Tag Archive | science

Living in Space

Since I’m really a science fiction writer, even if I don’t often talk about it, I suppose posting this article today makes sense. It wasn’t as awesome as I was hoping for but it is pretty interesting.  Unfortunately, it’s audio, and I couldn’t find the transcript.

And, note this, Piers Sellers thinks we might make it to Mars by 2030. Obviously a lot later than Star Trek (TOS) thought we would, but nonetheless, interesting.

An Interview With an Astronaut

What to do with garbage?

Humans will always make garbage. Any species will make garbage technically. So why does this matter? Well, because sometimes what we do with the garbage may be worth note, especially in our end-times story.

Antarctica's cold wasteland--with little bacteria

Or an ice planet story. Here’s something interesting. The people at the research bases in Antarctica are having problems with garbage. Reason being is that bacteria decompose garbage and most bacteria can’t work at those low of temperatures. Some special bacteria can, but the general bacteria that break down garbage can’t.

A garbage dump where the bacteria aren't happy.

Sometimes, however, we can speed up garbage breakdown. A scientist in Georgia was doing research to encourage the breakdown of garbage by providing the bacteria with extra oxygen and water. He actually resulted in speeding up the decomposition of garbage in Georgia to the point that it didn’t smell, and it could barely be recognized, all because he gave the bacteria what they wanted.

So, I was  going t mention something about a methane generators for human waste, but I have nothing beyond that little line, so if you want more information, you need to look that up.

What is Drowning.

Here is a very scary article about what drowning looks like. It’s rather interesting in the sense that  I would have written a drowning scene completely wrong.

Look for these other signs of drowning when persons are n the water:

  • Head low in the water, mouth at water level
  • Head tilted back with mouth open
  • Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
  • Eyes closed
  • Hair over forehead or eyes
  • Not using legs – Vertical
  • Hyperventilating or gasping
  • Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
  • Trying to roll over on the back
  • Ladder climb, rarely out of the water.

Let’s Discuss Viruses.

A very common science fiction scenario is a rampant virus that kills off most of humanity or something like that. So, it makes sense that i should post something about it.

When naming viruses, we’re going to go back to the whole kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species thing that you learned in elementary school. The family name ends in -vinidase.  The genus ends in -virus. So, if you decide that you want to make up the name for a virus, keep that in mind when making up your name. Species are distinguished by numbers.

Now,  you must understand that viruses aren’t living organisms. They cannot reproduce by themselves. They need a host cell. Once it finds a host cell, it will then insert its DNA into the DNA sequence of that cell so the cell unknowingly makes the virus.

Then, one of two things happen. Either little part of the virus is made, put together, and then release. Or, the virus makes a whole bunch of little viruses inside the cell and then ruptures the cell and the viruses can spread out into the surrounding area.

That is all very technical in some ways. Let’s move on to maybe slightly easier things.

Viruses are only for targeting one specific type of cell. That is why if you get a cold virus on your arm, it could sit there forever and ever (well, it’d actually die before too long) and never give you a cold unless you wiped it by your mouth or nose. This cold virus will also only effect respiratory tissues.

Keep in mind then that related viruses have two things in common. 1) They have close to the same genetic information. 2) They share the same type of host.

About defenses, sometimes the virus can cover itself with a fatty layer (called a lipid layer). Because your body recognizes foreign substances by proteins, the fatty layer covers the proteins and hides it from the body. The white blood cells also cannot recognize foreign objects if they are inside your cells.]

Viruses aren’t always deadly. Sometimes they are used to transmit good DNA into a cell because of their fundamental characteristics of inserting the DNA. For example, a person with cystic fibrosis (CF) ends up having too much mucous production that blocks their airways (so far as I understand). They can have a virus repair the part of the cell that causes the excess secretions by inserting that DNA sequence into the cold virus (which effects the respiratory tissues that also causes CF). The person will first get a cold, then eventually the cells will start operating correctly and the symptoms are relieved.

Lastly, many of us have heard of the avion bird flu and how dangerous it is. And that is true; the virus is very dangerous. Almost everyone who has gotten it, which are mainly people in Asia and mainly younger children, have died. However, because it’s not able to be transmitted via the air, and can only be transmitted through contact, it has yet to become the deadly menace they thought possible.

So, there’s some about viruses to encourage your creative juices flowing.

Growing DNA

This is going to sound really futuristic and awesome, but it isn’t. It’s actually being done right now, the idea of growing DNA.

Say, I kidnap someone. And me, being a stupid criminal, sends the family a ransom note and I lick the envelope. They can take that envelope, find just one little cell off of that envelope and use it to find me through the DNA.

Now, in reality, they cannot take that one single cell and analyze the DNA to find me. They need more than one cell, because, really, DNA is small.

