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Sp Spectrum

H o r a c e M a n n’s P r e m i e r e S c i e n c e P u b l i c a t i o n • A p r i l 2 0 1 1 1

Editor’s Note: Sparking Scientific Curiosity




The Human Torch. Sodium polyacrylate polymer in the gel holds a large amount of water, which protects the author’s hand. The special fire-protective gel containing water, which can be applied in a smooth, clear layer that is nearly invisible, especially when the action is moving fast and there’s a lot of fire to distract the viewer, similar to those in movie stunts. To show you what it looks like up close, the is hand in the gel and then painted on some thinned-down contact cement, which produces a very nice opaque yellow flame when lit.

Dear Spectrumites!

Welcome to the first issue of Volume I. Our featured articles are focused on space exploration and environmentally friendly fuels. In our space spread, we examined the discovery of a new planet and the possibility of life on mars. After the recent lunar eclipse (which we hope you all saw!), we felt compelled to delve further into the stars and report on the universe around us. After reading the articles, feel free to keep exploring the world beyond earth by tuning into NASA’s February space shuttle launch. In effort to involve Horace Mann’s student body in our article selection process, our board took student suggestions about the top three environmentally friendly fuel discoveries. The most voted-on fuels were hydrogen, ethanol, and algae fuels. We didn’t forget about electric cars! You can read about lithium ion technology in recent car battery developments on our 2 Horace Mann Spectrum ■ April 2011

electric car pages. Students’ also got a chance to join the Spectrum task force in our new Students’ Exposé Section where Upper Division members discuss their own personal research, inventions, and scientific experiences. We hope this section sparks your own scientific curiosity and inspires you to question the world around you more often. Congratulations on reaching second trimester and have a happy new year!!! Enjoy the Issue

Ambika Acharya

Antonia Antonova

Horace Mann


On the Cover: Images from three of NASA’s Great Observatories were combined to create this spectacular, multiwavelength view of the starburst galaxy M82. Optical light from stars (yellow-green/Hubble Space Telescope) shows the disk of a modest-sized, apparently normal galaxy.

April 2011

Ameirca’s Top Fuel


12 The Bad: Nascar Fuel

The fastest cars use the most environmentally damaging fuel.

13 The Good: Hydrogen Fuel

The prior bomb technology is now starting to appear in cars across the country.

14 Lithium Ion Techonology

The electric car is now more popular than ever and powered by the future.

18 The Renewal of Oilage

Algae is becoming a resource for oil but is the cost of extracting it wor

14 13

12 Our Mission: To encourage students to find topics in science that interest them and move them to explore these sparks. We believe that science is exciting, interesting and an intergral part of our futures. By diving into science we can only come out more knolwedgable.

Horace Mann

SpectrumContents April 2010




24 Six Minutes of Terror: Exploring Mars

Flying a rover to Mars is easy. Landing it is the hard part. A detailed look at the uncertainty of landing a Mars rover.

22 Gliese 581: Exploring a New Galaxy

In early 2010, scientists were convinced that they had succeeded in finding a new planet orbiting around Gliese 581, one that was suspected to have water and even life.



28 Heat Rays in Jails

To punish disorderly prisoners, jails have started to install shocking systems.

29 “Who Will Gaurd the Guards?”

Courtney Hodrick(11) voices her opinion of the morality of the the new heat ray technology.



06 Vitamin-D Deficiency

Do you spend enough time in the sun? Many Americans haven’t and have thus become VD deficient.

07 Bee Pollen

Most people aren’t aware of the many benefits of bee pollen, a possible panacea for society.

Student Work

26 Evolutionary Research

Neida Vasquez(11) discusses her work at the Musuem of Natural History.

24 4 Horace Mann Spectrum ■ April 2011

30 Debayan Guha(12)

Spectrum’s columninst explains how touching can increase productivity.

Ambika Acharya Antonia Antonova Editors-in-Chief

Katie Bartel Debayan Guha Executive Editor

Tessa Bellone

Aramael Pena-Alcantara Production Director

Jay Palekar Deepti Raghavan Olivia El-Sadr Davis Copy Editors

Larry Ge Photo Editor

Dorin Azerad Teddy Reiss Courtney Hodrick Sam Bauman Gurbani Suri Sahej Suri Neida Vasquez Justin Bluel Katie Bartel Writers

Dr. Jeff Weitz Faculty Advisor


Sp Spectrum

Spectrum is a student publication, its contents are the views and work of the students and do not necessarily represent those of the faculty or administration of the Horace Mann School. The Horace Mann School is not responsible for the accuracy and contents of Spectrum, and is not liable for any claims based on the contents or view expressed therein. The opinions represented are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent those of the editorial board. The editorial represents the opinion of the majority of the Editorial Board. All editorial decisions regarding grammar, content, and layout are made by the Editorial Board. All queries and complaints should be directed to the editor in chief. Please address these comments by e-mail, to Spectrum recognizes an ethical responsibility to correct all its factual errors, large and small (even misspellings of names), promptly and in a prominent reserved space in the magazine. A complaint from any source should be relayed to a responsible editor and will be investigated quickly. If a correction is warranted, it will follow immediately.

Vitamin D Deficiency: Are you Having Fun in the Sun?


itamin D, an essential part of the human body, is often deprived from many American’s diets, causing an inadequacy in bone health, disease prevention and other roles in the human body. Studies according to NHANES have shown an increase in Vitamin D deficiency since 1988, partially because of applying sunscreen and lack of sunlight and nutrients. Because of the fear of skin cancer, Americans have decided to block out ultraviolet rays from the skin by applying sunscreen. In addition, increased time spent on the computer and participating in other indoor time consuming activities exacerbate the lack of sunlight. This has caused Vitamin D synthesis to be almost non-existent, proving detrimental to the human body.

