Author Archives: Holly Whitman

Tim Peake

Man in Space: Tim Peake

Tim Peake

Credit: NASA Johnson // Flickr

Six months, floating above the Earth, with no gravity, no family and only radio contact with your home planet. Does that sound like something you could do? It’s exactly what Tim Peake did.

Peake made history by being the first government-funded British person in space, and it wasn’t all for nothing. Since the British version of NASA, called the European Space Agency (ESA), has spent a whopping £80 million on this mission, Peake was under some pressure to make the most of it. And make the most of it, he did.

Scientific Achievements

There are about 250 experiments happening on the ISS, and most of them take much longer than six months to complete. Most astronauts, Peake included, will participate in many experiments during their time there, but they won’t be solely responsible for them.

Many of these experiments need the same supplies as Earth, but with different resources. Instead of using heat pumps, air compressors are often used instead. Because they operate without liquids, their performance remains constant, putting out compressed air at about seven miles per second. It keeps people alive, experiments running properly and keeps the ISS running the way it should.

For his return trip, Peake had a few bacteria samples, which were on the outside of the ISS. They were exposed to the harsh environment that is the vacuum of space, and will hopefully provide some insights about the limits of life.

Peake also actively contributed his blood to science. Samples taken in space are being grown in order to study epithelial cells. These are the cells that line blood vessels and don’t behave the same in space as they do on Earth. By growing samples in space, scientists hope to learn more about what causes the changes.

Peake also got to test his skills on a Mars rover experiment, which should help determine how astronauts could control rovers on Mars, when we actually get there. Putting humans into orbit around Mars and having them work with rovers to explore the surface is a much safer and more realistic option than trying to send them down to the surface and back up again.

Engaging a Generation

One of the things Peake has always been passionate about is sharing his love of science. He loved the idea of using his time in space to make an impact on children, and inspire them to learn more about it. Tim Peake has, by conservative estimates, involved about 1 million school-aged children in his projects from space. He sent seeds from space to students to grow and compare with seeds from Earth.

He also ran the London Marathon – from the ISS. He was one of the 38,000 people who ran, and he completed the race in just over three and one-half hours. In order to run anywhere in space, Peake had to be attached to the treadmill. In this case, he was attached with a bungee-harness, which allowed him to be pulled down to the treadmill, while also having some bounce in order to run. It’s not exactly comfortable, but it works.

Peake also performed the first spacewalk by an ESA astronaut. He was tasked, along with his team, with repairing a failed power generator, attaching cables to the outside of the ISS and replacing a valve. On Earth, all of that would be fairly easy. It’s a different story in space. Peake trained for months before completing this spacewalk.

Altogether, Tim Peake made some pretty hefty contributions to the science of space. His largest achievement was sparking interest in the mission, and getting people excited about space again. a feat he spectacularly accomplished.

Celebrities endorsing an anti-vaccine rally. Credit: io9 // Gizmodo

Why the Anti-Vaxxers Threaten Us All

Celebrities endorsing an anti-vaccine rally. Credit: io9 // Gizmodo

Celebrities endorsing an anti-vaccine rally. Credit: io9 // Gizmodo

In recent years, anti-vaccine proponents have been successful in persuading an increasing number of parents that their children don’t need to be vaccinated. Some anti-vaccine advocates, unfortunately, also come from the medical field. Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s articles allege that vaccines against measles cause autism. In addition, celebrities like Jenny McCarthy have made second careers of being concerned mothers crusading against vaccination.

The sad fact is that neither science nor sense are on their side. Wakefield’s research is thoroughly discredited. Scientists at both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health, leading centers of U.S. medicine, are unequivocal that Wakefield’s data is not supported by the science behind either autism and vaccines.

There is no data indicating that vaccinations cause autism. In fact, researchers are still studying what does cause it. They have found that 90% of individuals with autism also have gastrointestinal problems — perhaps indicating a connection between autism and digestive health, but not between autism and vaccinations.

As for McCarthy, she is simply using a celebrity platform to promulgate what are in essence lies put into circulation by Wakefield and others.

Anti-Vaxxers Threaten Public Health

The other sad fact is that the growing ranks of anti-vaxxers are a danger to use all. A number of diseases that used to threaten illness or death have been eradicated by vaccines. Anti-vaxxers are bringing them back.

For instance, in 2002, the CDC announced that measles had been eradicated in the U.S. Measles can cause deafness and possibly death. However, measles is once again not only present in the U.S., but it’s on the upswing.

In Minnesota, measles was epidemic in 2015. A three-three-old Minnesota boy was identified as the patient zero, or the entry point. He exposed over 3,000 people.

His parents had read the erroneous reports that the measles vaccine caused autism. As a result, they didn’t vaccinate him, and he contracted measles on a family trip overseas.

They were not alone, either. In their community, vaccinations fell dramatically over the 2004 to 2014 period. In 2004, more than 90% of people were vaccinated. Ten years later, just over 50% were — and all as a result of the false information that there was a link between vaccines and autism.

