My name is Joe, and I like to post about science and its fascinating applications. My goal here is to bring you along as I journey through the web by share the interesting bits I come across. Stay posted for both big news updates and other decidedly less serious stuff.
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Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

Let’s just all take a moment to asdfgh$glks@o#pf!sfoid;jn>?tlksjhjls……..

This is a message I sent to my students today, but I’d highly encourage for everyone to heed the “call to code.” If you decide to go out and earn your own certificate, drop me a note. I’m also looking for more resources to direct students towards. Please send your suggestions!

Hello Parents/Students Past and Present,

If I haven’t seen you in a while, I hope that all is well! If I’ve seen you recently, hello again! As a former or current educator, I wanted to take a moment to write you all to inform you about the Hour of Code project that is taking place globally this week. December 9th-15th is Computer Science Education Week, and to encourage for students all around the world to learn more about coding and programming, a massive initiative to help students both new and not-so-new has been launched. I personally wish that I had taken a greater interest in this subject earlier on in my life, and having been an educator of yours at one point, I’d like to help you to check it out too!

What is Computer Science?
If you’re not familiar with what Computer Science is or what it can be used for, I’d highly suggest that you check out this video. Understanding how to program is another venue for helping the mind to think logically and critically, and while coding has traditionally been used to build operating systems, programs, and websites, it can also be used creatively (game and web design, data visualization, and interactive art projects just to name a few)! If you’re interested in reading about more, check out this list of careers that utilize and value a computer science education.

How can you get started?
To participate in the Hour of Code this week, it’s simple! You just need to spend an hour learning about computer science sometime before this Sunday (12/15/13). Luckily for you, a whole bunch of projects have been curated for different skill levels and most of them are fun! Best of all, they’re free! Some of my recommendations include making an interactive holiday card, the Light-bot puzzle game, and the Processing Hour of Code tutorial. If you’re feeling even more advanced, check out the list of resources at the bottom of the post, “You can code, too!" from my friend, Olga.

There’s no pressure to participate, but I appreciate your attention in reading this through. Please feel free to share this with your friends/siblings/classmates, and if you choose to try anything out, I’d really enjoy hearing from you to see what you’ve done! Best of luck!

Special thanks to:








Hello everyone! Here’s to a Christmas that is not only merry but also plausible. 


DNA: The Book of You

Oh hey, some guy with the same name as me and who sounds exactly like me wrote and narrated this video for TED-Ed all about the scale, structure and organization of the human genome.

Oh wait… it IS me! Enjoy the sciencey sounds of my voice telling you all about how big the human genome is.

Although 20,000 genes sounds like a lot, it’s far less than the number scientists initially predicted. We end up getting lots of variants out of fewer genes thanks to something called alternative splicing. Although none of it is “junk”, about 8% of our genome is inactive virus DNA (which we stole genes from in order to be born), and more than half is other kinds of insertions from ancient, jumping “selfish genes” called retrotransposons.


(A note: Most of the numbers in this lesson are for one copy of the human genome. Remember that you actually have two copies of the human genome in every cell, so the length of DNA and number of bases, etc. it actually DOUBLE that! If you want to know more details about any of the facts and figures in the video, leave me a note in the YouTube comments or send me a message here or on Twitter.)

When’s the last time you toured the 450,000 kg habitable space environment that is currently orbiting the Earth? My guess that it wasn’t today (if ever). Check out these shorts from Astronaut Sunita Williams that were shot shortly before she, Yury Malenchenko (Russia), and Aki Hoshide (Japan) returned from their 125-day stay on the International Space Station last Sunday. If you’d like to watch all of the tour in one video, you can click here. Also, be sure to follow Sunita’s twitter account (@Astro_Suni) for more news about astronomical happenings.

Cruising around on Instagram the other day, I found this picture that my friend (@elderlybastard) posted, and I was struck by the redness of this tree’s leaves. Look at how vibrant they are! Maybe it was her photography skills, but I began to wonder why this tree turned red while the others around it stayed orange and yellow? To begin, we must learn about why autumn leaves deviate from their greener shades in the first place.

As you probably already know, the color that most plants have is derived from chlorophyll, the yellow-green pigment found in chloroplasts responsible for allowing photosynthesis to take place. If you’ve forgotten how this process works, Crash Course Biology has a great video for this. While there are multiple forms of chlorophyll, it is generally true that most reflect green light, causing for plants to appear the way they do. (This raises the even better question of why aren’t plants black, but that deserves its own post.)

