Saturday, April 16, 2016

Space Travel: How Does Outer Space Affect Your Body?

By Rachael Metzger, MSS Intern

          Have you ever wanted to become an astronaut? Travel to space? Have you dreamed about finding extraterrestrial life or communing with aliens? If your answer is yes, I can assure you that you’re not alone. Countless children dream of becoming astronauts, and many movies and tv shows have revolved around exploring space. The exploration of the unknown is a wonderful idea on paper, but it is a lot more complicated than jumping into a spaceship and traveling to mars, even if we have the technology to do so. Space travel can take a huge toll on a human’s body if certain precautions are not taken; any error could result in death.
        The human body was not made to travel in space, nor has it had time to adapt to such climates. When launched into space, some effects of that changed environment on the body take longer than others. Immediately one might experience nausea and or vomiting. This is caused by the sensitivity of the inner ear which affects balance and orientation. Thankfully, in a couple day’s time the inner ear will have adapted to the new environment and the nausea will dissipate (BBC “future”).
        In about two days time, bodily fluids will rise to the upper body and face, causing a bloated appearance and tissues to swell in the head, making a person feel like they are hanging upside down. This makes the body think that it is over hydrated and forces the liquid out through urine, causing astronauts to have 20% less fluids in their body while in space.  
Bodily Fluids in Space 
        Spaceflight can also quickly affect eyesight creating anomalies such as optic nerve swelling and retinal changes in the shape of the eye are other negative effects to the eye (The Dallas Morning News “Preparing Bodies for Liftoff”).
        In a week’s time muscle and bone loss can start to occur, this sometimes includes heart muscle because not as much effort is needed to pump blood in anti-gravity. The lack of gravity can have such an extreme effect on bones that they can become very brittle; this is called “disuse osteoporosis” (The Dallas Morning News “Preparing Bodies for Liftoff”). Even astronauts skin will get thinner, making them more prone to cuts and infections which take longer to heal in space.Sleep deprivation is another problem among astronauts. Because of the change in the light-dark cycle, it can be a challenge for the body to adapt to the new sleeping schedule (NASA).  
The Effects of Space Travel on the Body

       After a while aboard a spacecraft, astronauts may find their immune system going down, making them more susceptible to diseases. Cosmic radiation is another huge issue facing astronauts. Astronauts seeing flashes of light in their brains is proof of the cosmic radiation. Astronaut’s brains could suffer brain damage from cosmic rays over long periods in deep space affecting their mental performance (BBC "future").
        All these dangers could be fatal and might make space travel seem impossible, but there are many precautions being taken to allow us to explore our universe in a safer way. Nausea and vomiting can not always be avoided but anti-nausea pills and a strong stomach helps towards inner ear balance in space. To battle losing 20% of bodily fluids, astronauts must stay well hydrated while their bodies adjust to the new climate. The rising of bodily fluids to the upper body may be uncomfortable but has not  been linked to long lasting negative effects on astronauts, and subsides after a couple of days. Bone and muscle loss is one of the largest problems facing astronauts. On the International Space Station, astronauts stay fit with a machine for weight lifting, a treadmill adapted for microgravity, and a Cyclergometer which is a modified cycler for microgravity (NASA). Astronauts have a very strict sleeping schedule to try and achieve the maximum hours of sleep possible. Astronauts have to be very careful of keeping waste and bacteria contained that could contaminate their lowered immune system. For long expeditions such as to Mars, radiation  protection is being experimented with in the forms of water, waste, plastic, and many other substances.
         Being an astronaut involves more than just knowing about your area of study, it requires knowledge of how the human body operates. If your dream is to become an astronaut consider the risks, know about your body, but don’t be scared off. Medical and technological advances continue to make space flight safer and easier on the human body, presenting an opportunity to explore space to a further extent.


Sources:
1. http://www.nasa.gov/missions/science/f_workout.html
2. http://www.space.com/29309-space-radiation-danger-mars-missions.html
3. http://nsbri.org/the-body-in-space/
4. http://interactives.dallasnews.com/2015/spacebody/
5. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140506-space-trips-bad-for-your-health
6. http://www.nasa.gov/content/study-compiles-data-on-problem-of-sleep-deprivation-in-astronauts/

Thursday, March 17, 2016

An Interview With Diara Spain, Ph.D

By Rachael Metzger, MSS Intern

Ocean acidification is an issue becoming apparent in the effects on both sea creatures and humans. Diara Spain, the Associate Professor of Biology at Dominican University, came to Marin Science Seminar to talk to us about her studies in marine invertebrates and the damage ocean acidification is causing them. 

