This. Is. Amazing.

OSGC Educational Resources Blog

Researchers, Teachers and Students should take note of the new NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory website based around infographics!

Infographics are those colorful graphics with lots of data that you have probably seen a lot of lately.  They are a popular way to quickly explain complex information in a visually interesting and easy to understand way.

JPL wants to help you to create great infographics.  They’ve made it easy to get data sets for various missions, planets, spacecraft, stars, and other space related information.  Just find the subject your’e interested in, download the data sets, decide how you’d like to talk about the information, then use one of JPL’s current infographics as inspiration for your own.  Users can upload new infographics for feedback or find pre-made graphics for use in classrooms, projects, etc.

Check out the JPL Infographics website today and show us your research and graphical skills!

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Why I love science.


She survived the landing! (Image from JPL)

You see that shadow? That’s the shadow of the Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity, shortly after touching down on Mars. That shadow is what gave us confirmation that she survived one of the most difficult landing procedures in NASA’s history. It’s a beautiful image and I’m not ashamed to admit that it moved me to tears. That single image is simple and rough compared to what we’ll see in the coming months, but it’s a reminder of the awesomeness that humans are capable of achieving in the name of exploration and science.

Crossroads, a fork, divergent paths….

Or whatever you want to call it. No matter the word or phrase used, I find myself at this strange intersection in my undergrad training. Either I can continue pursuing the Geology B.S. or I can switch to the Earth Science B.S. Both programs have their pros and cons and I’ve spent most of summer thinking about which way to go.

Here’s a breakdown of my quandary:

Pros of Geology B.S.

  • Better employment opportunity upon completion
  •  More rigorous from the quantitative skills development standpoint
  • Coursework is better suited towards grad school

Cons of Geology B.S.

  • Course load is not flexible in terms of being able to take classes that actually interest me
  • Upper level courses will ultimately take me out of the meteorite lab due to work load
  • Most upper level courses do not pertain to what I ultimately want to do
  • GPA killer. The way the course work is structured means I’m taking numerical modeling courses at the same time as vector calculus and linear algebra. I’m not dumb, but taking multiple math courses in one term has never proven beneficial for me.

Pros of Earth Science B.S.

  • Greater flexibility in taking courses that pertain to what I want to study. i.e., some organic chemistry, physical chemistry, geo chemistry
  • More time honing my research chops in the meteorite lab and getting stuff published
  • Graduate faster
  • Allows me to structure the program in a way that I’m not juggling calculus and MATLAB courses all at the same time.

Cons of Earth Science B.S.

  • If not planned out properly, won’t be as academically rigorous as Geology B.S.
  • More generalized than Geology B.S. which may not lead to as great of employment opportunities should I need a back up plan.

Things get further complicated when I consider my graduate school options. Ideally, I’d do my grad work at PSU and continue working in the meteorite lab there. However, to get into the PSU geology grad program requires that I take the upper level undergrad geology courses. Those are all MATLAB based, and as I noted above, means that I won’t be in the meteorite lab working with my space rocks.

Other grad programs don’t seem to be as course specific as PSU. They mostly look at your general science background such as physics, chemistry and math.  But those are Space Science/Planetary Science grad programs and not Geology grad programs, so it’s not the best comparison.  But it’s what I have to work with so far.

At this point, I feel like I should end this post with the all familiar Twitter hashtag, #firstworldproblems. I should be grateful that I have such choices before me because neither path is a bad one. Each comes with their own road blocks and bridges, which if managed properly, can lead to a great career.

But it’s the uncertainty of the path that scares the hell out of me.

I felt this post should end on something a little humorous.

A very thought provoking infographic and post.

