Final Reflection

The middle of junior year.   The time in college when I can FINALLY say that I’m more than halfway there, that the end is in sight.  This semester wasn’t marked by any sort of grand discovery or self-actualization on my part, but I still found it to be significant because it’s the first time that when I look behind me I can see just how far I’ve come.  Writing 3030 was also a noteworthy class because it is the first and only writing class I’ll ever take in my undergraduate career.  It was about what I expected it to be, but I found that I had forgotten how much I enjoy writing.  All of my classes that I’ve taken thus far are extremely heavy on math, which is fine, because I like math, but the addition of this writing class in my schedule made me remember how important it is to have balance.  It was oddly therapeutic to be able to take a break from my engineering homework to be able to work on a writing assignment.  I loved the fact that actual words and paragraphs on clean white paper were taking place of the endless numbers and symbols scrawled haphazardly on sickly green engineering paper.   And although I’m not claiming to have actually liked doing writing homework (and nobody would believe me if I did), it was nice to have different homework to do sometimes because it challenged me to think about the world in a different way.  Overall this writing class has been a positive experience for me and I was pleasantly surprised that a class I had been forced to take turned out to be so fulfilling.  It was also a nice reminder that there’s a lot more to the world than just numbers.

Cooking with Cardiology

Earlier this semester, I attended the South Denver Women’s Wellness Expo at the Denver University Neumann Center.  I got to listen to several key note speakers including Dr. Richard Collins, a Cardiologist, who shared a presentation on losing your belly fat while helping your heart and then he provided a cooking demonstration, starting with grapefruit quinoa salad, followed by a fish and bean dish, followed by dark chocolate almond truffles.

Dr. Collins introduced himself as the cooking cardiologist, indicating that he is both a chef and a cardiologist.  I really liked his stethoscope that had a wire whisk at the end of it, it was a nice touch that made him seem more approachable to the audience.  The first part of the presentation talked about eating healthy and talked about subcutaneous (visible) fat vs. visceral fat (fat around vital organs, such as heart lungs, digestive tract, and liver), which is far worse because it causes serious health problems including heart disease.   We need some visceral fat to provide necessary cushioning around organs, but too much is not healthy.  High carbohydrate intake = high insulin release, high refined carbohydrate intake = very high insulin release, higher insulin release = higher fat storage (belly fat).  For best health, waist size should be less than 35” for women and less than 40” for men.  We all should eat 10 grams of soluble fiber per day – example is 2 small apples, a cup of green peas, and ½ cup pinto beans.  We should eliminate sugary drinks.  Consuming an extra 100 calories a day will equal a 10 pound weight gain in one year.  Stress promotes overeating, fat storage, and belly fat.  Belly fat elevates cortisol, which triggers appetite, craving for sugar and fat, and weight gain.  To lose belly fat, we need to eat breakfast, low glycemic carbs, and balance protein fat and carbs.  We also need to increase intake of fiber, drink plenty of water, and slow down when we eat (eat mindfully).  In addition, we need to exercise, get enough sleep, and limit alcohol consumption.  All of this information was presented in a PowerPoint presentation which served as a useful visual tool.

After this, Dr. Collins proceeded with the cooking demonstration.  I was impressed with the his use of induction heating that uses an induction coil to heat a ferromagnetic pan from an oscillating electromagnetic field.  Induction is faster and significantly more efficient than gas or electric cooking.  It also provides very precise temperature control.   I was also intrigued by the African cooking pot called a tagine.  A tagine has a wide shallow base and tall conical lid design (looks like a funnel but it’s closed at the top) which recirculates moisture to keep flavor intact during slow cooking.

The first dish was a grapefruit quinoa salad.  Quinoa is a grain-like seed that is high in protein and fiber.  As he prepared the salad, he discussed the vitamin content and anti-oxidant properties of all ingredients as well as the immunity fighting properties of kale.  He also prepared a salad dressing that used agave.  Since Agave is about 90% fructose, it is sweeter than sugar allowing the recipe to require less of it to sweeten the dressing.

