Monthly Archives: December 2015

Thing explainer explained

In his new book, Thing explainer: complicated stuff in simple words, Randall Munroe uses the top ten hundred words in the language spoken most in the world and lots of pictures to explain how some things work.  In a world with too many big words, this book is great.  However, some of the top words, simple enough alone, are still changed for others and one of the big words that tell you what the book is (marked above) isn’t even in the top words!  Despite several wrong word choices, Thing explainer hits the mark for interestingly explaining things.

courtesy of
courtesy of

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What’s your favorite science learning moment?

When I was a kid, my father came home one day with a tank of liquid nitrogen. Strange? Not really – this is how my family rolls (full disclosure – my dad is a physics professor)! My little sister and I were told to investigate the properties of this mysterious liquid that was completely obscured by the spooky looking fog rising above it. We ended up tossing an innocent rubber lizard (lower on the toy priority scale than our Barbie dolls, stuffed animals or, of course, my toy dinosaurs) into the abyss and heard a loud SNAP! After eagerly reporting this finding back to my dad, he drained the liquid nitrogen to reveal the sad, cracked remains of our not-so-important lizard friend. It turns out that liquid nitrogen is extremely cold, a fact I’m reminded of every time I open my lab’s liquid nitrogen freezers and try not to lose feeling in my fingers.

Over the past few months, I’ve been taking a class in science pedagogy and it has reminded me of the moments in my life where I was doing science, often without realizing it. At its heart, loving science is just about being inquisitive and exploring – innate qualities we all possess. What is a favorite and/or memorable science learning experience that you’ve had? It can involve breaking something, creating something, hearing a great lecture or just staring out into space and having an epiphany. Tell us about it in the comments section or share with us via e-mail or Twitter and remember, it doesn’t have to be from a science class!

Charlie Sheen has HIV…so what?

Credit: Mike Mozart
Photo credit: Mike Mozart.  By the way, Sheen has HIV, not AIDS.

In a blitz of media frenzy, Charlie Sheen recently announced he is HIV positive.  So, should we care?

Before saying anything else, absolutely and unequivocally: YES!  Raising awareness for disease is always a good thing.  Remember that ALS ice bucket challenge?  Even a disease like HIV, which for the general public is a has-been, benefits from media attention.  To the medical and scientific community, HIV is so much more.  HIV remains the number 1 infectious disease killer and top-funded research area.  Despite not yet having an effective vaccine (the Holy Grail of infectious disease if there ever was one), we’ve made enormous progress in understanding this unwieldy virus.

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