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    Awesome Jobs: Meet Julie Huber, Deep Sea Microbiologist

    There's life in the deepest part of the ocean. And some of that life is microscopic. It's not easy to find the world's tiniest organisms on land and it's even harder when they live in one of the most out of reach places on Earth. Julie Huber, a marine microbiologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, specializes in finding these itty bitty lifeforms. She talked to us about operating underwater ROVs, doing research off the side of a ship, how understanding the weirdest forms of life on Earth teaches us new lessons about our planet, and what it's like to battle seasickness when your career requires you to spend your life among the waves.

    Photo credit: Thom Hoffman

    What is the focus of your work?

    The big picture is that I'm an oceanographer and I study microbial life in the deep ocean. When I say deep, I mean really deep. I'm mostly interested in places where no sunlight penetrates. I'm especially interested in life living beneath the seafloor within the rocks and fluids that are moving through the crust. The oceans cover 70% of the planet's surface. Oceanic crust is formed by the process of plate tectonics. We constantly have new crust being generated and recycled. Within oceanic crust, seawater is moving through it. It's like a jar of marbles. It's porous, water moves through it. Because there is space and water, there is life.The estimates are that 2% of the global volume of the ocean is in the crust at any single point in time.

    The water in the ocean is always moving. New ocean water sinks in the North Atlantic and moves through the conveyor belt, and at some point, it was also move through the crust as it makes its way around the planet's oceans.

    Plate tectonics make Earth a really unique place. In our solar system other planets don't have plate tectonics. Ever since I started in this field I've been thinking about life beyond our planet. That is something that I didn't appreciate. You have this fundamental process that keeps exposing fresh rock. Water reacts with it and you get this amazing chemistry that allows life to exist.

    There are certainly not plate tectonics going on on Mars right now.

    Tested at the BALLS 2017 Rocket Launch Event!

    Simone heads to Black Rock Desert to take part in the annual BALLS experimental rocket launch event! We meet with amateur rocketeers who've come around the country to test their homebrewed rockets. This is going to be fun! Thanks to Clay Reynolds for inviting us out! Find his rocket launch videos here.

    Awesome Jobs: Meet Sue Natali, Arctic Ecologist

    Sue Natali has dedicated her life to watching the Arctic melt before her eyes. As an ecologist and biochemist at Woods Hole Research Center she travels to some of the most remote locations on Earth to dig holes in the ground and measure the carbon that seeps out. What she learns helps us better understand why permafrost is essential to the health of the planet. She chatted with us about what it's like working in the frozen North, why an increase in fires is damaging the frozen landscape, and how to preserve moose meat (and soil samples) in an ice cave in Siberia.

    Photo credit: John Schade

    Why do we care about permafrost?

    My research focuses on permafrost--how much carbon is in the permafrost, and what happens to it when it thaws. That's important because there's a lot of carbon stored in permafrost in the form of organic matter, leaves, microbes, dead and decaying material. When a leaf falls in a warm environment it decomposes right away and returns to air as carbon dioxide and methane. But because the Arctic is really cold, when the plant material falls most of it doesn't decompose. A lot sits there and builds up and builds up. Some gets frozen into permafrost.

    It's really cool depending on how the permafrost forms you can find whole plant material. There's a tunnel near Fox, Alaska, just outside Fairbanks that was dug in the 1960s. When you walk through the tunnel -- it's in the side of cliff -- as you walk in you're getting deeper toward the back going back 40,000 years, walking backwards in time. You can see giant ice wedges, you can see animal bones, and plant material that's not decomposed because it's frozen.

    Photo credit: John Schade

    So the reason I focus on permafrost thaw is because of the global implications. It stores a lot of carbon. There's twice as much carbon stored in permafrost as in the atmosphere, and three times more than in the all the world's forest biomass. This carbon is protected now because it's frozen. But when it thaws it becomes available to microbes, which eat the organic matter, use it for energy, and release carbon dioxide and methane.

