Sunday, August 22, 2010

Echoes and Silence


of the voiceless
creator     The earthworm,
pillbug, of the blind
consuming the bodies

now faceless, unrecognizable, as
death brings life to saprophage,

soil, flora, atmosphere;
their silent turning and returning
of the bodily goods   

I wrote this poem as a conversational response to the first stanza of Robert Creeley's "Echo", below: 


of the nameless
breather"     The brother,
sister, of the faceless
now adamant body, all
still unsaid, unfledged,
unrecognized until
death all so sudden
comes for the people
and we are one
in this covenant, all the nameless,
those still breathing,
all brothers, sisters,
mothers, fathers,
just a piece of the real,
the fading action, one afer one
this indifferent, inexorable, bitter
affliction strikes down   

          - Robert Creeley
            Life and Death
            NY: New Directions, 1998

Friday, April 30, 2010

Science, Religion, and Politics - the Ultimate Relaxed Conversation

One of my closest friends is a chemist.  Perhaps that we are both scientists contributes to our understanding of each other – of our views, our personalities, and our beliefs.  We certainly disagree on many things, but I feel that just adds interest and spice to our friendship, and in many ways, we are very much alike.  As it turns out, so are our fathers – perhaps even more so than we are. They belong to the same political camp, and are fastidiously tied to their strong political views.  They will preach to anyone who will listen…and also to anyone who won’t.  They are both religious, and very much dedicated to their faith.  They have yet to meet, though I envision the two of them having heated discussions with each other lasting all day and well into the night with no one in particular to convince, as they will echo each other’s thoughts entirely.  Yet they are both so forcefully dedicated to their views, the discussion would be as spirited and heated as if they were on opposing sides, instead of together opposing the other side.  And while this is going on, I would laugh at how alike they are, and wonder how they will get on without each other after this.  My friend – not so much. Just the thought gets her riled up – “Ooh, I can’t stand it when my dad is like that!  Do you know that if our fathers were to meet, I would never hear the end of it!  That’s all my father needs – to meet someone else who agrees with him so completely – and your father, of course – that would just confirm to him how "right" he is!”

Now, knowing my friends father, and understanding him through my own, I feel that I get his personality.  But he is also a chemist – he is a scientist, and so I was shocked when my friend told me recently that he doesn’t believe in evolution.  How can a scientist not believe in evolution?!  It’s a basic fundamental principle of science!  I thought here was the place where our fathers probably differed.  I had never asked my father about that before, and based on his religious and political views, one might automatically assume that he would not, but he does believe in the existence of aliens so I thought that perhaps an idea like evolution wasn’t so far off.  I wanted to know, so I called and asked him. “No.” he stated emphatically, almost sounding offended.  “There is no such thing.  Some people do, they think they came from apes, but I certainly didn’t come from an ape.” Welp – couldda seen that one coming!

Perhaps that there is room for religion and science to coexist.  Perhaps one can have a strong faith and also believe in evolution.  In science, we are constantly finding and figuring out new things, organisms, ideas – formulating new hypotheses; scientific beliefs are constantly evolving as we understand the world around us more and more.  In science, it is important to acknowledge when we don’t know the answer to something.  Perhaps there is something to that in religion, as well.  Perhaps it is okay to say “Yes, I believe in this”, while also saying “I don’t fully understand that.”  Faith isn’t about understanding and knowing, it’s about believing.  Cannot one have a strong religious faith, believe in scientifically likely scenarios, and acknowledge “I have faith in this, I acknowledge the likelihood of that, and I don’t understand how they connect”?


Sciencenrrd will be taking a temporary hiatus for the summer; see you in a few weeks!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Nothing Gold Can Stay (Robert Frost)


Nature's first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf's a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

                           - Robert Frost

Monday, April 5, 2010

Radial Beauty

Radiolaria are unicellular marine zooplankton. Most are microscopic, though they can reach a millimeter or more in size. They possess a soft, amoebic inner capsule containing the endoplasm, or inner part of the cell, and ectoplasm, or outer part of the cell. The cell is surrounded by a perforated outer skeleton, or test, composed of silica. Taking their name from their form, they are often radially symmetrical, and their skeletons accumulate on the sea floor as radiolarian ooze, a sediment which eventually becomes sedementary rock.

