The Largest Aquifer On Earth

At the edge of a remote Mid-Atlantic ocean ridge, the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) is using a  470-foot drill to take scientific samples of the ocean crust. Recent discoveries have shown that the deep ocean, once thought lifeless, is actually a hotbed for microbial ecosystems, collectively known as the “deep biosphere”. Using this drill, scientists are able to extract and analyze sediment cores to look at oxygen consumption and other factors that give insight into the survival of these microbial ecosystems. Findings using this drill have revealed that oxygen is “disappearing from seawater circulating through deep oceanic crust.” These findings seem to suggest that the microbes living within the oceanic crust, literally “buried alive”, are utilizing the oxygen in the deep ocean. Although this is just a first step, it provides concrete evidence for ideas that have been suspected for a long time. With this evidence, scientists can begin to quantify the metabolism of the deep biosphere, and to better understand how this ecosystem functions. This type of knowledge will, in turn, help us to better understand chemical cycling and the nature of life and existence on Earth. This could be big for the search for extraterrestrial life because it gives us a better understanding of biological and chemical processes here on Earth. The amount of life that is contained within the deep ocean crust is vast, and a better understanding of the inner workings of this ecosystem will only aid in the search for livable conditions outside of our planet, as well as life itself.

How Free is Freewill?

How Free is Freewill?

 

“…a far more humane proceeding than our earthly method of leaving children to grow into human beings, and then making machines of them.” (Wells 201)

 

A Call for Reflection

Originally published in 1901, H. G. Wells’ The First Men In the Moon presents a space travel voyage not quite up to par with the modern technicality of today’s science fiction. But despite the unlikely science, the social and political commentary springing from the final crossing of earthly and lunar worlds makes for a very different and spectacular kind of science fiction story. It is a story in which the idea of biologically engineering organisms from birth challenges the proclivity of humanity’s striving for independence. The concepts of inner differentiation between people and war between brothers drive a need to question our ways. The shock of the beings encountered on the moon upon hearing of the nature of Earth seeks to question our tendency towards the haven of choice and freewill, but ultimately to reassure us that it is the right direction.

 

A Journey Into Worlds

The novel begins with the mischance convergence of two very different people, Cavor, the classic professor and scientist, and Bedford, the capitalistic businessman and writer. They meet in the village of Lympne, in England, where each is working on what they individually deem the projects of their lives. Bedford is writing a play, which helps to develop the idea that he is on the far end of the social spectrum from the scientist. Cavor is working on a new compound, although unsuccessfully until coming together with Bedford, which is opaque to gravity. In essence, it is a compound that can defy gravity. Soon after the first synthesis of this compound, which they call Cavorite, Cavor becomes fixed on the idea of going to the moon using this new substance. All of the creation of Cavorite and the sphere in which they travel is then followed by a questionably smooth journey from Earth to the Moon. Soon after their arrival on an apparently barren and frozen Moon, the lunar sunrise gives life to all manner of exotic flora that grow at an incredible rate. “Darting shrubs, swelling cacti, creeping lichens,” and “interminable thickets of scrub” (71, 77) quickly overtake the two men, and their sphere. Lost, panicked, and hungry, the explorers stumble upon what appears to be an entrance into the interior of the Moon where they discover, and inevitably are captured by, a race of creatures, deemed Selenites after the moon goddess Selene. While Cavor tries to make some sort of communication of intelligence to the uncomprehending Selenites, Bedford’s efforts result in the discovery that the moon creatures are quite fragile due to the lower gravity of the moon. The men also discover that the crowbar-like tools that the Selenites are using are made of pure gold, which is apparently abundant inside of the moon. Using these tools as weapons the two men escape with their lives, and of course, two solid gold crowbars that Bedford plans to return to Earth with. Despite their aggressive evasion of captivity, Cavor and Bedford are still left with the problem of finding the sphere, their ride home. They decide to leave a flag as a waypoint at the center of the crater they are in and split up to try to find the sphere. This invariably leads to Bedford’s discovery of the sphere and Cavor’s disappearance when Bedford goes looking for him. Rationalizing that Cavor is lost, and with the fatal lunar night approaching, Bedford returns to the sphere and then to Earth, again quite easily. After landing conveniently back in England, Bedford stays in a small village where he learns of a man named Mr. Wendigee who has been receiving messages in fragmented English from somewhere on the Moon.

