July's Science Cafe Speaker

Meet Myron Cohen, M.D., our special guest for July’s Carolina Science Cafe. He’s a busy man, so we’re grateful he took a few minutes out of his day to answer our questions.

Where did you grow up? Chicago

What did you want to be when you were a kid? A journalist

How did you get interested in science? After serving as editor of the high school paper, I started at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana wanting to study journalism.  My first year of college, a very good friend became ill and later died.  I spent a lot of time with him at the hospital, and I guess that’s how I first became interested in medicine and decided to study pre-med.  When I took organic chemistry, not only did I absolutely love it, but I was really, really good at it, and that helped me realize that I was on the right path.

In one sentence, describe your job: I’m a catalyst for synergy among biomedical faculty at UNC.

What’s a special talent/trick/skill/hobby you have that you’re colleagues don’t know about? Well, let’s see.  I can’t sing.  I can’t dance.  I can’t type.  I’m a pretty good skier.

If someone wrote you a blank check to explore any aspect of your field’s research, what would you want to do and why? Redouble our efforts to cure HIV disease.  We’re pretty far along as it is.

Thanks, Dr. Cohen. That’s good stuff. You can read more about Dr. Cohen’s efforts here.

Please join us on Thursday, July 7, at 6 p.m. (NOTE THE NEW TIME!) for this special science cafe:

The Beginning (and End?) of the AIDS Pandemic: A 30-Year Journey

Back Bar at Top of the Hill

Downtown Chapel Hill

Sponsored by Sigma XI

Jonathan Frederick is the director of the North Carolina Science Festival. He likes mango popsicles.

This weekend, Morehead will host a unique event — a “homecoming” of sorts for our alumni, a chance for reconnection and recreation among UNC graduates who used to spend hours together but now rarely see one another.

Morehead employs around 60 UNC undergraduate students (and sometimes a graduate student or two) every year. If you’ve visited Morehead, you’ve met our student employees. The person who greeted your school bus on your field trip, the person who rang up your purchase of astronaut ice cream, the person who invited you to volunteer for the Science LIVE! demonstration, the person who presented your planetarium show — all Morehead student employees.

Morehead alumni

Morehead student employees and UNC teaching fellows served as hosts and hostesses for the 2004 Jupiter Ball. Now, they're among our alumni.

They’re busy behind the scenes, too. Morehead student employees help write camp curricula, design flyers, train their peers to master new skills, work with teachers on field trip reservations, solve computer glitches, type and file and copy … there aren’t any departments within the planetarium, from the director’s office to front-line service roles, where you won’t find student employees at Morehead.

It’s a win-win situation. Morehead benefits from an ever-changing influx of fresh ideas and energy. These students are SMART. They’re hard working and enthusiastic, too. They relate well to our visitors, and they share new perspectives that strengthen Morehead programs.

And what do the students get from working at Morehead? Paychecks, an on-campus “family” away from home, a fun environment and unique leadership opportunities. Best of all, they learn new skills that translate into better job opportunities after graduation. At Morehead, they’re given a lot of responsibility and encouraged to learn as much as possible — and they do, in all kinds of activities. Event management. Retail marketing. Grantwriting. Curriculum design. Public speaking. Group project coordination.

Year after year, we watch Morehead alumni transform their experiences here into career paths. They now work at other science centers, creating educational programs and designing exhibits. They work in graphic design and public relations and nonprofit development. They work in public schools, in research labs, in business and industry. They are making a difference in the world.

We are proud of our alumni. Welcome “home,” everyone!

Once a Tar Heel, always a Tar Heel.

February 2008 lunar eclipse (credit: Jayme Hanzak)

The next time the Moon is full, it will pass into the Earth’s shadow, causing a total lunar eclipse. The action happens early Tuesday morning, December 21, 2010, between 1:33 and 5:01 a.m. Totality is from 2:41 to 3:53 a.m. (All times Eastern.)

So seeing it probably means inconveniencing yourself unless you work the night shift or will be in another time zone. (Lucky folks on the West Coast, for example, get to subtract three hours from all the times above.) If the skies are clear enough, here’s why it is worth losing sleep to see the eclipse:

1) You will see the Moon turn a weird color.

When the Moon passes into the Earth’s shadow, rather than disappearing altogether, it will probably turn red. Or maybe orange, or gray, or brown. The Earth’s atmosphere bends sunlight and sends it into the Earth’s shadow, so in effect you see light from all the sunrises and sunsets on Earth. The exact color of the Moon depends on what’s in our atmosphere as well as how deeply into the darkest part of the shadow the Moon passes.

2) You can prove to yourself the Earth is round.

When the eclipse is in a partial phase, you can see that the Earth’s shadow is curved.

3) You can imagine a ferocious dog taking a bite out of the Moon.

According to a Korean myth, a lunar eclipse happens when a king’s “fire dog” attempts to steal the Moon and bring its light to the Land of Darkness. When this huge, fierce dog bites into the Moon he finds it painfully cold. His mouth freezing and his teeth singing with pain, the dog then spits out the Moon.

4) You haven’t gotten to see a total lunar eclipse in nearly 3 years.

The night of February 20-21, 2008, was the most recent total eclipse of the Moon visible from anywhere on Earth.

5) …and you may have missed that eclipse anyway.

That week I was presenting a stargazing seminar for public school teachers at the Ocracoke campus of the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching, where I remember good views of the eclipse. But members of the Chapel Hill Astronomical and Observational Society (CHAOS) reported cloud cover during the early stages.

6) …and your NEXT chance to see a total lunar eclipse from here won’t be until April 2014.

And its timing during the night isn’t any more convenient for the East coast than this Dec. 21 eclipse, so don’t wait for that reason.

To witness a simulation of the eclipse with no loss of sleep, and to learn more Moon-related stuff, please join me at the Moon Myths planetarium program:

  • A 90-minute version designed for adults and teens happens this Wednesday, Dec. 15, from 7:30-9:00 p.m. In addition to spending time under the planetarium sky, we’ll do a hands-on “moon dance” (no actual dancing required) to explore how the Moon’s orbit is related to phases and eclipses. And if the weather permits, we’ll spend a few minutes outside looking at the real thing through a telescope.

Register for either program at the Morehead Web site.

Amy Sayle is setting an alarm to catch the lunar eclipse.

It’s a tough question: Which is more popular, “Scare-olina Skies” in October or “Carolina Skies: Valentine Edition” in February?

Here are my three reasons why “Scare-olina Skies” rules:

  • Those ancient Greeks and Romans created amazing tales about strange monsters, set among the constellations of the night sky. I love to hear those stories — they add a fun new element to skywatching.
  • There’s a special “Scare-olina Skies: Family Edition” version just for school-age children and their parents on Saturday, Oct. 30, at 3:30 p.m. (The version for adults and older teens is offered at 8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 29, and on Saturday, Oct. 30.)
  • This planetarium show is a great alternative to the “same old, same old” Halloween activities. (And you can wear your costume if you want.)

Need another reason? Consider this: Since Morehead installed its new fulldome digital video projection system this year, October 2010 is our first opportunity to offer “Scare-olina Skies” as a fulldome show! So if you come this year, you’ll be part of our history.

See you this weekend!

There will be no "sports agent" Halloween costumes permitted on Franklin Street.

Phytoplankton Blooms

This image, from the NASA SeaWiFS project, shows the striking green colors produced by phytoplankton.

You probably already know that a hurricane has an eye, but did you know that hurricanes might actually display a preference for certain colors? New research from the U.S. Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, New Jersey suggests that hurricanes may be more likely to travel over green areas of the ocean than over more clear, blue areas. The ongoing study is attempting to improve hurricane forecasting models by looking at variables like ocean color which are not usually considered in tracking programs.

The study looked specifically at storms in the northern Pacific Ocean, where the predominant surface water color is green due to blooms of tiny plants called phytoplankton. These plants absorb sunlight, which increases the water temperature in that area. Increased surface temperature means increased “fuel” for hurricanes, which gain strength over warm water and lose strength over cooler water or land.  The researchers used a computer program to model what would happen to hurricane paths if the phytoplankton were reduced in number, thus changing the water color. As the water became clearer, the number of hurricanes traveling over that region of water was reduced by two-thirds.

These results suggest that if phytoplankton populations decrease, fewer hurricanes may travel north to highly populated areas like Japan or the East Coast of the United States. Several studies have suggested that in fact this may already be happening, as global warming has made some areas of the ocean less hospitable to phytoplankton. However, other studies have suggested that global warming is actually increasing phytoplankton populations, so more research is needed in this area. And of course, while it would be great to not have to worry about hurricanes outside of the tropics, removing phytoplankton could have a severely negative effect on marine environments that rely on the plants for energy.