To learn more about Diara Spain and what inspired her studies we conducted an interview:


1. How did you get interested in biology? Is there a time, event, 
or person in your life that inspired you to pursue the study?
I've always been interested in biology, really science in general. I grew up in rural North Carolina and as a kid it was expected that you'd spend most of your free time outside playing with your friends and pets.  One thing that sparked my interest in marine organisms were the summer vacations at the undeveloped beaches in North Carolina. 

2. Why did you specifically decide to focus on functional morphology, locomotion in echinoderms, and the mechanical properties of crustacean exoskeletons? How do studying these subjects help expand your view on the ocean and how humans are affecting it? 
The essence of functional morphology is "function from form", this gives us insight into how biological structures can actually work mechanically or physiologically. I find this compelling, especially when you consider marine invertebrates which have a wide array of morphological features. At first glance locomotion in sea cucumbers and properties of crustacean exoskeletons may seem to have little in common, but both topics are based on skeletal support systems which is my major interest. I've learned quite a bit about different marine habitats as well as how populations size and  species diversity has changed from my studies.

3. What is the most interesting study you have done to date?
I'd have to say my work on locomotion in echinoderms, specifically sea cucumbers. These are very unusual organisms and the average person may not know much about them, but when I describe them it never fails to amaze. My students enjoy watching the time-lapse videos, I actually gave a talk at the seminar several years ago titled "Life in the Slow Lane". My studies on crustaceans are just beginning but I fully expect some interesting stories in the future.

4. How do you hope the ocean will look in 20 years and what are some steps we can take to get there?
The oceans are important for the functioning of our global ecosystem as well as the global economy. I'd like to see a habitat that is healthier for animals (including humans)  to live, play and work. 

An example of a smaller step is decreasing the widespread use of disposable plastics while increasing the usage of recyclable/reusable materials. A much larger step is the approval of ocean friendly policies that support conservation and sustainability while restricting damage and pollutants. 

5. What is your advice to teens and young adults who want to help preserve our oceans and the creatures that live in it? 
The best advice is to become involved, this can be done at multiple levels from local and regional up to globally in a way you feel most comfortable. Every fall there is a International Coastal Cleanup Day, San Rafael's Volunteer Program coordinates people with specific sites locally. Volunteers and donations are also welcome at marine conservation organizations, some focus on a specific animal like sea turtles or dolphins while others focus on a issue such as ocean pollution or habitat restoration. 


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Ocean Acidification: How the Ocean is Acidifying and Affecting the Organisms That Call it Home

By Zack Griggy, San Marin HS

             Pollution is a global problem. One way to find proof of this is to look to the seas. We all know that the oceans have suffered greatly from pollution, evidence of which can be seen almost anywhere, from areas suffering from oil spills to the huge cluster of garbage floating in the North Pacific Ocean. We also know that many aquatic species are dying and going extinct because of ocean pollution. However, oils spills and trash aren't the only causes. Another cause is ocean acidification, which is caused by air pollution.
             Ocean acidification begins with carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is an essential part of photosynthesis in plants. However, it is also a greenhouse gas, and carbon dioxide emissions have become a global problem. Carbon Dioxide is one of the main contributors to both global climate change and ocean acidification. Carbon dioxide is emitted in huge quantities around the world. Part of these emissions are absorbed by the oceans. This leads to chemical reactions within the oceans to form Carbonic Acid from carbonate and hydrogen ions, which are formed using CO2 absorbed by the oceans. Carbonic Acid is the main cause of ocean acidification. For the past 300 million years, the oceans have had a pH of 8.2, but recently since the industrial revolution, that pH has dropped to 8.1. Estimates say that the ocean acidity may drop by another 0.5 pH
            The effects of ocean acidification can be very harmful to marine ecosystems. Many marine organisms such as arthropods, coral, and plankton will be impacted by ocean acidification. These organisms use the process of calcification to create shells, exoskeletons, etc. Calcification relied on using two ions, carbonate and calcium ions. However, Carbonic Acid also uses carbonate ions, which makes it more difficult for the aforementioned organisms to make their exoskeletons or shells. In addition, when more carbon is absorbed by the oceans, hydrogen ions become more abundant, which makes it increasingly more difficult for the organisms to make their exoskeletons.