    If soils are well-aerated, the organic matter is decomposed to carbon dioxide. When the ground is wet, methane and carbon dioxide are released. Methane is important because it's 30 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide on a 100-year time scale.

    From Russia with Glove: How eBay Reunited an Astronaut with His Spacesuit

    "For 10,000 American dollars, this suit can show up on your front porch after the mission."

    Astronaut Clayton Anderson thought it was an absurd proposal. He never expected that a spacesuit technician would offer to sell him the custom-fitted, government-funded suit that he would soon carry to the International Space Station (ISS). Anderson laughed it off. Surely this guy was joking, right? Nothing like this had ever happened during one of Clay's suit fittings in the US. But this strange proposal was presented in Star City, Russia. And well, things are different there…very different.

    Several years passed before Anderson realized that he should have taken the deal.

    About the Suit

    The suit up for grabs was a Sokol (Falcon). This Russian-designed pressure suit is worn during launch and landing in the Soyuz spacecraft. There was no plan for Anderson to ride a Soyuz up or down (he commuted to and from the ISS on space shuttle missions STS-117 and STS-120 respectively). Yet, he still needed a Sokol. During the bulk of his 152-day stay aboard the ISS, a Soyuz was his only way home in an emergency. Anderson's Sokol stored on the ISS ensured that he would be properly attired if the lifeboat became necessary.

    As things turned out, Clay did don his Sokol and catch a ride on a Soyuz. One could argue that this happened under the best imaginable circumstances. There was no emergency. Rather than abandoning the ISS, the crew had to "simply" move the Soyuz to a different docking port to make room for other incoming ships. In these scenarios, the entire 3-person crew (the ISS now hosts a crew of 6) would board the Soyuz. This ensured that no one would be left behind if the ship was unable to re-dock with the ISS. If that were to happen, they would turn around and head for a landing in Russia.

    Anderson's Soyuz had no trouble reconnecting with the ISS. The entire flight lasted only about 20 minutes. That's a good thing since he says the Sokol is rather uncomfortable to wear…especially within the cramped confines of a Soyuz. Clay recalled mandatory training sessions in a pressurized Sokol at Star City, which he said had elements of "excruciating pain". "It's a rite of passage," he says.

    Tested's Simone Giertz Goes to CERN!

    Tested's Simone Giertz explores CERN, home of the Large Hadron Collider and incredible particle detector experiments. We trek 80 meters underground into the cavern home of the ATLAS experiment, visit the CERN computing center, and learn how much particle collision data is being generated and processed by these experiments to help us better understand the universe.

    Awesome Jobs: Meet Mary Beth Wilhelm, Planetary Scientist

    Mary Beth Wilhelm is a planetary scientist and astrobiologist at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View California. She specializes in studying areas on Earth that have climates and landscapes similar to those found on Mars -- and that means some of the driest and most remote parts of the planet. She talked to us about what it's like to travel to the coldest and hottest places in the world where, in some cases, rain only falls once every decade.

    What exactly does a planetary scientist do?

    My work is a combination of fieldwork and lab work and a lot of writing. Way more writing than I ever expected going into the sciences. In my research, I'm mostly interested in searching for the signs of life on Mars. You could describe me as an astrobiologist -- understanding the origin of life on Earth and looking for it outside of Earth.

    How can you find life on other planets by looking at Earth?

    Basically I use these really Mars-like places on Earth as a testbed to understand how all of the components that make up life are preserved in those types of environments. One of the most Mars-like places is the Atacama Desert. You can look at dryness as a function of precipitation or you can look at it as the availability of water for life. In Yungay, a region in northern Chile, it only rains there once a decade, about 2 - 5 mm. Barely enough to even form a puddle. There's no plants, no lichens or mosses. I'm doing a study right now and don't even see evidence for activity of soil bacteria. Even the coastal city of Antofagasta in northern Chile, which is on the Pacific Ocean, is about 30 times dryer than the Mojave Desert.