The second dish was a Mediterranean fish entrée that was cooked in the tagine.  An interesting tip was using vermouth to reduce the fishy taste.

The last dish was dessert.  He prepared dark chocolate almond truffles.   Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants and therefore healthy for the heart.  This recipe also uses agave to sweeten the chocolate.  Since it’s sweeter than sugar, we can use approximately 25% less in a recipe that calls for sugar.

It was very helpful and interesting for him to do a cooking demonstration after the PowerPoint presentation because it allowed the audience to learn some tips about cooking healthy and it served as a nice break from him simply lecturing the audience the entire time.  Overall I thought that Dr. Richard Collins was an extremely talented public speaker and his presentation did everything that a presentation should do.

 

Decline in Physical Science Education

In recent decades, American schoolchildren have been falling further and further behind other countries in terms of math and science.  In an article published in Advances in Geosciences in 2005, R. A. Pertzborn details various possible reasons for this trend, as well as proposes some possible solutions.  In his study, Pertzborn notes the impending workforce crisis stemming from the fact that there is “increased demand for scientific and technically literate workers, while fewer of the nation’s students are pursuing degrees in these academic areas” (Pertzborn, pg 1).  The rest of the article briefly summarizes some of the past solutions (and their unintended consequences) that have been put into place in an attempt to close the math and science achievement gap between the United States and other nations. 

One issue that Pertzborn examines is the fact that each year there is a steady decline of foreign students coming to study math and science at universities in the United States.   Possible reasons for this include the increasingly strict immigration laws that have been implemented post 9/11 as well as the fact that many countries are catching up to America and becoming able to provide their youth with the same opportunities that they would have access to in the United States (Pertzborn, pg 2)  This is a problem, because many foreign students who attend college in America end up staying in America to work instead of returning to their homelands, and now that students are becoming more and more likely to stay in their native countries for school the workforces of other countries will become stringer while America may begin to fall behind.

Another topic discussed by the author is the problem of teachers not being able to successfully foster an interest in math and science within their students.  Pertzborn explains that some reasons for this are teachers not being adequately equipped to teach certain subjects (especially physical sciences) and also the common misperception among students that “science is hard.”  Pertzborn also brings up the gender gap in math and sciences, citing a deficiency in female role models as a possible reason for this. 

By examining the possible causes of the decline of students graduating with degrees in math and science, Pertzborn is able to use his study to call the attention to the possible avenues of change that need to be affected in the United States if we wish to rectify this problem.  Overall this seems to be a good source to use for the examination of the lag in math and science education recently observed in the United States.  A limitation of this article is that its main focus is on the observed insufficiency of physical science education, but this trend is one that carries over into other fields of science and mathematics, so this limitation is not a debilitating one and this article can still be used to further the overall point of the final paper.

Quality Communication

Communication (both written and verbal) is vital to any business or industry, but it is especially important when in science and engineering fields.  Errors in communication in a lab or industrial setting can be catastrophic from both monetary and human safety perspectives, so it is absolutely necessary that miscommunication between employees is minimized

Ideally, my future career path will lead me to a management position, so to try and find out what sort of communication is necessary for leaders at scientific companies I decided to talk to a longtime family friend, Doreen McHugh.  Doreen oversees quality control operations at Lab Corp, which runs a variety of biological testing, and she is responsible for ensuring that tests are run correctly and that her employees are properly reporting accurate results.  Although she works with biological field rather than the energy field (which is what I want to go into), many of her tasks are similar to what I would like to do someday.  She ensures that everything within her company is running smoothly and is meeting certain standards, which is something that I would like to do someday.

I started off our conversation by telling her of my desire to work my way up to a managerial position within my chosen field and she had some great advice for me.  She said that she had been promoted to her position not only because of her extensive knowledge of all of the various aspects of the lab testing, but also because her assertiveness and confidence in that knowledge.  She knows enough about the lab testing to realize when someone is doing something wrong and is firm in her reinforcement of the testing procedures, which makes her an ideal supervisor of quality control.

