Tag Archives: Obama

Ancient sea creature from the dawn of life named after President Obama

Obamus coronatus (left) and Attenborites janeae. Credit: University of California Riverside.

Obamus coronatus (left) and Attenborites janeae. Credit: University of California Riverside.

A tiny, disc-shaped creature lived a rather dull life about 500 million years ago. Now, scientists have risen the ancient lifeform to fame by naming it after former President Barack Obama. Another ancient sea creature described in the recent study by scientists at the University of California-Riverside was named after English naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough.

From the dawn of life

Both remarkable animals were among the first creatures to have lived on Earth. Researchers were very fortunate to find them in a well-preserved fossil bed in a southern Australia mountain range, which paleontologist Mary Droser of the University of California-Riverside had been excavating for the past 30 years.

Due to the fossil bed’s generous contributions to science, researchers call it “Alice’s Restaurant Bed,” a tribute to the Arlo Guthrie song and its lyric, “You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant.”

The pre-Cambrian creatures lived in a shallow sea between 580-540 million years ago. Obamus coronatus, a name that honors President Barack Obama because of his passion for science, is a disc-shaped creature that was only 0.5-2 cm across. Its surface was littered with raised spiral grooves. It did not move much, as it was content sticking to the ocean mat — the thick layer of organic matter covering the ocean floor.

The other ancient creature, Attenborites janeae, was named after Sir Attenborough and Jane Fargher, the co-owner of the property where the fossils were discovered. It was another tiny creature, less than a centimeter across, which was adorned with internal grooves and ridges, giving it a raisin-like appearance.

Both creatures are part of the Ediacara Biota — enigmatic tubular and frond-shaped organisms that lived during the Ediacaran Period (ca. 635–542 Millions of years ago). From a taxonomy perspective, the Ediacara Biota are not yet organized into families, and scientists don’t know much about how these creatures relate to modern life. So far, scientists have described around 50 genera, mostly comprised of only one species.

“The two genera that we identified are a new body plan, unlike anything else that has been described. We have been seeing evidence for these animals for quite a long time, but it took us a while to verify that they are animals within their own rights and not part of another animal,” Droser said in a statement.

The two ancient sea creatures have been described in the Australian Journal of Earth Sciences (here and here).

Credit: papahanaumokuakea.gov

Northwestern Hawaiian Islands now largest protected area on the planet

Credit: papahanaumokuakea.gov

Credit: papahanaumokuakea.gov

In a landmark moment, President Obama used his executive powers to quadruples the size of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. The sanctuary will now encompass 582,578 square miles of land and sea, amply protecting one of the most biodiverse places in the world from fishing, underwater mining, and pollution.

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, also known as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, was first designated as a protected area by George W. Bush a decade ago. The archipelago which lies 270 miles northwest of Oahu is home to more than 14 million birds from 22 species, nearly all of the remaining endangered Hawaiian monk seals, Hawaiian green sea turtles and Laysan albatrosses. It is here also that we can find the world’s oldest living animal, a 4,000-year-old coral, but also six seamounts which are teeming with life.

In those areas where the Marine National Monument expanded, all commercial activities will be prohibited. This didn’t bode well with local fishermen who say 60 percent of federal waters off Hawaii are now closed to fishing, catch valued at $100 million. Recreational fishing will be allowed with a federal permit, however.

On September 1, President Obama is expected to visit Midway Atoll — a remote place in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument where an important WWII battle took place — to celebrate the decision and raise awareness on the dangers of climate change, particularly rising sea levels.

Obama bans drilling in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, citing risk to salmon fishery

In what is not only a laudable initiative but also an interesting precedent, president Obama has declared a large swath of southwest Alaska’s coast off-limits to oil and gas drilling. He stated that the environmental risks are the main reason why he is taking this measure – the oil exploitation could endanger fisheries which are vital for the area.

“It is a beautiful natural wonder and it is something that is too precious to just put out to the highest bidder,” Obama said, announcing the drilling ban. He also called the 250-mile-long stretch of coastline “one of America’s greatest natural resources.”

Bristol Bay is located in South-Western Alaska. The is 400 km (250 mi) long and 290 km, (180 mi) wide at its mouth; it is home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery as well as strong runs of chum salmon, silver salmon and king salmon, each occurring seasonally. Kings are usually the first to run up the river followed by reds and chums. The major industries associated with the area are sport fishing and tourism, but recently area has also experienced significant interest in oil and mineral development. The Obama ban puts a stop to oil exploration there.

The decision means that federal water will remain permanently off limits for oil and gas exploration. While the decision was expected, it was still hailed by workers in the area and environmentalists.