So what scientists can do is toss the cell (maybe the DNA. I’m not sure now.) in a test tube, toss in the building blocks of DNA–the sugar and phosphates (backbones of DNA), and the  adenine, cytosine, guanine  and thymine–and toss in a DNA polymase so it can separate the DNA and let it sit for a day or so.

Once all this sits for a bit, we’ll have a lot of DNA that we can then analyze and find the kidnapper.

Now this can technically be used for a lot of other things that requires more than one cell of DNA. I just heard this in class and kept thinking to myself: Now, how can I use this in a story?

AS a note, this is called PCR.

Quick Facts About Abdominal Trauma

Just in case your character is ever in a fight, which mine are always in.

Abdominal trauma is split into two types: blunt and penetrating. Blunt trauma can include, falls, aggravated assaults, contact sports. Penetrating abdominal trauma is caused by gunshot wounds, stabbing or impalement with an object.

The liver is the most commonly inured organ in both types of trauma.

The spleen is the most commonly injured organ in blunt trauma.

Most penetrating injures are caused by gunshot wounds.

brain, bones and blood

I’m going through my nursing reading (I have a lot to catch up on and I have  a test tomorrow) and I’m finding some  possibly interesting elements to include in a story. Now, I know that this is probably not what you want to see after I’ve disappeared for a week but it’ll have to do for now. I’ll try to get some more posts written soon.

1. Seizures. Although TV almost always shows seizures as these events where a person is shaking constantly and such, they aren’t all like that. In some seizures (called absence seizures) the person is merely staring off into space and look like they are daydreaming. In another type, called atonic seizures, the person loses all muscle tone and falls.

2. Meningitis. BActerial meningitis is the most serious, although there is viral and fungal meningitis  as well. Basically, bacterial meningitis occurs most frequently in areas where lots of people live in small crowded  spaces, like dorms, army barracks, ect. This infection has decreased due to a vaccine.

3. Tongue piercing. Sounds strange, but they have been attributed to infections, including meningitis.

4. Heart Stopping: The heart can continue beating even if the atria stops, and unless this person was hooked up to a heart moniter, few people would realize it even happened. (80% of blood diffuses out of the heart just because of pressure differences.)

5. Problems with No Gravity:  Long bones need weight bearing to stimulate red blood cell production. If red blood cells aren’t produced, the person will have anemia. (Iron deficient anemia actually.) (Reason why I’m saying this is that a completely weightless environment would force the person to take iron pills.)

6. Phantom limb pain: Sounds awesome, the idea that an amputee will experience pain on the effected extremity when it isn’t there. However, this is most common in patients with chronic limb pain (before the surgery happened) and is rare in those who had traumatic amputations.  Also, it’s more common after an above the knee amputation. Pain is triggered by touching the residual limb (stump) or by temperature or barometric pressure changes, concurrent ilnesses, fatigue, anxiety or stress or urination. In some cases of severe chronic pain, the phantom limb pain can be triggered by almost anything.

7.  Saving body parts: I’ve always heard that if you cut off a part of your body, put it on ice because they might save it enough to replace it. However, if you cut off a finger, you don’t just drop it in a cup of ice water to save it. You actually want to put it in a watertight bag, then put it on ice (1 part ice, three parts water specifically). If the finger gets in contact with water, it could damage the finger whihc would result in the people at the ER not putting it back on.

I actually just learned a bunch of stuff about amputation which I might share in another post. No, I’m not some morbid person. I have a character that got his arm cut off before the story. You’ll see.

building blocks for telepathy

In a book I plan to write in the near future, I plan to create one of the early forms of telepathy. So, however much I hate my physiology class, I’m learning some very valuable things from it that would apply to a well to any form telepathy and that I will share.

Since telepathy would be similar to a general sense, it is fair to say it would function as a special sense like our sense of hearing or vision would.  In order for that to happen, there are some basic structures of senses that are a part of every single sense.

First, we need a way to sense the actual stimulus. In my example, it will be the stimulus of another’s thoughts that are somehow detected.

Next, we need it to travel someway to a processing center.

We need a processing center.

And then if we were to have people to communicate telepathically, like I plan, we need a way to send the messages again.

NOw, I’m not a brain surgeon or anything here. I’m just taking a physiology course. But let’s just say for example that brain waves can actually be transmitted through air. A special sense in our brain would detect them and send the message via our nerves to a special processing area of our brain. Once in the special processing area, it decodes the message, say, your thoughts, and so that I can understand them like speech. Then, I send them back either the same basic way or a different way. If we are going to do it like speech, it would be a different location. Actually the speech center would probably have to be tied in just because.

Does this make any sense?

Now, I’ve read a few books that have telepathics in it and sometimes they can move things mentally. I’m not sure if this is a vital skill or not for my story. But after writing down this whole process, this second function would have to be something completely different.