Science-Based Life

The vastness of the universe, the incredible scale of time, the unthinkable complexity of the cell, it’s almost too much to comprehend. Indeed, it is too much to think about in a readily understandable way. Sure, astronomers have come to understand the most cosmic of scales and biologists have courageously explored the amazingly tangled interactions of the cell, but thinking in this way does not come easily to us. What is to blame? Why can’t we use our adapted brains to explore and understand these extreme scales, as we do with phenomena roughly on a human-sized scale? We need to look to the underpinnings of human cognition: our evolutionary history.

Our ancestors lived in a “middle-world.” The objects and interactions that they had to worry about were middle-sized, moving at a middle-speed, changing in middle-time. For example, imagine proto-humans occupying the plains of Africa eons ago. A significant evolutionary…

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Beer! ‘Nuff said.

Infographic from Not sure who made it, but kudos to whoever masterminded this.

I haven’t always been a fan of beer. I was raised in a household where alcohol use was prohibited (except for the Christmas time rum balls) and beer was, well, a rather trashy drink. Until moving to Portland, beer conjured one image in my head: toothless rednecks in cut-off shorts with the Confederate flag tied around their necks. One hand clutching a bottle of Coors or something equally swillish and the other hand with bottle rockets. Hit any campground in Southwest Missouri during the Summer time and you’ll see I do not exaggerate.

On my way to Portland I stopped off in Salt Lake City to see some family. My cousin introduced me to my first microbrew: The Polygamy Porter from The Wasatch Brewing Company. It was dark, sweet and complex. Nothing like that trough piss that I was used to smelling on those humid Missouri days.

At that point I fell in love with beer and I’ve been a stalwart fan of the suds ever since. So, when I found an infographic that combines two of my loves, beer and the Periodic Table, I knew I had to share it with you all. I’ve not been able to find who created this gem, but the image links to the site where, it too, was shared. If anyone knows where it came from, please let me know so I can properly credit the author.

Meteorite Monday: The Link Fest Edition

I feel kinda cheap for making the first Meteorite Monday in nearly a month a relatively unoriginal list of links. I wanted to pick up where I left off with the last post about carbonaceous chondrites, but my own work in the meteorite lab is in need of attention. So, here’s a few of my favorite stories floating their way around the interwebz:

Technically this would be a meteorite since it was found on the earth. Wired physics blogger, Rhett Allain, uses physics to look at the validity of a supposed meteorite hitting a car in commercial for a science channel in the UK.

Yet another new mineral found in meteorite. The first was a titanium sulfide called Wassonite and this one, Panguite, is a titanium oxide. Interestingly enough, both come from relatively rare meteorites: Wassonite was discovered in an enstatite chondrite (highly reduced chemically) and Panguite is from Allende which isn’t nearly as chemically altered.

This may be one of the more significant finds in planetary sciences. This supposed impact crater is estimated to be about 3 billion years old. That would make it the oldest crater found on the earth thus far. It’s not completely conclusive, but the science looks solid and it’ll be interesting to watch it unfold as other researchers examine the evidence. This is significant because craters of that age are generally only found on the Moon or Mars. Earth’s a bit too hostile towards such things due to erosion and plate tectonics. Here’s a link to the abstract as it appears in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

On Being a Gay Scientist and Finding a Sense of Community

Last Tuesday evening I had the chance to attend a social gathering of sorts for a national GLBT rights organization. In spite of being gay, I’ve never been involved in GLBT advocacy nor the politics. I was having a conversation with another guy and he asked what I did. I explained that I was a geology undergrad, but that I mostly study meteorites. I went on to talk about my current project and I could sense that I was losing his attention. I tried to explain things in more approachable terms, but the damage was done. All my talk and enthusiasm over shock veins, olivines and zoned pyroxenes was lost on this poor soul. He was there to learn about getting involved with this organization, not hear about space rocks. I was there because I was invited by a handsome guy in PSU’s pre-med program and the prospect of free food and gin.

