Painful Math & Canadian Rovers | SciByte 70

Painful Math & Canadian Rovers | SciByte 70

We take a look at Painful Math, Canadian robotic rovers, using the Kinect in science, updates on spacecraft, stories, and Curiosity, viewer feedback, and as always take a peek back into history and up in the sky this week.

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Show Notes:

Math Hurts

  • Mathematics anxiety can prompt a response in the brain similar to when a person experiences physical pain, according to new research
  • The low down
  • Using brain scans, scholars determined that the brain areas active when highly math-anxious people prepare to do math overlap with the same brain areas that register the threat of bodily harm
  • Anticipation of doing math prompts a similar brain reaction as when they experience pain
  • Significance
  • Researchers found it was the anticipation of having to do math, and not actually doing math itself, that looked like pain in the brain.
  • Brain activation does not happen during math performance, suggesting that it is not the math itself that hurts it is the anticipation of math is painful
  • Scholars worked with 14 adults who were shown to have math anxiety based on their responses to a series of questions about math
  • Additional tests showed that these individuals were not overly anxious in general; instead, their heightened sense of anxiety was specific to math-related situations.
  • Volunteers were tested in an fMRI machine, which allowed researchers to examine brain activity as they did math, they were given mathematical equations to verify like the validity of the following equation: (12 x 4) – 19 = 29
  • Subjects were also shown short word puzzles. For these puzzles, people saw a series of letters (for example: yrestym) and had to determine if reversing the order of the letters produced a correctly spelled English word.
  • fMRI scans showed that the anticipation of math caused a response in the brain similar to physical pain
  • The higher a person’s anxiety about math, the more anticipating math activated the posterior insula—a fold of tissue located deep inside the brain just above the ear that is associated with registering direct threats to the body as well as the experience of pain.
  • Math anxiety levels were not associated with brain activity in the insula or in any other neural region when volunteers were doing math.
  • For those with math anxiety, a painful sense of dread may begin long before a person sits down to take a math test.
  • Of Note
  • current work is also consistent with other research which showed that the mere anticipation of doing mathematics changes functioning in the brains of people with high levels of math anxiety
  • Mathematics anxiety can begin as early as first grade
  • The value of seeing math anxiety not just as a proxy for poor math ability, but as an indication there can be a real, negative psychological reaction to the prospect of doing math.
  • The reaction needs to be addressed like any other phobia rather than simply piling on math homework for students who are anxious about math, students need active help to become more comfortable with the subject
  • For instance, that writing about math anxieties before a test can reduce one’s worries and lead to better performance.
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • When people worry about math, the brain feels the pain |


Canadian Robotic Rovers?


Kinect in Science

  • Researchers in Scotland have devised a means of using a Microsoft Kinect sensing system to allow for hand control of holographic optical tweezers
  • The low down
  • Laser tweezers are laser based devices that allow for manipulation of very small objects; typically at the cellular level
  • A laser beam is projected towards a target, but before reaching it, is split into three separate beams
  • The three beams are broadcast onto the edges of the object to be manipulated and as the beams are moved the object is caused to move in lockstep
  • However fine tuning control of the laser to cause the movement of an object has been less than ideal and researchers to continue looking for alternative means
  • Significance
  • In this new research, the team connected a Microsoft Kinect device to the tweezers and then demonstrated an ability to move microscopic sized objects by moving their hands around in the air.
  • Connecting a Kinect device to their virtual tweezers, the researchers found that they were able to define the space in which they wished to work by using simple hand movements and then to connect, virtually to a particular tiny object
  • The Kinect is not precise enough to capture subtle movements however as it doesn’t allow for force-feedback, or the ability to feel the resistance of an object as its being moved
  • Of Note
  • HoloHands, is not sophisticated enough to allow for serious research work but it is being used as a tool for educational purposes, either as a tool, or implemented as a learning game.
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube HoloHands: Kinect control of holographic optical tweezers | dundeephysics
  • Kinect control of two trapped particles. | C. McDonald
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Physicists use Kinect to control holographic tweezers (w/ Video) |