“Since 1998, Americans have had Vitamin D deficiency due to their fear of skin cancer” 6 Horace Mann Spectrum ■ April 2011

by Sahej Suri

Vitamin D is needed for bone growth and calcium absorption, which is necessary for healthy growth. Vitamin D regulates the amount of calcium and phosphorous in the blood stream, as well. Without this vital ingredient in maintaining homeostasis, bones can fracture easily and become brittle and thin. Also, children can develop rickets, suffer growth impairment, and contract diseases, such as colon and breast cancer, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease, can develop. Because of these negative effects, it has come to the concern of many on how to prevent vitamin D deficiency. Because of its scarce presence in food, primary ways of obtaining Vitamin D are in sunlight exposure and supplements. A better diet including dairy products, fish skin and oils, cereals, egg yolk, and mushrooms can provide sufficiency. Sun exposure is also consequential. Spending ten to fifteen minutes a day, outside can cause our body to synthesize vitamin D. The final recommended way to be vitamin D sufficient is by taking a multivitamin containing vitamin D. With these ways to increase sufficiency, many Americans will not face the issue of being vitamin D deficient. Because of its significance to the human body, vitamin D deficiency plays an important role in American’s lives. However, with individual efforts, the fight to become vitamin D sufficient is achievable.

Bee Pollen


by Gurbani Suri

he time has come when honey, known for its wondrous qualities, might have found its new competitor in the bee world. Used by the Chinese for centuries, and mentioned in significant religious texts such as the bible, the Talmud, the Koran, and the holy book of Mormon, Bee Pollen has been claimed as the new “superfood”. Containing all the dietary necessities including vitamins, minerals, amino acids, carbohydrates and lipids, bee pollen solely has everything needed to sustain life. For athletes, it is sought after for its staminabuilding qualities, and the energizing effects of vitamin B it contains. According to Web MD, bee pollen can help eliminate acne, indigestion, and depression. It improves blood pressure, and skin problems. In addition to all this, it can lessen the effects of diabetes and supplement weight loss. The possibilities of use are end-less. According to Bee Pollen Secrets, bee pollen begins its journey through nature as the pollen extracted from the stamen of the flower. A full colony of bees can collect up to 50,000 loads of pollen in

one day. The pollen is then mixed with honey and the blend is packed into granules by the bees, which then carry the granules to their hive. Back in the hive, the bees add an enzyme that not only prevents germination, but also metabolizes the food which preserves the pollen’s nutritional benefits. To harvest this pollen, companies use a special device that is placed near a beehive through which bees pass and the pollen is trapped. “Honey Super”, a substance that attracts bees, is placed on the top of the pollen trap in order to attract the bees. The pollen is collected off of the legs of the bee by the device as the bees pass through it. The device is structured in a way consisting of two parts: the brood box, and the trap. Each pollen trap has a drawer that allows air to circulate through the trapped bee pollen. When the trap was placed at the bottom of the device, bees entered from the bottom of the device; however, recently, in order to maximize efficiency, traps are being placed on the tops of the devices to increase the chance of bees entering it. Bees are then trained to go through the drawer of the pollen trap in order to enter the newly shaped device. It takes about 2 weeks to train the bees to enter a new way, however, newly born bees have had no problem picking up the route since this is the only path they’ve known. Because the pollen perishes easily, it is necessary to gather it every day from the device. An ideal beehive is characterized by a large number of bee workers and a good queen bee that cooperates with the process. If this product is so advantageous, why aren’t more people using it? In the case of bee pollen, many of these benefits are yet to be scientifically proven in large scales. In fact, the FDA charged a TV show that brought up the assumed benefits of bee pollen on TV, saying they made false accusations. The final verdict about whether or not bee pollen is truly as beneficial as it is claimed to be will only be revealed by time with any future scientific studies. Nitrogen ■ 7

America’s Top Fuel Automobiles are an integral part of our society. We depend on them greatly and without them we wouldn’t be able to travel, transport goods or conduct business properly. Since the 1950’s, Americans have invested their time and money in automobiles, with most American households owning two cars. This dependence has led us to slowly deteriorate our environment, as all cars that burn fuel emit great amount of carbon dioxide, a gas which breaks down our atmosphere day by day. With the risks of global warming and the destruction of the o-zone on our backs, scientists have come up with many alternative fuels to combat the issue. As our world resources dwindle, we must find new and innovative ways to utilize the world around us, in hopes of creating a healthier planet.

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The Bad:

Nascar Fuel


ith over 3.5 million estimated fans in 2004, the National Association of Stock Car Racing is one of the fastest growing sport in the United States. Approximately one-third of all American adults watch events sponsored by NASCAR. Along with the growing number of fans, these races produce many environmental problems that include pollution from leaded gasoline and track runoff. Although the Environmental Protection Agency prohibited leaded gas from the consumer market over 30 years ago, its use in NASCAR was written as an exemption in the Clean Air Act in the 1990’s. NASCAR used leaded 110-octane gasoline up until 2008. Lead lubricants in engines help them run more efficiently. When used in gasoline, tetrahedral lead reduces a loud metallic clanging that accompanies fuel pre-ignition in the engine’s cylinders. Use of this lead improves the performance of the gas, preventing it from igniting before it is supposed to. Almost all gas used in the United States was leaded before the 1970’s, but over time it was outlawed due to research that suggested that it is an evironmental contaminant. Leaded gasoline has been linked to a wide range of disorders. Lead can cause damage to the kidneys, liver,