The researchers are now planning to move their study into the real world by looking at actual hurricane paths and satellite imagery of real-time ocean colors to see if their preliminary results match up with real storm paths. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about hurricanes and other types of storms, visit Morehead Planetarium and Science Center to see Science 360: Predicting Severe Weather when it comes back on our Fall schedule September 4.

Casey Rawson is the Science Content Developer for Science 360.

The seventh video in our Science 360: The Truth Behind 2012 series focuses on solar eruptions. Some people think a massive solar eruption will engulf our planet in radiation, wiping out all life on Earth. Are scientists worried? Watch and find out…

Jay Heinz is Morehead's Digital Production Manager.

Festival coordinator, Julie Rhodes, sharing exciting news with the rest of the planning team.

As you can imagine, things are pretty hectic around here as we count down to the start of the NC Science Festival.   It’s LESS THAN ONE MONTH AWAY!  And, while it’s hectic, it’s also so much fun.  I’ve done things (have tea with a Nobel Laureate; call Adam & Jamie to invite them to NC) and said things (“Can you park your NASCAR car here?” and “Do you mind if we chunk pumpkins through the center of campus?”) that I NEVER would have had the opportunity to say and do without the Festival.  So, thanks to everyone for enriching my life over these last few months.

And, that’s the whole point of the Festival – to enrich YOUR life by getting you involved in science, technology, math and engineering.  We are putting finishing touches on many things – including schedules and maps – so you’ll know when and where to show up for some awesome science action!  Take a look at the Festival schedule to see what I mean.  There are over 300 events taking place across the state between Sept. 11-26.

We want to invite you to attend as many events as possible during the Festival.  And we would love to see you in Chapel Hill on Sat., Sept. 25 for the UNC Science Expo.  There are literally hundreds of cool things taking place this day – demos, lab tours, talks, performances.  You name it – we’ve probably got it!

I look forward to hearing about your science adventures in September!

Denise

Denise Young is Morehead’s director of education and planning and co-founder of the NC Science Festival. She proposes skipping the rest of August so we can get on with the Festival!

If you have watched the early evening sky over the past weeks, you may have noticed Venus, Mars, and Saturn engaging in a slow planet dance.

On August 12 and 13, the Moon joins the party. Look for this striking sight soon after sunset in the same direction the Sun went down. You will likely see the crescent Moon and super bright Venus first. As the sky darkens further, notice Mars and Saturn near Venus. (Mercury will be lower, dimmer, and much harder to spot.)

If you’d like to see these celestial objects through a telescope, join Morehead for our skywatching session this Thursday, August 12, from 9 to 11 p.m. Weather permitting, we’ll be at Jordan Lake, Ebenezer Church Recreation Area. Come near the beginning of the session to view the Moon and planet trio. Then stick around for a chance to see some Perseid meteors.

If the skywatching session is canceled, we will post a message around 4 p.m. at the Morehead Web site — please check before you head out to Jordan Lake.

Amy Sayle hopes to spot a few Perseid meteors from Jordan Lake during Paddling Under the Stars. Although the paddle is sold out, the skywatching session is free and open to all.

Less than a month to go before the North Carolina Science Festival kicks off on September 11. We’ve been working hard getting everything ready and just finished up a commercial that’s going to be airing on WRAL and TimeWarner Cable for the next few weeks. It features some employees and friends of Morehead that you might know and was totally produced in-house. Enjoy.

Jay Heinz is Morehead's Digital Production Manager.

03 Aug 2010
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There’s a popular vampire drama on cable TV that’s built around the concept of synthetic blood. Interesting concept … if you’re a TV vampire. But there’s no such thing in real life, right?

Wrong. Researchers are developing synthetic blood as part of a new wave of nanotechnology-based strategies against disease.

Dr. Joseph DeSImoneHow are these new technologies going to affect the way we treat cancer and other diseases?

Come learn some of the possibilities when Dr. Joseph DeSimone speaks at Morehead’s Current Science Forum on Thursday, Aug. 5, at 7 p.m. It’s a free program.

If you search for "synthetic blood," Google currently lists 62,900 results.