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Chris Hadfield
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Everything is Made of Chemicals

What contains more chemicals, apples or love hearts? If, like many people your instinctive response is "love hearts... of course", you might benefit from a new guide by the group Sense about Science, which debunks common myths about chemicals (you'll find the correct answer at the end of this blog post).  In the Sense about Science guide, we learn that "E-numbers" are simply chemicals approved for use in food; vinegar (acetic acid) for example is E260. The guide makes the case that: "sometimes we know less about the negative impacts of proposed alternatives than we do about the chemicals we wish to replace."


Take the following example:

“If someone came into your house and offered you a cocktail of butanol, iso amyl alcohol, hexanol, phenyl ethanol, tannin, benzyl alcohol, caffeine, geraniol, quercetin, 3-galloyl epicatchin, 3-galloyl epigallocatchin and inorganic salts, would you take it? It sounds pretty ghastly. If instead you were offered a cup of tea, you would probably take it. Tea is a complex mixture containing the above chemicals in concentrations that vary depending on where it is grown.” - Derek Lohmann, research chemist

The quote above is a parody of the following statement taken from the Greenpeace website: 

“If someone came into your house, mixed you a cocktail of unknown chemicals - and offered you a drink - would you take it? Of course not. You wouldn’t want untested chemicals in your home, your drink, or your body. You don’t want them - but shockingly - they’re already there.”

When it comes to food, in many cases what really matters is the dose:

"Doses of chemicals are often (measured) as “parts per million” (ppm) or “parts per billion” (ppb). One part per billion is equivalent to one grain of sugar in an Olympic swimming pool. Modern technology enables us to detect minuscule amounts of chemicals in our bodies, so minuscule they are measured on that tiny a scale. So, just because a chemical that in some large amount would be toxic can be detected in a person, that is not necessarily dangerous at all."

The document also looks at words that are often misused. The word "synthetic" simply means "made" whilst the word "artificial" also implies that a chemical does not occur naturally. Another word that get misused is the word "toxin" which does not mean "toxic chemical" but rather refers to toxic substances produced by a living organism such as bacteria.

The case made by Sense about Science isn't that every chemical is safe but that the word "natural" doesn't imply a chemical is healthy or safe, as is so often assumed. Nicotine and arsenic for example are both "natural" but are neither healthy nor safe. Sense about Science is raising money to send the poster below to schools to educate young people about the science of what we eat. To contribute to the campaign head over to Just Giving.

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Image Credit: Sense about Science

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
  • COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
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Climate change melts Mount Everest's ice, exposing dead bodies of past climbers

Melting ice is turning up bodies on Mt. Everest. This isn't as shocking as you'd think.

Image source: Wikimedia commons
Surprising Science
  • Mt. Everest is the final resting place of about 200 climbers who never made it down.
  • Recent glacial melting, caused by climate change, has made many of the bodies previously hidden by ice and snow visible again.
  • While many bodies are quite visible and well known, others are renowned for being lost for decades.
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Creativity: The science behind the madness

Human brains evolved for creativity. We just have to learn how to access it.

Creativity: The science behind the madness | Rainn Wilson, David Eagleman, Scott ...
Videos
  • An all-star cast of Big Thinkers—actors Rainn Wilson and Ethan Hawke; composer Anthony Brandt; neuroscientists David Eagleman, Wendy Suzuki, and Beau Lotto; and psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman—share how they define creativity and explain how our brains uniquely evolved for the phenomenon.
  • According to Eagleman, during evolution there was an increase in space between our brain's input and output that allows information more time to percolate. We also grew a larger prefrontal cortex which "allows us to simulate what ifs, to separate ourselves from our location in space and time and think about possibilities."
  • Scott Barry Kaufman details 3 brain networks involved in creative thinking, and Wendy Suzuki busts the famous left-brain, right-brain myth.

Dinosaur bone? Meteorite? These men's wedding bands are a real break from boredom.

Manly Bands wanted to improve on mens' wedding bands. Mission accomplished.

Sex & Relationships
  • Manly Bands was founded in 2016 to provide better options and customer service in men's wedding bands.
  • Unique materials include antler, dinosaur bones, meteorite, tungsten, and whiskey barrels.
  • The company donates a portion of profits to charity every month.
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Politics & Current Affairs

How #Unity2020 plans to end the two-party system, bring back Andrew Yang

The proposal calls for the American public to draft two candidates to lead the executive branch: one from the center-left, the other from the center-right.

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