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By Antonia Antonova

brain and nerves. Even low levels of the substance can damage fetal neural development and result in learning disorders, lower IQs, and other problems in young children. In a study done on the effects of the gasoline, scientists found elevated levels of lead in the blood of NASCAR mechanics and crew members. The median blood level in the 47 tested individuals was 9.4 micrograms per deciliter, which narrowly misses the EPA’s risk threshold of 10 micrograms per deciliter. Nineteen of the individuals had blood levels at the EPA threshold, which can result in visible toxic effects. The EPA urged NASCAR to stop their use of leaded gasoline voluntarily and under the pressure of an environmental group called the Clean Air Watch, NASCAR announced that by 2008 they would find an alternative fuel to use. Though NASCAR now uses the unleaded gasoline Sunoco 96 GTX, the alternative fuel is still for “Off Road Use Only” and is illegal to put in a passenger cars due to pollution. The race car industry now needs to begin making an effort to switch to ethanol based fuels. In 2007, a GM official even said that “a Green NASCAR might bring a whole new group of fans and sponsors.”

The Good:

Hydrogen Fuel By Dorin Azerad


he car of the future is approaching. In the 21st Century, hydrogen powered cars have become a reality. With manufacturers like Honda, Ford, and General Motors developing their own hydrogen cars, it is only a matter of time before everyone will have the ability to purchase and drive one. According to, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, famous for its production of the 1945 atomic bombs, has spent years researching the possibility of hydrogen as a source of fuel for an engine.

Unlike gasoline, hydrogen fuel is considered to be a much cleaner source of fuel meaning that it could lead to decreased emissions of greenhouse gases. Despite its reported success, there are still many scientists, like Robert Boyd of the McClatchy Newspapers, who question the durability and strength of hydrogenpowered cars. Hydrogen is a reliable and abundant source of energy and thus these vehicles are widely more effective and useful than gasoline powered vehicles. Similarly, hydrogen fuel cell technology does not operate within a ther-

RCO−OR’ + H2O → RCO−OH + R’−OH While hydrogen fuel is not a naturally produced energy source, it is an energy carrier meaning that it can be produced from a wide variety of sources including wind power, solar power, methane, fossil fuels, and nuclear power. Hydrogen energy is created during the process of hydrogen electrolysis, a process in which an electrical current breaks apart the hydrogen and oxygen atoms in water. Recently, the process of hydrogen electrolysis has been revolutionized to maximize the efficiency of the hydrogen production. Hydrogen atoms from water are then ionized when protons and electrons travel concurrently through a membrane thus enhancing hydrogen’s energy output.

mal cycle, meaning that it can introduce the maximum amount of thermal energy powering the car. In order for hydrogen-powered cars to be used in society, there are many changes that would have to be implemented in the world of cars as we know it. Instead of refilling a car with gasoline, all gas stations in the world would have to carry hydrogen. But transforming all refueling stations in the United States could cost the billions of dollars. According to Ballard press release, the cost of manufacturing a hydrogen fuel cell is about $3,000 per 100 kilowatts (around 134 horsepower) compared to the $3 per gallon gasoline. With prices this high, it is sure to be a while before the everyday person can drive around a hydrogen fueled car. Sodium ■ 11

Lithium Ion Technology By Teddy Reiss


o you have an iPod, iPad or iPhone? Do you use a cell phone? Laptop computer? If you do, then you already experience the benefits of lithium batteries. Lithium-ion technology is a new type of rechargeable battery in chemistry. It has recently become very popular in portable devices. These batteries last longer than most other batteries and are much lighter than NiMh types, which are a common type of rechargeable battery, made from nickel metal hydride. The automotive industry has started to use lithium batteries, specifically for purely electric cars. When used in cars, lithium is very different than gasoline. There are two main types of cars that are powered by lithium: hybrid cars and plug-in cars. Hybrid cars are much more fuel efficient than regular cars, because when the car is moving, it uses an electric motor, while it only uses gasoline when the car needs extra power. Plug-in electric cars are run entirely by an electric motor and lithium is used in the batteries of these cars. Both cars are improvements from common gasoline cars because hybrids use much less gasoline and plug-ins don’t use any. Lithium batteries also have a use in gasoline cars. If we use lithium in regular car batteries, they too will become more efficient because lithium is lighter. If we make cars lighter, they will be easier to move, thus requiring less fuel. Plug-in/electric cars can also be lighter then traditional gasoline cars because they will not need the heavy gasoline engine and the components required to run a gasoline engine (such as catalytic converters, mufflers, head gaskets and more.) There are many advantages to using lithium batteries. One of the major advantages is that lithium batteries have a relatively high energy density. This means that for a specific size, you can include much more energy then other types of rechargeable batteries. Lithium batteries also discharge slower than most other rechargeable batteries, meaning once they get charged they will stay charged. In addition, MIT says that if they use carbon nanotubes as electrodes, the battery’s power will significantly increases. Also, when

12 Horace Mann Spectrum ■ April 2011

lithium batteries are used in cars, the cars will require a different type of maintenance because a lot of common problems (cracked distributor caps, bent valves, leaky rings) will become irrelevant with electric cars, which have no gasoline engines. Along with the advantages, there are some apparent disadvantages. For one thing, lithium batteries are significantly more expensive than other types because they are harder to manufacture, among other reasons. Lead-acid batteries are somewhere around $40 and $50 per kWh (kilowatt hour). NiCd(Nickel Cadmium) or NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) are approximately $350 per kWh. Lithium, unfortunately, is approximately $450 per kWh. Lithium batteries also need to be carefully charged. In addition, they might not be completely compatible with common appliances made to be used with regular AA type batteries, or other sizes, because they produce different voltages and might be made at a different size. Finally, a major disadvantage is the fact that like all batteries, they die. And because these batteries are so expensive, they are difficult to replace. Lithium batteries in cars can be better for the environment. They are commonly used in electric cars, which will create less pollution than standard batteries. The difference between electric cars and gasoline cars is that electric cars don’t have any of the gasoline parts such as engines, exhaust systems and fuel injectors. Instead, these have been replaced with electronic parts. When it becomes possible to charge Lithium batteries with alternative energy sources like wind or solar power, they will have next to no environmental impact. Also, Lithium-based electric cars use less hazardous material. Lead, which is well known to be harmful, is currently used in car batteries. If we remove the lead, we use less harmful materials. Lithium technology will continue to advance, and will start to play an even more important role in society as time passes.