This is also where I get stuck. Because I can logically understand the concept of our brain being able to have a special receiver that receives messages from other people’s heads. But how would something be moved without touching it?  Logically, I can’t even figure this out, excluding most science, because our brain merely exists like a giant, self forming computer. If I ever figure it out, I’ll tell you. Maybe i’ll just drop that part, but it removes some really awesome scenes from my story.

what if or why I write science fiction

I suppose I more write a combination of science fiction and fantasy, since I’ve now written two fantasy books (Dragon Slayers and Giant’s Wife) not to mention ETOLT with a friend. However, my first love and the real reason i write is because of science fiction.

I suppose it’s reasonable enough. I started writing, after all, because of star trek. Then it moved into science fiction thanks to a story in Mars, followed by a series of books that was meant to be similar to Star Trek without the copyright problems and other things. After discovering that worked just as poorly as my star trek story, I totally changed everything and began writing stand-alones.

But why do I write science fiction? I write it, now, because of the control I have in the universe. Before, I wrote it because I didn’t really have to study much of anything. So what if the police force is totally inaccurate? It’s not Earth. Who cares?

Slowly,  I began to discover the beauty of having your own universe. It’s not the fact that I can get away with inaccuracies but more that I can make commentary about problems that may not even happen. Based on recent elections in Massachusetts and other surveys, I would have to conclude that universal health care will probably not be passed in the near future. So either I can come up with an elaborate scheme along the lines of Obama gets his friends at ACORN to totally screw with the election results this November, all of Obama cronies get elected into office, he totally brainwashes the media and the US passes universal healthcare. Or, I can create a different country, similar to America but one that readily embraced healthcare fifty years ago and is now reaping the problems associated with it. The latter sounds not only less complicated and more likely, but keeps me from automatically sounding like an “anti-Obama stupid conservative.

Not only that, but I can try things by writing science fiction. My stories are slowly switching over into a case of asking “what ifs”. What if Earth was taken over by aliens? What if a doctor discovered how to give telepathic powers to individuals? What if cars were banned? If I write just general fiction, there is not as many what ifs because they have to fit in the narrow frame of here and now.

Another reason is I love creating universes. I have the ability to formulate things and to describe things on a whole new level. It’s like I have a paintbrush in my hand and given the proper time and the proper imagination, I can create a beautiful picture. Because of this, themes that I don’t normally realize I see in the world are show.

Yes, I do still write science fiction in part because of the inaccuracies. I don’t have to do extensive research on every single aspect of my story. But I also can portray so much more than just mere fiction can portray. All because of asking what if questions and going from there.

taking science to the next step

This post, by the way, is in honor of it being student nurses week and the fact that today (when you see it, Not when I wrote it.) is my student nurses convention day.

I was learning recently in one of my classes about the nerve sends messages through the body through action potentials. We got to the part where the action potential gets to the synapse (which is like a gap between two axons (nerve parts)). What basically happens there is the action potentials eventually open up these calcium channels that cause these special chemicals (neurotransmitters) to go across the gap. Once there, they attach to the other nerve axon, and start sending a pre-action potential (graded potential) through the nerves.

The problem with this is that if the neurotransmitter isn’t removed, it’ll keep sending the message about the stimuli constantly to the brain as soon as it can. So it needs a way to be removed and there’s a couple. If you care, they either use an enzyme to break it down, another cell picks it up, or it just drifts away after it sends the message.

NOw that you’ve had your pre-science lesson, the real lesson.  Nerve gas causes these neurotransmitters to stay on the axon, and constantly send the message. When they are constantly sending the message, the muscles in the whole body contract. (Yes, this is very painful.) It also paralyses the diaphragm, which means that the person can’t breath.

This might be really morbid, but considering that most writers have to be part  crazy already, it’s not too surprising. By taking a basic scientific structure, like the neurotransmitters being stuck to the axon continuously instead of leaving, we have a weapon. If we are to taken something else that should be maintained by the body’s general checks and balances, and throw that out of whack too, then what kind of chaos can we cause for our characters? What kind of chaos can we cause as an evil overlord?

So, two more thoughts that I’ve learned from nursing. (Maybe I’ll get more too eventually.)

IF you need to confuse an elderly character for whatever reason, but don’t want it to be too out of character, give them a bladder infection. Sometimes the only sign that an elderly person has a bladder infection is confusion. (You could also make them dehydrated, because that occurs easily in the elderly.)

If you want to have a tough group of characters, like special mercenaries, you can give them a stomach tube. The idea being that a doctor would basically create an artificial hole from the inside to the outside of the stomach wall. Some of the protections they have for this will allow someone to go into water and everything, without making it obvious. Then, say they are doing something that they can’t eat, but they really probably should be eating, they just stop, pull out a syringe filled with nutrients and such, and inject it into the little tube that leads to their stomach. TAda! This  could be classified under the same idea as Jack Bauer goes to the bathroom during the commercial breaks.