# Category Archives: Issues in Science

## Is Time Travel Possible?

Sometimes people want to go back to the past time and fix the problems or future to see what will happen. Time Travel is the most interesting topic in the science.

### Understanding Time

Before know about the time travel we have to know about the timeWhat is time? While most people think of time as a constant, physicist Albert Einstein showed that time is an illusion; it is relative — it can vary for different observers depending on your speed through space. To Einstein, time is the “fourth dimension.” Space is described as a three-dimensional arena, which provides a traveler with coordinates.

http://www.fromquarkstoquasars.com/6-ways-to-time-travel-explained/

### Through the Wormhole

General relativity also provides scenarios that could allow travelers to go back in time, according to NASA. The equations, however, might be difficult to physically achieve.

One possibility could be to go faster than light, which travels at 186,282 miles per second (299,792 kilometers per second) in a vacuum. Einstein’s equations, though, show that an object at the speed of light would have both infinite mass and a length of 0. This appears to be physically impossible, although some scientists have extended his equations and said it might be done.

A linked possibility, NASA stated, would be to create “wormholes” between points in space-time. While Einstein’s equations provide for them, they would collapse very quickly and would only be suitable for very small particles. Also, scientists haven’t actually observed these wormholes yet. Also, the technology needed to create a wormhole is far beyond anything we have today.

[Worm Hole Image]
http://www.andersoninstitute.com/wormholes.html

### Time Machine

It is generally understood that traveling forward or back in time would require a device — a time machine — to take you there. Time machine research often involves bending space-time so far that time lines turn back on themselves to form a loop, technically known as a “closed time-like curve.”

To accomplish this, time machines often are thought to need an exotic form of matter with so-called “negative energy density.” Such exotic matter has bizarre properties, including moving in the opposite direction of normal matter when pushed. Such matter could theoretically exist, but if it did, it might be present only in quantities too small for the construction of a time machine.

However, time-travel research suggests time machines are possible without exotic matter. The work begins with a doughnut-shaped hole enveloped within a sphere of normal matter. Inside this doughnut-shaped vacuum, space-time could get bent upon itself using focused gravitational fields to form a closed time-like curve. To go back in time, a traveler would race around inside the doughnut, going further back into the past with each lap. This theory has a number of obstacles, however. The gravitational fields required to make such a closed time-like curve would have to be very strong, and manipulating them would have to be very precise.

[Time Mechanism Image]
http://gamasutra.com/blogs/CameronLeBlanc/20130220/187036/Recreating_the_time_mechanics_of_Braid_Part_1.php

### So is Time Travel Possible?

While time travel does not appear possible — at least, possible in the sense that the humans would survive it — with the physics that we use today, the field is constantly changing. Advances in quantum theories could perhaps provide some understanding of how to overcome time travel paradoxes.

One possibility, although it would not necessarily lead to time travel, is solving the mystery of how certain particles can communicate instantaneously with each other faster than the speed of light.

In the meantime, however, interested time travelers can at least experience it vicariously through movies, television and books.

## Collagen cannot be absorbed through skin!

The desire to stay youthful for many women has been consistent; hence keeping a youthful skin has also been a consistent concern. Thus it really disturbs me that the beauty market nowadays targets and takes advantage of these worries to sell skin products with false advertisements at shockingly expensive prices. FALSE advertisement, that’s right. Many different brands flaunt their new line of creams with this magical molecule “collagen,” which can apparently make skin plumped-up, smoother, and younger.

This is complete nonsense. It is a cold hard fact that collagen molecules are just too large to be absorbed through tiny pores of skin. It will have no benefits to skin when it is being applied in such way. Let’s take a closer look at collagen.

Collagen

Collagen itself is a protein present in all body’s organs and connective tissues and mainly functions to sustain tendons, cartilage, and skin. It provides firmness and elasticity to skin and thus making it true that increasing collagen levels in body will increase the chance of skin staying more youthful. This is the scientific reasoning behind those false advertisements.

However, it is critical to note that this is only true when we increase level of collagen by eating the right, healthy food or by taking collagen supplements, but not by applying those collagen-containing creams on our faces. Like I said before, collagen molecules are too large to be absorbed through the pores of our skin, and even if the skin could absorb them, we have to remember that collagens are proteins naturally made inside our body. They would be completely “dead” and inactive by the time we rub them onto the skin. The only reason why your expensive collagen cream feels nice is because it gives cream its consistency.

Let us not forget that including collagen in skin care products is just another way of marketing. This had been proven quite a while ago, but many still seem to be unaware of this. So remember this and do not waste your time and money on collagen-containing creams, everyone! Why don’t we all try eating more soy products, vegetables, and fruits instead?

By Sunny Sohn

Images/Video Sources:

Collagen image: http://eyeonicr.wordpress.com/2011/07/06/soft-tissues-and-logical-fallacies/

## Geoengineering

I was first introduced to the topic of climate change in high school through the movie, “An Inconvenient Truth”, and since then the issue has been weighing heavily on my mind. A few years ago I became aware of a solution to climate change called geoengineering. Encyclopaedia Britannica defines geoengineering as, “the large-scale manipulation of a specific process central to controlling Earth’s climate for the purpose of obtaining a specific benefit.”

There are forty proposed methods, but the two primary methods used are Carbon Dioxide Reduction (CDR) and Solar Radiation Management (SRM). CDR deals with reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the air through natural means such as planting more trees and algae, and increasing carbon in soils. I agree with this process because although we are tampering with the ecosystem of the planet, we are not introducing new things into it. With fast fluctuating climate changes, I understand why the demand to be able to control the weather is an issue. I agree with certain methods like CDR to help strengthen our planet so that it can defend itself, much like strengthening the immune system of a human being.

Example of Carbon Reduction (Tree Planting)
Source: Flickr Commons

On the other hand, we have SRM that is reducing the amount of solar radiation reaching the Earth’s surface. This method is done by introducing nanoparticles such as sulphate, barium, and aluminum into the atmosphere. The health effects from these types of metals over a long period of time are unknown, which is my main problem with this method. Volcanoes release sulphate naturally, but with such a high amount being pumped into our skies we don’t know the effect that it will have on our respiratory system, and the respiratory system of animals as well. Also, other particles involved such as aluminum have been related to human diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Another concern is the filtering out of many positive effects of sunlight such as Vitamin D.

Example of Solar Radiation Management (Chemical Trails)
Source: Flickr Commons

At this point, with the SRM aspect, I feel like it is more of an experiment that we cannot afford to gamble with. Other pressing issues such as genetically modified foods still leave us with the freedom of choice, whereas with geoengineering we are all participants whether we like it or not.

Author: dschnei333

– Jenna Bains

## Ice Ice Go Away…Come Again Another Day?

Arctic sea ice has been dramatically declining in recent years, as shown by the two images below. Scientists claim that if the current trend (4% decrease per decade) continues, an ice-free Arctic summer may be a reality by as soon as 2020.

Graph showing decline in Arctic Sea Ice over the last 33 years. Source: Wikimedia Commons

NASA images show decrease in Arctic sea ice from 1980 to 2012. Source: Flickr Commons user: NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre

So, why is this so terrifying? Well, the reduced availability of sea ice poses a great threat to the survival of the walrus. Just last week approximately 35,000 walruses (http://www.iflscience.com/environment/walruses-become-refugees-melting-ice) gathered on a beach in Alaska, because they had nowhere else to go.

The walrus, officially known as Odobenus rosmarus, feeds near the ocean floor within the Arctic Circle. They usually feed offshore where there is an abundance of shellfish, molluscs and other soft-bodies organisms. Larger adults feed twice a day, and may consume up to 6,000 clams per feeding, which they do very rapidly.

However, unlike seals, walruses can’t swim for long periods of time, and therefore usually gather on sea ice with other walruses to rest in between feeding periods. With the increased melting of sea ice, walruses are forced to swim to shore instead, having been found on beaches around Alaska and in the Chukchi Sea in previous years.