    How did it get so dry there?

    It has to do with the Andes. They're tall and block the trade winds that go from the Atlantic towards the Pacific. Hot dry air descends on the desert. Offshore on the Pacific Ocean the currents come up from Antarctica they're cold and therefore the air doesn't pick up any moisture. It's' been like this for millions of years. It has been Mojave Desert-level dry for a hundred million years, a couple rain storms per year. And then it's been even drier, 100 times dryer than the Mojave, for 10 to 15 million years.

    Logistics of Viewing the Upcoming Solar Eclipse

    Are you planning to view the solar eclipse next Monday (8/21/17)? No, I mean are you really planning how you'll watch this rare celestial event? Finding the appropriate solar-filter glasses is just one piece of the puzzle, and certainly a very important one. You should also prepare yourself to be part of an astronomically huge migration of people as millions of sky watchers gravitate to the best viewing spots across the US.

    What's Happening

    A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon's path takes it between the Earth and the Sun. Monday's eclipse is unique because it is a total solar eclipse. Those in the right spot will experience "totality", where the Moon completely obscures the Sun, leaving only its corona fringe visible. The Moon's shadow will cast an eerie temporary twilight in the middle of the day. It's a sort of otherworldly phenomenon that eclipse experts say is worth whatever effort it takes to experience.

    True totality will only happen for people who are at the correct latitude to be aligned with the Sun and Moon…i.e. folks inside the Moon's shadow. Viewers at off-axis latitudes will have to settle for a less-spectacular partial eclipse, as some part of the Sun will always remain visible for them.

    Over a period of about 1.5 hours, the Moon's shadow will trace a diagonal path approximately 70 miles wide from Oregon to South Carolina. This "Path of Totality" through the US heartland is why many are calling Monday's event "The Great American Eclipse". This presents an opportunity for viewing a total eclipse to the 12 million+ Americans who live within the path of totality as well as the additional millions who plan to travel there.

    Adam Savage and Vsauce's Michael Stevens Build a Kendama!

    Adam is joined by Vsauce's Michael Stevens for a special One Day Build in the cave. Michael has recently taken up playing the Kendama, a Japanese cup and ball toy, and Adam helps make one from scratch that helps optimize his play. This build engrosses both into topics of machining, knot tying, and geometric conundrums. See Adam and Michael this fall on their Brain Candy tour!

    Adam Savage's New Moon Model Globe

    Adam and Norm check out this beautiful model of the moon, which just arrived at the cave! We take a close look at its detailed topography, and Adam brings its craters into sharp relief with his new high-powered flashlight!

    Lab Tools: The History of the Pipette

    Unless you work in a lab, it's possible that you've never seen a pipette in person and only have a vague idea about what it does. But any scientist that has ever worked with liquids will likely say the pipette is one of the most essential tools in the lab. Modern versions of the tool require just a press of a button to pick up a specific volume of liquid and move it. It's a bit like an eyedropper, but with the ability to control specifically how much liquid you are picking up and dispensing. The pipette is most commonly used in genetic research, chemistry, microbiology, and drug development.

    Photo credit: Flickr user gemmerich via Creative Commons

    In what is probably the most horrifying revelation in all of these lab tool histories so far, the reality about life before formal pipetting is that when scientists didn't have proper tools to move liquids around they just used a straw and their own mouths to create suction. According to a paper titled "Hazards of Mouth Pipetting," produced by the US Army Biological Laboratories in 1966, one of the earliest recorded examples of the hazards of using one's mouth for this purpose came in 1893 when a doctor accidentally sucked a bunch of Typhoid bacteria into his mouth. The paper went on to express concern that it was much too easy to inhale vapors, especially from radioactive solutions, even when the liquid being transferred never made contact with a scientist's mouth.

