Solar Storms and Jupiter’s Dancing Lights

Chandra was able to observe key changes in Jupiter’s X-ray auroras when a coronal mass ejection hit Jupiter.

By Shelby Traynor

Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/UCL/W.Dunn et al, Optical: NASA/STScI

In case you thought Jupiter couldn’t get any cooler, a paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research has laid out evidence that solar storms are causing Jupiter’s auroras (think the Northern Lights, the Southern Lights, or that scene from Brother Bear) to brighten by almost eight times their usual brilliance.

The interaction was spotted by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, a telescope orbiting above the Earth to look for X-ray emissions in that big, old universe of ours.

Since Jupiter’s auroras are actually X-ray auroras, they can’t be spotted by the typical telescope (or by the human eye, if any of you were hoping to plan future vacations there). Chandra was able to observe key changes in Jupiter’s X-ray auroras when a particularly wicked solar storm, or coronal mass ejection (CME), hit Jupiter. Continue reading “Solar Storms and Jupiter’s Dancing Lights”

Fearless Pioneers: An Interview with Rachel Ignotofsky

My passion for learning about biology and the mechanics of how the world works did not leave me when I decided to go to art school.

by Adriana Ortiz

All art courtesy of Rachel Ignotofsky’s website

Rachel Ignotofsky is an illustrator and author hailing from Kansas City, Missouri. She works as a freelance designer nowadays, but has previously worked at the iconic Hallmark card company and wonderfully dispels any dreariness that (500) Days of Summer may have implied about it. Rachel is passionate about science and history and communicating all of it toward a wider audience to inspire learning in others. Her work takes complex information and makes it accessible and fun, and does it all with an adorably appealing aesthetic. She covers topics ranging from marine animals to bodily organs and basically any interesting idea imaginable. I am a huge fan that is IN LOVE with her Instagram account, as it brings so much joy and knowledge to my feed. I totally recommend giving it a follow if you love cute things combined with science!

Rachel has recently written and published a book called Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World which showcases various women in science throughout history. She tells the often under-recognized, yet super-inspiring stories of incredibly intelligent and accomplished women in STEM, each accompanied by her illustrations. It comes out July 26 of this year!

I am so glad to have interviewed Rachel about her new book and everything behind it, so read on to learn more about this STEAM queen and everything she loves. Continue reading “Fearless Pioneers: An Interview with Rachel Ignotofsky”

Editor’s Letter 3/20/2016

Talking about the news-pothesis surrounding Marvel, A Wrinkle in Time, Emily Rice, and SciChic.

EIC Alex Hanson dishes out the news-pothesis, or, things going on in the world of HERpothesis. Continue reading “Editor’s Letter 3/20/2016”

Four-Dimensional Snails Could Take Over the World

The idea of a point of omnipresence existing is something that fascinates me.

Writing and art by Charlotte Southall

Recently I have been finding a lot of inspiration for art projects in my maths/physics background and a concept that I am currently exploring has to do with four-dimensional space. I first came across the idea of there being more than three dimensions years ago in a maths class where a teacher mentioned it briefly— I remember being told that 4D snails could take over the world (which I later learnt was in reference to this study). This year I have decided to delve deeper and see what the higher dimensions have to offer me artistically, and if there are any snails. It is said that if you were to float in an unimaginable four-dimensional space you would be able to view every perspective of a three-dimensional scene at once; this idea of a point of omnipresence existing is something that fascinates me. Continue reading “Four-Dimensional Snails Could Take Over the World”

A Brief Tour of a Synesthetic History

Synesthesia, like many other puzzles, should always be examined through an interdisciplinary lens.

 

By Melody Xu

Art by Alex Hanson

When people hear the term synesthesia, the image of an individual who sees the number “3” in maroon or thinks that “purple” tastes salty usually appears. However, the term serves as a term for sensation interconnections that are even more complicated— violin music will lightly stroke against a person’s cheeks, the days of the week are carts on a ferris wheel. So what exactly is synesthesia?

Synesthesia, as explained by the Oxford Dictionary, is “the production of a sense impression relating to one’s sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body”. Deriving from the Greek term “to perceive together”, the phenomenon of synesthesia can come in many different shapes and sizes; some may be able to smell pain, others may taste shapes, some might be able to do both and even more. While there are countless types of synesthesia, without any two cases being exactly the same, there are some common types of synesthesia that occur within the human population, especially grapheme-color synesthesia, which is when a person may see individual letters and numbers in different colors.

Synesthesia, like many other puzzles, should always be examined through an interdisciplinary lens. For instance, synesthesia can also be seen as a gateway for creativity. When a novel’s narrator says that they see the rainbow when they hear the deep, soothing voice of their favorite singer, or when a painting’s harsh oil strokes clearly evoke a feeling of anger— these are all examples of creativity at its finest. Taking a deeper look reveals that these are connecting experiences primarily focused on one sense with another sense, which certainly can be considered an attempt to replicate the experiences that come with synesthesia. Whether the platform for examining synesthesia comes in the form of literature, music, art, or neuroscience, it’s an experience that has been the focus of human intrigue for all of history.

For scientists especially, synesthesia presents an interesting issue. Studies have been conducted that confirm that the phenomenon is in fact biological, happening automatically and without having any learning process behind it. It is neurologically distinct from hallucinations and is unlike metaphors, but the estimation for how many people have synesthesia (from 1 in 200 people to 1 in 20,000) and the causes of synesthesia has been a prevalent problem in the scientific community. The issue of the huge disparity between the estimation of people with synesthesia in the population is so prevalent in part because of the fear of judgement that people who have synesthesia have. The fact that the term itself is a blanket term for so many different variations of the phenomenon also has an impact on the wide range of values.