In the finale of the novel, we hear Bedford’s narrative of Cavor’s messages. After Cavor’s capture, he is brought to the interior of the Moon, to the great sea. He discovers that the Selenites are conditioned from birth to fulfill a certain role in society. They become extremely suited to that role both mentally and physically, and the aspects of their beings that are not necessary to that role shrivel and fade. Eventually, Cavor is brought before the Grand Lunar, the ruler of the Selenites, who is essentially a giant brain and consciousness. This is where we see the stark contrast between worlds, the intrigue, and sometimes horror, of the Selenites as Cavor shares his world with them. He tells them of the nature of Earth, of life on the surface, the atmosphere, architecture, democracy, independence, nations, and war, all things curious and disturbing to the Grand Lunar. The topic of war brings an abrupt end to the discourse. The Grand Lunar begins to ask, “but why should there be a need…” (217) But he stops. And no answer is given. Just as with the rest of the symbolic differences between humans and Selenites, the reader is left to ponder.

 

Our Place in the Universe

In a society that constantly moves further and further into an age of independence and individuality, Wells implores us, through Cavor’s intra-lunar experiences, to consider the implications of a world in which mindless efficiency rules. In the Moon, beings are given neither choice, nor freewill. They are biologically engineered from birth to fulfill a position in society.

In the moon, every citizen knows his place. He is born to that place, and the elaborate discipline of training and education and surgery he undergoes fits him at last so completely to it that he has neither ideas nor organs for any purpose beyond it. (197)

For some, this means overdeveloped hands, or olfactory senses. The glass blowers have incredible lungs, while the rest of their body starves. For the thinkers though, for the leaders and the Grand Lunar, this means incredible intelligence. During the meeting between Cavor and the Grand Lunar, there are “learned heads… Not a thing in lunar science, not a point of view or a method of thinking” is excluded from the beings’ minds. (205) The Selenites are the highest level of specialists. Their society is efficient and unified. Although at times it is grotesque, it is ultimately peaceful. This presentation of a societal alternative challenges the idea that humanity is as profoundly successful as we often make it out to be. Oftentimes, humans will wander through life, without goals, without purpose, and without a place in society. The independence of choice that is such a hallmark of modern human existence is not perfect and will often lead to failure, outcast, and conflict. But it is that same independence and freewill that makes humanity great, that makes it such an incredible avenue of existence. Although the Selenite society might be perfect, perfection is not what makes a society great. What makes a society great is its character, its imperfection. It is the knowledge that we can make mistakes and fail, and that those mistakes will make society stronger. Without failure, society is stagnant. It will never move and it will never progress. We can see society within the main characters, Cavor and Bedford. They are wildly different personalities with their own intentions, thoughts, and opinions, and yet they can make this journey together and feel some sort of companionship. Upon his return to Earth, we also see a change in the initially cold and greedy Bedford. He is concerned about the fate of Cavor and seems to be willing to toss aside his life to try to help find a way to bring him back from the Moon. Both characters make mistakes along the way, and both change as a result. And in the end, despite their respective fates, they are better for it. Wells’ vision of a perfectly engineered society is one that humans could never live in, because humans need failure. Humans need independence. As Cavor tells the Grand Lunar, “Some [are] thinkers and some officials; some [hunt]; some [are] mechanics, some artists, some toilers… but all rule.” (214) The independence of humanity means that complete efficiency is impossible, for humans are not mindless, and they thrive on the idea that the entire world is a work in progress.

It is the customs of Earth and humanity themselves, and the contrast they present against those of the Moon that are used to ask us to think about the way in which this world has developed. The Selenite society beneath the cratered surface of the Moon can be seen as highly utopic. There is no error in their world. Each and every person has a place that they are perfectly suited to, so there is no reason for anything to go wrong. There is no war, no strife between people who are essentially the same. But this society is a far cry from our convoluted, secretive, human society. Upon hearing of this strange humanity, the Selenites are shocked and in awe that our world can continue at such an advanced level while it is clearly primitive in so many ways. When Cavor describes to them the idea of democracy, they wonder if people all do the same thing. Since there is not the physical differentiation as there is on the Moon, and everyone has a voice in society, they assume that people are very similar. To this Cavor responds, “Perhaps if one could see the minds and souls of men they would be as varied and unequal as the Selenites.” (214) While in the eyes of the lunar beings our world is strange and imperfect, it is the ability for its inhabitants to have so much in common, yet be so varied and beautifully diverse that makes it the exact opposite. The kind of diversity presented in the Moon may be perfect in some ways, but it brings up many other problems, and certainly is not as utopic as it might seem. But then there is war. The climax of the exchange between Cavor and the Grand Lunar comes with the topic of war.

