Do it yourself science videos

If you are thinking of dabbling in videography, here is some advice on making science videos from MinutePhysics creator, Henry Reich, in Waterloo, Canada.

MinutePhysics celebrated it’s first birthday this year and is now up to 67 educational and entertaining videos, 35,011,571 views and 487,686 subscribers. Learn about the Higgs boson (parts I, II, and III), for example, or why there is no pink light.

Oh, and be sure to watch the Rolling in the Higgs video from McGill graduate student, Tim Blais, for an extra boost of inspiration.

Happy DIY!

Food for thought

I love hamburgers. What’s not to love? I’m not really a gourmet burger type of girl (brie cheese and pear chutney – no thanks) or a McDonald’s junkie (I have been known to rhapsodize once in a while though, about the perfection of the McDonald’s cheeseburger). My poison is the simple diner burger, dressed with lettuce, cheese, tomato and pickle. The key to my enjoyment of these tasty delights is that I enjoy them in moderation. I’m certainly not the poster girl for moderation but I do have a basic understanding of over-consumption and the toll this can take on the body and the earth. I learned a lot about this cause and effect from The hidden costs of hamburgers, a short animated video produced by The Center for Investigative Reporting. You may have heard it all before, but the animation and the script are really well done, and at the very least, it’s a basic review of the environmental impact of beef production on an unsustainable scale.

Image by Andy Potts for Scientific American

Oliver Sacks – Hallucinations

I gave several workshops in the past two weeks, as did many of my fellow librarians. One of the topics we cover in our workshops is the importance of making the distinction between popular and scholarly literature, namely the difference between scientific articles that are written for the general public and those that are meant to communicate ideas and results of scientific studies among academic researchers. Today’s post is about a scientist who most certainly writes for the general public but is no less fascinating or important for it. Just don’t cite one of his popular publications if you’ve been asked to find scholarly and peer-reviewed articles :-/

Oliver Sacks is a physician, best-selling author, and professor of neurology at the NYU School of Medicine. He writes primarily about people with neurological disorders, but it doesn’t stop there. His latest book, Hallucinations, comes out in November and the title is pretty self-explanatory. If you’d like a taste, read an excerpt called Altered States from The New Yorker (Vol. 88 Issue 25, p40-47) published this summer. Just search for The New Yorker from the Journals tab on the Library homepage and then, from within the journal, search for this volume/issue and read it online. Easy! Oh, and here’s a video from The New Yorker of Sacks, in anticipation of his new book, discussing the hallucinogenic mind…

Check out some other classic titles in the McGill Library catalogue including: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: and Other Clinical Tales and of course Awakenings, the book that the 1990 film of the same name is based on. Happy reading…

Image courtesy of

Another piece on stratospheric albedo modification

Carnegie Mellon University’s geoengineering expert, Jay Apt, and his group have recently put up with a price on the plan of spraying aerosol into stratosphere in order to reflect more solar radiation back into space. In fact, this proposal has been controversial for a long while. Other than the issue of expense, the environmental and political risks that will be produced by this plan remain unsolved. The following documentary entails the story.

Read more at Cost analysis of stratospheric albedo modification delivery systems

Man-made jellyfish

Harvard bioengineers have made an artificial jellyfish by growing a single layer of rat heart muscle on a patterned sheet of polydimethylsiloxane.  As you can see from the following video, when placed between two electrodes in water, this synthetic structure can swim exactly like its living counterpart. The rat muscle contacts when an electric field is applied across the structure, and then the elastic silicone pulls the jellyfish back to its original shape.

“Morphologically, we’ve built a jellyfish. Functionally, we’ve built a jellyfish. Genetically, this thing is a rat,” said Kit Parker, the researcher who led this project.

You can read more in Nature Biotechnology.

Interact with computers without a mouse

You may still remember the scene from the movie “Minority Report” where Tom Cruise controlled the computer by wearing a pair of special gloves and performing gestures in the air. A new software, called “g-speak”, came into being at Oblong Industries which might change the way we interact with computers in the future, since a mouse will never be useful in a g-speak operating environment. The following video demonstrates how the g-speak system works.

Read more at ‘Minority Report’ software becomes a reality

Keeping safe during a thunderstorm

We have had a few thunderstorms over the spring and summer.  Are you acting safely during these storms?  Test your safety knowledge by identifying the following statements as true or false:

1-    Lightning never strikes in the same place twice.

2-    Lightning only strikes under a storm cloud.

3-    Trees are safe places under which to duck for cover during lighting.

Environment Canada provides the answers to the statements above and presents thunderstorm safety tips in this 3-minute video:

We’ve come a long way, baby…right?

Inspired by my colleague Giovanna’s post about the Science Hall of Fame and their all male Top 10, I want to introduce you to a fantastic Canadian not-for-profit organization, the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST). Perhaps you’ve heard of them, maybe you’re even a member, and if that’s the case, bravo!

SCWIST has a clear aim and it’s to “support and promote the education of girls and women through programs and activities that [they] develop in partnership with the community…boost the numbers, retention and status of women in the workplace by facilitating networking, mentoring and advocating woman-friendly policies [and] highlight opportunities, achievements and positive messages for and about women in the field. [They] do this by raising public awareness and guiding policy implementation.”

SCWIST has been around since 1981. 31 years ago, there’s no question that SCWIST’s influence would have been greatly needed. The times, yes, they’ve changed (how much they’ve changed is somewhat debatable of course), so if you’re wondering why SCWIST soldiers on, they’ve anticipated this question and provided some excellent answers:

  • Out-dated assumptions persist about women as leaders in science and technology. Men continue to dominate senior leadership positions within these areas, despite the equal ability of their female colleagues

  • There are growing numbers of highly-trained women who have immigrated to Canada who do not work in their chosen fields. Our IWIS program provides support to these women

  • SCWIST grows with the new realities: we support and promote women in their education and career choices

  • As part of our ms infinity program we delight in encouraging girls to imagine science, engineering and technology as part of their future

So, hats off to SCWIST, and to all the girls and women pursuing an education or excelling at a career in science and technology!

Oh, and as an aside, while I was perusing SCWIST’s blog I found the most recent post very interesting. It’s a thoughtful and nuanced piece, wherein the author reacts to the backlash on the blogosphere and Twitterverse, after the European Commission developed and distributed, what turned out to be, a very controversial video as part of their campaign to encourage more girls to pursue STEM careers. If you’re so inclined, watch the video (it’s actually quite hilarious), read the post, and discuss!

Image from Indiana University’s website

How to become a Science Hall of Famer

I was browsing through the latest issue of Science and poking around its website when I discovered a video about the Science Hall of Fame.  This hall of fame lists approximately 4,000 scientists whose names have appeared the most frequently in books over the centuries.

The top 10 on the list are:

According to John Bohannon, one of the creators of the Science Hall of Fame, the data used to compile the list provides a few unexpected career tips for individuals who wish to be famous among the popular masses.  One of these tips is to write a best-selling book.  Read Bohannon’s article for all the details.

Image from Meeg-el

Science at the movies

Peter Parker (a.k.a. Spider-Man) is one of my favorite action superheroes.  It turns out that the “Decay Rate Algorithm” in the movie, The Amazing Spider-Man, is based on real science.  Jim Kakalios, the author of The Physics of Superheroes and a physics professor at the University of Minnesota, explains the science behind the most recent Spider-Man movie in this short video: