Archive for March, 2011

Oh no, the nuclear power boogie man is coming…

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

posted by: AJ

I spent last week driving around Northern IN, and all across the state of MI looking for study sites for a research project I’m hoping to get started this summer (more coming on the trip soon).  As 8 – 10 h of the day every day last week was simply spent driving from one potential site to another, I got a lot of radio listening done.  Typically when I’m driving I enjoy talk radio, whether it be sports, political, whatever, but I ALWAYS start my day off with some NPR.  Boy do I love me some morning edition…

All last week (and it’s continued this week), was devoted to the disaster in Japan, as it should have been.  This was and continues to be a truly harrowing and frightening situation.  As I’m sure you are aware, one of the main issues that has come from the earthquake is the damage that was done to a major nuclear power plant.  It seems like the situation is relatively under control now (they finally got power back to the reactors to allow for pumps to run cooling water over the reactor rods:, but throughout last week everyone was using the possibility of a major meltdown as an argument to completely abandon nuclear power.

I have two major issues with the argument that the Japan disaster can/should be used as an argument against nuclear power.  First off, the levels of radiation emitted from this ‘huge nuclear disaster’ are so low that there will likely be no long term effects (except for the safety workers at the plant, who are, in my mind, akin to the fire-fighters entering the twin towers on 9/11).  Then there were issues about radiation infecting the milk supply, but it doesn’t seem like this will really be a problem unless you really LOVE milk (  Luckily, no major meltdown occurred and the plant seems under control now.

But this first point doesn’t really matter, in light of my second point.  Those who are using this earthquake-caused nuclear scare against nuclear power as a whole need to realize, the earthquake in Japan was an 8.9!  An 8.9! That’s extreme to the extreme.  If we were to abandon every single technology because extreme events can make them dangerous, would humans be able to fly from the US to Australia in under 24 hours?  Would we have landed on the moon?  No, extreme events happen, and you have to deal with them.

Finally, and I don’t actually have any stats to back this up (sorry), but I would be willing to bet that deaths caused by the coal/natural gas industry vastly overshadow any deaths from the nuclear power industry, even if we had a chernobyl every year – and nuclear power doesn’t emit greenhouse gases.

I’m not saying that I think we should switch to 100% nuclear power, but the US and the world as a whole need a diverse energy portfolio, we can’t put all of our eggs in any one basket, but we shouldn’t completely throw any baskets off the table, either.

Sorry if you disagree, this is just my opinion.  And in case all of this got you down: LOOK, A PUPPY!

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Climate change vs. global warming

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

posted by: schmitt

One of my big pet-peeves is when people use the term global warming as an excuse for why they don’t believe in global climate change.  Global warming is a loaded term, as warming brings up ideas of everyday weather as opposed to long-term climatic trends.  At least that’s how I’ve always felt, but I don’t have any proof or science to back up my opinion.

That is, until now.  A forthcoming article in the quarterly Journal of Public Opinion shows that more people state they believe in climate change than in global warming.  For a brief review of the journal article, check:


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Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

posted by: schmitt


My name is Sheri Sanders and I am a first year Ph.D. student at the University of Notre Dame, and I am a herpetological phylogeneticist.  Ever since I was a small child, it was my dream to be a herpetological phylogeneticist, much to the dismay of my parents…

That’s a lie.  I actually didn’t even know what “phylogenetics” was until I was about 21 years old.  I knew that I liked reptiles (“herpetology” is the study of reptiles) and that I really liked naming and placing things within an easily understandable maps of relationships (“phylogentics” is the study of evolutionary relationships and, basically, the making of species trees).  However, I also loved pretty much anything remotely related to biology and ended up wandering around in the field for a while before I found my home.  I have been a tiger keeper, biology/anatomy teacher, elephant behaviorist, hyena poop researcher, monkey brain mapper, veterinary student, and amature computer programmer.  I had very little idea of what real research was and how various fields differed and interacted when I started college, and I was always hesitant to give up on any of my passions.

wandering the field
wandering the field… I wonder if these Zebra have the answers…
Darkfield Monkey Brain Tissue
A pretty divergence into monkey brains

Field work with Sabine Map Turtles

This is where this blog comes in.  I have managed to navigate my career into a intersection between numerous fields, namely computer science, evolution, and ecology sprinkled with a pinch of mathematical modeling, composition, and now educational outreach.  This happened partly by luck, partly by persistence, and partly by sheer stubbornness.  It is my hope that you will join me in learning the ins and outs of what I have gotten myself into and how to straddle the line of disciplines.

Basically, I want to break down the walls between the lab and the classroom as well as the boundaries between subjects, exposing pre-college students and teachers to options I would have loved to know about before college.  I hope we can work together to accomplish this lofty, but attainable, goal!

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