[The Grand Lunar] was at first perplexed and incredulous. ‘You mean to say,’ he asked, seeking confirmation,’ that you run about over the surface of your world—this world, whose riches you have scarcely begun to scrape—killing one another for beasts to eat?’

I told him that was perfectly correct. (216)

The violent obsession that circles our world, everything that the Grand Lunar inquires about, is a direct result of our freewill. But there is no doubt, despite this causation, that a world in which there is no freewill, in which the lives and fates of individuals are predetermined, is no better alternative to ours. And while war is terrible and is something that no society should have to experience, it is a necessary and integral part of the world that we have built. War means an exercise of our freewill, of our independence, and not only our decision to choose, but also our ability to. On the Moon, most individuals are not even aware of the option of freewill, let alone its practice. There is no conflict, because there is barely a society to disagree. There are barely individuals; the Moon is a world of drones. The diversity and individuality of humans, although mostly interior, is the reason for war. And though it can be seen as a downfall of society, it can also be seen as beautiful when you are comparing our world to that of the Moon. War gives hope to the continuing freewill of humans. It is a beacon for the humanity we know and love. A terrible, bloody beacon. But a beacon nonetheless. When the Grand Lunar asks why should there be a need, it is because it proves that our society is still alive. There is not necessarily a need, but it shows that our world still has a pulse.

Where Do We Go Now?

Although with ambiguous intention, the ideas presented in The First Men In the Moon questions, but ultimately commends, the efficiency and success of freewill and independence in society. The strange society of beings encountered within the moon is shocked by the ways of Earth and of humans. They find it hard to believe that a society in which people have choice and freewill, and in which war and violence exist, could ever be successful, let alone thrive. But the Selenites, in their sheltered, mechanized society do not understand that the same characteristics that give them doubts about humans are also those that make them great. It is the independence, freewill, choice, and individuality of the human race that makes it all that it is, with its successes, its failures, and its overall sense of humanity on both sides of the spectrum. That said, there are aspects of the Selenite society that, alone, are superior to ours. By presenting a society with positive aspects, but that is ultimately worse off, thoughts arise about what human society could truly benefit from, what changes might need to be made in order to truly make this society everything it can be. This novel leaves many questions and issues unanswered. But as to how free freewill is on a societal scale; it is as free as it gets.

 

 

Works Cited:

Wells, H. G. The First Men In the Moon. New York: Random House, 2003. Print.

“The First Men in the Moon.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Sept. 2013. Web. 22 Sept. 2013.

Maddox, David. “The SF Site Featured Review: The First Men in the Moon.” The SF Site Featured Review: The First Men in the Moon. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Sept. 2013.

Mechanical Bugs?

Well, kind of…

This week, scientists at the University of Cambridge have released their discovery of naturally occurring mechanical gears in a living organism. That’s right, as awesome as bikes and trains are, nature beat us to the punch. This observation was made in the juvenile Issus coleoptratus, a small, jumping insect found very commonly in gardens throughout Europe, and represents the first discovery of mechanical gearing in a living organism.

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Juvenile Issus coleoptratus

Juvenile Issus coleoptratus

Just looking at the Issus, it doesn’t look like much, and it’s easy to wonder why no one thought much of it in the past. But this news marks the discovery of a truly incredible feat of evolution. The aforementioned mechanical gear structure is found in the hind legs of the Issus, and is used to bring the movement of the legs during a leap into perfect synchronicity.  The reason for this mechanical synchronicity is that the nervous system alone does not actually possess the precision to move both legs at the exact same time and rate, and a difference in motion of even a few microseconds can cause the Issus to fly out of control. This almost seems shocking given the established power that the nervous system has in living organisms, but it is equally amazing to think of the speed of movement that is required to exceed the brains ability to send synchronized nerve impulses to both legs.

What is also interesting is that these structures appear only in juvenile stage of the insect, perhaps due to the fact that the nervous system is still developing to a point where absolute synchronicity of movement is possible without mechanical assistance. At this point, scientists are unsure about connections between the juvenile and adult stages and the potential role of the structures later in life. No matter what though, this discovery highlights the incredible power of evolution on Earth, and the feats that is capable of. As the co-author Gregory Sutton states: “These gears are not designed; they are evolved…”

Sources:

Burrows, Malcolm, and Gregory Sutton. “Mechanical Gears Seen for the First Time in Nature.” Mechanical Gears Seen for the First Time in Nature. Bristol University, 18 Sept. 2013. Web. 18 Sept. 2013.