Ethanol By Deepti Raghavan


o you know if your family’s car runs on ethanol fuel, gasoline, or a mix? Ethanol fuel can be considered an alternative energy source, depending on the percentage, extracted from from either sugary-plants or cellulosic plants. Currently most of the ethanol in the world comes from fermenting the sugars in corn to ethyl alcohol. This is the same process through which alcoholic beverages are made but with a higher alcohol content. Then the alcohol is distilled, and purified until it contains about 95% ethanol and around 5% water. The ethanol can also be mixed with gasoltine to create a variety of fuels. In terms of ethanol powering a car, the system is not much different from that of gasoline. Many cars have inner combustion engines, into which the fuel and air are deposited, and combust to release energy. The heat energy from the fire is converted to mechanical energy, fueling the car. According to HowStuffWorks, burning ethanol in a car releases fewer toxic greenhouse emissions than gasoline, reducing emissions such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, hydrocarbons, and and carbon dioxide into the environ-

ment. In addition, corn ethanol is a renewable source as it comes from an agricultural crop; thus the fuel is unlimited, biodegradable, and not detrimental to the environment. Cellulosic ethanol reduces toxic emissions even more as it is made from the un-edible parts of plants and thus production isn’t dependent on the quality of the crop. The actual fuel made out of ethanol can be of up to 85% ethanol and 15 % gasoline, a mixture called “E85 fuel.” Cars must be specialized to run this fuel, however, and must contain a slightly different fuel delivering system to the engine, because 85 % ethanol is more corrosive than gasoline (in a car). Flexible fuel vehicles, or FFV’s, can use from 10% to 85% ethanol; however, these cars cost more because they are specially made. There are also machines called blender pumps, which allow the driver to choose the percentage of ethanol they want in their gasoline, as the pump takes fuel from two wells to accommodate a specific percentage. Ethanol is much less toxic than petroleum, and should be used in higher percentages in the future.

Aluminum ■ 13

And the Winner is... Katie Bartel Drives in with her Top Pick


ith gas prices on the rise, closely followed by the Earth’s globalmean temperature, scientists have been scrambling to find the next big alternative energy source. It’s important for gasoline’s replacement to be eco-friendly, cheap, functional, and popular. After years of research, there are three front-runners in the competition to be America’s Next Top Car Fuel: Ethanol, Hydrogen, and Lithium Ion Technology. So, which of these alternative energy sources is best for the environment? Ethanol seems like the frontrunner since it’s produced entirely from corn; however, in reality many scientists disagree on whether ethanol actually benefits the environment. Some scientists believe that ethanol production actually use more energy to create energy than it actually makes. Calculations made by a Cornell University professor of Agriculture show that creating 77,000 BTU’s (1 BTU = roughly 1 kJ) uses 131,000 BTU’s to power machinery and farm equipment, both of which are powered by fossil fuels. Therefore, the ethanol industry would simply be spurring on the gasoline industry. In addition, powering a car with ethanol for a year requires around 11 acres of corn. A booming ethanol industry could cause an increase in deforestation as people would attempt to create new farmland for growing corn. Hydrogen fuel seems like the next likely candidate, since burning it only yields water vapor and heat. It is also potentially an infinitely renewable resource since it can be produced from wind power, solar power, and hydropower. A big portion of the hydrogen fuel that is produced, however, is known to be “refined” from fossil fuels. So, like ethanol, hydrogen production would actually prolong our dependency on oil. Also, large-scale production and transportation of hydrogen fuel forsees 14 Horace Mann Spectrum ■ April 2011

the danger of leaks and spills (think how often we spill oil.) Huge emissions of hydrogen into the atmosphere would cause the o-zone layer to deteriorate. That leaves us with electric cars, which are primarily powered by lithium ion technology. The environmental impact of an electric car is solely based on where its electricity comes from: if the electricity used to charge the car comes from a power plant which burns coal, then the car might as well run on fossil fuels; however, if the electricity comes from a solar or wind plant, then the car is practically carbon-neutral. In my opinion, the electric car is most beneficial to the environment. It does not pose the risks of deforestation or massive spills. Also, if electricity became a more popular car fuel, there would be an increase in research and development for more environmentally friendly means of generating electricity, which would be incredibly beneficial to the environment. Of course, with research going at its current pace, it’s also possible that the next-big-fuel-source hasn’t even been discovered yet; for now, all we can do is make our predictions, sit back, and enjoy the ride.