After that conversation, and a couple others, I realized that I wasn’t among my people. And by that I mean those with whom I share a common language or interest. Generally speaking these are either fellow science nerds or restaurant workers.This wasn’t some earth shattering revelation. I’ve never felt a pressing need to let my sexuality dictate my friendships. Unless I decide to tell some bawdy joke, I’m not likely to talk about being gay. If you’ve read my blog for any extended period of time, then you already know where my enthusiasm is found. If this is your first time here, then take a look at the topics on the right side of the home page. Therein is where you’ll find the subjects that are nearest and dearest to my heart. And if you understand or try to understand those topics, I count you as among my people.

That evening stuck with me. Here I was attending a gathering for an organization that has worked to overturn discriminatory laws and fight for my right to marry who I love, and I was there for the free food. This isn’t an aspect of myself with which I am unfamiliar. I’ve often thought about my apathy towards such advocacy, but never did much beyond that. However, it wasn’t until that point that I started to become somewhat bothered by it.

Later that week I had dinner with two other geobloggers, Michael Klaas and Julian Lozos who also happen to be GLBT. I wanted their perspective on the issue and asked if they’ve had similar thoughts. All three of us arrived at the same conclusion: just because someone is GLBT doesn’t mean there is a connection or rapport that automatically makes them “family”. In fact, none of us have felt much reason to consider the GLBT community our “community”. The three of us were having dinner and conversation because of our interest in science and science communication; not because of our non-hetero normative experiences.

At this point you may be asking yourself why I’m writing about being a gay scientist if I don’t feel the need to publicize it. Unfortunately, I don’t have a clear-cut reason. Part of me feels a sense of responsibility to speak up and make it clear that there are GLBT within the ranks of science and academia. After all, it was someone else’s speaking up that made my life as a gay male easier. Do I not have a responsibility to pay the same debt forward for the future generation? And how do I approach that without labeling myself in terms of my sexuality?

Therein lies my major struggle and I have no expectation that any reader answer those questions. I’m simply throwing out some thoughts and ideas that I’ve had over the week. However, feel free to comment on the subject. Be warned though- if any comments are derogatory or inflammatory I will exercise my mighty ban hammer and delete them without warning.

Learning to rework the blogging muscles

I’ll admit it. If blogging were a muscle, mine would be soft and pudgy. School effectively curtailed my blogging time and dealt me a worse problem than a lack of material with which to work: I fell out of the habit of blogging. And I am quickly learning that getting back into that habit is more challenging than the writing itself. Even my Meteorite Monday posts, which were meant to give me an easy writing outlet, became a victim to my procrastination.

So to help myself get back into the habit of blogging, I offer up one of the coolest videos that has ever come out of NASA/JPL. It’s a video that shows some of the challenges of landing the latest Mars rover, Curiosity, on the red planet. Some will probably deride the video for being overly dramatic and looking like a slicked up Hollywood production. And it does look that way, but the science is real and the people at JPL did a great job communicating the excitement that comes from doing honest, real science.


Meteorite Monday: Carbonaceous Chondrites Revisited

A chunk of the Murchison Meteorite. This carbonaceous chondrite is probably one of the most studied rocks in science. (Image from Northern Arizona University)

A little over a year ago I started the Meteorite Monday series with this post about carbonaceous chondrites. Interest in these primitive space rocks exploded with the fireball that produced the Sutter’s Mill meteorite in California. This meteorite is the newest carbonaceous chondrite to be found and it’s generating a lot of excitement. So, with everything I’ve learned (and the realization of how little I actually know) I’ve decided to revisit the topic and expand on some of what I wrote. However, I’m going to handle this post a little differently. Since there’s a lot to be said on these rocks, I’m going to break this up into at least two separate Meteorite Monday posts. I say two because I’ll probably forget something and want to cover it later. If I try to cover everything in one post, things will get messy and I don’t want that.