Thanks to anti-vaxxer propaganda, the U.S. is no longer free of measles.

The vaccination of a large percentage of the population strengthens herd immunity. The anti-vaxxers threaten herd immunity.

Making a Good Health Measure Into Bad Health Fears

What the anti-vaxxers are doing has the potential to roll back one of the major medical successes of the twentieth century. Throughout the 1900s, one disease after another was fought into submission.

Influenza was a major epidemic in 1918, killing thousands of people. Flu still has the potential to kill people worldwide in pandemics. Even milder strains can kill the elderly. However, for the population as a whole, flu vaccine protects from common flu strains.

Polio was a major crippler of twentieth-century children until a vaccine was developed. Polio meant that an afternoon swim could result in contracting the disease, potentially resulting in life-long paralysis. The vaccine changed all that.

[ALSO SEE] Vaccines work: only 15 polio cases in 2016 — by 2020 it should be completely eradicated

One of the tragedies is that the public health successes of vaccines made life seem safer, and inadvertently set the stage for the anti-vaxxers. Although infectious diseases are still among us (Zika virus and Ebola come to mind), it has been decades since such childhood diseases like measles and polio were commonly viewed as threats.

Because of vaccinations, they ceased to be present dangers — to the point where the anti-vaxxers seem to have forgotten that the world is full of health dangers.

Anti-vaxxers draw on a historical wellspring of fears concerning vaccination. Historians of medicine point out that people a century ago feared that vaccines would cause disease — partly because some vaccines were made of live viruses. But such fears were ill-founded then, just as they were ill-founded now.

Anti-vaxxers also seem to be people who are more swayed by alarmism and anecdote than by science and rational thought. They may also be more politically conservative and distrust government claims such as those by the CDC.

Again, though, the data here is clear: There is no link between autism and vaccinations. Yet the science has not persuaded anti-vaxxers.

When a Personal Choice Affects All of Us

Anti-vaxxers frequently emphasise the role of personal choice in the vaccination decision. The backdrop is the increasing emphasis on personal choice in contemporary life.

However, the anti-vaxxer choice is not solely a personal choice. Because diseases are spread among social units — many of them are carried through bodily fluids or through the air — the choice to exert a precaution against diseases is a social one as well.

After all, society has supported quarantines of people with infectious diseases when there was no readily available treatment in decades past. Those suffering from yellow fever and tuberculosis, for example, were isolated until the disease had passed. Indeed, as we’ve seen with the Zika virus and Ebola, treatment for untreatable infectious diseases includes quarantine and protection for medical personnel now.

In some ways, vaccination is the positive side of disease protection, and perhaps it ought to be treated as more mandatory than a choice because of is potential social impact.

Craft beer is very popular among Millennials, but a hops shortage driven by climate change will challenge entrepreneurs to think outside the box. Credit: Flickr // Tama Leaver

How Global Warming Could Impact Entrepreneurial Millennials

Craft beer is very popular among Millennials, but a hops shortage driven by climate change will challenge entrepreneurs to think outside the box. Credit: Flickr // Tama Leaver

Craft beer is very popular among Millennials, but a hops shortage driven by climate change will challenge entrepreneurs to think outside the box. Credit: Flickr // Tama Leaver

A hot topic for a reason, global warming and climate change will play a major role in the entrepreneurial future of aspiring business Millennials. With these threats opposing the creation of new business ideas, many young entrepreneurs may need to look past simply doing social good and also look toward adapting how people eat and drink.

Agriculture and Climate Change

One sector that affects many different business industries around the globe is agriculture, with our food system being responsible for 33 percent of all global warming. That being said, even though it accounts for one third of all emissions, farmers still can’t seem to be able to produce enough to satiate growing demands for grain and raw materials. A study by the Global Institute of Sustainability of Anglia Ruskin University, stated that the cost of food will likely be four times higher by 2040 than it is today – if changes aren’t made.

So how does that affect millennial entrepreneurs?

Well, consider that in just America alone, the craft beer market has grown exponentially over the past five years. In 2014, there were around 3,500 craft breweries in the US, reaching a double-digit share of the market for the first time and ballooning into a $22 billion dollar industry. This is largely due to the fact that consumers (namely millennial consumers) have moved away from big-name beer brands like Miller and Budweiser in search of more locally sourced options.

But when you consider the threats that a changing climate brings to the table as well as a situation that has already produced a shortage of hops (which also means a higher price tag, something consumers might not be willing to pay for), the huge dollar signs the aspiring brewer sees on the market right now could hit a hard and swift decline over the next five years.

Contrarily so, locally sourced options in the restaurant spectrum that have sparked the growth of ‘farm-to-table’ venues tend to lean towards the positive – specifically when discussing CO2 emission reduction. The aforementioned statistics accounting for one-third of global warming is largely in relation to food transport.