Sources:
1. https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/science/indicators/oceans/acidity.html
2. http://www.iiasa.ac.at/web/home/about/news/150203-Ocean-Acid.html
3. http://www.co2science.org/subject/c/summaries/calcification.php
4. http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/Ocean+Acidification
5. http://hilo.hawaii.edu/academics/hohonu/documents/Vol09x06OceanAcidification.pdf

Insidious Air: Defogging Air Pollution and its Pernicious Effects

By Zack Griggy, San Marin HS

           We all know that smoking is harmful to us, but what if the very air we breathe also contains toxic chemicals? The truth is the air we breathe contains numerous chemicals that have harmful effects on both humans and the environment. As a result, the issue of pollution has been a very important and significant problem. It has driven us to invest in green fuels, manufacture in more eco-friendly ways, and cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. However, the problem of air pollution still remains somewhat untouched. Although emissions have been significantly reduced from vehicles and manufacturing plants, the problem as a whole remains.  Air pollution is known to cause numerous issues for the environment and humans, but particulate matter and ozone pose more immediate threats to human health.
           Particulate matter consists of extremely small particles that are a result from burning and can have huge impacts on lung health. Particulate matter, if small enough, can breach through the body's defenses (the nose, mucus in alveoli, etc.) and even enter the bloodstream. Clearly, this can cause catastrophic problems for human health, such as decreased lung function, irregular heart beat, heart attacks, or even premature death for people with lung or heart disease. In places like the Bay Area, where there is an abundance of hills, which can trap pollutants in small areas and with larger concentrations, pollution can easily accumulate. To make matters worse, particulate matter also has harmful effects to the environment, which include haze, acidification of water basins, depletion of nutrients in soil, etc. Clearly, particulate matter doesn't just affect humans. Through depleting the nutrients in soil, particulate matter is capable of killing many sensitive plants and crops. In addition, freshwater acidification known to alter flora and fauna in affected ecosystems via increased acidity and toxicity.
             Ozone is an essential, but toxic, gas. In the stratosphere, ozone forms a protective layer that blocks UV radiation, and allows us to live on land. But the ozone layer and the stratosphere are both a considerable distance away from the Earth's surface. When ozone is at or near Earth's surface, it poses a threat to organisms that use that air. Ozone can affect entire ecosystems, beginning with plants. Ozone exposure may cause plants to have decreased photosynthesis, slowed growth, and increased risk of harm from disease, insects, storms, etc. But remember, in an ecosystem, damages at the bottom of the food chain can easily work its way up the food chain. Thus, damages from the plants can affect the entire ecosystem, causing a lack of biodiversity, reduced habitat quality, etc. However, in the case of humans, ozone can be much more pernicious. Humans exposed to smaller amounts of ozone or over a shorter period of time may have decreased lung function, airway inflammation, coughing, painful breathing, increased number of asthma attacks, increased risk of death from respiratory disease, shortness of breath, etc.
            These pollutants, and their effects, might seem unpreventable, but really it is the opposite. Both particulate matter and ozone are either emissions, or formed from other emissions. So, we return to the question: how do we prevent the effects of these pollutants? The answer: cut down on emissions. For example, particulate matter is often released during burning, especially burning wood or coal, so if we curtail our burning of wood and coal, we can reduce the effects and quantity of particulate matter. The choice of whether or not to poison our own air rests with everyone. Be sure to make the right choice

Sources:
1. Sitting by a Cozy Fire - Wood Burning, Air Quality, and Your Health (from notes taken during seminar)
2. What's Getting into Your Lungs? The Effects of Smoke, Ozone, Allergens, and More (from notes taken during seminar)
3. http://www3.epa.gov/pm/health.html
4. http://www.air-quality.org.uk/13.php
5. https://www3.epa.gov/apti/ozonehealth/population.html
6. https://www3.epa.gov/pm/
7. https://www.epa.gov/ozone-pollution/ecosystem-effects-ozone-pollution