As the head of quality control for her lab, Doreen must interact on a daily basis both with upper management and technical level employees.   When I asked her about her biggest challenges with communication, she said that the most common trial was determining which mode of communication is best suited to what she’s trying to accomplish.  If she has concerns about an employee’s lab results, an email inquiry or a quick in person conversation is usually sufficient to resolve or to get a retest of the unexpected results. However, if something is determined to be fundamentally wrong with a certain procedure, or is an employee is not engaging in best practices with his or her work, then a formal written document must be composed and submitted to upper management in order to notify the appropriate people that the problem is occurring.

Speaking with Doreen about the various aspects of her job and the necessity of proper communication in order for her company to function was very enlightening for me.  It gave me some insight on the sort of attitude that is required to be given power within a company, and it also helped me to realize the importance of communication between all facets of a laboratory operation.

Necessary Communication

Effective communication is vital for any field of science.  As a (hopefully) future engineer I’ll need to use writing to communicate my ideas to the company I’m working for in order to get my design plans accepted and implemented.  A major part of the type of engineering I’m hoping to go into involves designing chemical reactors for optimal safety and productivity.  The chemical engineering department of Carnegie Melon University has a research paper titled “Synthesis of Optimal Chemical Reactor Networks” that is similar to something I might have to write someday of I ever come up with a new design process for a chemical reactor.  The abstract and introduction of the paper clearly outline the need for higher optimization of chemical reactors and they explain the sort of math that is used in the report to draw these conclusions.

Although this report is not interesting in any way shape or form, the information and evidence contained within it are concrete and the paper clearly outlines the method of design for the chemical reactor.  This is a report meant solely for other engineers and is not meant to appeal to the general public whatsoever.  A part of this report that would be challenging is the fact that it cannot show any bias whatsoever, at the risk of seeming unprofessional and losing credibility with its audience.  All claims made in the paper are either referenced to another work or backed up with mathematical modeling.  The report is rife with equations and algorithms and most of its content is written explanation of the derivation and usefulness of these equations in regards to the reactor design.

Although this form of communication is effective in reaching the intended audience, a much simpler form of writing would have to be adopted if the writer of this report wanted it to reach the general public.  To make this report more appealing to the masses there would have to be less math in it and more of a rudimentary explanation of how chemical reactors work and the physical measures that should be taken to optimize them.  However, the general public probably doesn’t really care how chemical reactors are optimized, so the need for a more general article on the subject is really quite unnecessary.

A Matter of Uncertainty

I’ll be the first to admit that I absolutely adore controversy—just love it.  I’m fascinated by political debates and scientific disputes can keep me spellbound for hours.  There’s something intriguing about the way that the proponents of either side maintain their points using both scientific and cultural elements and I always like hearing both sides of the argument regardless of what my own stance on the matter is.  Such debates rarely manage to sway my own opinions on controversial issues, but I find it interesting that opposing sides can both manage to sound correct based on how the facts are picked and presented.

My very latest obsession is the controversy surrounding climate change and the other day, while mindlessly perusing internet articles on the topic, I came across an interesting line: “politicians and activists tend to speak in black and white, while most scientists speak in shades of gray and temper their complex findings in degrees of uncertainty.”  The quote was in an article from the Chicago Tribune discussing the conflicting claims about global warming but I think the statement is accurate for all aspects of science in our society.  The scientific community has a deep mistrust of “absolute certainty.”  If a scientific report was published stating that the claims it made were one hundred percent guaranteed accurate it would absolutely be met with the ridicule it deserved.  In science there is no such thing as absolute certainty, in fact there are multiple mathematical models that scientists can use to determine exactly how uncertain they really are.

This all sounds well and good but the problem arises from the fact that the scientific definition of uncertainty is very different from the public definition of uncertainty.  This is understandable—if I’m crossing a bridge or taking an antibiotic I want the science behind these things to be extremely sure of itself.  And it is. To a point.  Although nothing in science is absolutely certain, there is a degree of certainty to which scientific findings can be accepted as fact.  Science lends itself to its own public bastardization however by truthfully acknowledging that it can never be completely certain.

