Japan's damaged nuclear plant in Fukushima has been emitting radioactive iodine and caesium at levels approaching those seen in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident in 1986. Austrian researchers have used a worldwide network of radiation detectors – designed to spot clandestine nuclear bomb tests – to show that iodine-131 is being released at daily levels 73 per cent of those seen after the 1986 disaster. The daily amount of caesium-137 released from Fukushima Daiichi is around 60 per cent of the amount released from Chernobyl.
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Teachable Moment: This 14 minute documentary produced by NASA on the occasion of the 2011 retirement of the program, puts into amazing perspective the impact and scope of the shuttle program after 30 years of flights.
It also provides a window into the process of development of novel programs... down to the detail of early models being pulled by a souped up Pontiac!
And in a stroke of brilliance, William Shatner is the narrator...
Teachable Moment: The Emperor of All Maladies has been awarded the 2011 Non Fiction Pulitzer prize for it's engaging story of the search for a cure for cancer. This visual timeline neatly synthesizes key points in the book highlighting both cultural and scientific milestones.
Takes a bit to load...patience...
In the early 1920s, Niels Bohr was struggling to reimagine the structure of matter. Previous generations of physicists had thought the inner space of an atom looked like a miniature solar system with the atomic nucleus as the sun and the whirring electrons as planets in orbit. This was the classical model.
But Bohr had spent time analyzing the radiation emitted by electrons, and he realized that science needed a new metaphor. The behavior of electrons seemed to defy every conventional explanation. As Bohr said, “When it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry.” Ordinary words couldn’t capture the data.
Bohr had long been fascinated by cubist paintings. As the intellectual historian Arthur Miller notes, he later filled his study with abstract still lifes and enjoyed explaining his interpretation of the art to visitors. For Bohr, the allure of cubism was that it shattered the certainty of the object. The art revealed the fissures in everything, turning the solidity of matter into a surreal blur.
The original, world-famous awareness test from Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris.
Teachable Moment: The Challenger disaster was blamed on gas escaping from a faulty o-ring and much debate and discussion has emerged about how engineers should have known that that could have happened. The data is readily available for students to analyze and plot themselves and can lead to a great case study or discussion.
Richard Feynman was one of twelve members appointed to a commission tasked with investigating the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. Feynman's experiments showed that the tragedy was caused by a failure of the craft's rubber-like O-rings. Made of material with reduced resilience at temperatures below freezing, the rings were cracked by freezing weather, cracks which led to the escape of hot gasses leading to the fatal explosion. Much to the annoyance of commission chair William P. Rogers, Feynman used a glass of ice water and an O-ring to conclusively show the seal's vulnerability — at a press conference in front of live television cameras.
Teachable Moment: When I first heard this story I was told the iron was made from the failed Quebec Bridge, which I guess isn't true but the ceremonial message of responsibility still holds... this ring is a great reminder of how important engineering decisions can be.
The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer has a history dating back to 1922, when seven past-presidents of the Engineering Institute of Canada attended a meeting in Montreal with other engineers. One of the speakers was civil engineer Professor Haultain of the University of Toronto. He felt that an organization was needed to bind all members of the engineering profession in Canada more closely together. He also felt that an obligation or statement of ethics to which a young graduate in engineering could subscribe should be developed. The seven past-presidents of the Engineering Institute of Canada were very receptive to this idea.
Teachable Moment: The Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse has long been used as an example of forced resonance in physics text books but recent analysis suggests aerodynamically induced "forced excitation" (see second reference) may have been the cause. Either way, the video footage is dramatic and encourages great discussion!
The 1940 Tacoma Narrows Bridge was the first incarnation of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, a suspension bridge in the U.S. state of Washington that spanned the Tacoma Narrows strait of Puget Sound between Tacoma and the Kitsap Peninsula. It opened to traffic on July 1, 1940, and dramatically collapsed into Puget Sound on November 7 of the same year. At the time of its construction (and its destruction) the bridge was the third longest suspension bridge in the world in terms of main span length, behind the Golden Gate Bridge and the George Washington Bridge.
Teachable Moment: Most applied math problems are simply dressed up word problems but don't make the math any more interesting or engaging. This web site teases out math problems from current events, press releases, and NASA missions.
SpaceMath@NASA introduces students to the use of mathematics in todays scientific discoveries. Through press releases and other articles, we explore how many kinds of mathematics skills come together in exploring the universe.