Walruses resting on sea ice are at increasing danger of losing this natural habitat. Source: Flickr Commons user: USFWS/Joel Garlich-Miller

Now that the walruses are farther away from their natural feeding areas, they have two choices: they can either swim far distances to reach the rich offshore feeding sites (resulting in a net burn of calories), or they can remain close to shore and try to sustain themselves with a much lower quality of food, whilst competing with the thousands of other walruses on land.

Furthermore, the massive crowds of walruses are prone to stampedes, which have led to mass killings via trampling in previous incidences of beach gatherings, particularly of female and juvenile walruses.

The USGS has warned that 17 species, including the walrus, are at risk of extinction as a direct result of decreasing sea ice, particularly because the Artic is warming almost twice as fast as the rest of the world.

It is clear that something needs to change, and change soon, or else our actions as human beings will cause not only the end of Odobenus rosmarus, but also a collapse of the ecosystem in which it is involved.

An increasingly common site: 35,000 walruses gather on a beach 8km away from Point Lay, Alaska.

– Mikaela Stewart

## Research into Medical History sheds light on Issues of Racism in Science

I was fascinated by this interview in The Atlantic with Lundy Braun, a researcher in Africana studies and pathology and labortatory medicine, about her new book, Breathing Race Into the Machine: the Surprising Career of the Spirometer from Plantation to Genetics. It’s notable both for being good science coverage in a national magazine, but also because it highlights an issue of racism in science. The story raises interesting questions that could propably be applied to other areas of science.

Braun discusses the history of the measurement of lung capacity, which dates back to antebellum slavery in the United States and had its beginnings as a sort of pseudo-scientific justification for the notion that different races were not physically equal. Slave-owners at the time looked to variety of sciences now mostly seen as pseudo-science to try to find some sort of scientific proof of racial superiority.

The earliest study was performed by a slave-owner near the height of the slavery debate in the United States, and found that those classified as blacks or “mullatoes” had a lower lung capacity. These findings were confirmed by a large study performed by the union army during civil war. By the 1920s, the notion that black people just naturally had a lower lung capacity was medical conventional wisdom, despite some, more limited, evidence to the contrary (based on more qualitative study).

If black people do indeed have lower lung capacities, it could be due not to some sort of inherent racial difference but to different environmental or developmental factors. Black people in the United States experience poverty at much higher rates than white people and tend to live closer to a variety of environmental risk.

Today, spirometers still feature “race correction,” and read differently for patients who are determined by their doctor to be black (Braun also found that this classification was done inconsistently). Braun maintains that there have been no studies of sufficient sample size exploring other possible reasons for lower lung capacity in some black populations and that there is little justification for race correction.

The implications of this race correction are unclear. In the epilogue of her book Braun discusses how some doctors don’t rely on spirometer readings at all, and others only “eyeball it” (that is to say, the doctors guess what race someone is). Not all were even aware that race correction occured.

While the importance of this particular medical device may not be clear, the story has broader implications for science as a whole. The foundations of a lot of modern science were generated by a society that was deeply invested in justifying profound inequalities and it seems that in this case that over a hundred years of the scientific process working has failed to correct a mistake that’s based in that sort of justifying myth.

A modern Spirometer, a device for measuring lung capacity. From Wikimedia Commons: AdvancedMedicalEngineering

## Who said you can’t see bright stars in the deep ocean?

A photo of a Bobtail squid,  Euprymna scolopes, performing bioluminescence. It’s underside is brightly lit by its symbiotic bacteria V.fischeri. Photo by Mattias Ornestad on kahikai.org

Euprymna scolopes, commonly known as the Bobtail squids, are found around the Hawaiian Islands. Additionally, they’re about 4.5cm and has one other amazing fact: they have an indirect ability to perform bioluminescence, which is the production or emission of light by living organisms.  To be exact, the Bobtail squids don’t produce this phenomenon, it is the bacteria residing in these squids that produce this light. Together they can perform the largest symphony of dancing blue stars in the ocean.

