Well I was just guilty of passing this rumor along last week but it turns out that its just that…a rumor; triptophan which is an essential amino acid found in turkey does NOT cause drowsiness. According to the NY Times, Snopes, NPR, LiveScience, Wired and Texas A&M University it just isn’t true. It turns out there is just as much triptophan in other meats and even more in nuts. So next time you are talking turkey with someone about thanksgiving sleepytime you can be the wise guy (or gal) who says “actually the sleepiness isn’t caused by triptophan, its just you’re body getting tired from trying to process all that food you just ate.
Ok that’s not the original poem its my version the original goes:
Whether the weather be fine
Or whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold
Or whether the weather be hot,
We’ll weather the weather
Whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not.
Either way what’s up with this weather? Is it global warming? Is it El Niño? Is it an ice age? Is the Sun getting ready to blast us with cosmic gamma rays that melt our planet? (Its probably not the last couple)
It is getting a bit warmer out there than it should be and that’s, in short, global warming. Add to that the awesomely strong El Niño thats going on right now and you can expect some interesting weather. Any time I try to talk about weather and climate stuff people shut down; they don’t view it as a valid science that has any proven track record and I can understand the perception. Weather and climate studies are using measurements of a large scale dynamic fluid system in order to attempt to explain and predict future phenomena in small scale location and time frame. That’s not easy! and while it is totally sound science it has a lot of probability involved. When we learn about weather in school it gets presented like a Rube Goldberg chain of events that starts (for our weather) on the West Coast of the US and progresses across the country on a conveyor belt to bring us an expected result a few days later. The problem is that weather is more like a bunch of Rube Goldberg devices all criss crossing each other and with multiple possible outcomes to each one. If you don’t want to try to visualize the enormous mess of marble mazes and mouse traps with candles and string and breaking eggs that I’m imagining now, you could try this little demo at home to illustrate my point. Take a large cooking pot and fill it with water. Also grab a regular “I’m gonna eat some soup with this” tablespoon. Take both outside and find a spot that is ok to get wet. Start by setting the spoon on the ground in this nice safe splash zone. Take your large pot of water hold it really close to the spoon and try to fill up the spoon with water without spilling any or missing the spoon. You might be semi successful if you are really careful and started close enough.
Spoiler Alert! DO NOT READ until after you do the demo!
This would be like a hour by hour local forecast. The further away from the spoon you move the pot the harder it is to fill the spoon without spilling or missing altogether. Why? What’s up with that? Shouldn’t we be able to figure out how to pour a little water from a pot into a spoon? I mean that seems pretty simple when you think about it but the reality is that fluids just aren’t that easy to predict especially when they are interacting with other fluids like the air you were pouring the water through. That’s a fluid too and it acts on the water that you were pouring to mess with it even more so it doesn’t just pour where you aim it. If you ran back inside and got another large pot and tried pouring from the one pot into the other I bet you could do it pretty well, and without many misses or overflows.
Climate is the average of lots of weather; its the big pot of weather that we get over the long term, and it turns out that even though understanding, measuring, and making predictions of how fluids move and interact is pretty tricky to do on the small scale, it gets much easier to understand when you look at large scale averages. Its a great reminder of how messy science is and how it will not always give you the answer or result you were hoping for but if you persist and gather enough data eventually you should get a reasonable understanding of how things work.
And that brings us to the whole climate change and El Niño issue. I know that my weather forecaster rarely gets it completely right but that doesn’t mean that climate scientists do not have an understanding of how these events occur and what causes them. Those are issues for another day and another discussion though. Today was just about the messiness of science, the idea that we can deal in probabilities and still know things and that maybe if everyone went outside and played with more science we could help the common perception of science change from one of absolute knowledge to one of fluid splishy-splashy messiness.
Its getting cold out here so put on all your clothes! That’s the advice to follow when it comes to Ticks. According to many sources ticks in general and Deer Ticks (Ixodes scapularis) specifically are hungry and chilly so they are looking for a warm yummy host to latch onto and feed! Deer ticks are the vectors for the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease.
Really there isn’t much to do to keep the little bugs from climbing on, crawling up to your neck or head or wherever and latching on for a feeding. The best prevention you can take is to cover up your body with clothes that you take off when you come in from outside and perform tick checks daily. According to the CDC its still not completely clear how long it takes from when a tick starts to feed until it will transmit the bacterium to its host but its somewhere between 24 and 72 hours.
Click the image for an identification guide from the University of Rhode Island.
Just imagine its not a balloon but a tick with not air but blood moving out of its mouth back into your body. Gross!
Why does it take so long you ask? Why isn’t it like a vampire or werewolf or zombie where one quick bight and you’re a gonner? (aside from the tick being real and those all fiction…)Diffusion is the answer! Such a cool, simple, and UNIVERSAL concept in science; things move from high concentration to low concentration. In this case its diffusion of a fluid under what is called situationally referred to as a pressure gradient force. When a tick feeds the blood moves from the high pressure of your body into the ticks relatively low pressure body, but as the body of the tick begins to swell the elasticity of its exoskeleton begins to exert a pressure on the blood trying to push some of the blood from the tick back into the host. When the tick has fed enough the pressure reaches equilibrium and blood and bacteria can move by diffusion instead of acting under a pressure differential force. Did I really just use physics to explain how bacteria get transmitted? Yup, I did.
Anyway back to the ticks. I called them bugs before but really they aren’t bugs at all. True bugs, or Hemiptera are a large group of insects that include lady bugs and aphids, ticks on the other hand are arachnids or 8-legged arthropods with a cephalothorax and abdomen, not six legged with head,thorax, and abdomen. So who studies these things and what is this creepy study called? Arachnologists studying arachnology. Spiders generally give me the hebbidy gebidies, but I try to tolerate them because I respect what they are doing for me as pest controllers but ticks? I have no mercy for them! If you have been reading this and asking yourself why is he talking about ticks this week I thought this was supposed to be about the science he did this week? Well we have had to remove and identify 11 ticks from people and pets in my house this week. They all ended up being Deer Ticks but they were also all found within the first day of feeding (on the people they were just crawling and hadn’t started feeding yet). Because it is important to study them and understand how they act as vectors I thank all of the arachnologists out there and for my little part I got to be a junior arachnologist as I identified each tick and measured it to approximate its feeding time so that we knew if it was an infection hazard or not.
One last thing, it isn’t easy removing ticks. If you pinch them in tweezers the head often breaks off and gets stuck in the body which can irritate the skin and lead to an infection, not to mention that squeezing really increases the pressure gradient force on the tick pushing all that nasty infected blood back into your body. I have found a tool that works amazingly well and would advise any pet owner, hiker, or person who lives near grassy areas to buy; its called a tick key. It was really inexpensive and works soooooo much better than anything else I have ever tried. They are not easy to find locally so I bought mine online and it was totally worth the $5.98 plus free shipping if you are a member of a group of numbers that is divisible by only 1 or yourself. You know what I mean…
Stay safe and stay healthy by using some #real science to stay in the know about ticks.
For more info on ticks and Lyme disease check out:
Well, the Get Real Science after school program finished this week and the Science STARS really showed that in the end they put all the pieces together to present the science that they engaged in over the past few weeks.