To start, let’s get a basic understanding of a carbonaceous chondrite. These are what we call a stony meteorite as opposed to an iron or stony-iron meteorite. They are the meteorites we turn to when we want to learn about the conditions of the solar system at its inception. That’s because if we were to strip the sun down of its atmophile elements, such as nitrogen, helium, and hydrogen, then we’d have a chemical abundance that is also found in some of the carbonaceous chondrites. It’s like being able to study a blank canvas before the paint goes on it. In fact, there is one group of meteorites called the Ivuna-type (or CI) that is used as the “blank canvas” or “standard”. When we want to understand the evolution of a meteorite and it’s parent body, we plot it’s element constituents against that of the CI type meteorites (1). This allows us to look at the concentration of elements and get an idea of its thermal history.

A bulk composition graph showing element abundances at certain temperatures. (Image from David Mittlefehldt at the PSRD- University of Hawaii)

This graph is showing us the bulk abundance of three groups of elements at temperatures present in the solar nebula. The lithophile elements are those that go into silicates, or the rocky parts of the meteorite. The siderophile elements are found in iron metals and the chalcophile are found in sulfide minerals (2). On the Y-axis we see the numbers range from .1 to 10 with the 1 line being our blank slate, so to speak. At 1 is the composition of the Ivuna-type meteorite. Generally, any element that falls below that line is considered depleted, and above that line is enriched. Carbonaceous chondrites plot at either 1 or above that line when looking at the abundance of refractory-lithophile elements. These are the elements that condensed first out of the solar nebula at temperatures around 1500-1800 K. These elements then formed minerals such as corundum (Al2O3), melilite, and perovskite.

These minerals are all condensed in one of the hallmark physical features of most carbonaceous chondrites, calcium-aluminum inclusions (CAI’s).

Large prominent CAI’s in the cut face of the Allende meteorite. (Image from NASA) (3)

Another prominent feature in carbonaceous chondrites are chondrules. Carbonaceous chondrites have seen little in the way of thermal metamorphism and this has left the chondrules with distinct boundaries and rims. Thermal alteration degrades and destroys chondrules at progressively higher temperatures.

A thin section of a carbonaceous chondrite. The spherical inclusions are the chondrules. (Image taken by author)

The chondrules formed after the CAI’s in the solar nebula and have a different chemical composition than the CAI’s. Since this is an overview, I don’t want to delve too much into the chemical properties of these two inclusions. Instead I’ll save those for a later post.


  1. Weisberg, Michael. McCoy, Timothy. Krot, Alexander. Systematics and Evaluation of Meteorite Classification. 
  2. Mittlefehldt, David. Tagish Lake- A Meteorite from the Far Reaches of the Asteroid Belt. December 12, 2002.
  3. Taylor, Jeffrey G. Solar System Exploration: Origins of the Earth and Moon.

When a theologian tries to sound like a scientist

Generally speaking, I make it a rule of thumb to avoid topics of religion on my blog. Most know where I stand on the subject and I’d prefer to avoid the possible conflicts that such posts invite. However, there are times when I feel like I must tackle some of the idiocy that I see from the fundamentalist crowd (especially in light of the N.C. vote on same-sex marriage). Case in point: Our dear friend Mr. Pat Robertson.

I generally don’t give much heed to what this man says. I find him to be illogical, misinformed, and ignorant on every topic to which he flaps his gums. Take for example this little gem of a video. He blathers on about biologists speculating on a topic for which they are not trained: theology. He further contends that biologists weren’t around to witness the origin of life, so they should stay quiet on that subject, too.

Here is some admonition Mr. Robertson: follow your own advice. You are not a biologist nor trained in any scientific field. You’re a theologian trained in a field that can’t agree on the basic tenets of its belief system. So please stay quiet on the subject of biology and science in general. You’re right in saying that biologists weren’t present to see how life started, but neither were you. Biologists study life and, as such, have a much better and plausible explanation than what your “theory of religion” allows. So leave science to us and we’ll leave quackery and fleecing of the American public to you. It is what you do best after all.

And one final issue: please leave the geologists out of your incoherent diatribes. We do not want nor need your approval.