Hundreds of parts, more maintenance needed Gasoline is often expensive Pollution from tailpipe


Investing in Geothermal Energy By Tessa Bellone

16 Horace Mann Spectrum â– April 2011

G There are more than 100,000,000 households in the United States today, with heating and airconditioning constituting more than 50% of each household’s total home energy consumption. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that over 10% of the United States’ total greenhouse gas emissions come directly from home heating and cooling.

eothermal energy provides a smart and efficient alternative to natural gas and electric heating, drastically depressing the massive carbon footprint produced by home energy consumption. While the common air-source heat pump uses energy to either directly heat or cool air drawn from the environment, geothermal energy utilizes the already existing natural heat produced by the earth’s core. Although it varies by the location, the first 10 feet beneath the surface of the earth generally remain at a stable 50º to 60º F throughout the year. This constant temperature is taken advantage by this process to harvest the earth’s natural energy, allowing a steady heat exchange process to be set up. Depending on the above-ground temperature, heat is either stored or drawn from the earth using an underground closed loop pipe carrying a liquid mixture of water and antifreeze. The liquid is continually pumped through the circuit to form a heat-exchange gradient, allowing heat to be either picked up or deposited based on necessity. The appropriately heated or cooled liquid can then be used to either effectively warm or cool a home. This system is based around one main a principle: Fourier’s Law of Heat Conduction. According to this law, heat is always transferred from a region of higher temperature to lower temperature. Therefore in times when the surface temperature drops below the 50º to 60º F range, the liquid running through the underground pipe will be lesser than the natural heat of the earth. Heat transfers from the earth to the liquid and is then carried to an electrical device where it can be extracted and used to heat a building. The now chilled liquid is sent back through the circuit, continuing the cycle. Cooling works very similarly: once again following Fournier’s principle, heat is drawn from the overheated environment into the water and antifreeze mixture, then sent into the ground. A heat-exchange occurs, this time with the cooler ground absorbing heat from the warmer liquid. The chilled liquid returns to the surface to absorb more heat, again forming a continuous cycle. Geothermal energy does not involve the burning of gas or oil like other furnaces and heat pumps do. In fact, 70% of all the energy involved in the geothermal process is renewable energy taken directly from the earth. In their 1993 report, The Environmental Protection Agency named geothermal heating “the most energy-efficient, environmentally-clean, and cost-effective space conditioning systems available.” Although over time the system pays for itself, the initial cost of installing a geothermal energy set-up is still substantially greater then any other heating option available. The cost of drilling alone can range from $10,000 to $30,000 - more than double the price of a standard gas heater. Yet despite these greater prices, geothermal heating is a rapidly growing phenomenon all over the world.

Chlorine ■ 17

A The Renewal of Oilgae By Ambika Acharya

A look at possible the use of oilage as a recplacement towards the oil problem.

s the amount of oil sources known to man decreases, scientists are always on the lookout for alternate ways to obtain oil, in an effort to nurture the dependency humans have upon it. Oil is a household item, found in cooked food, detergents and fertilizers. Oil is also found in all plastic manufactured products, because they are all made from petrochemicals. These chemicals are made from petroleum, or oil, and natural gas. The most prominent use of oil is in gasoline, which powers our most prized possessions, automobiles. With oil being used in everything from plastic to machinery, it seems obvious that our supply is running out. Of the 317.1 billion gallons of oil used in 2009, the majority was to create fuel for automobiles while the rest was utilized in industrial ventures. Every day we slowly deplete the amount of oil we have and ask ourselves if it is possible for us to reduce the amount of oil we use. Until we answer that question, we must figure out how to produce more of it. “Drill, Baby, Drill,” were the words spoken by the McCain/Palin 2008 campaign, assessing the fact that oil needs to be found in US territory, so that the country wouldn’t have to import oil from other countries. Many thought drilling offshore in Florida would be the solution to the problem; however, it was also proved that drilling can be harmful to the environment, making the terrain vulnerable to violent weather and earthquakes. While this heated debate was going on during the ‘08 election, scientists were coming up with alternate methods to obtain crude oil. They found algae. Before looking into the new science of oil algae, or “oilgae,” we must first look at the components of oil, and how it is used to make gasoline. The main component in oil is crude oil, which is made up of hydrocarbons. The basic composition of a hydrocarbon chain, also known as an organic compound, is that for every one carbon atom, there are two more hydrogen atoms than twice the amount of carbon atoms. e.g. C8H18, isooctane, widely used in the production of gasoline. n 2n+2


Crude oil, or petroleum, is made up of chains of different sized, linked hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons of various lengths all boil at different temperatures and through distillation in oil refineries they become various substances such as kerosene and gasoline. Crude oil also contains other lipids(fats) and proteins. Scientists realized that the key to finding oil was to find ways to obtain this hydrocarbon-based crude oil. This led them to algae. Algae are eukaryotic and photosynthetic organisms that can be both unicellular and multi-cellular. They are abundant in all bodies of water and the most widely noticed is seaweed. Seaweed is a type of algae that grows in the shallower parts of bodies of waters, while most other algae live very deep down and can act as the base in the food chain. How did scientists discover algae as a possible supplier of crude oil? The uses of algae have been well-known for a long time now. Seaweed is used in many food items such as sushi, because it contains vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids, essential to a healthy life. The oils in algae contain high levels of unsaturated fatty acids, which are good for restoring lipid structures in the body. When scientists found the opportunities algae presented, they immediately looked into extracting the oils for use as biofuels or liquid fuels extracted from plant material. In 2008, biofuels made up for 1.8% of all transportation fuel. The extraction process, as outlined by is as followed: First the algae must be harvested, until the oil is ready to be extracted. There are many methods for oil extraction including using enzymes to deteriorate the cell walls of algae, until the lipids that make up the cell walls are broken down to release the oils. Osmotic shock is also used, in which the osmotic pressure surround the algae is changed causing the cell to rupture, spurting out oil.