This is stunningly contrasted by politicians and activists who claim to be arguing their beliefs with absolute truth.  Nobody would find a presidential candidate very appealing if all of his speeches were full of 75% certain’s and not sure’s, so adamant (although sometimes unfounded) belief is almost necessary in politics and other advocacy groups.  This often causes problems for science when its opposers use its inherent uncertainty as defamation of its findings.  This is unavoidable if science wishes to continue to present itself in a truthful and unbiased manner, however the public needs to realize that uncertainty is a part of the scientific process and it is the means by which science is able to catch and correct its own mistakes in order to continually keep moving forward.

You’re Getting Warmer….

The subject of climate change in our society seems like an issue that has pretty much been beaten to death over the past decade.  Since the 1970s scientists have been studying the upward trends in global temperature that have been occurring over the past century and most people are familiar with Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” of 2006.  Because climate change is such a hot issue (no pun intended) some information the public receives is either grossly overly or underly exaggerated but the overall scientific consensus is that it is real and that it is happening.  Despite the overwhelming evidence that anthropogenic climate change is indeed occurring there are a small percentage of scientists and a slightly less small percentage of Americans who insist either that global warming is not occurring or that it is a natural phenomenon with which we need not be concerned.  As with anything, some opposition is to be expected and although it is unpleasant it is also unsurprising.  These dissenters represent a relatively small chunk of the population, and although public opinion varies from year to year, recent surveys have shown that periodically at least fifty percent of Americans believe that global climate change is occurring and that it is caused by human activity.

Fifty percent really doesn’t seem like such a bad number especially when you take into consideration that it’s only about fifteen percent of the population that believes global warming is a blatant lie (see here for the origin of these numbers), so logically it should follow that mitigating the harmful effects of climate change would be a top priority for Americans.  But… It’s not.  Indeed, the group of people who are perhaps most harmful to the effort to combat global warming are not the ones who deny its existence but the ones who know it is occurring and just don’t care.  This is something that has been observed both by scientists and non-scientists alike, and because it is commonly believed that the few are powerless against the many, it has become important for proponents of combating climate change to try to convince people to care.  In a study published in The Journal of Environmental Psychology, researchers attempted to promote interest in climate change among participants by having them actively participate in simulations involving the long term effects of climate change.  The point of the study was to disprove common misconceptions that people may have held about global warming and then to determine whether or not the disproving of these misconceptions made the participants more inclined to care about the problems posed by a changing climate.  What I found interesting about this research project was the background information section where it stated what many of the misconceptions about global warming are—I didn’t find the results of the research particularly remarkable or persuasive.

Scientists:

“You should care because the reason you don’t care is because you don’t understand mass balances” 

General Public:

“What?”

Even as someone who has taken classes entirely about mass balances I found it extremely difficult to understand why on earth this fact should make anyone care about  global warming even a little bit.  The purpose of the research was to try to discover a method of making people care about climate change but I felt as though it had almost the opposite effect.  Although scientific research is absolutely necessary to the linkage of increasing greenhouse gas emissions to climate change, I believe the time has come to make emotional appeals to the public rather than logical ones.  Lisa Bennett’s article entitled “Five Reasons We Don’t Care About Climate Change” seemed much more likely to influence Americans in their views on climate change.  She listed extremely plausible reasons as to why people in America might not care about the changing climate and then went on to list some reasons about why we should, even going so far as to ask the reader to “look into your children’s eyes” and take the threat to the future more seriously.  Although her article didn’t have nearly the factual basis that the Journal of Environmental Psychology article had, it seemed much more likely that her appeal of pathos would be far more convincing to general public.  In the battle against global warming and climate change, it is my belief that the time for scientific papers has passed and that it is time for the scientific community to try different approaches in order to make global warming a real and immediate concern to the general public.

Read the articles:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272494411000764#

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-bennett/five-reasons-why-we-dont_b_336190.html

One man’s attempt to appeal to the population through music.