeditions into outer space are bad, but I feel like there are still important things to be discovered here as well. Learning about what is not on Earth can be beneficial to learning about our own planet, but at the same time, it may add more questions. It may even alter the stories that we conceive to be ‘true’ now so that they become better stories. This action is similar to example of the water wheel and the cup of water. As the water being poured into the wheel becomes more probable and the water in the cup becomes more improbable, our current stories are the cup of water, becoming more improbable, while our new stories are the water being poured into the water wheel, becoming more probable.

California purple sea urchin...Eyes on its feet?
Name: Corey
Date: 2006-11-13 09:12:44
Link to this Comment: 20973

I also read this article that Simone was discussing and found it particualry facinating.

The first thing that really stuck me was the fact that the urchin has "genes for sight found at the bottom of their feet". Also, scientists also discovered "that the urchin has about 979 genes for proteins that sense light and odors -- similar to what is found in vertebrates that actually do see and smell things. How the sea urchin uses them is not yet clear." This just show me how one type of molecules can be used for countless different structures in the body. Like cholesterol and its potential negative effects on the heart but its potential positive effects on the serotonin levels in the mind. Who knows what the sight and odor proteins in urchins are used for. However, they must play an intrical part in their existence, or they wouldn't be there. Its now just up to scientists to figure it all out. Perhaps it is this way with the human body. I am sure that there are countless interdependant relationships at work in our body with one single protein contributing to numerous functions for survival.

Another aspect of this article that struck me is how things can be made of the same molecules, but still be completely different in physcial stature and way of living. It all depends on the arcitecture of the organism. Obviously, I am not saying that humans and the sea urchin are made of the same things, but there are significant similarities. The urchin "shares more than 7,000 genes with humans". How can an organism that has so many similarities with the human, look so different and have completely different fucitons. Again, it all goes back to if two things have certain constituents in common but constructed differently, they become very different organisms. One benefit to the sea urchin being so similar is that it has more in common with humans than "other creatures favored by biologists for research, such as fruit flies and C. elegans roundworm". Although I am not advocating for testing on animals, doing an experiment on a roundworm, finding your results, and applying them to humans is not always going to translate well because humans and round worms are quite different. However, if an organism that was more like the human, such as a sea urchin, was used, we might be able to get a better understanding of its potential effects on humans.

One last thought, the article also talked about the surprisingly complex immune system of the urchin. It explained that the "urchins appear to have the genetic predecessors to the adaptive immune system -- the antibodies and T-cells that can change and respond to new germs", which are part of an adaptive immune system and not found in invertebrates. Whether or not these pre-T-cells are used for anything even remotely close to the immune system is up to the scientists to figure out, but could this be another point for evolution? Just a thought.

Origins of life to theorize about universe
Name: Priscila R
Date: 2006-11-15 22:00:44
Link to this Comment: 21006

This article from the Harvard website talks about the new initiative to search for life's's quite interesting and relates to what we have been discussing these last couple of weeks.

Name: Cayla
Date: 2006-11-17 01:14:31
Link to this Comment: 21013

This weeks lab really conveyed to me how everything our body does is somehow inter-related. When I do something, I just do it; I don't wait to think about it. Even though it seems as if we act, read, and think fast, it still takes time. It doesn't happen immediately, as it appears to. Even thought we think that something in our body happens immediately, it can take up to a second, which is a long period of time for how our bodies work.

Date: 2006-11-17 10:14:02
Link to this Comment: 21015

On the Second Law of Thermodynamics...
I understand how energy is lost when it is transformed from one form to another, but I cannot comprehend the concept of entropy. If entropy is the degree of disorder within a system (and it occurs as a result of energy loss), can it account for death of an organism? Without energy (ATP in humans for example) living organisms are unable to survive. So, if something becomes increasingly disordered (and thus loses energy), this can be accounted for by entropy, correct? I know that in class we primarily covered the First Law of Thermodynamics, but this was just based on a bit of my own internet investigations.

Lab makes you think
Name: Mia Prensk
Date: 2006-11-18 13:19:04
Link to this Comment: 21017

I really enjoyed this week's lab assignment because it truly made me think- think about thinking. I know that in the past without intention I tended to distinguish the mind and the brain as two separate entities- the brain being the organ that is the key to our existence and keeps us alive, while the mind is more ethereal and abstract; it is the mind that thinks. However, we all think so differently, as the results of the lab clearly demonstrated, so what does that mean to say about the differences in our brains and what confluence of elements determine how our minds think? The science and biology of thinking is ridiculously intriguing, especially when we can bring it back to the atoms.

Origins of Life article
Name: Hannah
Date: 2006-11-18 13:48:36
Link to this Comment: 21018

The article that Priscila posted is really interesting. Biologists and biochemists are meeting with astrophysicists and "cosmochemists," which I didn't even know existed. They're looking for conditions where DNA might originate; or simply "for molecules that might have been progenitors with the potential for rapid replication". On other planets, DNA/RNA might not be the originator of life...and if the most basic building block is different, it is difficult to imagine how different an entire extraterrestrial organism would be.

The last part of the article contradicted one of the points of class this week and last: that life uses the entropy of the universe instead of fighting against it. One of the scientists, George Whitesides, said,
"The way of the universe is to go from order to chaos... but on the occasion when life was created, that was reversed and the universe went from chaos to order. Finding the answer will take input from a wide variety of fields."
But we think the answer is that life uses the waterwheels moving from improbable to probable to create energy. Life on other planets would almost certainly have to do the same thing.

earth alive?!
Name: Arielle
Date: 2006-11-19 11:51:05
Link to this Comment: 21020

I can't help resorting to Gaia-influenced thinking when I learn about chemosynthesis, deep-sea heat vents, volcanic activity, etc.. The earth seems to be alive and moving - swirling its liquid magma beneath a core upon which more life forms sprout and flourish; shifting its continental plates into a puzzle pattern that makes only minimal sense to seismic scientists. Our planet must be a humongous living organism! I wonder if the life organisms we have come to identify (plants, animals) are parasitic to the earth, or if everything has achieved a kind of symbiotic harmony with the earth. I've come up with two purposes for humans under this scheme: Either we are the ultimate parasites, set to exploit and kill other life organisms and thus destroy this harmony, or we are the earth's agents of stomping out life organisms that leech minerals and other nutrients from the earth. In any case, humans as the ultimate predators kind of mess up this ecological harmony.

Lab Reflection
Name: Sarah Gale
Date: 2006-11-19 12:49:16
Link to this Comment: 21021

Wahoo to a great lab this week. Maybe I just really like doing activities rather than look at slides through a microscope, but it was so interesting to see our thinking put to the test. I was similarly impressed with the creativity of Tuesday's lab- we got some interesting trials going on after performing the original ones, and it went over quite well. Bravo to Prof for a cool lab and props to the class for a good turnout of ideas. It was just too bad that we didn't get a chance to talk about it. It was unfortunate we couldn't have a longer discussion and really try to understand our outcomes.

Here on Earth
Name: Kelsey
Date: 2006-11-19 16:26:39
Link to this Comment: 21022

All parts of our Earth contain life. It kinda goes back to what we talked about in the beginning of the semester with life forms and what is alive and what isn't alive. Maybe the desk that I am sitting at isnt alive now, but at one time it definitely was from a tree, that was rooted to the Earth and took in materials. To quote the phraseology of The Lion King (Disney), we are all connected in some way, shape or form. Be it the 'circle of life' or otherwise.

NEWS FLASH*: Ocean Trawling is Inefficient!
Date: 2006-11-19 20:40:52
Link to this Comment: 21024

The big idea of the hour is that ocean trawling is inefficient! Marine scientists say that a moratorium should be put in place . . . wait for it . . . . . . now . . . because it damages underwater ecosystems.

While this technique is effective in that bottom trawling (a fishing practice which involves the use of huge weighted nets that are dragged across the ocean floor) will catch pretty much any object that gets in the way of the net and therefore could not possibly miss its target (the target being fish) it also results in a mass destruction of the ocean floor and all that lives on it for example sea cucumbers and coral (organisms not being fished for).

Few vessels (200 world wide) actually use this fishing practice and it only accounts for .2% of the total world fish catch. In other words the destruction caused by these 200 ships far outweighs the damage they do to the population of future generations of fish.

A good analogy put forth by Dr. Alex Rogers a senior reaserch fellow at the Zoological society of London, UK would be that: "It's the equivalent of clearingout old-growth forest to collect squirrels. It's a practice on land that just wouldn't be acceptable."

The UN's General Assembly will finish discussions on this case on November 21 and at the very least would like a freeze on the expansion of trawling areas.

This article goes on much longer at:
The article is complete with pretty pictures including a double decker bus, drawn to scale.
*That was sarcasm.

Name: Kali
Date: 2006-11-19 20:43:13
Link to this Comment: 21025

That was me posting.

Hi, it's me again
Name: Kali Noble
Date: 2006-11-19 22:26:54
Link to this Comment: 21026

Isn't this starting to sound a bit like an overanxious person trying to reach you but getting an answering machine every time but not getting the hint?

