Science Wednesday

4/10/2019 Black Hole

The first picture of a black hole was published! In actuality, the black hole is totally black, so it’s really a photo of the event horizon.

First photo of a black hole! PC: NSF

A black hole is formed from a death of a very large star, a star that is 25x the size of our sun. When a star runs out of fuel it collapses on itself. The inside implodes and becomes ultra dense. The core of the sun then gives in to its own gravitational pull and collapses in on itself, forming a black hole.

To get this photo of a black hole, eight telescopes around the world were synchronized in observations over the course of 10 days. Researchers barely slept during this time. The telescopes used radio waves which can cut through thick dust and bright haze of superheated gases that are in our galaxy.

The back hole we took a photo of is is 57 million light years away (really far). This is what earth looked like when the photos that made the photo left the black hole!! Crazy to think about the speed of light and what we know about our solar system.

Reconstruction of what the earth looked like 57 million years ago, when the photons left the black hole.
PC: Deep time maps

Dr. Katie Bouman helped created algorithm that lead to the first photo of a black hole. She developed it while a PhD student at MIT– she is 29yo and now faculty at CalTech. Women in STEM!!

4/3/2019 Cabo Pulmo

For spring break this year I headed down to Cabo Pulmo, Mexico with my family. Mexico is home to some of the most successful marine parks, including Cabo Pulmo. This area is home to the oldest of the three coral reefs on West North America and the only coral reef in the Sea of Cortez. It is a national park, UNESCO site, and Rasmar wetland.

Above the surface you can see animals like whales and dolphins. Humpback whales migrate down to the Sea of Cortez to mate and give brith every year. The sea is rich in nutrients and food, providing the ideal nursery for calves.

Under the surface, eels, urchins, nudibranches, and sea spiders inhabit crevices while salps and ctenophores float with the currents. Around the corner you might just get lucky enough to spot bull sharks cruising the sandy floor.

This is Alfredo, my SCUBA dive instructor. He took me diving over the course of three days to several sites where we saw whales, sharks, turtles, fish, and invertebrates galore!

Cabo Pulmo is a beautiful place and these creatures are protected through laws, but, but the longevity of the program is ensured through education. Marine conservation is taught in every level of school and is a part of life. Science, observations, and art all come together to reiterate the importance of conservation.

The marine park is home to phenomenal underwater views, and the SCUBA masters are extremely knowledgable about the area. They continuously educate tourists on how to respect the coral reefs and ecosystem. They’ve seen how much the waters have changed both for the better (increased biodiversity since designation as marine park) and for the worse (increased regional pollution and die off of coral reefs) and constantly try to do their part to educate, clean, and enjoy.

Cabo Pulmo is a small, dirt road town. At every corner there are containers for sorted recycling and emphasis on consumption reduction.

Do your part by…..


  • plastic bottles
  • plastic bags
  • styrofoam
  • single use
  • fast fashion


  • product longevity
  • reusable bags
  • thermoses
  • carbon offsets
  • natural fibers
  • knowledge
Mural on the side of a dive shop in Cabo Pulmo as a constant reminder about marine pollution

2/27/2019 Eutrophication

Eutrophication in process– large algae bloom.

Eutrophication occurs when a body of water receives excess nutrients, inducing massive plant growth that will eventually lead to oxygen depletion.

Excess nutrients are added to the soil from detergent, fertilizer, and sewage. Eventually nutrients drain to a body of water– a lake, river, or ocean. Once in the water, plants flourish from the excess nutrients and create an algae bloom. While excess algae does provide food, it also blocks out all of the light and eventually leads to larger problems. Plants below the algae do not receive light (algae blocks it out) and they die.

Eventually the algae dies and sinks to the bottom where bacteria begin their work. Bacteria are decomposers, and in the process of breaking down organic material they consume oxygen. The algae are no longer producing oxygen because it consumed all of the nutrients and died, therefore bacteria respiration will outpace oxygen production and deplete all oxygen in the water. The fish will suffocate.

The Gulf of Mexico has the largest re-occuring hypoxia zone in the United States. This dead zone (another name for hypoxia zone) can be 6000-7000 square miles. Through mapping techniques we can determine where excess nutrients come from and how they get into the water (everything is connected). Another example that cities, farms, and agriculture have far reaching effects.

Sources of excess nutrients flowing to the Gulf of Mexico

2/13/2019 Undersea Lakes

At the bottom of the sea floor water seeps up through a thick later of salt, creating REALLY salty dense water. The water dissolves the salt layer, forming depressions aka basins that form lakes. Really salty water (brine) form lakes and rivers due to high density and being heavier than seawater. Literally a lake in the sea. Brine lakes can even have waves and tides!

Due to the hyper salinity (high salt), the brine is lethal. Only bacteria and other microorganisms can live in it. However, mussels live at the edge! Under normal conditions, mussels eat algae, but we are talking about the bottom of the sea floor where there is no sunlight or algae. These mussels have a symbiotic relationship with bacteria! The bacteria process methane that seeps up and provides energy to the mussel.

