In a world dominated by magical thinking, superstition and misinformation, give yourself the benefit of doubt. This is one skeptic's view of the Universe.

"Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure."

-George Carlin

“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed”.

-Albert Einstein

“Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.”

-Carl Sagan

The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species. It may be a long farewell, but it has begun and, like all farewells, should not be protracted.

-Christopher Hitchens

 

jtotheizzoe:

This post is an explainer to go along with this week’s It’s Okay To Be Smart video, an animated ode to the cycles that oxygen and carbon take through the biosphere. Click here to watch it.
I’ve always been fascinated with the elegant cycle that oxygen takes through our bodies and through the biosphere. While equally elegant, the biological cycle of carbon is a lot more straightforward, so I’m not going to talk about it today. My apologies to Team Carbon :)
If you ask me, more than any other, your life depends on the following two chemical equations:


What isn’t immediately obvious when you look just at the equations is why these connections exist. Where exactly do the oxygen atoms that a plant exhales come from? Out of CO2, or water? And does the oxygen we breathe end up in CO2, or H2O? There is little elegance in an equation, only simplicity. 
A beautiful recycled chain of oxygen chemistry supports a vast majority of Earth’s living universe upon its back. While it is certainly poetic in its recursive harmony, we’re not here to view it only as art. It is because of decades of scientific research that we have unlocked the beautiful secrets of the living oxygen cycle.
Take a deep breath, and join me…

When we inhale oxygen gas, it diffuses into our blood via the alveoli of our lungs. Inside our red blood cells, that dissolved gas is caged by iron-containing hemoglobin proteins that shuttle it to hungry cells throughout your body. As oxygen-rich capillaries pass near oxygen-starved cells, the double-O’s diffuse across the cell membrane. 

Inside your cells, that oxygen makes its way to the mitochondria. In the early 1960’s, it was discovered that those cellular powerhouses use diatomic oxygen, the stuff you breathe, as an “electron acceptor" during the electron transport chain, the reactions that drive ATP production in our cells. Thanks to biochemistry, we know without a doubt that the oxygen you breathe ends up as water, and not CO2. You’d never learn that from the equation.
What happens to that water? You’ll be reminded next time you go to the bathroom.
Eventually, the H2O you “release” joins with rivers and rainclouds, which deliver it back to thirsty plants. Within their veins, water molecules (some containing oxygen atoms that were once breathed in by a living creature) are delivered to chloroplasts, where they begin the next phase of their cyclical journey.

We know that photosynthesis eats up light, water, and carbon dioxide in order to produce oxygen gas and sugars. But what are the fates of those atoms? Biologists had figured out the basics of photosynthesis by the early 1800’s, but argued for decades about the detailed atomic journeys within a leaf.
In 1941, at the age of just 27, a biologist named Sam Ruben wanted to find out once and for all if the oxygen that plants exhaled came from CO2, or from H2O. Again, the equation fails to tell the story. Ruben fed plants both water and carbon dioxide that contained a heavy isotope of oxygen. Only when the heavy oxygen began as water did he find it in oxygen gas, meaning the O you breathe comes from entirely from water!
That oxygen eventually makes its way back to us, along a long and frantic journey through the atmosphere, where some of it is now entering your lungs, ready to fuel the same curious brain that now understands the cycle of the breath that feeds it. Seems like we’re finding cycles within cycles now, eh?
The living world, at least according to the oxygen cycle, seems to be a very elaborate means to trade electrons between photosynthetic and respiratory branches of the Tree of Life. Richard Feynman once said that “all life is fermentation” … perhaps he should have said all life is electricity.
Breathe that in, and stay curious :)

jtotheizzoe:

This post is an explainer to go along with this week’s It’s Okay To Be Smart video, an animated ode to the cycles that oxygen and carbon take through the biosphere. Click here to watch it.

