Blogs: Science

H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald

Diabetes is a disease that people have known about for thousands of years, even if they didn't call it by that name.  There are actually two types of diabetes with similar symptoms and treatments but different causes.  The American Diabetes Association website has information about Type 1 Diabetes, and they also have a free, dowloadable booklet about living with Type 2 diabetes.  For a general overview of the problem, the Center for Disease Control has statistics about the frequency of diabetes in the United States. 

Symptoms of the disease can be scary, but it helps to know more about what is happening inside the body.  Some people take medicine to help control their diabetes, and other people can control it through their diet, choosing recipes and foods that help control their blood sugar levels.

Once you've learned about the disease, you can test your knowledge with this crossword puzzle or one of these online games about making smart food choices.  

And as always you can contact a librarian for more information!

 

Book cover: The Disappearing Spoon

A while back I told all ya’ll about The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Keane. Loved it. It inspired me to order up a poster of the periodic table and stick it on my living room wall, thinking that if it was in front of my eyeballs, there may be some passive absorption. It kinda worked--I learned the noble gases, but really it was just the pressure of a pub trivia team that inspired that. Still I want to understand this stuff at a level higher than my C in high school chemistry.

In an effort to up my game I watched Hunting the Elements by PBS/NOVA. I’ll be honest, based on the boring cover, my hopes were not terribly high. It was ~amazing~. One dude actually made a wooden periodic table, the size of a real dining room table, and gave each element its own little compartment.  If I had that in my house I could pick up and hold a sample of molybdenum. Super cool and very practical. There are enough violent explosions and deadly gases throughout to keep things lively, plus who wouldn’t love to see how gold bricks are made?

Book cover, The Periodic Table: A Visual Guide to the Elements

The book, The Periodic Table: A Visual Guide to the Elements,  is essentially a field guide, just two pages per element--one a color picture of the element and the other its most interesting info. Platinum, for example, is a precious metal used all the time in jewelry, as we know, but it’s also essential in your car’s catalytic converter.

So, in my expert opinion as an armchair science girl, I think anyone with an interest would love the dvd. Have a kid who loves kitchen-science experiments? Watch it with them. But also, anyone who may struggle with a chemistry class in the near future might like both in combination. Perhaps even as a preemptive strike at understanding before the struggle begins. Seeing and hearing info in a different way can make a huge, helpful difference . It certainly did for me.

 

 Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons book coverAs a psychology major in the late 70's and early 80's it seemed that every textbook for every class included the story of Phineas Gage. He was the guy who had a tamping iron accidentally blasted through his cheek and out the top of his head while working on a railroad explosives crew in 1848. There were always illustrations, daguerreotypes, and a gruesome description of his injury.  (As I read the Wikipedia page about him right now, I get a little sparkly thing at the back of my eyeballs, and I'm not easily grossed out.)  As students, what always blew our disco-studded minds was that Gage lived.  Not only lived, but seemed mostly normal. However, as we all know, "normal" has a lot of gray matter near the edges. 

The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons is Kean's newest book. His first one, The Disappearing Spoon was super good, and very easy to read even if one may have gotten a C in high school chemistry. This one promises to be just as good, thanks in part to Phineas Gage. And I like brains better than the periodic table anyway. 

 

It was my second term in Conceptual Physics when I learned that I was not cut out for the career in science I had dreamed about while watching Star Wars over and over again. Subsequently, supportive friends and teachers taught me this “it’s not the end of the world” mantra: “D is for diploma.”

Things turned out fine. I remained a decent student and survived my remaining science courses. I focused on other subjects that I still excelled in and ended up with a great job that I love after plenty of other failures and just enough success; however, there are still times I dream of discovering the secrets of black holes or the ocean floor.

The Panda's Thumb book jacketArcheological digs and guest spots on NOVA sometimes enter my rich imagination and, just as I used to live out my fantasies of rock superstardom through air guitar in middle school, I find an outlet for scientific delusions of grandeur on the library shelves with those amazing scientists that can speak my language and hold my hand through the equations and lab lingo. One of the best-selling and most entertaining science writers was the late Stephen Jay Gould, and his award-winning series of essays entitled The Panda’s Thumb taught me everything I actually understand about the theory of evolution (well not everything, as you’ll see below). Gould’s short entries make it easier for us in the scientific laity to fight the urge to nap in the middle of a chapter.