The other day I found another interesting article that I meant to post about but then never got round too it. Anyways, this article is from and is titled "Why Eyes are So Alluring"

The article is about human versus ape eyes. Human eyes as opposed to ape eyes are the most conspicuous as they "see and are meant to be seen," due to the fact that humans have colored irises that as the writer describes it "float against backdrops of white and encircle black pupils." Most apes don't have this. What could be a reason for this? One idea, the cooperative eye hypothesis, hypothesizes (because that's what hypothesis do) that "the distinctive features that help highlight our eyes evolved partly to help us follow each other' gazes when communicating or when cooperating with one another on tasks requiring close contact. "

A study was done to test this hypothesis by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. They tested how great ape babies as opposed to human babies reacted to one of the following stimuli:

-A human experimenter closed his eyes, but tilted his head up toward the ceiling
-A human experimenter kept his head stationary while looking at the ceiling
-A human experimenter looked at the ceiling with both head and eyes
-A human experimenter kept his head stationary while looking straight ahead

The results indicated that great apes are influenced by head movement than that of eyes while human babies were much the opposite, influenced by eye movement rather than that of the entire head.

The article goes on giving several more interesting facts taking into acount anthropology. Such as the fact that human eyes are more "horizontally elongated" and "disproportionally large for our body size," for example gorillas are bigger than humans but have smaller eyes. The link to this article is:

No, the earth is NOT alive
Name: Corey
Date: 2006-11-19 23:46:10
Link to this Comment: 21027

As I was perusing the science section of, I found an article about scientists who are in the process of identifying all the genomes of a Neanderthal. A bone that was originally ignored is now actually yielding information that could lead to a greater understanding of who the Neanderthals were as a people and how closely they are (or are not) similar to modern day humans. Its actually really cool, you should take a look.

Also, I want to touch on a subject that came up a lot earlier in the year. Is the earth alive? I have said it once, and I will say it again, but no, the earth is not alive. There are things ON the earth that are alive. There are also things IN the earth that are alive. However, when you take away all of the living things on earth, all that you are left with is a rock floating around in space.

But I do think that it is a really interesting idea that was brought up that if the earth is alive, then it is humans that are the ultimate parasite/earths agent. I have never thought of it like that and it is a new perspective on how people interact with their environment. However, this whole idea goes off the assumption that the eath is a living entity unto itself...which it is not. Now that it is later in the semester and we, as a class, better understand certain traits that characterize things to be alive, I think that my point is more clear. Can the earth reproduce with varients? Is it energy dependant? It is semi-homeostatic or semi-autonomous? No. Although the earth SEEMS to be alive and moving and interacting, that does not mean that it is. It SEEMS that I am standing still, when in fact all of the atoms and cells in me are actually moving.

I know that we are all entitled to our own opinions and that are we are all influenced by different religions, cultural backgrounds, and life experiences and I really do respect that. Yet there are certain things that are absolutes. No matter what perspective you look at it from, 2+3 will always equal 5. Similarly, according to the biological characterizations of life, the earth is not alive.

earth and moon: lively, or alive?
Name: Arielle
Date: 2006-11-19 23:57:01
Link to this Comment: 21028

To supplement my earlier post, an article from this week's NYT Science section:

"The Moon Sighs"

The moon, planetary scientists will tell you, is deader than a door nail. Sure, there is a constant stream of small moonquakes, but volcanically speaking the moon stopped being active more than 3 billion years ago. Since then it’s been pretty much dead on the inside. Maybe not totally, according to research by Peter H. Schultz of Brown University and colleagues. In the current issue of Nature, they describe a lunar feature that they say shows signs of a relatively recent release of gas from deep beneath the surface. The feature is the Ina structure, a 200-foot-deep depression in the surface that looks as if it was created by the heel of a shoe (one that was about 5 miles long). It was first photographed by orbiting Apollo astronauts, and because of its location on the summit of a dome, it was thought to be the caldera of one of the dead volcanoes that pepper the moon. But the researchers analyzed several characteristics of the Ina structure and concluded that it is probably less than 10 million years old. For one thing, there are relatively few impact craters from meteors. If the structure formed more than 3 billion years ago, there would be a lot more. For another, the spectral signature of the soil in the area indicates that it is “fresh,” having been exposed to weathering fairly recently. The researchers suggest that the structure was created by periodic outgassing (of carbon dioxide, perhaps, or even water vapor) from within the moon, which would have blown the top off the surface in this region. While it’s a far cry from a volcano, such last-gasp activity shows that there may be a little life in the old moon yet.

So volcanic activity, or at least the stirrings of, still characterizes the moon. As I discussed earlier, the earth is a lively source of volcanic activity and other sub-crust motion. Is the moon alive? Is our planet alive? Are there degrees of being alive? Scientists had written off the moon as "deader than a door nail," an idiom referring to an object that I can claim with great confidence is devoid of life. But with this new evidence of subterranean motion, the moon appears to be less dormant than we thought and thus more lively/alive. I like to think about celestial bodies as living - all it takes is creative verb changes to ascribe life-traits to seemingly non-alive entities. For example: the sun gives off heat and light --> the sun radiates with thermal energy. Perhaps the poet in me is trying too hard to anthropomorphize (not in the human way, but what is the word for ascribing traits of living things to non-living things?) inanimate, unconscious beings. Maybe the sun has an as-yet undetectable "heartbeat," and therefore pulsates heat and light. We speak of stars as having lifespans; our sun is a middle-age star. Something that dies must have been alive at some point, yes? Or is the nomenclature of a star's lifespan just an easy semantic tool to explain shooting stars?

Name: Annabella
Date: 2006-11-20 11:08:20
Link to this Comment: 21033

In response to the idea that the earth is not alive, I must object. I do not agree in the slightest that our class has honed in on the fact that the earth is not alive. After all, we never came up with a set of parameters that we agreed on that defined what it meant to be alive. Paul put forward some ideas and we agreed to hold the class under those presumptions for the sake of discussion, but I don't recall us agreeing that those were the definition of life. If we did, I missed that class, and I haven't missed class.

In response to the idea that there are absolutes, I feel that you have missed the main point of the class... that there are no absolutes. After all we spent the first week or so determining that we can't know anything. It's all just a story to explain things so that we become more comfortable with thinking we can predict certain things. But all of the stories can be changed with further observations.

For instance, 2 + 3 usually equals 5. But if the 2 are male and the 3 are female of the same species, then in a little time 2 + 3 will = 8, for the 3 females will have had babies. So everything must be taken in context, and it is this fact that makes absolutes impossible.

And all I can say is that if you are so closed minded at this point in your life, my heart goes out to you, for you will miss most of what life has to offer you. Regardless, it is my hope that you will lose the need to know anything and let possibilities permeate your experience that it will be rich with wonder and awe.

Wow...we actually got spammed.
Name: Maggie
Date: 2006-11-21 14:19:19
Link to this Comment: 21153

So is the earth alive?
I agree with Cory. I don't think that the earth is alive. I believe that things on the earth are alive, but if you take off all the live things, you're just going to have a chunk of rock. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't protect our chunk of rock -- without it, we won't be alive anymore. But why curse it with being alive? It hasn't proven to be alive. We haven't proven it to be alive. If anything, it just keeps failing all of our alive tests. Like Cory said, can it reproduce with variance? Does it fit any of our "life" criteria? No. So if it keeps failing, why do we keep saying that it passed?
So there aren't any absolutes. But that also means that the earth isn't absolutely alive, either.

Wow...we actually got spammed.
Name: Maggie
Date: 2006-11-21 14:19:33
Link to this Comment: 21154

So is the earth alive?
I agree with Cory. I don't think that the earth is alive. I believe that things on the earth are alive, but if you take off all the live things, you're just going to have a chunk of rock. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't protect our chunk of rock -- without it, we won't be alive anymore. But why curse it with being alive? It hasn't proven to be alive. We haven't proven it to be alive. If anything, it just keeps failing all of our alive tests. Like Cory said, can it reproduce with variance? Does it fit any of our "life" criteria? No. So if it keeps failing, why do we keep saying that it passed?
So there aren't any absolutes. But that also means that the earth isn't absolutely alive, either.

Name: Annabella
Date: 2006-11-21 21:40:56
Link to this Comment: 21159

I agree with Maggie about absolutes and is the earth absolutely alive or not?

Name: Masha
Date: 2006-11-23 00:43:58
Link to this Comment: 21164

I really enjoyed today our discussion about dreams and certain ambiguity of our vision, perception, and visual perception of things around us. We are questioning if Earth is alive...can we say that brain is 'alive' and is like a little planet of its own inside our organism? Arielle was saying today how she would be amazed if one day a beating heart was discovered in the center of the earth...does our brain have some sort of such 'heart' maybe? It is amazing for me to tackle these topics in class since, having absolutely no (I mean really 'no' from either anatomical or scientific angle)scientific background, I let my imagination go along with what I hear in class and come up with its own images that I am sure have no scientific value. However, the idea of a giant heart inside the Earth captivated me today...and dreams..I dream every day and I remember my dreams since I was five years old..what is that beat that creates them? (and I am not talking Freud at all now since in this case the 'scientific'answer would interest me a lot more)What is that muscle that constantly works in my brain creating images, playing with pictures I see around me (referring, for example, to the pictures we looked at today), living basically its own life? Maybe everything I see is not actually the way it really can I know? Maybe it is just the work of my brain and, paraphrasing a famous monologue from 'Macbeth', maybe I am just a poor player who creeps on the stage created by my mysterious brain...
I hope we will come back to this discussion in class...

Name: Karen Gins
Date: 2006-11-23 20:27:28
Link to this Comment: 21165

back to the atoms and molecules, and how they create organisms so different from one another with the smallest chemical/architectural differences between the two.. i began to wonder about how they make up the brain- how our thoughts are derived, and what small differences make us all think so differently. i wondered that if it's all we watch and all we experience that make us think the way we do- it may be more psychological than biological- but if all we experience is stored somewhere in our minds, our further, later experiences can all be built off of these previous memories, maybe without any conscious acknowledgment on our part. it's interesting to think that we may be who we are because of thoughts stored in our subconscious, making us react and think the way we do, and these atoms that make up the parts that make up these thoughts..that these thoughts, in essence, are some translateable form of molecules or atoms...

Humans are not all alike
Name: Katherine
Date: 2006-11-24 09:51:44
Link to this Comment: 21168

Saw this article and thought it was interesting and relevant to sea urchins, dna, and all that good stuff.

Genetic Engineering
Name: Simone B.
Date: 2006-11-26 11:32:16
Link to this Comment: 21176

A couple of weeks ago we discussed how gene changes in an RNA sequence can make huge differences… As we know, RNA interference (or genetic modification) blocks the expression of genes. Recently, this method of engineering plant RNA in order to produce more crops more quickly has been debated as research on genetically modified wheat reveals that the reduction of a certain wheat gene has also caused the levels of protein, iron, and zinc to decrease.

Researchers have identified a gene in wheat called GPC-B1. (GPC stands for grain protein content). It is found in both wild and domesticated forms of wheat, although during wheat’s long history of domestication the gene has been reduced by more than 30%. It’s important to note that humans have been domesticating (and there for altering) wheat for centuries.

I’ve begun to wonder if all of the new trends in genetic engineering really improve the quality of life. By altering the gene sequence in wheat we may be producing more wheat at a quicker rate and be able to feed more people, but is the quality of life really improved? Sure I spend less on produce at the grocery store, but are these fruits, vegetables, and grains just filling our stomachs and not nourishing the rest of out bodies? Americans seem to have quickly accepted genetically engineered food and few have questioned it. The benefits of genetic engineering adjust themselves well to the principles of capitalism, but in Europe bans on genetically engineered food have been instituted. Should we Americans begin to question genetic engineering? Should more studies on the long-term effects of blocking certain genes in an RNA sequence be conducted? Who knows, maybe these studies may come out on the side of genetic engineering, but I still think we need to be more informed about what the actually differences between a modified carrot and a regular carrot are.

Name: Kelsey
Date: 2006-11-26 19:49:43
Link to this Comment: 21177

I really need to stop posting at the VERY last minute. However, I wanted to mention that the 'informal' class that we had on Wednesday was truly my favorite of all the classes that we have because we dealt with issues related to how our brain can make things appeal to us. I find that interesting, that what I have been looking at for years is really just a backwards image of what is there or more importantly, what my brain has taught me to see. It is very very extreme for me to think that sometimes what I see, isn't really there. I guess it gives you a concept of perception; what I see isn't what my fellow human sees and vice versa.

Discussion on Monday
Name: Kelly S
Date: 2006-11-26 23:05:07
Link to this Comment: 21180

It was interesting to listen to the debate about what is alive and what is not alive last Monday. The Earth, for example- is it alive? We have always been taught that it isn't alive; that it is a thing that just exists. The rocks outside aren't alive, the air we breathe isn't alive, but we, as humans, are alive. How can we be sure what alive is exactly then? This class has directed me to question what we have always known because it has been what is taught. There also seems to be a distinction between the conscious and inanimate. How do we know what really goes on in the 'minds' of trees if they even have minds? It feels like some of the questions that are posed in class are questions that are posed in philosophy courses. Since we are observing the object in speculation from a distance, how absolute are we when we state a fact about the object? As it was mentioned in class, it’s possible that we don’t all see the same blue or the same greens. Without being in the perspective of the actual object, it seems like we can only infer and never be certain.

Made of...stardust!
Name: Masha
Date: 2006-11-27 01:52:14
Link to this Comment: 21182

During this short so-called Thanksgiving break I came across the book that captivated my imagination to the extent that I purchased it and am currently intending to write my final bio book review on it. This book in a fascinating way seems to embrace...well, I could say all the concepts that we so far tackled in our unconventional bio class.
This book, titled simply 'Stardust' by John Gribbin links the facts of life and the universe claiming that human bodies are made almost entirely from the nuclear waste of worn out stars and how thus the waste products of stars are recycled into life. Gribbin argues that, except for hydrogen, every single atom of every single element in our bodies has been manufactured inside stars and then scattered across the universe in stellar explosions called 'supernovae' and then these elements are actually recycled as a part of us...this resumes what I learned so far and I find even a thought of our, mine, such direct, almost physical relation to the universe...incredible!

Response to Simone's comment on genetic engineerin
Name: Mia Prensk
Date: 2006-11-27 09:38:46
Link to this Comment: 21186

I really appreciated Simone's comment on genetic engineering in the food market- I also believe that this is a big issue in our contemporary society that many of us are not questioning or challenging. I remember a few years ago reading an article about the genetic engineering of square tomatoes and I was perplexed- scientists had managed to engineer square shaped tomatoes that were easier to be harvested by machines. But, what do square tomatoes do to the people who eat them? Are tomatoes round for a reason, or is okay to genetically modify them for purposes of convenience? Why are we concerned with corrupting nature? The whole issue of genetically modified/ engineered food is a bit frightening to me because I truly have no idea what I am eating most of the time; for all I know, the lettuce and tomatoes in my salad are the products of genetically engineered crops that may, like the altered wheat, not give me the benefits of unadultered, pure vegetables. Is genetically modifying food really just about earning more money for the agribusinesses of the US, or is it itout of concern for the well, being of the population? As a cynic, I tend to feel that our health and well being may be compromised as the result of the desire to increase profit earnings within these companies. Is science here helping us, or hurting us?

Reflection on Last Class
Name: Sarah Gale
Date: 2006-11-27 10:43:08
Link to this Comment: 21187

While only a few people went to class on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, it was none-the-less a very interesting class. Before the numbers rose from a lonely two to a lively five, we had little to discuss but ourselves. Once others arrived, we were able to switch to a class-worthy topic- Gaia. Arielle coherently explained the fundamentals of the theory, and it was certainly engaging to consider such a view of the Earth. Whether or not the Earth is alive is not relevant, in my opinion. I think it's all about the next step, that is, what we, as creatures on this planet, do with the Earth. Does it really matter if oxygen is alive or not? It might, but I've found that perhaps it's better to focus on the treatment of Earth rather that it's consciousness. Believing that the Earth is not alive but still caring and continuing to respect the Earth by protecting its resources is more important. For me, I prefer to focus on maintaining the Earth, living or otherwise.

Name: Annabella
Date: 2006-11-27 20:50:03
Link to this Comment: 21192

The postings have made me sorry I missed Wednesday's class. It sounds like one of the most fascinating subjects for me...what is the reality? I don't know if that is what you talked about, but it sounds like that was brought up. And it is a perplexing idea. How do I know something is real...does it depend upon someone else agreeing? How about everyone else agreeing. After all, if one person doesn't agree that it's real...then it must be imagined in all of us who think it's real? For if it were really real, then every one of us would have to agree. But how often do all the people in a situation agree...about anything? So does that mean that nothing is really real...that it is all imagined? just many of us, particularly those of us from a particular society or race imagine it so similarly that we agree it is real...or true?
When I am in the space of feeling that everything I believe is borne in my imagination, all of a sudden I am much more understanding and compassionate than when I think there is a reality out there, and I know something about it.
I love musing on this stuff, for the more I see how little any of us agree on anything, the more I think it's all imaginged anyway. And if this is so, then can I imagine it any way I want it to be?
Fun stuff!

The X-files and science
Name: Kelsey
Date: 2006-11-27 22:01:04
Link to this Comment: 21193

So this is a new thought, but I was watching an episode of 'The X-files' where there was a new base pair of DNA nucleotides found in humans in a extraterrestrial virus and one of the doctors discussed how the DNA was so unknown because ALL life has the four base pairs in their DNA. It reminded me how much we have in common with all life on Earth. Maybe the Earth itself isn't alive (and that is a maybe), then all things on her are so connected that she is kind of like a nurturing creation. We all have the same basic building blocks, which is strange to compare what my DNA must look like compared to the DNA of say, an amoeba.
Yet when it comes down to it, these basic blocks are what make us one in the same. It is still strange and (dare I say it?) mind-boggling at what levels all life is the same.