I’ve always been fascinated with the elegant cycle that oxygen takes through our bodies and through the biosphere. While equally elegant, the biological cycle of carbon is a lot more straightforward, so I’m not going to talk about it today. My apologies to Team Carbon :)

If you ask me, more than any other, your life depends on the following two chemical equations:

What isn’t immediately obvious when you look just at the equations is why these connections exist. Where exactly do the oxygen atoms that a plant exhales come from? Out of CO2, or water? And does the oxygen we breathe end up in CO2, or H2O? There is little elegance in an equation, only simplicity. 

A beautiful recycled chain of oxygen chemistry supports a vast majority of Earth’s living universe upon its back. While it is certainly poetic in its recursive harmony, we’re not here to view it only as art. It is because of decades of scientific research that we have unlocked the beautiful secrets of the living oxygen cycle.

Take a deep breath, and join me…

When we inhale oxygen gas, it diffuses into our blood via the alveoli of our lungs. Inside our red blood cells, that dissolved gas is caged by iron-containing hemoglobin proteins that shuttle it to hungry cells throughout your body. As oxygen-rich capillaries pass near oxygen-starved cells, the double-O’s diffuse across the cell membrane. 

Inside your cells, that oxygen makes its way to the mitochondria. In the early 1960’s, it was discovered that those cellular powerhouses use diatomic oxygen, the stuff you breathe, as an “electron acceptor" during the electron transport chain, the reactions that drive ATP production in our cells. Thanks to biochemistry, we know without a doubt that the oxygen you breathe ends up as water, and not CO2. You’d never learn that from the equation.

What happens to that water? You’ll be reminded next time you go to the bathroom.

Eventually, the H2O you “release” joins with rivers and rainclouds, which deliver it back to thirsty plants. Within their veins, water molecules (some containing oxygen atoms that were once breathed in by a living creature) are delivered to chloroplasts, where they begin the next phase of their cyclical journey.

We know that photosynthesis eats up light, water, and carbon dioxide in order to produce oxygen gas and sugars. But what are the fates of those atoms? Biologists had figured out the basics of photosynthesis by the early 1800’s, but argued for decades about the detailed atomic journeys within a leaf.

In 1941, at the age of just 27, a biologist named Sam Ruben wanted to find out once and for all if the oxygen that plants exhaled came from CO2, or from H2O. Again, the equation fails to tell the story. Ruben fed plants both water and carbon dioxide that contained a heavy isotope of oxygen. Only when the heavy oxygen began as water did he find it in oxygen gas, meaning the O you breathe comes from entirely from water!

That oxygen eventually makes its way back to us, along a long and frantic journey through the atmosphere, where some of it is now entering your lungs, ready to fuel the same curious brain that now understands the cycle of the breath that feeds it. Seems like we’re finding cycles within cycles now, eh?

The living world, at least according to the oxygen cycle, seems to be a very elaborate means to trade electrons between photosynthetic and respiratory branches of the Tree of Life. Richard Feynman once said that “all life is fermentation” … perhaps he should have said all life is electricity.

Breathe that in, and stay curious :)

jtotheizzoe:

Want to learn particle physics in 30 seconds? I think I’ve got it! And by “it” I mean “no idea what is going on.”

(This funny little video is from Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics)

It’s just that easy! No wonder people opt for supernaturalism!

thebrainscoop:

This is StarStuff. 
The cloudy, nebulousness of this vial are nanodiamonds, carbon molecules only a thousand atoms strong, bonded together. During the formation of our solar system a cloud of dust ballooned from the collapse of a massive molecular cloud and was circling around what would be our new, baby sun. These carbon atoms were trapped within larger molecules and compounds and became inclusions, embedded within meteorites which would become evidence of the earliest solids that condensed from the cooling of protoplanetary disks.
The Field Museum has part of the oldest known meteorite - the Allende meteorite - from which these carbon nanodiamonds were extracted through chemical processes developed by Philipp Heck, our Curator of Meteoritics. We know how old the solar system is by dating these inclusions from the Allende meteorite, giving us an estimate that our solar system is 4.567 billion years old. The carbon atoms I’m holding in the above photo are, in a sense, our greatest ancestor, and ultimately became the building blocks for all life on our planet. 
TL;DR I’m holding our greatest ancestor in the palm of my hand.

thebrainscoop:

This is StarStuff. 