    It's remarkable, given the history of pipettes, that the "mouth pipetting" method managed to continue into the 60s. According to the US Army paper: "the method of avoiding pipetting hazards is so elementary, so simple, and so well-recognized that it seems redundant to mention it." But, nonetheless, the paper goes on to say that only a few institutions at the time had issued rules that forbade scientists from using their mouths to move infectious and toxic materials around their labs. In fact, Manhattan Project scientist Lawrence Bartell accidentally ingested plutonium using this method -- luckily he lived to tell the tale.

    Credit: Sarah Harrop, Medical Research Council

    Scientists certainly had the tools available to them at that time. The earliest pipettes were invented by Louis Pasteur, one of the scientists responsible for proving the validity of germ theory. For a few hundred years before Pasteur came around science had suspected the existence of microorganisms, but had never been able to prove their existence. Pasteur managed to show that microbes were responsible for food going bad by closely studying the fermentation of milk and wine. The result of this research was twofold. First, of course, was his most famous achievement: developing the method of pasteurization, which uses heat to remove bacteria from food. The second was the creation of rudimentary pipettes, know today as the Pasteur Pipette, which he deemed essential to prevent liquids from becoming contaminated when they were moved from place to place in his lab. The new method used thin glass tubes with a rubber bulb at the end, which created suction. Pasteur Pipettes don't have the measuring sophistication that modern pipettes have, but they are still in use today (now also called "transfer pipettes" they're usually made of one single piece of plastic).

    The History of the Centrifuge

    Sometimes scientists need to break down small things into even smaller things. Blood needs to become platelets, plasma, and cells. Cells need to become organelles. Gases need to become isotopes. One of the best ways to achieve this is to put these items into a centrifuge, spin them around at super high speeds, and use the force of that movement to break them up into their individual parts.

    The first centrifuge was created by Antonin Prandtl, a German cafe owner. According to a biography written by Prandtl's grand-niece, the design of the device, which he published in a polytechnical journal, was for a machine that worked continuously to separate milk from its fat. There is little known about Antonin or his design, but it likely was created sometime during the mid-1800s (possibly around 1850). Much more is known about Antonin's nephew, Ludwig, an engineer and Nazi sympathizer who would eventually become one of the world's experts on fluid dynamics. Ludwig's father, Antonin's brother, ultimately took most of the credit for the design of the first centrifuge by perfecting the mild-separating system and showing it at the 1875 World Exhibition in Frankfurt.

    Photo credit: Flickr user gemmerich via creative commons

    The next big upgrade to the device, and the one that brought the centrifuge into the laboratory, was invented by Swedish Chemist Theodor Svedberg. In his lab Svedberg was studying colloids -- a substance, which, in the simplest possible terms, is made up of matter in one type of state evenly dispersed within matter that is in another type of state. (Whipped cream, for example, is a colloid of gas and liquid.) Svedberg wanted to better understand the (much more complex than whipped cream) colloids he was studying and so he created a device that would separate the colloids out into their individual parts.

    Cooking the Impossible Burger with Traci Des Jardins!

    Adam Savage visits chef Traci Des Jardins at her restaurant Jardinière to learn how the Impossible Burger is cooked. Traci walks us through the making of this veggie burger that looks, tastes, and feels like real meat, discussing the culinary science of how it cooks on the grill. Plus, a taste test!

    Adam Savage's March for Science Speech

    Hello, San Francisco. I can't believe this crowd. Seriously, I can't believe that we have to come out. Now a speech from a guy with a high-school diploma.

    I speak today not just to those who agree with me, to the choir, but also to those who don't. I'm assuming we begin from the same basic principles. We may differ in terms of the method, but I think we can agree on the goal: that we all want to leave a better world and life for our children, our loved ones, our communities. Science is the key way to achieve that.

    If I'm going to talk about science, I want to define my terms. To begin with what is science, this morning the Internet described it to me as "the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.