Divine Proportion
Name: cris d
Date: 2006-11-28 19:33:27
Link to this Comment: 21225

After our last lab, I began thinking about how our genes form our appearances, and from that, I rememberd proportions and the golden ratio.

The golden ratio is still fascinating to me, after having learned about in art class a looong time ago. As we know it, it's been an idea that has been in use since before 300 BC, used in various different areas. Plato thought it was the key to cosmos physics, Euclid used it in mathematics and discussed it in terms of ratios and constructions, and Phidias used it in architecture, for the building of the Parthenon. The golden ratio, also called the divine proportion is the idea of a ratio defined by Phi Φ (I think), denoting 1.6180339..... In a line, the ratio ius the whole of the line; A:B as B:C. This ratio gives an aesthetic balance and visual perfection that is pleasing to the eye, and almost mystically, is naturally occuring. For example, penguins' figures, the spiral growth of a seashell, the width and length of a butterfly, and even the human face all exhibit the golden ratio - and it's amazing.

What really got me, though, is the fact that the golden ratio can even be observed in our heartbeat when it is mapped out.
As one of the best teachers I've ever had never tired of saying, IT'S ALL CONNECTED, MAN!

Oh, those pesky asteroids
Name: Corey
Date: 2006-11-29 21:56:38
Link to this Comment: 21235

Remeber back to the classes when we were discussing how evolution started. We were trying to figure out how we started with an ocean full of little, one-celled organisms and then, all of a sudden, say a dramatic increase in mutli-cellular organisms. Well I found an article that address a problem similar to the one we had been discussing in class.

This article talks about the sudden change in the organisms that inhabited our oceans. Scientists have found that certain events had caused mass extinctions of marine organisms. Afterwards more complex organisms came about. "At least five mass extinctions, most presumably caused by asteroids that struck the earth, have transformed global ecology in the half-billion years since the emergence of multicelled life, lopping entire branches from the evolutionary tree and allowing others to flourish". As the article cited, there was one mass extinction that occured 251 million years ago. Know as the greatest of the "great dying" occurances, it wiped out 95% of the species in the oceans. However, the new scientific research has found that it is after these huge rifts in the marine life that new life appears. They have found this by analyzing fossil record from 1,176 different sites. The main shift was from creatures that were that were anchored, or stationary, to creatures that roamed the ocean. Although they are not sure why this change occured so suddenly, one scientist suggested that it had something to do with the abundance of motile fauna from the early Triassic Period onward.

Regardless of the reason or cause, focus on what this means to our conception of life on this planet. Can you imagine? Entire families of species that were completely obliterated and gave rise to entirely new, and complex, organisms. What could it mean to science today if these original and simple marine organisms were still around. Would it answer age old questions about evolution? Or would it just create more questions? Either way, I found this article very interesting because it focused on the fact that such drastic, and life altering (no pun intended) events have taken place. Also, it makes me wonder what is was about the particular asteriod crash that gave rise to new organisms. Perhaps it is like a mini big-bang. The asteroid was the catalyst to the evolution of species.

Sidenote: In reference to an earlier post that I finally got around to reading...just because I might not agree with what certain people are saying does not make me close minded. Perhaps it is your own close mindedness that is personified in your rejection of others view of the world.

Name: Cayla
Date: 2006-11-29 23:51:17
Link to this Comment: 21236

The lab this week really got me thinking about how while many mixes of traits follows a set ratio (3:1 or 9:3:3:1),there are always exceptions to the rule. The traits that my partner and I looked at had a ratio of 2:1:1, which was unlike most of the other groups. The possiblilites were seemingly endless, and that was just for fruitflies, which appear to be a lot less complex than mammals. It is mind boggling to think of all the genes in something so small as a fruit fly, but it is even more astounding to think about genes and their effects on humans.

Damn asteroids, evolution and such
Name: Mia Prensk
Date: 2006-11-30 10:18:52
Link to this Comment: 21237

I read the article that Corey posted about as I was very much intrigued by her comment. It brings me back to a New York Times article several months ago that discussed the discovery of more than fifty types, I think around 70, of aquatic species of the coast of south east Asia- these species included various types of fish and coral, as well as other marine life. It blows my mind to think about things like this- the quesitions I ask myself are how many species are really out there that we don't know about, and also, how many unknown species are out there that have already gone extinct? Is human pollution causing the extinction of more organisms than we even know? I feel that there is so much more in this universe than what is known, clearly. In response to Corey's question, I don't think I can imagine what it would be like for entire families of species to be wiped out- it's shocking to think about the distinction of humans at some point in time, but I guess that is all a part of the evolutionary process.

Ona different note, I am still very excited about the new HPV vaccine- I wrote my second web paper about it (check it out!) and I was thrilled to see information sessions about the vaccine and the availability of emergency contraceptive around Bryn Mawr. Imagine, immunization against 90% of all genital warts and 70% against cervical cancers! One thing that is left out by this vaccine how ever is an option for men- the vaccine has not yet been proven to be effective in men and researchers are currently investigating what can be done for our male counterparts in the battle against HPV. One thing that I just read in this Tuesday's New York Times Science Times was that researchers believe that male circumcision may reduce the risk of a male to contract STDs/STIs, based on a New Zealand study, in which the odds of acquiring an STD were 3.19 times higher for uncircumcised men. The results are not totally conclusive, but as David M. Fergusson, the lead author of the study, stated: "We are cautious about the findings, they depend on self-reports [of sexual activity], and not all studies agree with ours. But our results definitely suggest that circumcision may reduce rates of S.T.D.'s. We think we're correct, but it's best not to be dogmatic about it." Pretty neat, no? Both men and women have an equal role in protecting themselves against STDs, so it makes me happy to know that we are making progress and continuing to learn more about how to deal with the health problem. Here's to research!

Name: Moira Nada
Date: 2006-11-30 10:45:48
Link to this Comment: 21238

I think that it is very dissapointing how little we know. You always hear about how far science and medicine have come. And how, with all we know now, we are so much more capable to heal and explore. But as we talk more and more in class, I find that there are so many things that are still complete mysteries. How is it that we are able to treat cancer but we do not knwo why or how the new membrane forms during mitosis. Doesn't it occur to anyone that maybe we could be so much more effective in healing if we knew how the basics worked? It's like trying to do calculus without ever having taken Pre-Algebra. We are missing what amount to be large chunks of vital information by not knowing things like what is conciousness, or even more trivial things. How can our modern medicine/scientific communities tout knowledge when there is still so much to be learned?

More on whales...
Name: Kali
Date: 2006-11-30 11:16:06
Link to this Comment: 21240

More has been discovered on the language of humpback whales. They have a larger vocabulary than thought and grammar "in their love songs". Also their language is used not only for mating but also as means of contact (apparently this was not thought before; but if what whales use is a language then it would be used for communication in general). This was shown because solitary whales also make calls so it isn't limited to mating. There will be a report on it December 1st in Hawaii.

Name: Amelia
Date: 2006-11-30 13:59:49
Link to this Comment: 21241

Yesterday in class we discussed the difficulty of spatially arranging organelles in relation to each other to create a cell and how it is impossible for humans to synthesize a cell. But aren't we able to male cells? If not, what is cloning? I know it has to do with replication, but isn't it essentially the formation of a new cell?

Name: Kali
Date: 2006-12-01 09:30:14
Link to this Comment: 21242

The other day genetically altered food and preservatives cam up in class. I was thinking about this, and while I'm not so sure what my opinion regarding genetically altered food is, I do have one on preservatives. I don't mind preservatives in certain situations. For example, during the summer I walked across the street from the place I worked to Trader Joe's in order to buy some mini bagels, which I figured would last me the week. Now, my reasoning for buying Trader Joe's mini bagels as opposed to some junk food from the Walgreens across the lot was that it was natural=good. A few days (not weeks but two days) later I went to get me a bagel from my bag of mini bagels and found that they were ALL moldy. I gave TJ's the benifit of the doubt, maybe I had chosen one that was just bad, so, the next week I bought some more. Same thing happened. The conclusion I came to was that there is a reason we add preservatives. Now, I'm not saying that eating food filled with preservatives such as Twinkies is good fror you, or that hormones in meat or milk are good, however, I feel that to some degree, obviously not the degree to which preservatives are now used, preservatives have a purpose.

cell theme park
Name: Hannah
Date: 2006-12-01 15:14:50
Link to this Comment: 21243

The video today was awesome! Someone commented on how much space there is inside the cell, which made an impression on me as well. It looked like a rollercoaster ride. At the same time, the seeming abundance of space is really "vanishingly" small. In turn, all the atoms which make up the molecules which make up those structures are also minute on that "vanishingly" small scale. This is what we've been talking about all semester, but it's still amazing.
Prof. Grobstein also mentioned that all the motion takes place very fast, even faster than it appeared in the video. I never thought about how quickly each individual celluar function takes place, but it makes it even more impressive, what I mentioned in another post, that there is movement on very small scales (cells) and very large (expansion of the universe). Not only are we in constant motion, but we're moving really fast! And still...we can't sense it.