Mussel beds provide habitat to other animals like eels. Eels are able to go into the underwater lake, but only for a short time. If they stay too long under under water, the brine becomes toxic and they die

2/13/2019 Shellfish Cancer

Some cancers are contagious, previously these cancers were only known in dogs and Tasmanian devils. Dogs transmit cancer through sex while Tasmanian devils transmit cancers through face biting.

Recent research demonstrates that shellfish are also known to carry a type of contagious cancer. It is spread infectiously between mollusks such as oysters and mussels around the world. Cancer cells can escape an organism and spread to other organisms through the water. These cells are clones that are nearly identical to the original cancer cells. Mussels, cockles, and clams from all over the world share tumor cells with the same genetic markets indicating transmissible cancer.

Mussels are filter feeders, and as they filter algae and other particles they may also accidentally filter tumor cells. These cells can then make it into the mussels hemolymph (invertebrate blood) and infect the organism. Tumor cells may be released into the water when an organism dies or perhaps through feces. Researchers are still uncertain the exact mechanism through which shellfish cancer is transmissible.

Transmissible cancers might be more widespread than we thought. Fortunately, humans cannot get cancer from eating shellfish (as far as we know).

2/6/2019 Rocks

Every year Tucson, AZ holds the worlds largest gem and mineral show. The show has been running since 1955 and is Tucson’s single highest revenue producing event. Last year (2018) it was estimated that the economic impact was $120 million. Below is a little information about the rocks I saw this year.

Quartz! The majority of quartz forms from molten magma or chemical precipitate from hydrothermal vents. It is the 2nd most abundant mineral on Earth behind feldspar. Amethyst, which is my birthstone, is a type of quartz. Geodes form within sedimentary and volcanic rock and are often filled with quartz.

Fossils! I saw some fossils that ranged in age between 50-305 million years old. Fossils ranged from sea creatures, land invertebrates and ammonites to dinosaur bones!. Ammonites are an extinct cephalopod species that is closely related to octopus, squid, cuttlefish. They were filter feeders and were particularly susceptible to climate change.

1/23/2019 Teeth fillings

I took Science Wednesday to the dentist, I’m still not sure if she was amused or not. I had two cavities, I’ve never had cavities before, so I decided to document the process to shed some light on the process.

First, the dentist stuck benzocaine gel to numb my gums around the cavity. Once my gums were numb, she administered a shot of articaine, which fully numbed the area and nerves… and remained numb for a while.

Once everything was nice and numb, she inserted a dental dam to isolate the rotting teeth and protect the rest of my mouth from the drill and chemicals..

The dentist drilled the decayed part of my tooth (cavity) to made a giant hole. The hole was filled with scaffolding and composite resin, which were liquid at the time. A bright ultraviolet light was used to quickly harden the filling, a process called photo-polymerization. My full tooth strength and function were restored! It took me six hours to feel the left side of the face.

Fillings are important and small cavities easy to fix. If not treated, these small inconveniences can result in root canal, crown, or extraction.

1/9/2019 Sonoran Desert

Sonoran Desert, Arizona. Saguaro cactus pictured in the front.

The Sonoran Desert is located in the American Southwest and Northern Mexico. It averages 3-16in rain annually. Millions of years ago (Paleozoic Era) the Sonoran Desert was flooded by shallow seas. Marine shellfish inhabited the sea, and as it dried up, their shells helped created limestone, which was eventually lifted up to form caverns. Fossilized shells remain in these caverns today, giving us a glimpse into the past.

The desert is full of fun plants like cacti. Their spines provide shade, reduce water loss, and prevent them from being eaten. So while they hurt us the spines are actually very helpful to the cacti.

Mexican Grey Wolves also inhabit the Sonoran Desert. They eat elk, deer, and moose (but not in the SW). Wolves typically eat 20-30 lbs of meat in one meal. They hunt within territories and lead by alphas (mom and dad). The reintroduction of Grey wolves into Yellowstone National Park has been very successful in restoring biodiversity and ecosystem health.

Mountain lions are the biggest cat in North America and their ranges is the largest of any wild mammal in the Western hemisphere. Basically they are just very charismatic, cool, and frightening.

Rattlesnakes are venomous snakes that are famous to the Southwest. They are known for the rattle at the end of their tail. Rattlesnakes have heat sensing pits that can detect thermal radiation from other living organisms.

Gila Monster (pronounced “heela”) is the largest lizard in the United States (~22cm). It’s also venomous. Yikes. Males initiate courtship through flicking their tongue to detect female scent. Double yikes.

Road runners are extremely fast ground birds are are found all over Southern Arizona. They have been recorded to run as fast as 20mph. WOW! Perhaps the coyote never really caught the roadrunner.

