What if Jon Stewart, the brilliant host of The Daily Show, had chosen a career in chemistry instead of political comedy? What if Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin fame had become a biologist instead of a legendary rock guitarist?
Each easily could have happened. The clips below reveal the scientific side of both men. The first clip is a gem, or perhaps I should say a diamond, made—as all natural diamonds are—of carbon that was transformed by extremely high pressure and heat 100 miles underground more than a billion years ago. (Diamonds aren't just beautiful, they're also very old.) The clip is a conversation about carbon between Stewart and Neil de Grasse Tyson (who's pictured), the ever-enlightening astrophysicist and author who heads the Hayden Planetarium in New York. Click on it to hear about Stewart's first love, the sixth element in the periodic table.
We all should share Stewart's enthusiasm for carbon. Element number 6 is the chemical cornerstone of all forms of life on Earth. It's in every living thing. It can form nearly 10 million different compounds and has the highest melting point of any element (more than 6,440 degrees Fahrenheit). Carbon: It ain't just charcoal.
For the record, when Stewart switched out of his chemistry major at William & Mary, he became a psychology major instead.
As a child the great guitarist dreamed of becoming a scientist. As a teenager he even interviewed for a job as a lab assistant. The clip below is of Page at age 13 during an appearance on a BBC talent-search show.
The clip cuts off the rest of the interview, in which Page says that when he grows up he wants to do biological research to find a cure for cancer, "if it isn't discovered by then."
If your inner scientist is wondering about the science of a lead zeppelin, here's how that oxymoron became the name of the band: Two members of The Who, having been invited by Page to join him in a supergroup, said that the proposed band would probably go over "like a lead balloon" (the words of drummer Keith Moon) or like "a lead zeppelin" (the words of bass guitarist John Entwistle). The pair didn't join the group, which Page decided to name Led Zeppelin. (He changed Lead to Led so people would pronounce it correctly.)
Flights of Spring
Birds of Quebec
Through The Naturalist's Notebook we've come to know Alexandre J-Nicole, a Canadian who has designed beautiful, educational bird mobiles I'll tell you more about in a future post. Alexandre also has launched a bird blog called Fair-Feathered Friends (http://fairfeatheredfriends.tumblr.com/). He said we could post some of his photos. You can find more at his blog.
The Scale of Everything
I'm not sure which amazed me more: Zooming through Scale of the Universe 2, an interactive Internet feature that is one of the coolest things I've ever seen, or learning that Scale of the Universe 2 was created by a pair of 14-year-old twin brothers from Moraga, Calif., Cary and Michael Huang.
Cary Huang, a ninth grader, thought up the idea two years ago after his seventh-grade science teacher showed Cary's class a size-comparison video on cells. Cary created Scale of the Universe just for fun, with Michael, his more technical-minded brother, providing help in making it function on the Internet.
Cary told Ned Potter of ABC News that both he and Michael are interested in computer programming, animation and astronomy but aren't sure of their career ambitions. When Potter asked him if he thought there was a lesson to be learned from his project, Cary replied, "I would like to say that humankind is a very small part of the universe we live in. There could be so much more out there, but we just don't know it yet."
Click here to explore Scale of the Universe 2. You HAVE to do it:
A Naturalist Adventure
We have an extraordinary young naturalist friend named Luka Negoita. He is a recent College of the Atlantic graduate who two summers ago lived on a deserted island off the Maine coast documenting every species of plant. Luka was born in Romania and now, through Kickstarter, the match-your-dollars web initiative, he is trying to raise the funding for a unique six-week spring project in that country. Luka and colleague Phil Walter would document aspects of Romania—old knowledge and skills in areas ranging from medicinal plants to cheese-making—that are vanishing because of modernization.
Luka is a remarkable observer. He has an exuberant love of nature, a mind that never stops asking questions and a hand that creates wonderful sketches in his field notebook. To learn more about him and his project and/or make a contribution, click on: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/285920919/old-knowledge-sketches-of-a-simple-life. As a person and a naturalist, he's worth the investment.
Answer to the Last Puzzler
An adult’s fingernails grow roughly an inch a year, the same speed at which North America and Europe are moving apart because of shifting continental plates. Nails don't all grow at the same speed, however. Fingernails grow four times faster than toenails, and nails on longer fingers grow slightly faster than nails on shorter fingers.
This week I drove past a store signboard that had this humorous quotation from Tom Wilson, the comedian and actor best known for playing Biff in Back to the Future: "Mosquitoes remind us that we are not as high up the food chain as we thought."
So here's a mosquito question: Which mosquitoes bite humans: a) only male mosquitoes b) only female mosquitoes c) both male and female mosquitoes