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From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

"Losing my head...in space"

Written by Paul Sutter on Wednesday, 08 June 2016. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

When someone asks me, "What would happen if you were exposed to the vacuum of space without a suit?", I give the sweet, simple, short answer: you die. With enough time, I dig into the medium-length answer: you die, horribly. Given the opportunity to write a few paragraphs, I relish in the long answer. That long answer is pretty interesting, in a horrible kind of way.

The first thing to happen is the violent evaporation of any liquids (sweat, tears, mucus, oils, etc.) on the surface of your skin. Gross, but survivable.

The second thing to happen is a general puffiness as dissolved gases in your bloodstream collect and expand. Your skin is pretty good at keeping your insides inside, so you don't pop, but you do swell to around twice your usual size. Incredibly gross, but again, survivable.

If you're unlucky enough to be exposed to raw sunlight, those unfiltered UVs will do a number on your skin. Supremely gross, but nothing a gallon of aloe can't fix.

What gets you is the oxygen, or rather lack thereof. There's no air to breathe, but your heart doesn't get the memo. It keep pumping blood around your body. The hemoglobin train keeps chugging along, but doesn't pick up any oxygen at Lung Central Station. In about 10-15 seconds your brain realizes it's not getting any fresh supply and goes into safe mode (i.e., unconsciousness).

If you're pulled back in time, you can still be revived. But left for another minute or two: major organ failure. You know, because of no oxygen, which is kind of important.

And one last public safety tip: do *not* hold your breath. The meat valves in your throat were not meant to hold a lungful of air against a vacuum, and if you fight it your delicate precious lungs will rupture. Just let it go.

"#MyScienceStory"

Written by Paul Sutter on Monday, 30 May 2016. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

Recently I was invited - via the ever-keen Susan Brehm - to be the keynote speaker at the AEP Credits Count conference. The Credits Count program channels STEM-leaning kids in rural area into college classes earlier than usual, which is pretty neat. The attendees were a mix of high school teachers, principles, community college reps, and other academic-types. As they munched on their fancy grilled cheese sandwiches, I got up and started talking about science.

Specifically, growing into science. Last summer I curated the @realscientists twitter handle, and using that platform I launched a brief hashtag campaign: tell your #MyScienceStory. In other words, what was your spark? The campaign was a huge hit, and for one random Thursday night last August, @realscientists was the second-most popular account in the world, beating Donald Trump but losing to Khloe Kardashian.

Thousands of scientists from all disciplines and from around the world shared their inspirations, special memories, roadblocks, and triumphs. It was incredibly inspirational, to say the least.

That campaign taught me a few things, which I shared at the AEP luncheon and which I share with you now:

1) The spark that leads to a science career can come at any age.

2) The path to a science career is never straight.

3) Inspiration almost never comes from celebrity scientists or big TV shows; it comes from family, close friends, good teachers, and museum workers.

And upsettingly:

4) Many kids are discouraged - by families and teachers - from pursuing STEM careers.

Please, never let 4) happen again, and let 3) happen all the time.

"We always have pickles for backup."

Written by Paul Sutter on Monday, 23 May 2016. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

A couple weeks ago Joe Wood (Manager of Audience Development at COSI, and overall swell dude) stopped me in the hallway. Lots of people stop me in the hallway, but this encounter stood out. In our brief chat we talked about barbecue. Turns out, Joe's kind of an expert. A few discussions later and a new idea was born: Joe knows about barbecue, and I know about physics. Maybe we could talk to people about both...at the same time?

Which led to a very...well, unique set of emails. The latest developments concerned possible ways to electrocute brined pork chops (they need to be brined to better carry an electrical current, by the way). But if we couldn't do pork chops, at least we have pickles. Phew. And so, at the next COSI After Dark, Joe and I will be sharing the Gadgets Stage to talk about the science behind barbecue, and probably do some very violent things to food.

It's collaborations like this that make me a very contented person, and if you ever have an idea, remember two things:

- Feel free to stop me or shoot me an email, anytime.
- If you think it's crazy and I won't be interested, think again.

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