“This action ensures Bristol Bay will remain America’s fish basket for generations to come, unspoiled by additional industrial activity and safeguarded for the benefit of Alaskans and all Americans,” said Michael Conathan, director of ocean policy for the ­Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank.

However, mineral exploration in the area is still debatable. The EPA is considering whether to preemptively ban mineral extraction in the region, and this decision gives a strong indication of what the EPA will decide.


Obama computer science

Obama gets his hands dirty with computer programming

Last year, President Obama delivered a speech to promote Computer Science Education Week in which he emphasized the important of learning how to code. During this year’s event, Obama put his money where his mouth is and actually sat down to write a simple javascript program. Even though he didn’t actually wrote lines of codes, but used a drag-drop interface, it’s safe to say that official Obama is the first US president who actually wrote a computer program, albeit rudimentary.

The Programmer President

Obama computer science

President Barack Obama talks with students during an “Hour of Code” event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, attended by middle-school students from Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin).

This year’s Computer Science Education Week was organized by Code.org, a non-profit organization which aims to spark interest in technology and inspire people to learn how to code. On code.org, anyone can initiate themselves in the basics of computer programming by taking specially designed one-hour long tutorials. The tutorials are aimed at different age groups, from preschoolers to centenarians.

In this video, Obama can be seen guided through his first computer program by middle-schooler Adrianna Mitchell. Even though he’s “an old man”, as the President jokingly remarked, Obama completed his assignment from stage three of the Code.org Frozen tutorial, where he had to drag and drop pre-coded javascript tutorials to make Elsa walk around in a square pattern.

“Learning these skills isn’t just important for your future, it’s important for our country’s future,” Obama said in a YouTube video. “If we want America to stay on the cutting edge, we need young Americans like you to master the tools and technology that will change the way we do just about everything.”


Image: University of Washington

While Obama is spot-on about more people having to learn to code, I feel he may be overstating things a bit. The blue line in the chart above shows how interest in computer science from freshmen at the University of Washington in Seattle has skyrocketed since 2010 compared with other engineering fields; and the UW is not alone. This is a situation that is common in universities throughout the US. Clearly, there is a huge interest in computer science among freshmen and apparently universities can’t keep up. This is where programs like Code.org or the Khan Academy step in to empower people, teaching them how to code in a non-formal environment. Nevertheless, maybe it’s better to encourage people to find their true calling. I’d love to just as much interest and resources that go into learning code being awarded to programs that guide people so that they might find what they’re actually good at.

Discurse co-founder and CTO Jeff Atwood wrote ““I would no more urge everyone to learn programming than I would urge everyone to learn plumbing.”

NASA’s 2012 budget – $18.7 Billion

Earlier today Obama’s administration budget plan for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was proposed to $18.7 billion, at the same amount as in 2010, and puts predominance towards science research, exploration and commercial flight development. The $18.7 billion funding layout is $300 million less than the draft budget approved for 2011 in the NASA Authorization Act last year and $750 million less than the legislation’s blueprint for 2012.

In the layout, $1,8 billion is being diverted from the space operation program, which reflects the end of the space shuttle program, to the space research and technology division occupied with the human space program  (more than $1 billion)  and science division ($500 million). Part of these costs are intended to cover the overrun costs for the James Webb Space Telescope, which has already amounted $3 billion in spending, the innovative device intended to replace the famous Hubble sometime in the mid-decade.

Also, the White House proposes a $350 million increase in funding for commercial crew transportation programs to $850 million next year. The budget request would also initiate development of a heavy-lift rocket and Orion exploration capsule, calling for $2.8 billion in combined spending on those programs in 2012.

The $18.7 billion White House budget plan is significantly bolder than that of the Republicans, which propose to cut N.A.S.A. funding back to 2008’s level. Early analysis already reports this would mean a scrapping of the James Webb telescope, delay many of Obama’s earth sciences initiative and 75,000 contractors laid off by this September, as reported by the agency.

How much do you personally contribute to the N.A.S.A budget? For another interesting analysis, Space.com reports that a family with the median household income ($49,777 according to the U.S. Census Bureau), which pays $6,629 of federal taxes, pays the space agency … $33.

Image: source.

Obama sets Mars goal for America in less than 20 years

Barack Obama came out and said that it should be possible for NASA to send astronauts to Mars and bring them back safely by the mid 2030s. The US president said this while explaining the details of his plans with the US space agency at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.


Mister Obama has set quite some high goals for NASA, but he also supports them by giving the needed funding. If this will suffice, it remains to be seen, but the extra 6 billion $ (over the next 5 years) is quite a sum.