Images:

http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/science/2013/09/this-insect-has-the-only-mechanical-gears-ever-found-in-nature/

http://jjsphotographicblog.blogspot.com/2012/08/hopping-mad-down-in-kent.html

How the H*#@ Did That Happen?

Red Rocks Park

Red Rocks Park

If I had to choose one activity that gives Red Rocks Park in South Burlington, VT its fame, it would be cliff jumping, with cliffs ranging from 5 to 76 feet and deep water to land in. And undoubtedly, speaking from personal experience, that is the main draw to this beautiful natural area on Lake Champlain. But most people don’t take much time to stop and admire the amazing stratified quartize jutting diagonally out of the water that makes up this cliff jumping “funpark”. Furthermore, few people stop and wonder how that amazing rock actually got there. This is Vermont we are talking about after all, and rock formations like Red Rocks is a pretty rare occurrence for most of the state.

cliff

To answer the question of how Red Rocks came to be, first we have to look at plate tectonics and an early, developing Earth. Roughly 500 million years ago, Vermont was near the equator and South Burlington was part of a sand beach on the coast of the Lapetus Ocean, a precursor to the Atlantic. The sand on this beach gradually deposited and solidified into the strata of sandstone that would eventually make up Red Rocks. Then, roughly 450 million years ago, there was a collision between the coast of Vermont and a small island chain. This collision caused the Green Mountains that the state is known for to form, as well as the creation of the current quartzite cliffs due to the heat and pressure of the collision with the layers of sandstone. As continents continued to move and shape, mile-deep glaciers formed over what is now Vermont and Lake Champlain. Even when these finally receded though (roughly 13,000 years ago), Red Rocks was still under a few hundred feet of water. Only as more time passed, and the then Champlain Sea receded into the current day Lake Champlain, were the current cliffs revealed and shaped through erosion. And now, we casually jump off these cliffs without any thought about the millions of years of geological  processes that went into their creation.

Sources:

Geological history: Mazowita, Sophie. “Red Rocks Park” Rep. N.p.: n.p., 2013. Print.

 Video: “75 Foot Cliff Jump. Burlington, VT” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFWPeuD62ik

Tri-Color Hubble Deep Sky Image

Eagle Nebula- "The Pillars of Life"

Eagle Nebula- “The Pillars of Life”

This is a tri-color deep sky image taken of the Eagle Nebula by the Hubble Space Telescope. While the picture itself is amazing, as is the story behind what is in it, what is really cool is how this picture was made. When Hubble takes deep sky images, such as the one above, it is actually taking multiple images using different filters for different wavelengths of light. So all of the different images the telescope takes look slightly different. Since these filtered images are actually black and white, Photoshop or a similar photo editing program is used to create the amazing, colorful images we see of deep space objects.

First, a program called FITS Liberator is used to fine tune the raw, black and white, Hubble image and adjust brightness, etc. In this case, I used three raw images, which were then opened in Photoshop as three different layers of the same image. Once in Photoshop, color (RGB, as the human eye sees color) is added to the images according to their respective wavelengths, meaning the image of the longest wavelength is red, and the shortest blue. Once the images are layered and colors fine- tuned, the three raw images become a colorful finished product. This really is quite and easy process, although I’m sure practice wouldn’t hurt, and anyone can do it!

The “Pillars of Life” are part of the Eagle Nebula in the Milky Way Galaxy. The light shining out of this nebula is caused by ultraviolet radiation, the result of new star formation in the vicinity. Before I mentioned each raw image showing different wavelengths of light, and in the colored images, each color represents the different substances present in the nebula. The sections of the nebula shown in green represent hydrogen atoms, the red is sulfur ions, and the blue is doubly-ionized oxygen. Although some of these colors do not represent the true emitted light from certain substances, it creates an image in which the substances are more easily told apart, as well as enhances the overall detail. The above image shows darker colors surrounding the pillars, indicating the presence of hydrogen and oxygen, while the pillars themselves are largely lighter, reddish hues, indicating sulfur. This nebula is an area of very active star production. The “Pillars” are clouds of gas and dust that essentially act as incubators for new stars. The denser knobs are called EGGs (Evaporating Gaseous Globules), and star formation is occurring in many of these. I find it interesting that even on such an astronomical scale, we still equate the progression of stars to the life we know and the occurrence of evolution and life here on Earth.