Modern technology and tools, including brain-imaging and molecular genetics tools, have allowed to scientists to look at the future of examining this phenomenon, along with the organization of the brain and the way we perceive and recognize the world around us, with promise. However, this was not always the case. Long having been dismissed of having neurological basis, synesthesia had been misunderstood by people for a large part of human history. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the world was swept up in a flurry of excitement over examining this phenomenon, but it also experienced a harsh dip in interest in the middle of the twentieth century. One of the incredible scientists responsible for the establishment of synesthesia as a major research area was Simon Baron-Cohen, a prominent psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist. In the 1970s he led a team who first found evidence that synesthetes have consistent experiences over periods of time, as well as established a method of measuring synesthesia through neuroimaging techniques. (Here is some info on Baron-Cohen’s book on the project.)

Despite all of these major steps forward in synesthesia research, the actual cause for synesthesia remains shrouded in mystery. Some theories claim that all newborns are born with synesthesia, with the division of sensory blocks appearing as the individual and brain mature. Other theories involve the opening of previously closed channels of communication after being exposed to “the light of consciousness,” hence why people who are under the influence of certain drugs and have these passageways coming into awareness can experience a sense of induced synesthesia. Regardless of what theory you choose to believe in, the study of synesthesia allows cognitive scientists a truly unique chance to learn about how perception is formed in our brains.

Lemonade, Paprika, and Virtual Reality: An Interview with Priscilla Wong

I spoke with DreamWorks Animation visual development artist Priscilla Wong about the role of technology in her work, her predictions for virtual reality’s role in her field, independent distribution, and being a woman a creative field.

Interview by Alex Hanson

All art courtesy of Priscilla Wong

Priscilla Wong is a visual development artist for DreamWorks Animation. She is a master of transcending mediums, from digital art to painting to creating fantasy creatures made of cloth and other textured materials. I spoke with her about the role of technology in her work, her predictions for virtual reality’s role in her field, independent distribution, and being a woman a creative field. All the art featured is courtesy of Priscilla, and you can find more of her work on her blog, her Tumblr, and her Instagram. You’ll also find her visual influence on the Trolls movie, set to release this November.

How would you describe your artistic style?

It’s like lemonade with a dash of paprika. I like using real materials, like fabric, and unconventional materials. I think part of that comes from my love for fashion. I love Project Runway. I like different disciplines within art and design: I love graphic design, I’m in animation, I love fashion and industrial design. I try to bring as much of those influences together as possible because I think it makes a unique look and makes it universally appealing. It has a sophisticated mix to it, I feel. What I mean by lemonade with a dash of paprika is that I like things to be fresh but also a little dramatic, a little spicy. I got that from loving Diana Vreeland. She’s a fashion icon and she liked to challenge norms. She pushed aesthetics along from the 20s to the 60s. So much happened during that time and I think a lot of that has to do with her.

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For the Q Pop Shop Gallery

Continue reading “Lemonade, Paprika, and Virtual Reality: An Interview with Priscilla Wong”

Interview With Mandy Sweeney: NASA Alum and Certified Sci-Fi Geek

“The people that can work at the intersection between the sciences and the humanities will own the future.”

By Julia Arciga

Photo courtesy of Mandy Sweeney

Mandy Sweeney is the Vice President of Museum Operations at the up-and-coming Museum of Science Fiction, a NASA alum, and is currently finishing up her Harvard Master’s degree in Finance. To add to her already impressive resume, Mandy also boasts an impressive warchest of sci-fi fan info, and has an enormous passion for STEM education. Though a Skype interview, I got the pleasure of geeking out with her— Star-Trek-and-Doctor-Who style.

What was the inspiration to start the Museum of Science Fiction?

The founder of the Museum, Greg Viggiano, was inspired by the Tate Modern. It occured to him that there really was no home like that for science fiction. The genre is so broad – there’s radio, music, art, literature, film, TV, comics, cosplay, fandom – and he wondered why this hasn’t been all brought together yet. At the time I was working at NASA, he and I were talking about that and I, too, was really intrigued with this idea. Between the two of us, we realized that sci-fi is a really powerful way to engage everyone about science and makes it more accessible. So what we came to believe is that we can use sci-fi as a way to inspire and motivate others to develop positive thoughts about our future by innovating and by creating more technology. Continue reading “Interview With Mandy Sweeney: NASA Alum and Certified Sci-Fi Geek”

The Quest for Science’s Holy Grail (Through Falsification)

Just because there are grails or theories that are false does not mean that the one true Holy Grail or the one true scientific theory is impossible to find.

By Melody Xu

Illustration by Charlotte Southall

A common theme through science (and any field, honestly), is to set it apart from other fields. Perhaps more so in science, there is a desire to separate the “imposters,” the so-called pseudosciences, from being included underneath the scientific umbrella. This is an issue that has plagued philosophers of science for years, sparking debate and existential crises since the beginning of time. Surely, there is a common theme along the pseudosciences that links them together and sets them apart from the actual sciences. But what is this difference? How is pseudoscience different from science?

One of the most well-known theories for this demarcation problem comes from Karl Popper. Hailed as one of the best philosophers of science of the twentieth century, the Austrian-Brit rejected the traditional model of the scientific method which had prevailed since the time of Francis Bacon, choosing instead to turn to the concept of empirical falsification. The concept of falsification serves as a filter for hypotheses; the core of the concept states that a hypothesis is scientific if and only if there is a potential to refute it through observation. The underlying theme is that science is and should involve risk-taking. Hypotheses and theories, such as astrology or Marxism, that are all-encompassing and can explain any new data that is found, are in a sense unworthy of the title of science. Continue reading “The Quest for Science’s Holy Grail (Through Falsification)”