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In algae farms like those One of the more complex but more successful methods is the super critical fluids meth- above, scientists must starve od which results in 100% of the oil being extracted. In this process the algae is heated until the algae of nitrogen as the it is in the form of a liquid or a gas. It is then mixed with CO2 which converts it completely colonies mature. The cells into oil. react to the low nutrient The most popular extraction method is the oil press. It is very similar to the olive supply by entering survival press(used to extract olive oil), as it presses algae to remove the oil.This removes 95% of mode and producing extra the oil, the rest is filtered and mixed with the hydrocarbon hexane in order to make it fats. When they’ve created chemical-free. After the oil is actually extracted, it must be converted into a fuel of some sort and is enough fat, scientists coldone so through a process called transesterfication. Sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and an lect the cells and break them alcohol (OH) are mixed together and added to the oil which react to form a glycerol(fatty apart. They then filter out acid) and bio diesel fuel. Through more refining, the glycerol is removed until just the bio the large organelles and cell diesel remains. Many companies including Shell, BP and Exxon Mobil have been working with this ma- membranes and use solvents terial in hopes that they would create something revolutionary that could would not only like methanol to separate out solve the oil problem but make the fuel more environmentally friendly. fats from the water-soluble Algae is in abundance and can be doubled easily, meaning it is a reliable long term proteins and sugars. The colsource. The problem in using oil from algae is in the complexity of the refining processes. lected fats are purified, and All of the materials used during extraction and transeterfication are very expensive and net costs for refinery end up being the same as actually importing oil from other countries. the solvent is evaporated. Whether or not we turn to algae is unsure, but we must solve the problem of oil. If we Finally, the fats are put into a cannot find ways to reduce our dependency on oil, we must find alternative sources and chemical reactor to transform algae may be the way. At the moment, our economy isn’t stable, so investing money in them into biodiesel. such a project is a toss up. There are many questions to be answered, but we now know that algae is an option.

Potassium â– 19

20 Horace Mann Spectrum â– April 2011

Space Explorations Delving further into the 21st century and discovering more about the planets and stars around us, scientists and explorers have began to unveil the universe’s infinite expanse. As our own Earth becomes increasingly distressed, people look more and more to the rest of our solar system for hints of life and fresh resources. A recent debate over the existence of a new planet around the star Gliese581 is just one example of the growing scientific drive to increase knowledge of the universe beyond us.


By Sam Bauman

The Next Goldilocks Planet In late September, a team of astronomers led by Stephen E. Vogt

of UC Santa Cruz discovered a new planet in the habitable zone around the star Gliese 581 that may have the opportune temperature for liquid water to exist. The sixth planet discovered so far in this small band of the solar system, it is the only one found that might have the right temperature. Vogt said that the chances of life on such a planet were “almost one hundred percent.” Star Gliese 581 is the center of one of the most extensive known extra solar systems and has been a favorite among planet hunters. The first of the six planets discovered orbiting it was named Gliese 581b in 2005. Two other planets, 581c and 581d, were thought to be on the inner and outer edges of the habitable zone, but further study showed that the greenhouse effect made the first too hot and the latter too cold. Gliese 581g, the astronomer’s latest finding, was found in between the two. 22 Horace Mann Spectrum ■ April 2011

The planets were found using a method known as the radial velocity technique. The planets orbiting a star exert a slight but definite gravitational force on it, which causes the star to “wobble” around the solar system’s center of mass. This “wobble” causes a measurable Doppler effect in the star’s spectrum that can be used to calculate the star’s and planet’s movement. The technique’s effective and accurate nature has led its use in the discovery of the vast majority of extra solar planets.

Vogt and his team combined 122 data points taken over 11 years by a High Resolution Echelle Spectrometer in Hawaii with the 199 data points taken over 4 years by a High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher at La Silla Observatory. One scientist, Francesco Pepe of the Geneva Observatory said that Vogt’s analysis of the data points showed no evidence of the existence of new planet Gliese 581g since this claim. A number of researchers have put forth different explanations to explain these discrepancies. Alan Boss of NASA suggested that the discrepancy arose because while Vogt’s team assumed the orbits of planets around Gliese 581 to be nearly circular, Pepe’s team assumed they were significantly more

“The technique’s effective and accurate nature has led its use in the discovery of the vast majority of extra solar planets.” elliptical. Vogt agreed with the elliptical proposition in 2009, but switched to modeling circular orbits in his new paper. These events prompted planet Gliese 581g to be listed as “unconfirmed” in the Extrasolar Planets Index.

- Jane Goodall Nus dellandest molum est quisinimpos arum et fuga. Um cores venis comnis et offic tem

Gliese 581 g or Gl 581 g is a planet orbiting the red dwarf star Gliese 581, approximately 20.5 light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Libra. It is the sixth planet discovered in the Gliese 581 planetary system and the fourth in order from the star. Results from the study imply that the planet is located in the middle of the “Goldilocks”, or the habitable zone of its parent star, where the existence of liquid water is considered a strong possibility. The discovery of Gliese 581 g was announced in late September 2010, and is believed to be the first Goldilocks planet ever found, the most Earth-like planet, and the best exoplanet candidate with the potential for harboring life found to date.

Vanadiun ■ 23

SixMinutesofTerror The path from Earth to Mars is, for the most part, a simple cruise, where the spacecraft is in constant check with Earth by transmitting tones back to Earth with either its low-gain antenna (if closer to Earth) or its medium-gain antenna (if closer to Mars), the challenges; however, come during the last six minutes of the spacecrafts journey, otherwise known as Six Minutes of Terror.Throughout the cruise stage, (the time period before the spacecraft is in Mars’ atmosphere), it is in constant check with Earth, reassuring that it’s temperature is correct and that it is facing the right way, so that once it reaches Mars’ atmosphere, the heat shield will face Mars. Once the spacecraft enters Mars EDL (entry, descent, and landing) A.K.A. Six Minutes of Terror begin.