Sources:

NASA, ESA, STScl, J. Hester, and P. Scowen. “Embryonic Stars Emerge from Interstellar “Eggs”” HubbleSite. STScl, NASA, 2 Nov. 1995. Web. 11 Sept. 2013.

“Eagle Nebula.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 09 Sept. 2013. Web. 11 Sept. 2013.

Raw images from: http://www.spacetelescope.org/projects/fits_liberator/datasets/

Prometheus

Prometheus, in its most basic form, is a film about a group of scientists who go to a distant moon in search of their creators, in search of the origin of human life. While they do find this, it doesn’t quite stop there. They discover that their creators (called “the Engineers“) had planned to destroy humans for reasons unknown, but had fallen victim to their own weapon/ creation before they could do so. While this may sound like a typical science- fiction movie, there is much, much more at play which has led to incredible amounts of debate upon the messages, themes, and occasionally, science, in a film which seems to ask lots of cultural and philosophical questions without giving much of an answer.

As this is a science course, I’ll start with the scientific aspects of the film and their implications. For the most part, the science in Prometheus is very accurate. That being said, it is based in the 2090’s, so naturally there is technology present that is beyond what we currently have. But the planetary science, such as finding traces of life on a moon orbiting a large, gaseous planet, or finding conditions similar, but not identical, to those on Earth, is believable. One of the largest scientific debates is over the “black liquid” that appears throughout the film and appears to be the rudimentary weapon that the Engineers had planned to use to eliminate humans.

During the course of the film, we see this liquid in many different settings, and the effects that it has on people, or other organisms, seems to vary. There are many hypotheses for the nature of this liquid, but two that make sense in my opinion. The first is that it takes on the traits of whatever organism it comes into contact with by infecting and mutating the DNA of that organism. At the start, it is just a mysterious liquid that begins to bubble out of the above canisters when the scientists enter the room, suggesting possible instability that could have led to the overrunning of the Engineers. As the movie goes on, the form that the liquid and its creations take on are of an increasingly evolved state. I could go on forever describing each evolutionary instance and thoughts on the nature of the liquid, but for now I think it will suffice to say that the two main ideas are that 1) the liquid uses the genetic material and traits of whatever host it infects to create a more evolved offspring, and 2) the liquid mirrors the emotions and intentions of whatever host it affects and creates an evolved offspring that embodies those emotions. One example of this is the opening scene, in which we see an Engineer on a desolate planet (presumably early Earth) voluntarily drink this liquid, in apparent self- sacrifice. The liquid breaks down his DNA into the building blocks of human life. When one of the scientists later in the film also ingests the liquid, he turns into a murderous creature somewhat resembling himself. Another strong example of this idea is in the very last scene, when we see the body of an infected Engineer who was trying to kill Shaw, his intentions and emotions extremely malevolent. A creature very closely resembling the modern Alien xenomorph then bursts from his chest. Anyone who has seen the Alien movies knows these creatures to be extremely malevolent and bloodthirsty, so this lends credence to the mirrored- emotion hypothesis.

So that’s the science. And it’s only the tip of the iceberg. As we begin to turn towards cultural and religious themes, we start to see the real debates unfold. Among many others, a few of the main themes are the idea of God and belief and the importance of humans in the universe. There are many details in the film that lead us to question where, and if, God comes into the picture. Obviously there is strong symbolism in that the Engineers created humans just as God did. Also, it is mentioned that the Engineers intended to destroy humans after some event about 2000 years ago, implying the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This hints that Jesus was an emissary sent by the Engineers in an attempt to turn civilization around. But humans instead killed this emissary, thus leading the Engineers to decide it was time for humans to be no longer. So while there is the symbolism for God in the Engineers there is also the thought of who created the Engineers (as Shaw asks when David, the android, asks if their discovery makes her doubt her beliefs), leading the viewer to question where the line between religion and science lies and whether it needs to be so clear cut. Obviously we live in a highly scientific world, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for religion and philosophy.  Then comes one of the biggest questions. Why did the Engineers create us? And why did they want to destroy us? What is the significance of our life and existence? One of the most striking scenes in relation to this idea is when David asks Holloway, another main character who is disappointed not to have found a live Engineer, why he thought humans created him, an android. This raises the question of whether human life really has any point at all, whether there is any significance to our existence or whether it is rather common, one of the main questions in the current search for life in the universe. (Also, although I didn’t mention it here, follow the link to the page on the myth of Prometheus and look at the connections there to the ideas presented in the film.)