For those of you with a longer attention span who are interested in evolution, I recommend David Quammen’s beautiful verbosity. His writings on The Black Hole War book jacketDarwin and Wallace more or less equal the remainder of my evolutionary knowledge. Even though it was physics that destroyed my chances of being an award-winning scientist, it is still one of my favorite subjects. The Black Hole War (eBook ) by Leonard Susskind is my favorite narrative on the subject. It combines great diagrams for all the mathy (all right, this isn’t a real word) points, fun anecdotes about some of the world’s foremost scientists, and a long arduous battle between Susskind (with a couple colleagues) and Stephen Hawking and the entire scientific world concerning what happens when information passes through the horizon of a black hole. Spoiler Alert: Susskind won and opened new avenues for String Theory, Holograms, and oh so many fun physics wormholes.

Cataclysms on the Columbia book jacketCataclysms on the Columbia brings us back home to the ancient history of Cascadia, as well as to the recent past. Bretz, an intrepid geologist, also fought with the scientific community over his discovery. He realized that it must have taken one or many (upwards of 90) cataclysmic floods to form the geological markers from Western Montana through Eastern Washington, down through the Columbia River Gorge, all the way into the Willamette Valley. Of course, everyone at the time accused him of Catastrophism, which was viewed by many as a religious perspective, not legitimate science. Bretz’s strength of character and the vivid descriptions of what the floods must have been like are respectively inspirational and terrifying.

This is only a small sample of the highly readable Science-Fact available at MCL. So if you too are a member of the numerically-challenged laity, please respond below with your favorite science book and I will add it to the Page-turning Science reading list being created as we speak!

You listen to Radiolab, right? I know bunches of you do. We all stood shoulder-to shoulder late last year waiting to get into their live gig at The Keller Auditorium. (I was the short brunette with a glass of wine.) Anyway, did you hear their recent replay of the show on rabies? It blew my diabolical-virus-loving mind. And made me think back to a book I read a couple years ago, Rabid, by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy. If you loved that Radiolab show, read the book. It chronicles the Milwaukee protocol story, and tons of other cool stuff.   

Book cover, Rabid by Bill Wasik and Monica MurphySo. Rabies. Turns out that it is one smart virus, like so many of the super deadly ones are, and we can learn loads of valuable info from its four thousand year history. It spreads easily from animal to human, and exhibits pretty normal symptoms at first... headache, fever, sore throat. Makes you think twice about that cold you're fighting now, doesn't it? 

Why this cure? An antidote to screen time, a break from the princesses and ninjas, finding time to share a passion with your children of all ages, even something to read for grownups that can be digested in small bites.

Where’s this cure? Right here in the greater Portland metro area, in our backyards and urban forests.

What’s this cure? Reading books that have inspired me to delight and revel in the natural world, followed by a visit to a nearby park to answer questions I didn’t know I had. What? I was trampling on efts? What are those again?

Here are some of my favorites: fiction that includes natural history and natural history that reads like a story. Find out why voles turn somersaults or learn to tell bird nests from squirrel dreys in books about your backyard or our urban forests.

Did you know that there are regular programs for preschoolers at many of our natural areas?  Or that you can see live owls and vultures at Audubon’s Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center? You might also try a guided family hike to explore painted turtles or working to evict invasive species. One great website that consolidates these opportunities is Exploring Portland's Natural Areas.

Maybe instead of a cure we should just call it fun.

Thia, a clerk at the Belmont Library, is reading  The Tree: A Natural History of What Trees Are, How They Live, and Why They Matter. "It's a complex discussion of the biology of trees," she says. "I'm learning a lot."

 

People love talking about the weather and this has certainly been the winter to do it. Epic storms in the East and droughts all over the West have been top stories nearly every day of the New Year. A lot of us had fun frolicking in our own mini-snowstorm earlier this month.

Usually, talking about the weather is considered polite conversation, a nice respite from politics and religion, or celebrity gossip.  Of course, this isn’t always the case. As the drought seems to be subsiding (fingers-crossed) for us in the Pacific Northwest, California has little hope in sight and the gloves have come off.

Cadillac Desert book jacketThe President has done his photo-ops, hundreds of millions are pledged for relief, and the fingers are pointing at the Republicans, the Democrats, the farmers, the cities, the Delta Smelt (ooh, what’s that?)… The news stories seem to be devoid of solutions for water scarcity, though many have been offered up over the years. The good, the bad, and the ugly are all detailed in Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water by Marc Reisner.

California is the main character in this sweeping epic, often the villain tormenting its neighbors. Other times, it is the victim of graft, its fragile ecosystems exploited by schemers and boosters. In riveting detail, the book recounts the long-held rivalry between the Bureau of Reclamation (Department of Interior) and the Army Corps of Engineers, the true story behind the movie Chinatown (Reisner’s recounting wins), Los Angeles’ plan to redirect the Columbia River, and many more fascinating and eye-opening chapters in the water wars of the west.

But wait! Here’s a plethora of books you could read in tandem, each one an exciting foray into water, the west, and/or land use planning (it’s all the rage with the kids these days).

 

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