    It doesn't really roll off the tongue. How about this? Science is the systematic reduction of ignorance. Science is not an edifice or a citadel; it is a process. To riff off Robert Pirsig, "Science is not a thing. It is an event. It is a practice and most often this practice is done by scientists."

    The History of the Cleanroom

    Science could never get done without the right tools. And all that gear has to come from somewhere. Many of the gadgets sitting on laboratory shelves around the world have histories just as interesting as the discoveries they've made. Each month we're telling the stories of how the most important lab tools came to be.

    There are few more essential tools to a scientist then the ability to keep contaminants out of their research. Dust, microbes, and even vapors can screw up delicate experiments. And as science gets more and more precise, sometimes even a single atom out of place could mean the difference between successful science and total failure. This is why we have cleanrooms. They control the level of contaminated air inside a space and allow scientists to do delicate work without fear that a rogue element will upend everything.

    Willis Whitfield invented the cleanroom in 1962. It was a revolution at the time -- the design schematics for the first "ultra-clean room" even has a patent: US3158457 A. But 1962 wasn't all that long ago. It's hard to believe that no one was protecting their environments from contamination before then.

    Photo Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

    People were certainly trying. According to a paper on the history of the cleanroom by Daniel Hollbrook, a historian at Marshall University, the earliest people to make an attempt at creating controlled environments were watchmakers. It makes sense if you think about it -- they were dealing with teeny tiny parts that had to move in tandem and even a small speck of dirt would throw off their delicate work. In the 1850s one American watch factory, he says, solved the problem of dirt getting into their watch parts by physically moving their entire company from the polluted city of Roxbury, Massachusetts, to a more rural part of the state. Then they located the actual room where they built the watch mechanics above ground level. It was one of the first instances of an isolated area dedicated to building mechanisms.

    How NASA Breaks in New Spacesuits

    Most of us would not go on a long hike in a brand-new pair of boots. You first want to put a few casual miles on them to soften the material and make sure they perform well. This preliminary effort can help you avoid a lot of misery out on the trail. If you think of a spacewalk as the ultimate hike (who doesn't?), then it's easy to understand why spacesuits undergo the same type of break-in process before they're ever sent into space.

    Long before a spacesuit is used on a spacewalk, its components have gone through an arduous break-in process. (NASA photo)

    About the Suit

    Before getting into the specifics of how spacesuits are broken-in, a little background on the suit is warranted. The NASA suit that astronauts have used for spacewalks since the dawn of the space shuttle era is the Extra-Vehicular Mobility Unit (EMU). The EMU is a modular design comprised of a handful of interchangeable subcomponents (helmet, upper torso, lower arms, gloves, etc.). Many of the various subcomponents that make up the suit are available in multiple sizes.

    When an astronaut gets sized for an EMU, they do not get a dedicated suit to call their own. Rather, the product of the arduous sizing process is a chart illustrating the specific subcomponent sizes which provide the best fit for that astronaut. Whenever the astronaut needs a suit for a training event or mission, technicians reference the chart to pull the appropriate hardware off the shelf and assemble a correctly-sized EMU. The suit is torn down after the event and the individual subcomponents are placed back into inventory.

    An EMU stand holds the suit upright and allows the occupant to focus on the necessary cycling motions. (James Lemon photo)

    Over time, worn-out subcomponents get retired and replacements are manufactured. This new hardware undergoes rigorous inspection and testing before it can be added to the inventory. Yet, even more must be done before these EMU bits are used on an astronaut's suit.

    New EMU subcomponents are required to undergo a break-in process called "cycling". Whereas factory testing is typically performed using only the individual subcomponent, cycling introduces the piece into a complete EMU. The intent of this effort is to begin softening the stiff layers of new fabric and to verify that the part performs properly in all respects. This is done by exercising the hardware with repetitive, spacewalk-inspired motions. For those who participate in cycling events, the term "exercising" is particularly appropriate.