The bacteria, Vibrio fischeri, is a symbiont that lives in the mantle of the Bobtail squids. The squids acquire this bacteria after they are hatched. These symbionts live in the deepest tract of the mantle and they produce the light source depending on the seawater environment, sensed through the squids’ pores. Furthermore, the Bobtail squids expel around 90-95% of these bacteria every dawn. At dusk, the bacteria increase in population and emit light again from the mantle. Since Euprymna scolopes is a nocturnal species, it hunts for prey at night time. With the bacteria, the squids are able to perform counterillumination. This effect allows them to camouflage themselves by looking like the sky above or deep abyss to divert their predators’ attention.

Here’s a video from the United Kingdom Society for Applied Microbiology uploaded by Siouxsie Wiles on YouTube. It explains how the Bobtail squids and the bacteria interact.

But here is the most astonishing hypothesis about the symbiotic relationship: the squids themselves can adjust the intensity of the light produced by their dependents.

Research tested this hypothesis and found two possible theories. Firstly, the squids may be controlling their oxygen intake to restrict the bacteria’s production of energy, thus resulting in dimmer or brighter illumination.  Secondly, the squids control light emission by using their ink sac as an iris to restrict light. Both processes cannot kill the bacteria but only limit its emission. Unfortunately, biologists couldn’t explain the mechanism behind light intensity control since they could not visually see inside the mantle.

A photo of the bacteria, Vibrio fischeri, which provides the Bobtail squid bioluminescence, in a petri dish. Photo from toxita.cz.

Biologists are trying to find out how these bacteria communicate with its host. There still remain many unanswered questions. For example, how do the squids know how much V. fischeri to expel? What happens if we remove these symbiotic bacteria from their hosts? How do the squids know when to stop before killing the bacteria?

With further research, they hope to understand how bacterial cells communicate with human cells using Bobtail squids as their model. Scientists wish to find ways to distinguish harmful bacteria versus those that help regulate our body. By understanding how V.fischeri functions inside the squids, we could produce antibiotics that only pinpoint the harmful bacteria in our body and find ways to disrupt these bacteria from causing us sicknesses.

– Alison Fung

## Can a mother have different DNA than her children?

In 2002, Lydia Fairchild was told that she was not the mother of her children. Prior to this, she had applied for child support from the children’s father, and DNA tests were performed in order to verify that both parents were in fact, the children’s biological parents. Although the DNA of the children matched that of the father, a bizarre discovery was made: the children’s DNA did not match that of Fairchild. Instead, she became the subject of an investigation into possible welfare fraud, and was interrogated by Social Services about her identity and who the children’s real mother was. Could the DNA testing have been incorrect? Is it a possibility that a mother’s DNA doesn’t match that of her children?

A chimeric mouse (right) with pups (left). The patches of two differing fur colours represent two genetically distinct cell populations. Source: NIMH’s Transgenic Core Facility

In the same year, a study came out in the New England Journal of Medicine about another woman facing disputed maternity over her children. The researchers of the study found that the woman had chimerism, a rare condition in which an individual is composed of genetically distinct cells. In these cases, it was due to the fusion of two zygotes, each with its own DNA, resulting in offspring composed of two genetically distinct populations of cells. It was later found that Fairchild also had chimerism, and was able to keep custody of her children.

For more on chimerism and Lydia Fairchild’s case:

In summary, chimerism can cause a mother to have different DNA than her children, and it is fascinating to consider that a person can have two distinct sets of DNA. Scientists have recently been able to make a chimeric sheep whose blood contained 15% human cells and 85% sheep cells, which has implications for the production of transplant organs. It is interesting to consider where the field of chimerism will take us, but of course, not without safety and ethical concerns.