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By Justin Bleuel The heat shield absorbs the extremely large friction on the outside surface; the friction is caused by the speed that the spacecraft enters the universe, (about 12,000 miles per hour). Since the atmosphere is so thick the heat shield becomes as hot as the surface of the sun, it envelopes the spacecraft, keeps the inside at around room temperature, and acts as the first brake—slows it down by thousands of miles per hour. Once the spacecraft slows down through the supersonic speeds, a parachute is released and slows the spacecraft down to about 1,000 miles per hour. This parachute, however, is not ordinary at all, the ropes (reenforced as triple-bridles) are made out of Kevlar (the same material used in bullet-proof vests), and the parachute itself is made out of polyester and nylon—these fabrics are used because they both are durable as well as lightweight. Zylon is also used to provide space for airbag deployment, increased stability, distance from the solid rocket motor exhaust stream, and to make the parachute stronger. The parachute rapidly slows down the craft down to about 250 miles per hour making the spacecraft is now subsonic (moving slower than the speed of sound) and bringing the spacecraft from almost horizontal to, basically, vertical. Now a descent imager is used to take three pictures and compare

them in order to determine the horizontal velocity at which the spacecraft is moving across the surface—this information decides which transverse rockets will be fired. During this time, different tones are constantly being transmitted back to Earth, giving updates on how the Six Minutes of Terror are going. Now, as crashing becomes immanent, the airbags are inflated in order to protect the lander from a crash-landing into the hard rocks of mars, and the retro rockets are fired—the rockets bring the lander from about 150 miles per hour to about zero miles per hour, vertical velocity. After they are launched, the bridle, which is connecting the lander to the backshell, is cut and the lander begins to freefall. After about 15-30 impacts, high bounces, each one slightly smaller than the last, and a roll that could roll for a full kilometer, the lander finally comes to a complete stop and sits on the surface of Mars. EDL is complete. More tones continue to be transmitted through the lander’s low-gain antenna, the lander will then take over 80 minutes re-orientating itself by retracting its airbags and deploying its petals and solar arrays. As Jaime Dyk said, the most challenging part is the lack of control, the autonomy, knowing that there is no external control or influence of what could happen—everything is up in the air, anything can happen.

Manganese ■ 25

By Neida Vasquez

Evolutionary Research:

Navigation Through the Phylogenetic Tree of Lemurs

The Science Research Mentoring Program at the

Museum of Natural History is a two-year program in which students take six-week courses in biodiversity, genetics, conservation biology, and evolution. Classes are held two times a week and are taught by a research and a graduate student from the museum. The first year students not only attend classes but also complete small research projects before beginning a four-week program that summer. The second year is devoted to working on an individual research project with a mentor that consists of research of a small portion of the mentor’s field. Students present the projects during a graduation ceremony at the end of the program. During the biodiversity class we concentrated on talking about how species are classified, a topic that is debated the most in the museum. This led to the building of a phylogenetic tree, a branching diagram that depicts a hypothesis of the evolutionary relationships between species based on either physical or genetic differences. After completing the project we were taken into the specimen labs, the fossil lab, and a genetic lab in order to see the different ways in which the researchers would study speciation, the formation of a new species of an organism. Currently, the trend is going towards an emphasis on genetic differences instead of physical differences. The idea of viewing speciation with a larger focus on genetics carried us into our genetics class. On the first day we went to the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics to see the labs and the DNA sequencing machines. The point of the visit was to show us that human lab work wasn’t really important anymore since there are now many machines that can do the more tedious tasks. Also due to advancements in genetic databases it is easy to find the genome of many species and begin working without actually stepping foot into

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a lab. After a little training in how to use these databases we were given our next project: creating a phylogenetic tree based on the genetic differences in lemurs from Madagascar. Right now we are currently working on this project and my focus is on building trees based on nuclear non-coding DNA and mitochondrial DNA. This is another mini project that we will finish before moving on to the next class. Next year my main project will likely be something similar to this, but I would really like to work with insects because of their diversity. At first I asked myself why would speciation even matter? Some researchers spend years and years trying to determine whether or not two chameleons that look the same are actually from the same species. I found that speciation is so important because it matters to conservationists. We hear about protecting animals on a daily basis, but we don’t know that these people actually determine which animals need protecting. If a group of chameleons in Madagascar actually turn out to be of the species then they don’t need many conservation efforts. If these chameleons, however, turn out to be of all sorts of different species then there is only a short window of time find some way of protecting and stabilizing their conservation status. Many chameleons are endangered now, as they are highly valued in the pet trade, especially the more colorful chameleons. While I used to find this kind of work pointless I understand the importance much more now.

The Science Research Mentoring Programs (SRMP) at the American Museum of Natural History are intensive twoyear programs for high school students to conduct original scientific research alongside Museum anthropologists, astrophysicists, earth and planetary scientists, and biologists. Charles Darwin was the first to produce an evolutionary tree of life. He was very cautious about the possibility of reconstructing the history of life. In On the Origin of Species, he presented an abstract diagram of a theoretical Tree of Life for species of an unnamed large genus. On the horizontal base line hypothetical species within this genus are spaced irregularly to indicate how distinct they are from each other, and are above broken lines at various angles suggesting that they have diverged from one or more common ancestors. On the vertical axis divisions each represent a thousand generations. In Darwin’s own words: “Thus the small differences distinguishing varieties of the same species, will steadily tend to increase till they come to equal the greater differences between species of the same genus, or even of distinct genera.”This is a branching pattern with no names given to species, unlike the more linear tree Ernst Haeckel made years later”