Name: Moira Nada
Date: 2006-12-01 16:11:25
Link to this Comment: 21245

This doesn't exactly relate to what we are doing in class. But it does relate to imporabale assemblies-kind of. But I thought this was interesting and that people should look at this link, and try the activity.

Cell Worlds
Name: Mia Prensk
Date: 2006-12-02 11:42:03
Link to this Comment: 21246

I just wanted to give a shout-out for Friday's class-- it was awe inspiring! Seriously, the video we atched on cells was fascinating; cells truly are worlds of their own. The universe keeps breaking down into smaller and smaller elements that all ultimately come together. I had never thought about cells, or pretty much anything so small, as having their own completely distinct universe, and now that I really think about it, atoms have their world as well, with the different layers of electron clouds, protons, quarks, etc. Life truly is so small, but so very complex and an absolute stunning feat in engineering. This class is super awesome and I am learning/ understanding so much more than I ever anticipated.

Friday's Video
Name: Kelly Soud
Date: 2006-12-03 01:28:43
Link to this Comment: 21247

Seeing the video on Friday was truly amazing. Learning about the processes in a cell and seeing it happen are different things. I never fully comprehended the movement in the cell, how things can occur at the same time, and its speed. As mentioned above, it looks like a cell is in its own world. Thinking of this just freaks me out. In the beginning of the semester, I imagined us to be tiny in comparsion to the universe; but now, I see us to be a universe within a universe. Our bodies are composed of these cells that are alive! Some of us see the Earth as something that is not alive, yet there are organisms living on it. The Earth is part of a system of planets that is part of a galaxy that is a part of a larger grouping. Along those lines, cells can be seen as city or Earth. It moves around in a pattern like an orbital path, has enzymes that are like humans that break things down, and has other organelles that function in ways that reflect life. In the movie Men in Black 2, there's a scene where humans are extremely tiny and the normal sized "humans" are really aliens. After watching Friday's video, I thought of that MiB scene but on a different scale. Instead of us being the tiny ones, our cells are the tiny ones and we are the huge beings;

a new natural weapon
Name: Masha
Date: 2006-12-03 17:16:56
Link to this Comment: 21250

Granted the diversity of thought and forum comments in our class, this week I could not omit writing about the recent death of former Russian spy Litvinenko, the current ill health condition of Italian security expert Mario Scaramella, anxiety about Litvinenko's wife's health, not mentioning the mysterious desease of Russain former prime-minister.
Experts in the field of health physics say that the death of Litvinenko was caused by polonium-210 and, what amazes me the most, there is no previous record of this substance being used as poison. Apparently, and accoding to Chicago Tribune, polonium occurs naturally at low levels in soil and can be found in water, cigarettes and some vegetables. Commercially, it has been used in devices to eliminate satic electricity. Experts claim that it would take a nuclear reactor or particle accelerator to make significant quantities of polonium. However, when not in controlled environment, the tiny bits of polonium scattered in public places would pose a risk. This incident of polonium being used as poison raised such a intense response in British press, that one paper described it 'as similar to the planned protocols for a radiocative 'dirty bomb.''
Now, this situation amazes my imagination. After this bio class, I learned to see a lot more things and to connect them in new way I never imagined before. It fascinates me that just around us there is a substance, which is a natural product of our Earth (that is maybe alive!!!) and that in tiny portions can wipe out people and leave its dangeours traces...and we never know...and how many other similarly dangerous substances are around us? THese thoughts do not scare me, they rather grab my is like being in a jungle and not know which one of the thousand gorgeous snakes in the grass is poisonous...
Apparently, one of the few previously suspected victims of polonium was scientist Irene Joliot-Curie, the daughter of researchers Marie and Pierre Curie who co-discovered polonium....

The Golden Ratio
Name: Sarah
Date: 2006-12-03 19:03:15
Link to this Comment: 21251

I enjoyed reading Cris' comment about the Golden Ratio. It make me think of one day in my sixth grade math class, when we measured different parts of our bodies and compared them, seeing if they matched the Golden Ratio. Some people's were more Golden than others (mine was average, if I remember correctly). I decided to check out some info about the Golden Ratio on the Internet, and I found that the Golden Ratio is somewhat connected with the Fibonacci sequence. Basically, I've come to find that concepts like improbable sequences make more sense and seem more valid with mathematical ideas to support them. I find it amazing that nature is not random, life is not random. It fits.

about poisons
Name: Annabella
Date: 2006-12-04 13:18:48
Link to this Comment: 21253

I found the comment about polonium fascinating. I was glad to read that the presence of poisons all around us is not a cause of fear. Where it took me was to the very intricate system our body has built up to combat and deal with the constant barrage of poisons, germs, bacterium, etc. Our environment, as with just about all things, is made up of a wide variety of poisons and medicines, good stuff/bad stuff if you will. And our bodies have to sort through all of it all the time.
I have heard it said that diseases are constantly trying to get a hold in our bodies, but our immune system fends them off while they are still imperceptible to us. This is a constant battle raging within our bodies. It's perfectly normal. The very act of fighting off a disease boosts our immune system against it. This is the idea behind many vaccination shots. Taking this further it makes sense to me that part of the reason we are seeing so many new immune system disorders in our society is because we are making our environments so sanitary! Our immune systems are not making some crucial anti-bodies because they are not being exposed to the "enemy cells". Then when the bad cells are introduced, the immune system is incapable of fighting them off. It's ironic that it is actually the germs and such that are keeping our immune systems strong. Of course, if we get too many of a particular germ or poison then we get sick. But a little bit of lots of different germs or poisons can keep us healthy.
When I was growing up, anytime a kid in our neighborhood came down with one of the childhood diseases my mom would take all of us kids to the sick kid's house so that we would be exposed. She taught us early the importance of NOT living in a sanitary environment. Of course these days if she did that she might get arrested for child endangerment...but that's a different discussion.
So yes, there are poisons all over the place and we are running into them all the time. And no, we need not fear them. But I think it a good idea to learn about the immune system at least in such a way so that we can learn how to keep it strong. It is our first line of defense against all these attack molecules in our environment. Of course, no immune system will keep us safe from intentionally administered poisons, but for the rest of the dangers to our health, it's easier to learn about our immune system than to learn about the millions of health threats it deals with.

Name: Cayla
Date: 2006-12-05 23:20:27
Link to this Comment: 21271

I've just read a really interesting article about how New York City is banning the use of trans fats in restaurants, because trans fats are extremely harmful to people, especially if consumed regularly. The article reminded me of how, in the first few weeks of class, we discussed how it is difficult to decide whether something is completely good or completely bad for the body (like how people with lower cholesterol are actually more prone to commit suicide than those with higher cholesterol). The article raises the question of whether or not it is the job of the city to take control over soemthing that happens to an individual's body per that individual's choice. Is it the city's job to deem something as 'good' or 'bad' for a person? I just thought the article was very interesting, because it showed another way that society is trying to be more health conscious, even though the full affects of trans fats are still unknown.

The Dangers of Trans Fats
Name: Georgia
Date: 2006-12-06 02:00:31
Link to this Comment: 21272

I was very interested in the article which Cayla posted. I am in full support of a ban on trans fat in this country- and while I find it a little disturbing that we have come so far as to require a ban on a certain substance to keep us healthy, I have to admit the situation is very similar to that of smoking. People understand the effects of smoking, and for that matter, drinking, and even fully informed adults will still take part. So I have to agree that putting restrictions of the production of foods with trans fats in them is in order. And I don't necessarily believe that it is an infringement of our rights as humans.

It makes me think about something I learned from my last web paper. I was researching the effects of body fat percentages on a woman's fertility. While I mostly focused on women who were underweight, it was interesting to me that a woman doesn't stop getting her period just because she weighs too little, but because she is undernourished as well. A young woman who is eating McDonald's every day, or store bought cookies, and other products with trans fats, may not feel hungry, or even appear to be anorexic, however, she may have trouble with her menstrual cycle, because she is not getting the proper nutrition her body needs. I think that's sort of scary since you cannot tell necessarily by a girl's appearance that she needs help, and she or her family may not be properly educated to understand the effects this may have on her later in life, including infertility and osteoporosis. These are serious consequences that are not always considered.

Environment verses Herdity
Name: Kelsey
Date: 2006-12-06 15:41:19
Link to this Comment: 21279

Okay, so today's lab brought to mind the age old debate of whether or not an organism is the way it is because of its environment or its heredity. Sadly the lab didn't further any evidence for either concept because we only proved that both things can effect the organism. Which is a good enough answer for most, but not for those who want to know that answer to the debate.

But personally, it reminded me of how much goes into life. We are made of complex devices (atoms, molecules, cells, systems,etc.) and on top of that, we are made part because of the environment that we live in. For example, I grow better when I eat in my environment that has food for me; what would I do for substance if I lived in an area without my usual sustenance? I would have to adapt or die, and this would change myself and my offspring...etc. I guess it just goes to prove that there is always a 'what if' to every aspect of our lives.