Image

## The Beginning of The Universe

As we all know, the universe started from a Big Bang about 13.7 billion years ago. The Big Bang theory states that the universe started from a “singularity”, a point where space and time came into existence. This point of origin was hot and dense. Theoretically time came into existence at 5.39 * 10^-44 seconds, which is known as the Planck’s Time: the smallest unit at which time can exist. At the Planck’s time all four fundamental forces (gravity, strong force, weak force and electromagnetic force) were combined into one unified force.

Between 10^–43 seconds to 10^–36 seconds gravity separated from the unified force and this released energy. Furthermore, the strong nuclear force separated from the unified force between 10^–36 seconds to 10^–32 seconds and this triggered for the universe to go under an exponential expansion known as cosmic inflation. The following image illustrates the expansion of the
universe.

This image illustrates the expansion of the universe from a singularity. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Moreover, the electromagnetic and weak forces are separated at 10^-12 seconds. The separation of the four fundamental forces released a lot of energy. The following image illustrates the separation of the four forces.

One strong unified force is separated into four fundamental forces at the given times and temperatures. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The energy released form the four forces was converted to matter (Energy=mc^2 where m is mass and c is speed of light) and antimatter. Matter and antimatter was continuously created and through collisions being destroyed. At the end there was a small excess of matter over antimatter.

Then the temperatures were cooled and matter stopped being produced. The universe became a thick dense fog consisting of mostly hydrogen and some helium and lithium.

The universe is expanding even today. The most important proof for the expansion of the universe is that distant galaxies are moving away for us. The only thing expanding is space itself, the space between us and other galaxies is increasing.

The following video complements what I have stated.

Naqsh Fatima Bhangu

## Bugs in the News

We are all familiar with the fact that our bodies do not belong to us alone. We provide homes for up to 1000 bacterial species that live in our skin, our saliva, and our intestines, just to mention a few of several locations. It shouldn’t be a surprise that there is also a wide variety of multicellular microorganisms such as yeasts and mites taking refuge within us, but how many of them are we aware of? Are there more species than we realize that are living right under our noses?

Cross section view of hair follicle and sebaceous (oil) gland where face mites prefer to live. Source: Wikipedia – Sebaceous gland

It turns out that biologist Megan Thoemmes and her research team has recently found that face mites are indeed present under each and every adult nose, a recent CBC news article confidently – but questionably – reports. The two species found on human faces, Demodex brevis and Demodex folliculorum, are less than half a millimeter long, semitransparent, and either live within human pores or on hair follicles. The article reports that these creatures were found in all 253 tested adults of Thoemmes’s study, and so it is (rather pretentiously) suggested that the mites are universally existent on adult humans over age eighteen.

But isn’t the reporter jumping to conclusions?

Upon reading the original research paper, the answer is immediately clear. In actuality, there were 253 skin-scraping samples gathered, but only from nineteen participants, in contrast to the reported 253 adult participants. Extrapolating from 253 localized adults to the entire adult human population would be a hasty overgeneralization, let alone drawing conclusions from the actual sample size of nineteen. Moreover, an aspect that was completely disregarded in the article was that the participants sampled were chosen for their high apparent levels of skin-oil production, so perhaps the high frequency of face mites may not apply to everyone.

Scanning Electron Microscope image of the underside of a face mite. Source: Wikimedia Commons – Category: Demodex

In an effort to draw interest to the news article (based on the interview available in the voice clip below), the reporter used conclusive language throughout to heavily imply that all adults are hosts to face mites. By selectively filtering out some information and accompanying inferences with subtle uncertainty, along with the misreport of sample size, the article appears to be believably conclusive when in reality it is distorted and misleading, even if unintentionally so.

An example like this serves as a much needed wake-up call. Whether you’re a scientist or simply someone desiring to gain some insight into recent scientific developments and discoveries, it is absolutely essential that nothing is accepted without question. It is easy to draw conclusions from headlines as they are presented, but if proper discretion is not taken, you may be misled more than you are informed. As for whether or not we all have mites on our faces, only time and careful research will tell.

An audio clip of the interview with Megan Thoemmes is available below. Notice that a hasty generalization is made right at the start within the first minute of the track: