Scientific fiction is not about science or technology

Jonathon Logan

Science and Environment Editor

 

The greatest works of science fiction most often revolve around some far-flung, scientific advancement or technology brought to life only by the author’s imagination. Take, for example, the far-caster in Dan Simmons’ Hyperion or the space elevator in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars. Fans of science fiction like to get hung up on how faster-than-light communication was used in a sci-fi novel instead of the reality created by the author. Often overlooked are the coming-of-age narratives, the capacity of characters to adapt and the role of fear. Science fiction is not the genre that will inspire you to pursue a STEM degree; no, it is the genre that will equip you with the moral and mental resilience needed to navigate a global pandemic (the stuff of sci-fi).

Frank Herbert’s 1975 book, Dune, is perhaps the greatest work of science fiction ever. What made this sci-fi chief among others was Herbert’s willingness to intentionally suppress the role of technology in the world he had built. In fact, a massive revolt against the god of machine-logic lays the foundation for a central tenet of the entire saga: “Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind.” This resulted in a prohibition on human-like machines. Herbert then immerses the reader in a world of fear that is wholly free of scientific or technological influence — confronting the reader with the hard truths young adults have to face. In chapter one Herbert writes: “Fear is the mind-killer. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. When the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Fear is pervasive. It is dominant in our world today. Sci-fi does not transport readers to an alternate reality where you can forget the fear. It does not relay what to do when one achieves their goals. No, science fiction creates the lens through which one views their world, it nurtures the capacity to adapt when news shatters your day: “We’ve decided to move forward with more qualified candidates,” “we will be fully remote for the remainder of the semester” and so on. The Social and Personality Psychology journal published an article in 2016 asserting that “connecting to story worlds involves a process of dual empathy.” Good science fiction recognizes this. Sci-fi is not the geeky escape where a hermit STEM major goes to plot how to become Dr. Doofenshmirtz. Sci-fi is the tech-free zone where everyone has found themselves contemplating their worst fears, reflecting on human relationships and coming of age.

Clouds are Nature’s Poetry

Melita Wiles

Contributing Writer

 

“Wow! Have you seen how blue the sky is today?” Most people talk about the beauty of the blue sky, but have you considered how interesting the sky is when it is full of clouds of different sizes and shapes? While the science behind why the sky is blue is fascinating, clouds are intriguing as well.        

So, what exactly are clouds? The scientific definition is a massive aerosol composed of liquid, ice or other particles suspended in the atmosphere. Basically, clouds are huge blobs of water droplets. The huge part is really enormous too. If you add up all the miniscule water particles in a medium cumulus cloud (the cotton ball kind you drew as a kid), altogether they equal the weight of about eighty elephants.

These gigantic formations have a life of their own. The life of a cumulus cloud can be described using the motion inside a lava lamp. While lava lamps consist of liquid and clouds consist of gases, it is the same general idea. A ploughed field that has been warmed up by the sun acts like the hot light bulb in the lamp. This field then warms up the air above it making the air expand and become less dense, so it can move up toward the cooler air (like the oil expanding in the lava lamp and floating upward). Then the air, with hidden moisture in it, moves away from the heated field and the cooler air descends and replaces it. In the lava lamp, the oil comes back down because it gets colder and denser.

You might be wondering why clouds are able to stay up in the sky and not sink like the oil in the lamp. Clouds are massive and heavy, but the water particles are so small and spread out that gravity is almost negligible. Additionally, clouds stay afloat because of a concept called latent heat. Latent heat occurs when water condenses from vapor into liquid droplets and gives off heat into the surrounding air. With droplets forming and latent heat being released, the surrounding air warms, so that the air expands and the droplets float upward.

As the warm air and moisture that rises from the field cools, some of the water vapor condenses back into visible droplets and forms a cloud! Heat has now been released. Therefore, the air becomes more buoyant and it floats upward, creating more clouds. As this process repeats, more droplets are formed, more heat is released and the cloud grows larger. When the lifetime of the cloud ends, the moisture will precipitate as rain.

Some clouds produce precipitation, and others do not. Given the multitude of cloud types — low level and high-level, liquid or ice, cumulus or stratus, etc. — each cloud looks different and will produce different types of weather. While clouds affect weather, they also influence climate change. The shape and number of cloud particles affect the amount of solar radiation reflected. Furthermore, changes in global temperature can change the location, extent and type of cloud, which in turn has a warming or cooling effect, known as climate change feedback. The field of clouds and climate is less advanced than climate and greenhouse gases, but connections exist between the two areas. For example, climate change feedback from clouds can either offset or amplify any changes due to greenhouse gas emissions.

Clouds are not only studied in a scientific manner, but these breathtaking formations are found in art and literature as well. In ancient Greek mythology, Zeus is the lord of the sky and the god of rain and the cloud-gatherer. Clouds can be seen in 16th-century mythological art, as Zeus had a slight obsession with transforming himself into a cloud. This can be seen through multiple paintings and images from that time. Clouds are also used in poetry and descriptive writing to add emotion and texture.

Clouds do a lot more in the world than just rain down on us. If you are interested in the science and beauty of clouds, be sure to check out the Cloud Appreciation Society (https://cloudappreciationsociety.org/) for further information and stunning photographs.

Knowing your body: iron deficiencies in endurance athletes

Zoe Covey

Chief Copy Editor

 

Athletes are often encouraged to learn the science behind their training. Why they should eat carbs or protein, why they need so much sleep and why the ferritin level of their blood should never get too low. Information sheets about all of these topics are often distributed to young endurance athletes by their coaches and, by the time they reach adulthood, they might think they already know everything they need to.

Aerobic exercise with low iron levels in the blood is painful. Oxygen can’t get to your body fast enough and no matter how many great, gasping gulps of air you take, you can’t keep up. Once you learn that it might be low iron, everyone tells you that it’s normal. This often happens to runners, especially runners who menstruate. Runners who menstruate also tend to have lower concentrations of hemoglobin — an essential protein for transporting oxygen throughout the body.

So why does this happen? What happens when we engage in aerobic exercise? A 1985 study measured changes in formed elements of the blood (cellular elements within the plasma: red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets — Over 99 percent of the formed elements are red blood cells) in female high school cross country runners, looking at the hematocrit (the number of formed cells in your blood), hemoglobin concentration, white blood cell count and red blood cell count. Measurements were taken twice at the beginning, middle and end of the season both before exercise and soon after. The study found a slight decrease in hematocrit, an increase in hemoglobin concentration over the course of the season, slight increases in white blood cell count and, notably, major red blood cell count increases.

An important role of red blood cells is to carry oxygen throughout the body, and aerobic exercise requires this function to be done quickly and often. Aerobic athletes often have an abundance of red blood cells because their bodies feel the demand of constant exercise, and build more red blood cells in order to maintain the level of activity. This is why training at altitude is popular with endurance athletes; the lack of oxygen in the air naturally stimulates more red blood cell development. This increase, no matter how it is achieved, is what long-distance runners refer to as endurance: it’s just more working red blood cells. The key word there is “working.” Hemoglobin must be bound to iron in order to attach to oxygen, and if this reaction does not occur, oxygen can not be picked up from the lungs as we breathe and then circulated throughout the body. It is important to note that endurance athletes may have a red blood cell count that falls within the “normal” range, but their activity level is still too difficult to maintain because they struggle to circulate oxygen effectively, as the red blood cells are rendered useless without iron bound to hemoglobin.

Iron is most often absorbed into the body through the digestive tract. Digestive difficulties, such as those that a person with celiac disease faces, naturally make iron more difficult to obtain. This means that while most people get this nutrient through food, many also choose to take capsule iron supplements. Heme iron, which comes from animal products that contain hemoglobin, is the easiest to absorb. Nonheme iron, though more difficult for the body to absorb, is still able to yield the nutrient, and is found in the majority of iron-containing foods (so, do not worry, vegetarians and vegans whose parents disapproved on the grounds of “how will you get your iron!”). Symptoms of anemia, besides diminished athletic performance, are feeling cold, feeling tired and for some, having the appearance of pale skin.

For many endurance athletes of any gender, iron deficiency becomes an issue at some point. Though not the focus of this article, it is also quite common among people who do not engage in regular aerobic exercise. If you are concerned about your iron intake, Lowry’s clean bean is always a great start!

“Lovecraft Country” reveals the horrors of racism

Salem Nega

Contributing Writer

 

It’s halfway through the semester, and it’s been a rough couple weeks for everyone. Since we’re likely hitting the wall due to exhaustion, stress and lockdown regulations, starting an addictive series to get your mind off schoolwork and to relax might be an appealing idea. If so, “Lovecraft Country” is going to be right up your alley. 

“Lovecraft Country” is a ten-episode show on HBO whose genre ranges from horror and fantasy to drama and historical fiction. Set in the 1950s Jim Crow era  United States, the series is made up of a killer cast including Emmy award winning actor Courtney B. Vance, Michael K. Morris (who is known for his role as Omar Little in the HBO hit “The Wire”), Jurnee Smollett and newcomer Johnathan Majors. The show aired on HBO Max as an original series by the creator of “Underground” and “Heroes,” Misha Green, and executive produced by Jordan Peele, whose critically acclaimed movies “Get Out” and “Us” have made him a household name due to their thematic vision of blending race relations into classic horror.

Based on the book of the same name by Mark Ruff, the series follows main characters Atticus Black, a veteran returning from the Korean War, and his childhood best friend Leitha Dandridge as they embark on a mission to find Atticus’s missing father and  unlock some long-hidden family secrets that date back to the infamously detrimental Jim Crow era. Throughout this journey, viewers will see these characters transform from fledging to well-developed and complex with intriguing backstories. Interestingly, those backstories visibly define the different ways Black and Dandridge choose to engage with a world filled with ghosts and demons, white supremacy and Black identity, contemporary life and historical fiction. Suffice to say, the writers took a lot of creative liberty when writing this masterpiece, so whatever your interests are, this show has likely got it.

This, of course, barely scratches the surface of what this show truly offers, since spoiler alerts must be avoided at all costs. However, it is not an overstatement to assert that each episode carries a very distinct and unique nature of film and shines a special light on the differing perspectives that are often present when determining who would be the antagonist and the protagonist.

Despite the show going at a very smooth, relaxed pace since its season premiere this past summer, it should be noted that the series aired at a time in American history filled with police brutality, racism and other ongoing injustices faced by Black people in America. So, the series does a great job of keeping you on your toes while solemnly reflecting on how moments in the past, as well as their effects, can still be similarly situated in our contemporary world.

Again, if you’re looking for a way to take your mind off the collective stress that has been felt across campus the last two weeks, then a brief transportation into a different world with adventure, action and drama is definitely the right choice of action. Overall, “Lovecraft Country” does an incredible job of entertaining us with an intersection of different genres while demonstrating the horrors of racism in the 1950s and relating it to everything that is currently happening in the United States.

Savage Mode II

Jackson Lovchuk

Contributing Writer

 

On Oct. 2, 2020, hip-hop artist 21 Savage, alongside producer Metro Boomin, released Savage Mode II. This studio album is the long-anticipated sequel to the original Savage Mode mixtape, which was released over four years ago. To add even more credibility and anticipation to the album, the dynamic duo of 21 Savage and Metro Boomin enlisted the aid of the legendary actor Morgan Freeman, who provides narration throughout the album. With all the big names involved in this project, Savage Mode II easily captured the number one spot on the Billboard 200 chart, selling 171,000 units in its first week. However, commercial success does not always translate to overall quality. At the end of the second track, “Runnin,” Freeman poses the very important question, “Are things better or worse the second time around? Can we really do anything more than once?” In the case of Savage Mode II, the answer is a resounding yes!

The album begins with the intro track where Freeman details the many times that great men have found themselves in the same place at the same time during the course of history to work as one on important projects. Savage Mode II is said to be one of these important projects as two great men, 21 Savage and Metro Boomin, join forces to give the world this highly anticipated album. 

The feature song of the album, “Runnin,” is up next. Both artists are clearly in their comfort zone with this track. Metro Boomin produces a beat with his signature use of drums and bass. In the background he loops a sample of Diana Ross from her song, “I Thought It Took a Little Time.” This sample sets the pace for the track and helps 21 Savage seamlessly rap in between the loops of Ross. Two tracks later Metro Boomin completely changes gears to utilize an R&B type beat as Drake joins the duo on the track “Mr. Right Now.” This track is enjoyable and highlights the versatility of 21 Savage’s cadence and delivery as well as Metro Boomin’s flexibility with his beats. 

The following track, “Rich N***a Sh*t,” is arguably the best track on the album. This song continues the R&B-like delivery and beat established on the previous track while also featuring Young Thug. The hook on this track is one of the strongest on the album, the beat is melodic and works extremely well with the R&B tone of the track and Young Thug delivers easily the best feature on the album. Everything comes together so perfectly on this track and makes it an obvious standout on the album. 

The remainder of the album is solid and supplies enjoyable content for fans of these artists. On the back-half of the album, songs like “Many Men” and “My Dawg” are entertaining, but there are other tracks such as “Snitches & Rats” and “RIP Luv” that are somewhat derivative of the artists’ previous works and don’t offer anything new and worthwhile to experienced listeners. On the final track “Said N Done,” Freeman concludes the album by stating, “Until next time, stay in Savage Mode”.

Overall, this album was an enjoyable listen for both 21 Savage and Metro Boomin fans. Although I don’t believe Savage Mode II surpasses any of the artists’ previous projects in quality, it certainly does hold its own. This album has plenty of replayable tracks for listeners to come back to. Listening to Morgan Freeman talk about the difference between Snitches and Rats should be reason enough for anyone on the fence about listening to this album to give it a chance. Until next time, stay in Savage Mode. 

Top 5 Halloween Movies

 Lillian Beach

Staff Writer

 

I’ve always loved anything scary and was fascinated with ghost stories and horror movies as a kid. I’ve carried that fascination with me into college. Having watched my fair share of horror movies, I ranked my top five favorites!

  1. “Coraline”

As a kid, this was one of the only scary movies that really terrified me. The Other Mother and her button eyes were enough to give me nightmares. I absolutely love the stop-motion style of this film; it totally helps create a spooky ambiance. I’ve always thought of this movie as a kind of anti-Narnia, where Coraline finds the entrance to a disturbing and off-kilter world instead of an enchanting one. I watch this movie again and again to find myself wrapped up in its horrifying, yet somehow charming, world.

  1. “The Conjuring”

I’ve seen this movie a couple of times and always enjoy it. The story follows a family who moves into a haunted house and hires a husband-wife team of demonologists, the Warrens, to investigate the paranormal occurrences within the house. This reminds me of “The Haunting of Hill House” as a movie. It’s the only movie in “The Conjuring” series I have seen, but I plan on watching more! I’d say this is a classic horror movie, great for watching with friends. 

  1. “Super Dark Times”

This movie is a thriller and one of the most disturbing movies I’ve ever seen. It’s a dark coming of age story that follows two young boys who are best friends and who one day experience a traumatizing accident. The boys try to cover up what has happened, but things get more unhinged as the film goes on. The deterioration of their mental states progresses until it reaches a peak. The whole film is also shot in a way that makes the viewer feel uneasy. The ending leaves you thinking, though I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look up the explanation five minutes after the film ended. I wouldn’t recommend this movie for people who are uneasy with blood, but I think it’s definitely worth a watch.

  1. “The Shining”

I am a huge Stephen King fan and, having read the book, I wanted to see the movie. This movie is great, the cinematography is amazing and Jack Nicholson does a fantastic job at playing Jack Torrance. This film does a good job at building up suspense and uses that to its advantage. This is another classic horror movie and one I would recommend to watch if you haven’t already.

  1. “IT

Again, huge Stephen King fan. “IT” might be my favorite book, so naturally I had to see the 2016 movie. Something about a horror/coming of age movie combines everything I enjoy watching. The kids’ naivety and innocence coupled with the very adult themes of murder and fear make for a unique viewing experience. Pennywise is horrifying and the perfect monster. This movie had everything for me, and I would consider it my favorite horror film so far!

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