Radiolaria date back to the start of the Cambrian period, and have seen very little change over time.  They are mainly found in the upper regions of open oceans, where they feed on other planktonic organisms and frequently contain symbiotic algae which provide much of their energy. Like other amoeba, radiolaria use pseudopodia to capture food.

These geometric organisms possess astoundingly intricate skeletons, and much diversity in shape. The glass-like tests are concentric spheres, each perforated and connected by radial bars. It is through the perforations that the radiolaria extend their pseudopodia when feeding. 

Radiolaria are fascinating and beautiful creatures; their tests are truly works of art. They are an impeccable example of nature’s elegance, perfection, and order. The delicate shapes often remind me of honeycombs, perhaps formed into the shape of a birdcage, a glistening star, or a creature out of a Dr. Seuss story. Radiolaria have inspired the work of many artists, including those at Nervous System.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Thursday, March 25, 2010


photo taken by ScienceNrrd

Spring is easing itself right in to life again, and I was lucky to get a jump-start on it by spending a few days in a warmer climate, where flowers are already in bloom. Instead of looking out my window, longing for the sun to burst through the cold, instead of pulling my scarf just a little more tightly around my neck, I found myself sitting on a deck in a sleeveless tank, munching on begonias. With an occassional sneeze and a lazy smile, I spent several days with one of my favorite snacks at my reach. Their tart, juicy, sweet petals are a temptation my taste buds have not been able to resist since I discovered their delicious secret during my teenage rebellions.


"Come here," I had whispered to my youngest sister, "you need to try something."

"What is it?" she had asked, wondering at the sly look on my face.
"Just come. I found something, and it's incredible."
She followed my outside to the deck, and watched as I plucked a petal off a begonia plant and ate it.
"What?" she asked, confused, as I picked another and handed it to her.
"Eat it. It's amazing."
"Eat it?"
"Yes. It's like Starbursts, only as a flower," I said.
She took the petal, cautiously putting it to her mouth, one eyebrow raised.  I watched her chew as delight spread across her face.  "Mmm, those are good.  Give me another one."
We sat outside eating begonias until we had picked every petal out of every pot.  Not until we stood to go back inside did it occur to us what the consequences of our herbicidal snack might be.  "Mom's gonna kill us."  As we predicted, our mother was anything but happy when she found her potted garden decimated.


Since those days, I have often enjoyed the tartness of the flowers, albeit with more restraint.  I've invited many companions to try the delicacy, with mixed reactions.  I've shared the delights of the floral delicacy to a new crop of polleneaters, and to my delight, they enjoy it as much as I do.  The budding snackers are eager and willing, and with some direction, manage to not destroy the plants.  Instead, they pull off petals and dab pollen on their faces, playing with their food before eating it. 
And as I sat on the deck praising the sun, a little polleneater approached me with a yellow nose.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Neurons and On Being a Science Nrrd

I am currently studying the physiology of cells, and to be specific, at this particular moment I am studying neurons. Neurons, and how synapses are formed, are quite facinating, and I just may be posting about them sometime soon. In the meantime, in doing research for my work, I came across a cute-as-a-baby-elephant stuffed neuron, and just couldn't resist it. My niece is being baptised soon, and so I have ordered this brain cell for her, as I think that it is never too early to work on the phenotypic expression of the science nrrd gene.  Because as says, "The more brain cells you have, the smarter you are." 

>Sigh< if only my own children would understand the coolness of science, and thereby, the cuteness of this plushie. Alas, I am their mom. And so at one of their last cross-country meets, as I sauntered over to their team's spectators area sporting a neon periodic table T-shirt and deftly working a Rubik's Cube while searching the crowd for my children, it was the older 7th grade boys from their team who came over to me exclaiming, "Hey, cool! You know how to do that thing? How fast can you solve it?" and looking duly impressed with my "Eh, a little over two minutes or so". (Not particularly impressive, but when they can't solve it at all, any time is good time). And off in the distance, I caught a glimpse of my children, at once, glaring at me with "How could you?" expressions and shielding their eyes as they turned and hurried off. "Ugh, she's so embarrassing..." I could almost hear it. Well, budding scientists that they are, something to which their every teacher since kindergarten has attested, they will embrace their inner ScienceNrrd gene. It just can't be forced upon them. And so, the Rubik's Cube went back into my bag, replaced by my camera. I got some great action shots that day. And their teammates still think I'm cool. Which means that, in some small, indirect way, they think science is cool. And that is quite a fabulous accomplishment.