The life of plants
Name: Caro
Date: 2006-12-06 22:25:28
Link to this Comment: 21281

I guess this is an extension of Kelsey's comment...
I just saw her post, and I can see where she is coming from on this one because I was going to write the same thing. Our finalizing lab this week got me thinking about the "nature vs. nurture" analysis of the human psyche and, based on what little knowledge we were actually able to draw on our plants' tendencies to grow fur/hair, I started wondering how this would correlate to the conclusions we've reached in treating human growth in a scientific "genetics vs. environment" manner. Well to begin with, I'm sure there would be an innumerable amount of resentment and complaining.
Why? Because clearly we are more complex anatomically and spiritually than plants, right? But if we can't even draw distinct conclusions from looking at plants, then what is to say we can do much more for humans. "Nature vs. nurture" and "genetics vs. environment" is the same thing with a different proportion. How much of our behavior is inherited and how much of it is acquired? Hard to tell when the two are so relative to one another.

Eels and the Grouper Fish
Name: Kali Noble
Date: 2006-12-08 11:09:11
Link to this Comment: 21283

The giant moray eel and the grouper fish have been observed hunting together which is both the "first example of coordinated hunting seen in fish," and the "first known instance of cooperative hunting between species other than humans." For example humans and birds to catch rabbits (?), humans and dolphins for fish, and humans and dogs, pretty self explanitory. The giant moray eel lives in coral and rock crevices while grouper fish live in the open water. The way that the moray eel and grouper fish's relationship works is that moray eels chase their prey out of crevices into the open water while the grouper fish does the opposite. Working together results in one or the other of the two catching the prey. Behavioral ecologist Reouan Vshary from the University of Neuchatel Switzerland discovered this while following groupers in order to watch the cleanerfish. In the moray eel-grouper fish relationship the grouper shakes its head in a moray eels face to convey that there was food to be caught. Usually the grouper would do so after it failed at catching it's own prey.
Anyways, the actual article is at:

Scientific Methods
Name: Moira Nada
Date: 2006-12-08 11:17:46
Link to this Comment: 21284

I was given a prompt the other day for my Csem class. I was to write about Darwin's reaction to Quantum Mechanics. I thought it was interesting to compare a theory whose formulas yeilded startlingly accurrate results but was difficult to observe because of how small the molecules and particles that really exemplify the results are; with a man whose method was based so much off of observation. In our class we talk about how science is about coming up with a story to explain observations. But in quantum mechanics it is very difficult to observe, only the results can be "seen". So how can it be called science?

does holding your breath kill brain cells?
Name: Hannah
Date: 2006-12-10 22:06:19
Link to this Comment: 21289

In class we talked about how your body will automatically take a breath if you try to hold it in too long, and my little sister told me that if you hold your breath for too long, your brain cells start to die. These both sound reasonable, but I wanted to check, especially on the second one. I read here about a "freediver" who holds his breath for 5 and half minutes, and through practicing he has trained himself to overcome all the "negative thoughts" that start coming in around minute 3 during breath holding contests (which actually sound like they're real sporting events). However, this is in a safety-controlled environment, so I don't think he could actually knock himself out by holding his breath...because if he could, as soon as he blacked out his body would take a breath and then he would become conscious again.
He also participated in a study on the effect of this breath holding on the brain, and found that even after 5 min 43 sec, the brain wasn't "starved" for oxygen. He thinks the consensus is that brain damage only starts four minutes after a blackout if there is no oxygen, which is very different from holding your breath a minute more or less, like most people can. So it's probably nothing to worry about.

Name: Amelia Jor
Date: 2006-12-10 22:16:43
Link to this Comment: 21290

Does the I-function account for consciousness or our involuntary systems? Could we be alive without the I-function? I think that we could be because trees, plants, etc. are "alive" but they do not possess the ability to reason or think. However, if we were alive without our conscious, would we really be human anymore? Does our conscious make us human is what I guess I'm really asking. This kind of addresses the "cogito ergo sum" quote.

Ever "SAD" During the Winter?
Name: Corey
Date: 2006-12-10 23:40:31
Link to this Comment: 21291

You know the feeling. Its get cold out, the daylight hours get shorter, and you feel a little blue. As winter progresses, its becomes harder and harder for you to get out of bed and you don't really feel like doing anything. No, its not just the life of a tired college student. Its SAD - Seasonal Affective Disorder and it affects 1 in 5 people in the United States.

"Dr Alfred J. Lewy, a psychiatrist who has been studying the biology behind SAD, describes it as a form of jet lag, a concept he proposed 20 years ago. If true, this would make SAD a disturbance in the circadian rhythm, the 24-hour pattern that normally aligns the sleep-wake cycle with all the other bodily rhythms. Dr. Lewy suggests that with the delayed dawn and shorter days of fall and winter, the rhythms of people afflicted with SAD drift out of phase with the sleep-wake cycle, as if they had traveled across many time zones."

How interesting it is, that when I say that I seem to get a little sadder in the winter, that I am talking about a true, diagnosable disorder.

my mom is SAD
Name: Arielle
Date: 2006-12-11 01:54:14
Link to this Comment: 21293

My mother uses a special Vitamin D lamp during winter to help combat the feelings of anxiety and depression she feels due to Seasonal Affective Disorder. She used to just say that she felt "blue" or "down" when the weather started to get cold (we live in New York, where the winters can be brutal), but then she realized that her symptoms fit a description a colleague sent her about SAD. Extra lamps in her office and at home have helped her, and she is looking into the negative-ion technology to which Corey's post refers. Women are more likely than men to be affected by the weather in terms of clinical SAD diagnoses, and I suppose diseases/disorders like SAD remind us that nature can still penetrate the artificial shelters we have created for ourselves (buildings, heating devices) to assert human dominance over nature.

I have a bone to pick with anxiety
Name: Mia Prensk
Date: 2006-12-11 07:54:50
Link to this Comment: 21294

Recently I had an asthma attack. I went to the hospital and they treated me with a breathing treatment as well as prednisone, steroids, that were supposed to prevent the inflammation of my bronchial tubes. PROBLEM: steroids have many, many side effects, including increased anxiety, panic attacks, and can even induce psychotic breaks. This happened to me. After being on a rather high dose of prednisone for five days, I became noticeably different to the point were I didn't even recognize myself or my behavior- I was having serious panic attacks which scared the life out of me, and I decided to seek medical attention. I did not connect in my mind that the pain and intense anxiety that had temporarily gained control of my body was due to this medication prescribed to me for my asthma- I thought I was going crazy. Luckily, my doctor whom I LOVE is certain that these attacks, which are completely out of the ordinary for me, were caused by the steroids- I became a victim of the sometimes tragic effects of steroids and I needed separate treatment to mitigate the effects the steroids were having on my body. It sucked and it was a horrible series of days, but I learned a lot about the capacity of my brain and mind, and how totally out of control one can be with regards to his or her behavior. What is better? Steroids and treatment for asthma, or temporary loss of mental control? How did these drugs do this to me? I am trying to understand and I am also still trying not to blame myself for my emotional state, rather accept that it is the effects of an outside medication and I did not have control over these reactions. Chemicals are powerful.

is this the last post?
Name: Sarah
Date: 2006-12-11 09:44:27
Link to this Comment: 21296

As I skimmed the posts, looking at my classmates comments, I see so many interesting and thought-provoking notions. This class has really allowed for so many people to ask questions for the sake of asking and simply being inquisitive. That atmosphere is so different from other science classes- I remember when I was a freshman in high school, and another student kept asking, "Why?" to practically every concept in physics that we learned. The rest of the class was bothered, including myself, but it turns out that there's nothing wrong with asking. In fact, she probably got more out of the class by looking at other angles, rather than the rest of us who just took the knowledge and memorized it for the exams.

I am glad I took this course. I am glad my classmates joined me in this and questioned the discussions and covered topics. What good are our gifts of reason and free will if we don't use them?

Thank you all for a stimulating first semester.

Name: Maggie
Date: 2006-12-11 10:33:22
Link to this Comment: 21297

Since people have been commenting about SAD, I thought I'd add a bit. Pretty much everyone in my family suffers from it (my dad, my sister, me even). We've got the lamps to help combat it, and we've got anti-depressents. But I've never heard of this negative-ion technology, so now we've got something else to look into.
Also, I've always thought that the whole, free-will thing was interesting. Why do different people do the things they do -- both unconciously and conciously? I've been really interested in the atomist and how I kind of side with them.
They believe "that there are multiple unchanging material principles, which persist and merely rearrange themselves to form the changing world of appearances. In the atomist version, these unchanging material principles are indivisible particles, the atoms."
Now I think that it's an interesting thought that everything we do is because of our atoms, how we think and how we act are because of how our atoms react to the world changing around us.
"One report credits Democritus and Leucippus with the view that thought as well as sensation are caused by images impinging on the body from outside, and that thought as much as perception depends on images (DK 67A30). Thought as well as perception are described as changes in the body." I like this theory because I think that it's pretty simple to understand. We're all just bouncing atoms. That seems more plausible to me than the belief in a soul.
Some interesting reading:

My final thoughts
Name: Kelsey
Date: 2006-12-12 17:50:22
Link to this Comment: 21317

Wow, my final thoughts on this entire course. That is a lot to put and a lot to ponder into one last response. Well, I know now that there is no real 'set in stone' way to look at anything. I also know now that there is so much out there in the scientific world that I just have no real concept of.