12/26/2018 Whales

Killer whales (orcas; which are actually dolphins) off San Juan Island, WA

Cetaceans (whales, porpoises, dolphins) are some of the most mysterious animals (in my opinion). Here, we walk through some of my favorite marine mammals

Humpback whales grow up to 40-60 ft and up to 44 tons. They have two blow holes. These whales use a technique called bubble fishing, which means they surround their prey in bubbles so they form a tight fish ball and can easily be captured. Humpback whales have unique tails, which are all identified by the College of the Atlantic — they can spot individuals based solely on what their tail looks like! Humpbacks have known migration patterns and sing beautiful songs to one another for communication.

Narwhales are my personal favorite. They live in the arctic and are very mysterious. Their famous tusk is actually a tooth! The left tooth to be specific. They only have two teeth– the right tooth is little and in the mouth. The tusk tooth is soft on the outside and hard on the inside (opposite of most teeth). It is packed with nerves and holes to let seawater in. But, we still don’t know what the tusk is used for! Perhaps to sense environmental cues?

Blue whales are the largest known animal – they grow up to 98ft and up to 190 tons. They eat lots of krill (tiny crustaceans) to maintain their giant form. Blue whale calves drink 380-570L of milk a DAY. Unfortunately, these whales were hunted to almost extinction by whalers.

Killer whales (aka orcas)— NOT ACTUALLY WHALES THEY ARE DOLPHINS. They have matriarchal societies, where they form pods within populations with a mother leader. Killer whales have a 17mo pregnancy and undergo menopause when they are 30-40 years old. They are one of the few species we know of to undergo menopause (humans, pilot whales, belugas, and narwhales do as well)– we are finding more and more species that do so. Side note– There is little evolutionary benefit to menopause. This is the stage at which females stop reproducing (and usually die). So it is somewhat of an enigma in a lot of different capacities. Killer whales can live to be upwards of 90 years old. The Pacific North West orca population is facing a lot of problems at the moment.

Whales are pretty rad.

12/19/2018 Holiday Pollution

Downton Chicago, IL

The holidays have become consumer-centric in American culture and often lead to excess trash. The average American produces 4.4 lbs of waste daily. More than any other country. Only ~34% of that is composed or recycled while the rest ends up in landfills or the ocean.

Holiday waste often includes things like store bags, shipping materials, shipping fuel, decorations, and wrapping paper

Try to change your habits this holiday season- shop locally, use your own bags, buy fewer gifts (try gifting experiences), and wrap with recycled materials.

12/12/2018 Salmon

Terrestrial habitat along the shore of Snake river watershed in Middle Fork, WA

Whether you are fishing, watching, or learning about salmon we can all appreciate how unique they are!

Salmon are anadromous, which means they spend their adult life in the ocean then travel up stream (freshwater) to spawn and die. After spending months-years in rivers, salmon swim out to sea. This is when smolting begins and they turn silver (and eat lots of food).

Different species spend different times at sea and gain both food and nutrients:

  • Pink salmon: 18 months
  • Chinook: 8 years
  • Chum: 7 years
  • Sockeye: 2 years

So by they time salmon return to land they are sexually mature, large and fatty, and contain a LOT of nutrients. After they swim up river they spawn and die. But it’s not sad! They provide food for many terrestrial species (including bears) and enrich the land with nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen) they accumulated from the ocean. Basically, they are nature’s fertilizer.

12/5/2018 Tides

Low tide at Willapa Bay, WA

In Seattle we experience two high tides and two low tides every day, but what causes them?

Gravity, mainly by the moon (but helped by the sun). The moon excerpts a gravitational pull on Earth’s water and Earth, which results in the Earth actually being pulled away from its water. This gravitational phenomenon is enhanced by the sun. When everything (moon, Earth, sun) is aligned (full moon and new moon) we experience spring tides (strong). When the moon is not aligned we experience neap tides (weak).

In Seattle we have mixed semidiurnal tides— which means the high tides are different volumes, the low tides are different volumes (mixed) and both occur twice a day (semidiurnal).

Really low tides occur during the day in the summer and during the night in the winter.

Around the world we have amphidromic points in the oceans. These points are tidal nodes where no tides exist. The further away you are from an amphidromic point the the larger the tides can be. But tidal magnitude also depends on bathymetry (sea floor), geography, and currents.

Check out to find more information about tides in your area!

11/28/2018 Mussel Filtration

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is screen-shot-2018-11-28-at-5.45.43-pm.png
Working in the intertidal on Tatoosh Island, WA

Mussels grow in the intertidal (between low and high tide) clumped together in mussel beds. They attach with byssal threads, which are hair-like protein fibers, and are colloquially called “beards.” Mussels are filter feeders and have two siphons- one to pull water in and one to push water out. They are constantly filtering water around them and capturing good, nutritious particles like algae, while getting rid of water and other abiotic particles like silt.

So, mussels in beds are competing for the same food right??

Kind of, but they have a trick!

As mussels bring water and algae down, they filter away clean water. This provides room for new, algae richwater to move into the previously filtered space. Thus, mussels create their own current and have a continuously recharged supply of food!