Cobalt ■ 27

Heat Rays to be Used In Jails

By Jay Palekar

Active Denial Systems, colloquially called “heat rays,”

are a technology originally developed for crowd control. However, more recently, the device has been scaled down from its larger form into a smaller, human-height machine called an Assault Intervention Device. This is actively being implemented in jails as a way to stop inmate disputes. Development on the heat ray began two decades ago for the purpose of protecting military establishments and keeping crowds under control in areas of military importance. In 2001 multiple news agencies reported that it had been implemented in these places. Since conception, the development cost of these machines has been over 60 million dollars. The heat rays are made up of either supercooled, super-conducting magnets or rare earth permanent magnets, which like microwave cookers, emit high-energy beams composed of high-frequency millimeter waves at 95 GHz. Upon contact with flesh, the beam immediately excites water and fat, heating it to 50 degrees Celsius(112 degrees Fahrenheit,) causing intense pain. Luckily, the density of cells in human tissue prevents the beam from doing any permanent damage. This is because it can only penetrate, at maximum, 1/64th of an inch into the skin, clear of the nerve endings located in the skin. The device triggers what experimenters call the “Goodbye Effect”, or “prompt and highly motivated escape behavior” which supersedes any other motivations. The device has been undergoing testing for over 12 years with over 700 volunteers and 11,000 exposures. Testing barely showed complications. According to Wired, “In more than 10,000 exposures, there 28 Horace Mann Spectrum ■ April 2011

were six cases of blistering and one instance of seconddegree burns.” Recently the use of Active Denial Systems has come into the public eye in jails. The Pitchess Detention Center, in Los Angeles, began implementing the devices for inmate control. According to Sheriff Lee Baca, there have been over 250 inmate-on-inmate assaults, and 19 inmate assaults on deputies so far in Pitchess up until last August. Baca believes the device can break these fights apart before they become serious. With them, officers can stop fights from a distance of 80 to 100 feet, far larger the range of a taser. According to Baca, “This device will allow us to quickly intervene without having to enter the area and without incapacitating or injuring either combatant.” The device has also been met with some controversy. Less than a week after its implementation in the Pitchess Detention Center, the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to Baca asking him not to use the ray, calling it killer and “robot-like.” The ACLU claims that the device is a “military weapon intended to cause intolerable pain, and capable of causing server injury or death,” and is inappropriate to deploy against the detainees of a county jail. Still the device finds itself in jails and is yet to be legally discontinued.

“Who Will Guard the Guards?” Courtney Hodrick Speaks Out Against Injust Crowd Control Technology A Los Angeles County Jail planned in late August to install a new mechanism for breaking up fights between inmates—a device that would “shower the inmates” with a beam of microwaves that creates the sensation of being burned until the aggressors stepped out of the range of the beam and away from each other. Qui custodiet ipsos custodies? (From Latin; meaning, “who will guard the guards themselves.”) Placing the ability to cause a prisoner pain without even having to be in the same room not only has frighteningly Orwellian undertones, it also carries terrifying psychological implications. The 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment revealed firsthand the tendency of volunteers randomly chosen to play prison guards to grow increasingly and dangerously sadistic against volunteers randomly chosen to play prisoners. They grew so abusive and violent, in fact, that although the experiment had been planned to last for two weeks it was suspended after only six days. Place a military device, the operators of which

are inherently removed from their actions, in a prison, a place where imbalances of power are built into the system, and even those with no predisposition to violence (such as the randomly chosen volunteers in the Prison Experiment) have the natural tendency to devolve into sadism. Choose, just for kicks, to do this in the most highly populated and overcrowded prisons in America. Make sure that this is a prison that has been plagued with abuses and unsanitary conditions so grave and for so long that the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union, was forced to write a special report on the violations of human rights committed in hopes of achieving justice. If this sounds like a recipe for disaster to you, I wholeheartedly agree with you, as does the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU caused use of the device “tantamount to torture,” and pointed out that “Unnecessarily inflicting severe pain and taking such unnecessary risks with people’s lives is a clear violation of the Eighth Amendment and due process clause of the U.S. Constitution.”

Copper ■ 29

Musings From the Thoughtscape. . .

By Debayan Guha

I love basketball. It’s the most dynamic game

routinely shown on television. And it apparently holds the secret for success. According to, A recent study by the University of San Francisco has shown a correlation between the physical contact between teammates and the success of a NBA team. In short, players like Kevin Garnett, who are constantly fist bumping, chest bumping, high-fiving and man hugging their teammates, help lead their teams to success, like the Celtics. While you may say, “Of course KG helps the Celtics, that isn’t news,” even after controlling for a number of variables including salary (to ensure that players who were getting paid more weren’t just touching people more) and hype (to ensure that players who were hyped more weren’t just more demonstrative), the researchers found no factor that affected the touch-success relationship. The researchers hypothesized, touching leads to more cooperative play, like making the extra pass or being more ready to set a pick. This style of play would lead to a better win/loss spread for sure. Touching could very well be a component to success in more than just sports. Tactile observations, like roughness, heaviness or toughness, 30 Horace Mann Spectrum ■ April 2011

evoke feelings of difficulty, importance or stability, Live Science found. If you carry a heavy object you would be more likely to think about more serious issues. It has also been shown that small details can seriously affect people’s reactions in different situations. Live Science found that in one experiment, subjects sitting in a softer chair bid $350 more than those sitting in a hard chair when trying to buy a used car. It is promising that different studies are showing similar results about the importance of touching. It has been shown that a pat on the back makes office workers more cooperative. The sense of touch seems to affect behavior much more than previously thought. As more research is completed, the connections between touch and other cognitive pathways will be found.

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our rockstars When you become a part of Science Olympiad, you become one in a family of problem solvers and master lab scientists. You get to invent and build magnifecnt machines. Do you want to be part of the family?

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Spectrum Issue 1  

The first issue of Horace Mann's Science publication.