“By 2025, we expect new spacecraft designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first-ever crewed missions beyond the Moon into deep space,” he told his audience. “So we’ll start – we’ll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history.”

After a brief moment, he added:

“By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it.”


The current American president claims that NASA needs a refocus, and after this, it could achieve more, and quite soon. He also redeclared his strong affinity for space exploration.

“The bottom line is: nobody is more committed to manned spaceflight, the human exploration of space, than I am. But we’ve got to do it in a smart way; we can’t keep doing the same old things as before.”

“What we’re looking for is not just to continue on the same path; we want to leap into the future,” he said. “We want major breakthroughs, a transformative agenda for Nasa.”

Honestly, I don’t know if there’s a need for a change in the way NASA does things, but if this plan works, then we will be seeing results not far from now. Either way, at the very least, it’s comforting to see a president have so much interest in these issues.

“For pennies on the dollar, the space programme has fuelled jobs and entire industries. For pennies on the dollar, the space programme has improved our lives, advanced our society, strengthened our economy and inspired generations of Americans. And I have no doubt that Nasa can continue to fill this role.”


Obama’s first green move

It’s obvious that one of the biggest challenges the president elect has to face is rejuvenating the infrastructure; let’s talk about traffic jams for a bit. Everybody hates them, we all want to avoid them, but they exist. They are an unintended consequence of personal driving. Some transportation planners often speak about the fact that everybody would benefit from a shift from personal driving to mass transit, but the reality is that that’s almost impossible, so the only thing left to do is improve the roadways, as good roadways are far more green than you would probably imagine. Less waste of gas, to speak about just the immediate consequence.

Obama spoke about this and other really important issues, in the first in his series of plans which he believes will be the change the American people voted for. This will of course require massive investments, and will have as a result the biggest national infrastructure project since the 50s. It will include repairs and rebuildings of roadways, pipelines, bridges, and railways. Aside from eliminating (at least in a satisfactory proportion) the time and fuel wasting road jams, this move will also create a lot of work places in constructions and supply.

But concrete and steel are not really the first thing that comes to mind when speaking about green initiatives; the elected president wants to improve efficiency in all federal buildings, by changing out of date and energy wasting lighting with greener and more efficient alternatives. This will cost quite a lot, but it will save the tax payers billions and billions of dollars in the long run; the focus of this project will be the cost efficiency. Also, better windows, cold buildings will get better insulation.

What’s perhaps even better is that all this upgrades will be conducted at schools too; this is yet another issue that has been pretty much ignored in the Bush administration. Most of the HVAC systems are also produced in the US, which will further help the development of the American economy.

76 recipients of the Nobel Prize endorse Obama

This year’s election is among the most significant in America’s history. The people need a visionary leader that could get the nation out of the way towards the dark ages, and that can make this country play its crucial role in the world.

Under the Bush administration, scientific issues have been politicized in such a way that vital parts of scientific and technologic administration have been harmed, or even worse. According to the Nobel scientists, McCain will just continue Bush’s obvious lack of regard from science. So 76 Nobel Prize winners wrote an open letter to the people of America and not only; a part of what they wrote:

“We especially applaud his emphasis during the campaign on the power of science and technology to enhance our nation’s competitiveness. In particular, we support the measures he plans to take – through new initiatives in education and training, expanded research funding, an unbiased process for obtaining scientific advice, and an appropriate balance of basic and applied research – to meet the nation’s and the world’s most urgent needs.”

Also, here is the full letter, read by this guy; you may know him as the “inventor” of quarks.

America’s vote for science

vote obama

Science and politics often go hand in hand; they influence one another and despite the fact that the connections are subtle, they often play a crucial role. If at today’s vote was cast only by people who work or support scientific enquiries of any type, the result would be crushing.

Today’s importance goes out of the national interest, and dives into the global concerns; the challenges that America, along with the world, faces today, could found their answers in research and scientific development. These values are actually at the core of solving these problems. While both Obama and McCain have spoken about how they prize them, it’s obvious that one candidate has spoken more clearly and actually tried to find solutions to problems.

Still, having a significantly better team of advisors does not necessarily solve problems. Obama still has some campaigns which seem misguided; he seems to understand this, and goes for a wide range of solutions, hearing opinions and analyzing what seems to be the best answer. Still, despite McCain’s narrower explanations, some will find his solutions to be trustworthy above that of his oponent’s. It is a call everybody who has the right to vote (and not only) has to make for themselves.

ZME Science (including everybody in our team) can not cast a single vote in today’s elections, and we’re not trying to influence anybody. If we could, we would choose a candidate that’s open for solutions and who seeks opinions from those who know more than him. If we could, we would cast our vote for Barack Obama.