So what I have specifically learned? I did learn more about the molecules that make me me. I did have some grasp of the basics of organic chemistry, but now I do feel like I understand it more. Also, it was helpful to finally see some genetic traits in action and to finally answer the old 'environment verses heredity' debate for myself.

Far more important than these specifics are the overall aspects that this class has taught me. I understand more about life and how everything around me is made up of something else (i.e. atoms, molecules, cells, systems, etc.). I also have an idea that no matter how important or 'big' I think that I am, I am truly small in the overall aspect of the universe. Maybe things are no longer alive in many ways, but they once were and have been used. I think that this also reminds me that I do have power to hurt things in my environment as well. This is something that I do not want to do, because it will definitely come back to bite me in the butt.

So I learned that we are so very connected in this World. And that everything in creation is so magnificent. I do like that idea, how everything is so obviously part of the greater whole that is life!

Final thoughts...
Name: Meagan McD
Date: 2006-12-12 18:31:49
Link to this Comment: 21318

You know, I've taken a lot of traditional science courses (physics, chemistry, anatomy, and two levels of biology) but this has been my favorite experience with science because I've only now realized that I can do science, too - I don't need fancy equipment or anything. Ever since taking this course, I've been keeping up with new observations being made by researchers (via's RSS feed and podcasts) and it's really interesting to hear about these new discoveries being made every day.

I also like the idea that there's no "right" answer, just more and more observations and "less wrong" ways to account for them, and that some "wrong" stories still work in for certain sets of observations (like how for everyday purposes I act on the idea that the earth is flat, even though I technically know it's round). No matter what you believe or what I believe, none of us has the right answer - all we can do is make observations and tell stories. It takes away the pressure of having to be "right", and having to prove it to other people; we can cite observations, but that's it. It's relieving, really.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that this class helped me see things in a better way...I really feel lucky to have gotten to take it. :-)

My Last Comment...
Name: Masha
Date: 2006-12-13 09:56:27
Link to this Comment: 21319

Today is the last class of biology and I thought I would post my last comment before...I have this bitter-sweet feeling of slight nostalgia because this was an extrodinary class in a lot of ways and I have to say I will miss certain aspects of it.

Well,say, someone asks me what did I learn in this class? What would I say? I guess, most of all, I learned to connect myself to the world around me. I learned to see myself, an organism named Masha, in what is called in the well -too-known song-a circle of life. I remember, in one of the first classes, Professor Grobstein asked, how do we know that we are alive? I raised my hand and gave a quasi-pensive reply saying that as long as I think, I am alive. I dont know how I would answer now, but I would not answer that way for sure. Why? Because this class showed that it is not always about me, me, me, me. This everything around us is as much about me as it is about Earth, stardust, tables, molecules, heartbeats, cereal bars, and digestive system. That is what I learned most of all and I am so glad I did because I guess at least the word 'science' does not terrify me any almost does not:-)...

Where I've been in Bio 103
Name: Hannah
Date: 2006-12-14 16:15:45
Link to this Comment: 21325

I knew I would miss this class, and looking through my old comments, I found a quote I posted from Prof. Grobstein that helped me realize why this class was so enjoyable and eye-opening:

"The only way to do good science is to think about things you don't think you have to think about."

Hardly any other class I've taken has so consistently asked me to think about things I don't usually think about, but which are so important. Subjects I have posted on and/or learned about in this course:
our place in the universe, what I'm made out of, why everything living looks the way it does, why it won't always look the same, how something is alive, how I don't really know how something is alive and probably never will, not jumping to conclusions about life in general, not being alone in the universe, and how architecture affects life.
Not to mention microtubules, axons, dendrites, the classification of life, homeostasis, electron shells, carbohydrates, lipids, and, of course, protein!
I liked how this course was structured to fit all these specific, possibly scary-sounding science subjects into the context of the undeniably important concepts in the first list. In Bio 103, we CAN see the forest for the trees, meaning we put everything in perspective and ask new questions about the big picture by not taking anything for granted and not making assumptions; by "getting it less wrong". I feel as though I can talk about biology (meaning life in general, because that's what biology is) in a less wrong way now--in fact, I feel confident about it. This was certainly different from any other science class I've taken, and it also seems like the most relevant and fun one. Thanks, Prof. Grobstein and everyone, for a great semester.

One Last Look
Name: Annabella
Date: 2006-12-14 20:36:00
Link to this Comment: 21326

What a great class this has been. We really had some good, open conversation about all kinds of stuff, and some science, too. I really enjoyed sitting there and thinking about what we all thought about the things we think about. It was a great course. I want to thank everyone who made it so interesting and even FUN. I know we're not supposed to have any of that in class, but somehow we did, and we did a lot of learning too. Great combination.
Thank you, ladies, and I'll see you all in the hallways.

Name: Cayla
Date: 2006-12-15 00:09:55
Link to this Comment: 21327

When I tell my friends about this class, and how it isn't taught like a 'normal' biology class, they just say "oh, I wish I had that class. it sounds so EASY!!" Yes, it was nice to not have to stress about tests and getting the facts 'right', but it has been one of the most mentally difficult classes I have ever taken. It has constantly challenged what I have believed to be true, what everyone believes to be true. It has taught me how to question everything, and I have come to realize how many of the facts that are floating around out in the world may be true, but they are not always telling the whole story. This course has taught me to search out the whole story, and to look for connections, because everything is connected in one way or another. Getting the whole story is one of the best ways to get it less wrong.

I'll Miss You Bio 103
Name: Sarah M
Date: 2006-12-16 16:28:26
Link to this Comment: 21328

As a look back upon this semester, I realize just how much I've learned in our bio class. As many people have already stated, I've gained new insight into the world around me and a different perspective on life. Even as I write my final web paper, I can see a difference in the way I examine sources and the things I've learned from them. I really like the idea of science as a dynamic, ever-changing story; I think this way of thinking is energizing and gives every single person motivation to keep exploring and never just settle for what we're told is true. I'll miss you bio 103 and hopefully sometime in the next two years I'll be able to take another course like this. I'll be lucky if I can even find a class that is as fundamentally changing as this one.

final thoughts
Name: Claire B
Date: 2006-12-16 18:35:26
Link to this Comment: 21329

This bio class has not only made me approach science differently, but has also made me think about the learning process itself in a new light. This class has made science and biology seem much more approachable and not as intimidating. I now feel like science is a series of questions that many people are striving to answer in different ways and not like it is something foreign and abstract.

Name: Maggie
Date: 2006-12-16 18:42:50
Link to this Comment: 21330

Hey girls + Prof.
Thanks for an interesting class.
You've all got me thinking a lot about life and why we're here and what's put us here and all those questions that theology and science have been asking for decades. Now I'm asking them, too -- that's what this class has given me.

Name: Kelly Soud
Date: 2006-12-17 00:59:35
Link to this Comment: 21331

This class has been absolutely amazing! Before the term started, I thought this would be just ‘another’ class. However, after a semester, I still want to learn more. I’ve learned more about what it means to ‘think outside the box’ and that not everything which is taught is true. Science is an ongoing story and it is a story that I want to keep contributing to, whether it is something that is seen on the ‘large’ scale or on the ‘small’ scale.

So Long, Farewell
Name: Georgia
Date: 2006-12-17 23:54:03
Link to this Comment: 21337

This class has definitely been an experience. I really am happy I chose this class, especially since I'm not big on science, and attempting to memorize pages and pages of facts and words I cannot pronounce correctly doesn't really sound appealing. I think that I learned a lot this semester, and more importantly I found out about scientific things without wanting to fall asleep or crawl into a corner. I really liked the way we could pick our own web paper topics because, for me, that was the best way I learned about subjects that interested me. I found Prof Grobstein's approach to the course really interesting. It really encouraged me to learn more about what I was interested in, and I realized that a lot of science is just creating a story, rather than understanding truths. I had made a lot of assumptions about science before I took this class that I realize are no longer true, and I look at other courses and subjects with the same critical eye that Professor Grobstein encouraged in this class. While I didn't find it particularly challenging, and I don't think anything I saw really changed my life, (I'm sorry but have you seriously never wondered about how huge and expansive space is, and have never felt so small?), I did find the stuff we looked at in class to be pretty interesting and definitly not as dull as looking at figures in a text book. So, thanks Prof Grobstein, and thanks to the rest of the class, this semester was fun.

once upon a time
Name: Arielle
Date: 2006-12-18 00:03:30
Link to this Comment: 21338