The absorption spectrum of both chlorophylls A and B. 

So, what happens to the chlorophyll as we approach the cooler months? When the temperature drops, deciduous plants slow the production of chlorophyll in preparation for the dormant period they will undergo during the winter. The plants will then be able to conserve energy by halting all photosynthetic processes during the lack of available sunlight. As this happens, orange and yellow carotenoids present in the leaves are exposed. These are pigments that are normally produced in leaves that help to absorb additional energy from the sun that is passed along to the chlorophyll and also to prevent auto-oxidation (basically the wear down of cells due to free radicals) from occurring. In addition to all of this, the plant begins to produce a cell wall between the stem and the leaf called an abscission layer. This will eventually cause for the leaf to be completely separated from the plant, allowing for it to fall to the ground.

Ok. We’ve covered green, orange, and yellow, but what produced the scarlet beauty found above and why doesn’t it occur in all trees? The answer is anthocyanins. If you’ve ever eaten a blueberry, raspberry, pomegranate, or any other fruit that can stain your hands and clothes, you’re probably already familiar with these little molecules. These pigments are similar to the carotenoids mentioned above but serve a different purpose. In cases during the late summer when plants are beginning to slow their photosynthetic processes but there is still plenty of sunlight abound, the leaves can actually be harmed by receiving too much high-intensity light in the region of Photosystem II (photoinhibition). In order to prevent this damage, the plant begins to synthesize anthocyanins to permeate through the leaves’ surfaces. Because of its red color, the pigment absorbs a large amount of the high energy visible and ultraviolet photons striking the plant, basically acting as a “plant sunscreen.” (Check out how you can even build your own anthocyanin-based solar cell!) Additionally, anthocyanins are good indicators of plant stressors including freezing temperatures and low nutrient levels.

Next time you see a particularly red tree, make sure to think about its environment!  Does it receive an abundance of light? Has it been particularly cold? Feel free to comment with links to your own pictures of vibrant trees and plants! In the meantime, I’m going to go chill with Cannonball and Miles.


Why do leaves change color and turn red?

Carotenoid-to-chlorophyll energy transfer

Understanding Vegetation and Its Reflectance Properties

Winter Adaptations of Trees

Chlorophyll image

An amazing visual installation designed to pay homage to Carl Sagan opened up to the public near the end of this past October at Cornell University’s Sherry and Joel Mallin Sculpture Court. Appropriately titled “Cosmos,” artist Leo Villareal was inspired by the 1980s television series to construct this 12,000 LED ceiling measuring 48 x 68 feet (13.7 x 20.7 m) that uses his software to depict abstract morphing images of clouds, stars, galaxies, and other celestial bodies. The piece is currently open nightly and does not have a listed closing date.

Guess I better plan a trip to visit Cornell with a lawn chair.

Be sure to click here and view more of Villareal’s work. It’s worth it. Also, make some time to watch the clip above. I just got lost in it for the past 50 minutes.

Rube Goldberg machines have long stood as a means to introduce the concepts of the conservation of both energy and momentum in a fun and exciting way, and being near MIT, it is safe to assume that they do it big. Now in its 15th year, MIT’s Friday After Thanksgiving celebration is taking place today, allowing for nearly 1,500 people to attend and form teams to connect individual modules into one, insanely-mesmerizing, functional machine.

Creator Arthur Ganson described the event in 2006 as a critical thinking exercise.

You can use an infinite number of materials in different ways to store the energy. Nothing ever works the first time, and as you being to put things together, you find ‘this has to be this way’ or ‘this is not going to work and I have a new idea.’ So it’s all about problem solving.

If you’re in the Cambridge area, be sure to check this event out today at MIT’s Rockwell Cage Gymnasium from 1-4pm. It’s not one that you’re going to want to miss. More details can be found at the link below. You can also watch the entire 2011 event online here.


For those of you working hard in the kitchen today, don’t forget this essential apple pie recipe from Carl Sagan. Happy Thanksgiving!

For those of you working hard in the kitchen today, don’t forget this essential apple pie recipe from Carl Sagan. Happy Thanksgiving!


So I was reading A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, and I came across some…interesting illustrations.

Stephen get down from there

Stephen are you okay