While I have touched on a few points here, there is so much more out there. I encourage anyone reading this to watch the movie and think, read, and talk about its implications and messages. Many of the points it brings up are issues on the forefront of our scientific world that each and every one of us should be aware of.

A Scientific Balance

This is a response to the New York Times article “Does Science Matter?” written by William J. Broad and James Glanz.

Science and religion have never been the best of friends. While they are both concerned with some common issues, they represent two very different ends of a spectrum. At one end of this spectrum lies a world wholly devoted to science, in which knowledge of the world around us abounds. Societal and political obstacles in tackling the unknown seem to be nonexistent. The article includes a quote from Steven Weinberg, though, in which he writes that “the more the universe becomes comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.” There is a certain wonder to the unknown. There always has been and always will be. Having that presence of the unknown still in this world is what keeps scientific interest and discovery chugging along. If we knew everything there is to know, that wonder would disappear. There would be no magic in the mysteries of the universe, only a book full of the facts and theories, or as many people would see it, just a bunch more facts that they don’t need to know.

Now, this seems to present a fairly strong argument for the religion side of the spectrum, for the willing suspension of disbelief of the unknown in the universe, for faith in the fact that although we may not know everything there is to know, we don’t need to. We can just enjoy the miracles of existence. For this side of the spectrum there is also a sanctity in what lies beyond our planet, in the heavens. And probing into this with scientific feelers can be seen as trying to understand something that we are not supposed to.

That said, I personally am not a religious person in the least. My initial thought is that I want to know everything there is to know about the universe. But, I do see the validity to the argument that, with knowledge, there is also a sense of pointlessness. Why should we care about what we already know if we can’t build upon it to discover more? As I said before, science and religion represent the ends of a spectrum. My opinion is that scientific discovery is at its apex of interest and knowledge somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. The desire for knowledge is exacerbated by knowledge itself. The more we know, the more we want to know. That is where interest in science comes from. There will always be the scientific types who want to know everything. There will also always be those who are content with the level of knowledge available and who will leave the rest to wonder. In my opinion, the perfect scientific balance lies with a society in which there is a constant desire to learn more, but at the same time an awareness that we will never know everything, and a level of contentment in the wondrous  awe that comes with the mysteries of the universe.

Hello!

Hi there! I’m Jamie.

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Although it has always interested me immensely, the extent of my astronomy experience all but ends with stargazing, albeit quite extensive stargazing. It’s always been amazing for me on backcountry camping, hiking, and mountaineering trips to look up at the stars at night, especially in the backcountry with little light pollution to detract from their fullness and luminosity, and just imagine, well… that I knew more about what I was looking at I suppose. I’ve always been able to pick out some of the more obvious constellations, but beyond a rather basic high school education on physical science and the solar system, that is about it.

I’m currently attending Colorado College and plan on majoring in Biology. I’ve always had an interest in the natural sciences and what makes humans human, plants plant, and life the crazy mashup of biological factors that it is that allows us the existence that we have come into. I’m particularly interested in the origin of this crazy interconnectedness, otherwise known as evolution.

I was born and raised in Essex, Vermont, and I don’t know that there’s any place that I love more.

DSC01280_2

Mt. Mansfield, VT

Growing up in the wonderful, outdoorsy setting of the state, I have always felt like the outdoors and environment have played a big part in my life, which I continue to feel although I’m no longer in VT. That connection has led me in more recent years to start taking advantage of the outdoors climbing, biking, mountaineering, and snowboarding.

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Me on the right, by the way…

I hope to continue this strong interest and connection to the outdoors as I move into the future and to bring elements of my academic life, such as my interest in biology, into this part of my life.

As I said, my primary academic interest lies in biology, so my primary goal in this course is to look at the idea of life and what makes it possible from a different viewpoint than is traditionally found in most biology courses. The idea of analyzing ALL of the factors involved in life, and not just the biological ones, seems very interesting to me and is something that I look forward to doing. Also, the focus on astronomy and life-indicating factors throughout the universe is a big pull. I mean, c’mon. Aliens? What could be more interesting. But seriously, I do hope to be challenged to look at sciences that are familiar to me in a different light as other factors are added to the picture.

One topic in astronomy that interests me in particular is the search for markers of the potential for life on other planets, such as the discoveries on Mars relating to water and the potential availability of compounds necessary for life to exist. Like I’ve said before, it’s kind of all about the biology for me.

http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/ngeo1923.html