The story of Bio 103 is an interesting one. I loved that I had the opportunity to participate in a forum that questioned everything and really valued inconclusion. Science as story-telling is a fabulous concept. We as budding scientists operate not in the absence of truth, but in the quest for an accuracy that may become obsolete (but not necessarily wrong!) seconds after we discover it. There are shortcomings in the practice of chalking up the seemingly inexplicable to randomness (why don't I have the exact same DNA as my biological siblings?), in that answers become unsatisfying, in the same way that the response "because I said so" is incredibly frustrating. However, this randomness and capacity for evolution in accuracy is exciting. It leaves room for further inquiry in a way that other disciplines do not. What is the concept of "right"? The debate over the nutritional value of yolk/albumen is almost as old as the debate over the whole egg and its chicken source - which is the predecessor? Which part of the egg should we eat? My mother insists that the albumen is more healthful, while her own mother stubbornly maintains that the yolk is "where the nutrients are." Whose science is correct? Does it matter? (Not to me, at least. I'm vegan and avoid the egg altogether. As a side note, I loved being challenged by my classmates about my veganism. Nutritional science is fascinating, and the idea that we really have no idea what to eat beyond "not junk food" is almost humorous. Our government updates its food pyramid guidelines every ten years, and still we have no idea if cows' milk adds to or leeches from our bones' calcium deposits.) Can we ever be comfortable without proper definitive answers? As with the evolved basic model of the atom, we may be satisfied with the explanations we have created for now, but the thrill exists that we can have our minds blown at any second with new "discoveries" or purportedly more accurate explanations. Such an environment is exciting for a young student, because no proposition or hypothesis is truly out of the realm of possibility. Who knew that circumcision could reduce the risk of HIV transmission by as much as 50%? That's kind of an outrageous idea, but apparently it's true. What if the physiological cure for depression is as simple as the one for scurvy? (Eat more oranges, Mr. Grumpy...) Bio 103 took science out of its comfort zone as a respectable and reliable field of knowledge, and I found it all to be a great story.

So long, farewell
Name: Corey
Date: 2006-12-18 10:55:01
Link to this Comment: 21340

So the semester is almost over and there are only finals standing between me and home. But before I depart both physically and mentally, I just want to say that this has been one of the most unconventional and interesting classes I have ever had. Although I havn't had any life changing experiences, I have been able to see the world from a new perspective. The architecutre of the class was what allowed for it to succeed, in my mind anyway. When you frame a class around such an inviting topic, such as there is no real truth, then that idea and freedom perpetuates throught the entire semester. Also, as someone else pointed out, I really liked that we were able to choose our own topics for the webpaper. It allowed me to explore topics that not only interested me, but were also relevat to my life. For example, I wrote my last webpaper on E coli, because a friend from home was one of the people who were sickened with E coli after eating in an infected Taco Bell. This class was about the individuals journey but still fostering a good class dynamic. Good job all. Hope everyone has a great break and stay safe. See you in the new year!

Bye Bye Bio 103...
Name: Simone B.
Date: 2006-12-19 11:38:57
Link to this Comment: 21342

So, needless to say, I loved this unconventional Biology course. I was particularly fond of the labs (especially when I got to make enzymes and chemicals react, fizzle, and pour out all over the place, and when I got to look at my own blood under the microscope, and the fact that I still call those grassy areas outside of the Park Science building Planets Nearer & Farther). I also really enjoyed the lectures and forum posts. (Though I wasn't too regular a forum poster, I did read and think about what people wrote each week.)

I have to admit that though I initially didn't fully appreciate the abstract lectures and discussions we had in class, I realized that Professor Grobstein had an amazing vision for Bio 103. I've been writing my book report and so I've been comparing and contrasting Prof. G's lectures to the book's information. I'm so grateful that Prof. G said things in ways we could all understand. The book tends to make up sciency-sounding words and, moreover, it's sententious and heavy. (It weighs more than my brother did when he was born.) The book doesn't really say anything Prof. G didn't, it just wastes lots of space on useless diagrams and run-on sentences. So, thank you Professor Grobstein and everyone who took Bio 103. I really did learn a lot about Biology and I even enjoyed it...

End of an Era? I Hope Not!!
Name: Moira
Date: 2006-12-20 01:54:13
Link to this Comment: 21343

We have been asked to contemplate and reflect upon where we were when we began this course, and where we are now.
On the first day of class when you described to us what the class would be like, I was very eager and open-minded. I was willing to put down my preconceptions and comfortable with the existence of uncertainty in science. I feel that I have grown a bit frustrated with the uncertainty. I do not question its existence, it just hard to look at things now. When we "learn" things in class about the structure of molucules, etc. how are we to know that something is not going to come along, a new discovery, that negates all of these "facts"? It is also frustrating how truly little we know about ourselves and the world(s) around us. I am absolutely thrilled that I took this class, there is no doubt about that. It was wonderful to have the rare opportuinty to actually be able to look at science through my own eyes and filter it through my own prejudices. You allowed us to call ourselves scientists, and though I may be mocked because I am not a "real" scientist, I realized the other day as I was striding through Park, letting my eyes wander over the geology displays- that is now how I think of myself. i'm not sure how or when it happened, but I have assimilated Scientist as part of my identity, and quite frankly, I like it.
I like being empowered to think that I can actually analyze life and maybe even help to "get it less wrong". This has become one of my new objectives in life, to get it less wrong, and realize that not just science, but almost everything is a process. And whether we like it or not, we may never be 100% correct.
We all build upon each other, and I think that wen you zoom out, it is all the same. Zoom in, and cells are little poeple, with little worlds inside of all of them. Zoom out, and those little cell people create the improbable assembly of a person (you or I) keep going and these people are on a planet, but the planet itself is a person (just too big for us to realize it, just like the cells don't realize that we're bigger versions of them). The planets are people and they form solar systems, whic are people and form galaxies, etc. This may sound a little far-fetched but how are we to know that to something bigger we aren't its cells?
This class allowed to me to actuallt think, and hopefully, its a lesson that will stay with me.
Thank you for everything, see you next year!

Name: Cayla
Date: 2006-12-22 14:45:06
Link to this Comment: 21345

This class has for sure given me a new perspective on science and the way things work. It has taught me how to be skeptical, and helped me realize that everything that we hear is simply a story of what people think has happened. Though I am sad that the class is at an end, I realize that 'gettting it less wrong' is something that I don't need to be in a certain class to practice.

final thoughts
Name: Karen Gins
Date: 2006-12-22 17:05:53
Link to this Comment: 21346

This semester really flew by...
I really enjoyed learning about science from a story-telling perspective. It makes a lot more sense, and even is a lot more comforting, to know that if one day a law breaks and there's an exception..that we can change around that story and use it, until something else becomes an exception.
I liked the web papers a lot, since we could pick out own topics, things that interest us, and learn about things we otherwise may not have gone into depth researching. The comments were particularly useful, especially ones telling me the jumps and assumptions I made, which I didn't realize I was making at the time.
Challenging all of the things we've grown up to believe, that we've never questioned before, was a really interesting part of the course. Realizing that we couldn't distinguish alive from dead in a way other than instinctual was useful in showing us that we were taught something, but may not quite understand it.
This class taught a new perspective on the world around us- a new way to approach things, and to question everything. The forum and class discussions allowed us to question each other, practicing this method. I'll miss the class a lot- it was always interesting going to this unconventional science class, to see just how we were going to approach something we may have thought we knew something about, but changing around those assumptions to create a story. It was a great class in teaching this new perspective, something really applicable- that we can use- in every subject.

Name: Angely
Date: 2006-12-22 20:36:04
Link to this Comment: 21347

Like some of the people in ths class, I too was unsure of the structure of Bio 103. I mean, who has ever heard of a biology class withOUT a testbook? I soon came to realize that you don't need a textbook to learn valuable information that wll help you wih everyday life situations. I have learned how to look at things on a bigger scale. I have also really come to love the idea of getting things "progresssively less wrong". It is an interesting technique to ues. As Professor Grobstein has mentioned, our world is based on people always trying to be the first one to "get it right". It would be intresting if everyone in the world understood and followed this new concept. I wonder how much less competition there would be among the world. However, I feel that competition is what keeps our world in motion. If there was no, or very little, comepetition there wouldn't be so many advancements to biology, or life for that matter. Either way, I ejoyed the class and reading the forum posts. Althouh I did not write as much as I should have like others have mentioned, it gave me a good understanding of the different pesrpectives that people could have on just one topic. It;s interesting to see how different all of our minds work. Even though the labs were 3 hours long, the concepts that we worked with each week were beneficial in understanding how the different aspects of life coexist and work together. All-in-all it was a great class! :)

It's the other way around
Name: Joanne
Date: 2006-12-26 14:27:27
Link to this Comment: 21350

"Perhaps pet owners have less alergic reaction to pets because they are constantly in an environment that keep their immunities toward the alergies strong."

Actually, it's the other way around. A strong immunity reaction makes you allergic. LESS immune response is less allergies.

Better late than never
Name: Kali Noble
Date: 2006-12-26 18:29:01
Link to this Comment: 21351

This course has been a learning experience for me in many ways. I took AP Bio in high school and so theoretically knew all of the concepts in this course but this course explained the information in a different more engaging way so I actually learned. I also really liked how this course was not competitive, which was one of the problems I had with science courses in high school. I really enjoyed this course, and am glad that we were encouraged to read articles online rather than some boring text book. Thanks for a great semester!

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Name: Webmaster
Date: 2007-01-25 21:45:18
Link to this Comment: 21411

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