The cloudy, nebulousness of this vial are nanodiamonds, carbon molecules only a thousand atoms strong, bonded together. During the formation of our solar system a cloud of dust ballooned from the collapse of a massive molecular cloud and was circling around what would be our new, baby sun. These carbon atoms were trapped within larger molecules and compounds and became inclusions, embedded within meteorites which would become evidence of the earliest solids that condensed from the cooling of protoplanetary disks.

The Field Museum has part of the oldest known meteorite - the Allende meteorite - from which these carbon nanodiamonds were extracted through chemical processes developed by Philipp Heck, our Curator of Meteoritics. We know how old the solar system is by dating these inclusions from the Allende meteorite, giving us an estimate that our solar system is 4.567 billion years old. The carbon atoms I’m holding in the above photo are, in a sense, our greatest ancestor, and ultimately became the building blocks for all life on our planet. 

TL;DR I’m holding our greatest ancestor in the palm of my hand.

jtotheizzoe:

mucholderthen:

ATOMS and MOLECULES Rendered in 3D
by Jeremy Mallin

Depiction of the electron orbitals is based on [the following].

  • Electrons travel at relativistic speeds and would appear as streaks of light if they were visible at all.
  • Quantum mechanics proposes that the exact location and speed of each electron is determined by probability.
  • So, an almost electrostatic lightning storm over the surface of each orbital is a good representation of what the electrons actually do,
  • along with the fact that free electrons escape from and are captured by atoms all the time

Hydrogen – diatomic hydrogen (H2).

Neon – a stable nuclear arrangement of ten protons and ten neutrons and thus easy to portray as the twenty vertices of a regular dodecahedron. 

Carbon – a single Carbon 12 atom. 

Water – with electron orbital wave functions and free electrons.

These are beautiful, but the nucleus is WAAAAAAAY too big. Even though it holds more than 99% of an atom’s mass, the nucleus to super tiny. If an atom were enlarged to the size of the Earth, the nucleus would be a hundred feet wide… or less.

jtotheizzoe:

Seeing A Hydrogen Bond
Using a mouthful of a technique called high-resolution atomic force microscopy, Chinese researchers have imaged a hydrogen bond at the highest resolution evar (except for maybe crystallography, but that’s a much more indirect way to look at things). These molecules (a tetrad of 8-hydroxyquinoline) are held in arrangement by the (white) hydrogen atoms’ atomic attraction to the partial negative charge in the nitrogen and oxygen atoms. Those N’s and O’s are little electron hogs, pulling that negative cloud away from their atomic neighbor and around their nucleus instead. They don’t become full ions, like sodium or chloride, but they do become just a tiny bit negative.
It’s similar to what happens in water, where the “electron hog” oxygen becomes slightly negative, making the hydrogen slightly positive:

This results in something called “dipole interaction” and it is one of the key ingredients of living chemistry. In fact, if those 8-hydroxyquinoline molecules were in a cell instead of on a copper microscope surface, there would be little water molecules bridging those gaps, tiny hydrogen bonding intermediaries holding the whole aqueous world together. 
This kind of microscopy is the same technique that recently let Berkeley scientists see a covalent bond breaking and forming in real time, and is certainly up there on the “coolest thing I’ve seen this year” list. Next stop ionic bonds?

jtotheizzoe:

Seeing A Hydrogen Bond

Using a mouthful of a technique called high-resolution atomic force microscopy, Chinese researchers have imaged a hydrogen bond at the highest resolution evar (except for maybe crystallography, but that’s a much more indirect way to look at things). These molecules (a tetrad of 8-hydroxyquinoline) are held in arrangement by the (white) hydrogen atoms’ atomic attraction to the partial negative charge in the nitrogen and oxygen atoms. Those N’s and O’s are little electron hogs, pulling that negative cloud away from their atomic neighbor and around their nucleus instead. They don’t become full ions, like sodium or chloride, but they do become just a tiny bit negative.