A 2010 study done by the UK project ‘Making Local Food Work,’ found that businesses, producers, sellers and all other individuals involved in the food chain transition for locally sourced ingredients, the number of CO2 emissions could not only be reduced, but could also, in turn, create more self-sustaining and economically viable communities.

What should be done when considering a future business venture?

For the aspiring entrepreneur, it’s best to keep in mind the future isn’t certain. Climate change is a real factor that will affect how you formulate and do business. It’s also important to recognize that perhaps not all trends in the market are sustainable over the long term, especially if the shortages in hops continues, as well as droughts in various parts of the world.

Additionally, the millennial entrepreneurs will need to always be open to innovation and adaptation to provide solutions that are profitable but at the same time, undamaging. For example, the Colorado Farm and Food Alliance met this year to discuss policy and action in how best to tackle local problems within the community in regards to sustainable food and climate change. Taking action of some kind is the first step to discovering a new entrepreneurial path that works together with the critical role of this generation in climate change progress, highlighted at the COP21 in November 2015.

Adult Aedes aegypti mosquito, a vector or carrier of the Zika virus. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Will Zika Become the Next Ebola?

Reminiscent of the 2014-2015 Ebola panic, news of the Zika epidemic has spread like wildfire. The virus, which was once a serious risk for expectant mothers in Brazil, may be well an “explosive pandemic” deserving of international attention from the World Health Organization (WHO).

What is Zika?

Adult Aedes aegypti mosquito, a vector or carrier of the Zika virus. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Adult Aedes aegypti mosquito, a vector or carrier of the Zika virus. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A virus transmitted primarily by mosquitoes, Zika may cause the infected person to develop symptoms such as fever, headache, joint pain, rash or conjunctivitis. However, only roughly 20% of those with the Zika virus are symptomatic.

This low percentage of symptomatic carriers is linked to much of the threat from the virus, as it makes it especially hard to follow and detect.

“In many ways the Zika outbreak is worse than the Ebola epidemic of 2014-15…[because] most virus carriers are symptomless. It is a silent infection in a group of highly vulnerable individuals — pregnant women — that is associated with a horrible outcome for their babies,” said Wellcome Trust head Jeremy Farrar about the virus.

zika symptoms

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The primary concern of the Zika virus is that correlates to birth defects in babies born to affected mothers. While the link has not yet been proven, infected unborn babies are at high risk to develop microcephaly. Microcephaly is a sometimes fatal disease, in which the affected baby’s brain is smaller than average, with underdeveloped functioning.

In 2014, the Brazilian Ministry of Health reported that Brazil suffered fewer than 150 cases of microcephaly in infants. From October 2015 through January 2016, however, more than 4,700 cases in Brazil are suspected. In the past year, reports of Zika infections have occurred in 21 different countries.


Credit: Wikimedia Commons

University of Texas Medical Branch scientists pilot the search for a cure to the virus, but no treatment has yet been discovered. A cure is of utmost necessity for those living in areas populated by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito. Developing a vaccine could take years, and testing it on pregnant women would make it an even higher-risk endeavor.

How does Zika spread?

Mosquitoes primarily transmit the Zika virus, and it’s mostly commonly been found in Brazil and equatorial climates.

A few cases have also documented sexual transmission of the virus. Experts recommend waiting to try to get pregnant for several weeks after returning from South or Central America. The delay is an extra precaution against having a baby with microcephaly.

The spread of the virus is limited by climate, by mode of transmission, by expiration of the virus in the blood of an affected person and by preventative measures the rest of the world can take in the meantime.

How does Zika compare to Ebola?

Unlike Ebola, Zika has not been reported as deadly to infected persons. Neither does it remain in a person indefinitely. So far, those infected with Zika appear to retain the virus in their blood for a week, and in semen for up to two weeks.

Reports of Zika outbreaks have increased at a staggering rate of 2500% from 2014 to 2016, however, leading the WHO to declare it a global public health emergency. The 4,700 reported cases of Zika in 2015-2016 still pale in comparison to the 11,000 deaths from Ebola in 2014-2015. The rate of increase may not bode well regarding the spread of Zika in the coming years, but fortunately the virus is not transmitted as easily person-to-person as Ebola.

How can you take precaution?

Pregnant women or those who may become pregnant are advised to steer clear of tropical countries. Couples are advised to wait one month before having unprotected sex after the man has been potentially exposed to the virus. Additional precautions include wearing bug repellant, emptying pools of standing water and covering up to prevent bites.

After a week of having the virus, infected persons should be fully recovered. However, many unknowns surround the disease — which is why exercising caution for a month following any travel to countries with reported Zika outbreaks is strongly recommended.

While the virus is spreading at an alarming rate, IFL Science writer Justine Alford also points out that infections will not always lead to an epidemic within a country or across the globe. Countries without carrier mosquitoes do not need to panic. However, prevention measures and additional studies are needed so that countries and organizations will be ready to react if the need arises.