— Updates —

Space-X’s Grasshopper

  • The low down
  • SpaceX is developing the “Grasshopper” reusable vertical takeoff, vertical landing rocket
  • In September, the 32-meter- (106-ft-) tall Grasshopper made a tiny hop – barely lifting off the pad just to test-fire its engines
  • The Grasshopper has now made a second, bigger hop
  • Phase 1 and 2
  • Reportedly the goal with Grasshopper is to eventually create a reusable first stage for its Falcon 9 rocket that would be able to land safely instead of falling back into the ocean and not being usable again
  • The Grasshopper test program is to have three phases of test launches at SpaceX’s facility in McGregor, Texas
  • Both Phase 1 and 2 flights would last up to 45 seconds.
  • Phase 1 rocket would rise to not more than 240 feet [73 meters]
  • Phase 2 rocket would rise to not more than 670 feet [204 meters]
  • Both Phase 1 and 2 flights would last up to 45 seconds.
  • Phase 3
  • Phase 3 tests have the goal of increasingly higher altitudes with higher ascent speeds and descent speeds altitude test sequence likely would be 1,200 feet [366 meters]; 2,500 feet [762 meters]; 5,000 feet [1,524 meters]; 7,500 feet [2,286 meters]; and 11,500 feet [3,505 meters]
  • The maximum test duration of Phase 3 firings would be approximately 160 seconds. If all goes well the Grasshopper would land back on the launch pad
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube Flight of 10 story tall Grasshopper rocket | Clark Lindsey
  • Social Media
  • SpaceX @SpaceX
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • SpaceX’s 10-Story Re-useable Grasshopper Rocket Takes a Bigger Hop |

Documentary : Chasing Atlantis


  • Astronomers using data from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope were able to look at distant blazars to help measure the background light from all the stars that are shining now and ever
  • Last time on SciByte
  • Breast Cancer & Mayan Calender | SciByte 69 (October 30, 2012
  • The low down
  • This enabled the most accurate measurement of starlight throughout the universe, which in turn helps establish limits on the total number of stars that have ever shone.
  • The optical and ultraviolet light from stars continues to travel throughout the universe even after the stars cease to shine
  • Fossil radiation field we can explore using gamma rays from distant sources and also provide a stellar density in the cosmos of about 1.4 stars per 100 billion cubic light-years, which means the average distance between stars in the universe is about 4,150 light-years
  • Significance
  • Blazars, which are among the most energetic phenomena in the universe. They are galaxies powered by extremely energetic black holes:
  • To gamma rays, the EBL functions as a kind of cosmic fog, but Fermi measured the amount of gamma-ray absorption in blazar spectra
  • Gamma rays produced in blazar jets travel across billions of light-years to Earth
  • Occasionally, a gamma ray collides with starlight and transforms into an electron and its antimatter counterpart, a positron
  • Once this occurs, the gamma ray light is lost much the same way as fog dims a distant lighthouse.
  • From studies of nearby blazars, scientists have determined how many gamma rays should be emitted at different energies
  • Which gives an upper and lower limit on the amount of stars that have formed
  • Previous estimates have only been an upper limit, this data shows that the upper and lower limits are very close to each other
  • Of Note
  • Measuring the extragalactic background light was one of the primary mission goals for Fermi
  • While Fermi is providing us with a shadow image of the first stars, whereas Webb will directly detect them
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube NASA | Fermi Explores the Early Universe
  • The locations of 150 blazars (green dots) used in the a new by the Fermi Gamma-Ray Telescope. | NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Fermi Measures Light from All the Stars That Have Ever Existed | UniverseToday
  • Light From Universe’s First Stars Seen | Fermi Telescope |
  • Astronomers spot leftover light from ancient stars | Atom & Cosmos | Science News

— Viewer Feedback —

  • Educational Experience
  • Jusitn Luna asks about my Educational experience, in regards to school applications
  • Graduated with a BA in Physics, minoring in Astrophysics
  • Did all the volunteer work and internships I could both related and unrelated to school
  • Pay careful attention to all resume’s, mistakes creep in very easily, ask someone to look it over
  • What is pertinent to what you are applying for and check the details
  • If you have to do interviews practice
  • New ”Super-Earth” found
  • Michael Henriques pointed out a story about a new “Super Earth” found
  • That story is actually on the docket for next week


  • Returning to Earth time
  • After three months working on “Mars time,” the team operating NASA Mars rover Curiosity has switched to a Earth schedule as planned
  • A Martian day, called a sol, is about 40 minutes longer than an Earth day, so the team’s start time for daily planning has been moving a few hours later each week
  • Telecommuting Teams Start
  • In addition more than 200 non-JPL scientists who have spent some time working at JPL since Curiosity’s landing will now continue participating regularly from their home institutions throughout North America and Europe
  • The team has been preparing in recent weeks to use dispersed participation teleconferences and Web connections.
  • X-Ray Analysis
  • Results of the first analysis of Martian soil by the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) experiment on NASA’s Curiosity rover show the presence of crystalline feldspar, pyroxenes and olivine mixed with some amorphous (non-crystalline) material
  • This makes is similar to volcanic soils in Hawaii
  • NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has completed initial experiments showing the mineralogy of Martian soil is similar to weathered basaltic soils of volcanic origin in Hawaii
  • The teams used its Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin) for quantitative results and new identifications of the minerals in this first X-ray diffraction analysis on Mars
  • Identification of minerals in rocks and soil is crucial for the mission’s goal to assess past environmental conditions and the mineral records the conditions under which it formed.
  • The composition of a rock provides only ambiguous mineralogical information, minerals diamond and graphite, which have the same chemical composition, but strikingly different structures and properties
  • CheMin uses X-ray diffraction, which provides more accurate identifications of minerals than any method previously used on Mars it reads minerals’ internal structure by recording how their crystals distinctively interact with X-rays
  • The sample was processed through a sieve to exclude particles larger than 0.006 inch (150 micrometers), roughly the width of a human hair.
  • The soil material CheMin has analyzed is more representative of modern processes on Mars
  • So far materials Curiosity has analyzed are consistent with our initial ideas of the deposits in Gale Crater recording a transition through time from a wet to dry environment
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube Curiosity Rover Report (Nov. 1, 2012): First CheMin Results | JPLNews
  • Image Galleries at JPL and Curiosity Mulimedia
  • Social Media
  • Curiosity Rover @MarsCuriosity
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Curiosity rover finds clues to changes in Mars’ atmosphere |
  • NASA rover’s first soil studies help fingerprint Martian minerals |
  • Why Mars Life Hunt Targets Methane |
  • Curiosity rover finds clues to changes in Mars’ atmosphere |
  • Curiosity Finds Methane on Mars, or Not – ScienceNOW |
  • Curiosity team switches back to Earth time |


Looking back

  • Nov 09, 1965 | 47 years ago | Blackout | The biggest electricity grid failure in U.S. history at the time caused a 13-hour blackout in northeast America and parts of Canada. The power lines from Niagara Falls to New York City were operating near their maximum capacity. At about 5:15 pm, a transmission line relay failed. Now there was insufficient line capacity for New York City. New England and New York are interconnected on a power grid, and the power that had been flowing toward New York City had to go elsewhere, instantly. Unable to handle this overload, generator operators shutdown to protect their equipment. Almost the entire grid failed, affecting 80,000 square miles, and 25 million people. In the subways of New York, 800,000 people were trapped

Looking up this week

Solar and Lunar Eclipses

  • Solar Eclipse
  • On Nov. 13, residents of northeastern Australia will get a ‘false-start’ sunrise
  • About an hour after the sun breaks the horizon in the coastal city of Cairns, it will be fully obscured by the moon, whose shadow will darken the sky and bring the stars back into view for 2 minutes there
  • The solar corona should take on a ‘wound up’ circular shape, with a high potential for tongues of pink nuclear fire leaping from the Sun’s edge
  • A three-man crew will be capturing and broadcasting the solar eclipse live with a telescope in northern Australia, which will be the only land area that will witness the total eclipse
  • Parts of New Zealand and Chile will see the sun partially obscured as the moon crosses the sky
  • Lunar Eclipse
  • A lunar eclipse that will take place on Nov. 28.
  • The penumbral lunar eclipse will manifest as a slight but noticeable darkening of the northern half of the moon; the dimming should be easily visible to the naked eye after most of the moon has dipped into the Earth’s penumbra
  • The Eastern United States will miss out on the lunar eclipse, as the moon will already have set there when the eclipse begins
  • The rest of the country can watch at least part of it, with the duration of visibility longest for people on the West Coast and in Alaska
  • Use THIS NASA GRAPHIC to check if you’ll be able to watch the lunar eclipse from their backyard.
  • Multimedia
  • Watch the Nov. 13 Solar Eclipse webcast for free starting at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time LIVE FEED
  • Lunar eclipse location graphic IMAGE
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Total Solar Eclipse and Minor Lunar Eclipse to Grace Nov. Skies |

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