It’s similar to what happens in water, where the “electron hog” oxygen becomes slightly negative, making the hydrogen slightly positive:

This results in something called “dipole interaction” and it is one of the key ingredients of living chemistry. In fact, if those 8-hydroxyquinoline molecules were in a cell instead of on a copper microscope surface, there would be little water molecules bridging those gaps, tiny hydrogen bonding intermediaries holding the whole aqueous world together. 

This kind of microscopy is the same technique that recently let Berkeley scientists see a covalent bond breaking and forming in real time, and is certainly up there on the “coolest thing I’ve seen this year” list. Next stop ionic bonds?

Thinking critically is a chore. It does not come naturally or easily. And if the fruits of such efforts are not carefully displayed to young minds, then they will not harvest them. Every school child must be implanted with the wonder of the atom, not the thrall of magic.

Perry DeAngelis

(Source: facebook.com)

skeptv:

Your Mass is NOT from Higgs Boson

The Higgs Boson is awesome but it’s NOT responsible for most of your mass!

The Higgs mechanism is meant to account for the mass of everything, right? Well no, only the fundamental particles, which means that electrons derive their mass entirely from the Higgs interaction but protons and neutrons, made of quarks, do not. In fact the quark masses are so small that they only make up about 1% of the mass of the proton (and a similar fraction of the neutron). The rest of the mass comes from the energy in the gluon field. Gluons are massless, but there is so much energy in the field that by E=mc^2 there is a significant amount of mass there. This is where most of your mass comes from and the mass of virtually everything around you.

Thanks to Professor Derek Leinweber for his great images, animations and explanations. Check out his site to find out more: http://bit.ly/ZZTKFP

Thanks to audible.com for supporting this episode: http://bit.ly/ZJ5Q6z

via Veritasium.


thenewenlightenmentage:

The beginning of the universe, for beginners - Tom Whyntie

How did the universe begin — and how is it expanding? CERN physicist Tom Whyntie shows how cosmologists and particle physicists explore these questions by replicating the heat, energy, and activity of the first few seconds of our universe, from right after the Big Bang.

Lesson by Tom Whyntie, animation by Hornet Inc.

jtotheizzoe:

There are the rushing waves…
mountains of molecules,
each stupidly minding its own business…
trillions apart
…yet forming white surf in unison.

Ages on ages…
before any eyes could see…
year after year…
thunderously pounding the shore as now.
For whom, for what?
…on a dead planet
with no life to entertain.

Never at rest…
tortured by energy…
wasted prodigiously by the sun…
poured into space.
A mite makes the sea roar.

Deep in the sea,
all molecules repeat
the patterns of another
till complex new ones are formed.
They make others like themselves…
and a new dance starts.

Growing in size and complexity…
living things,
masses of atoms,
DNA, protein…
dancing a pattern ever more intricate.

Out of the cradle
onto dry land…
here it is standing…
atoms with consciousness
…matter with curiosity.

Stands at the sea…
wonders at wondering… I…
a universe of atoms…
an atom in the universe.

-Richard Feynman

What's In a Breath?

jtotheizzoe:

You know what’s hard to wrap your mind around? The size of an atom.

If every atom in the air were a grain of sand, every breath you take would cover the United States in sand deep enough to hide an eight-story building. Plus you’d be dead because your lungs were full of sand.

That means that, on average, you just breathed in twenty atoms that have also graced my lungs, the lungs of Albert Einstein, the lungs of Genghis Khan, or even the lungs of Carl Sagan.

Bonus: Revisit this TED Ed animation on the size of an atom.