How Do Fireflies Glow?

How Do Fireflies Glow?

The Lampyridae family, more commonly referred to as fireflies and lightning bugs, are neither true bugs nor flies… but within these colloquial names, it sure is apparent where the “lightning” and “fire” came from! But how do fireflies produce light in the first place?

Firefly. Photo by @yb_woodstock on Flickr, cc-by-sa-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Fireflies are winged beetles, and there are over 2000 species distributed across the temperate and tropical areas of the world; in fact, especially when considering that not all species glow, it is likely that there are multiple species within your own backyard alone! An abundance of fireflies in Delaware County (Catskills), NY. Photo by @s58y on Flickr, CC by 2.0, via Flickr.  Fireflies are bioluminescent, meaning they produce and emit light through chemical reactions in their bodies. Light is produced in a firefly’s abdomen — the “light organ” — when oxygen, calcium,...
Marking the Passage of Time: Spring 2022 Stargazing

Marking the Passage of Time: Spring 2022 Stargazing

While it may feel like we’re stuck in a repeating loop of Spring 2020, watching the night skies can remind us that the seasons do actually keep passing by. Here is your stargazing guide for Spring 2022.

While it may feel like we’re stuck in a repeating loop of Spring 2020, watching the night skies can remind us that the seasons do actually keep passing by. Indeed many cultures throughout history have used the night skies to mark the passing of time. In my home country of England, ancient peoples built Stonehenge, probably to track the motion of the Sun (the brightest star in the sky!) and mark the year. In New Zealand, the Maori used the first sighting of Matariki (also known as the Pleiades) to set the start of the new year. The hottest part...
What Actually Happens When You Black Out From Drinking?

What Actually Happens When You Black Out From Drinking?

What exactly happens in your brain if you black out from drinking? Why does this happen, and how dangerous is it?

Quirky Queries answers your random science questions. If you have a query, let us know! — To be honest, this was a very fun, and also very alarming question to research and write about. A lot of what I learned, especially about the human brain, was surprising, but I was shocked to learn just how potent alcohol is — it can completely shut down entire regions of your brain.  There are many different types of memories, including long-term, short-term, and muscle memory. These are all stored in different, interconnected regions of your brain. Interestingly, binge drinking does not prevent you from creating...
The Extraordinary and Disastrous Eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai Volcano

The Extraordinary and Disastrous Eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai Volcano

The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai Volcano in January 2022 was the largest our planet has seen in decades, wreaking destruction on the island nation of Tonga in which the volcano resides. Studies of this volcano can help us understand the causes and effects of such massive eruptions, and may even give insight into the geological processes that have shaped the landscape of Mars.

Media from NASA Earth Observatory On January 15, 2022, the largest volcanic eruption in decades devastated the island nation of Tonga in the South Pacific Ocean. The blast released a massive amount of energy, equivalent to between 4 and 18 megatons of TNT, which is hundreds of times more powerful than the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The explosion created a low-frequency pressure wave that circled the Earth, causing the entire atmosphere to oscillate. Ash has coated the islands, causing a serious shortage of clean drinking water, and a tsunami caused by the eruption wrought widespread damage. The effect on...
Don’t Look Up: A Scientific Review

Don’t Look Up: A Scientific Review

How realistic is Don’t Look Up? What does it tell us about NASA, the importance of peer review, and asteroid-fighting technology in the real world? (Warning: Spoilers Ahead!)

Don’t Look Up, a film released on Netflix in December 2021, provided a metaphorized take on the relationship between the scientific community, the political sphere, and the public in regard to climate change. In a fictionalized United States, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), an astronomer at Michigan State University, and his PhD student, Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), try to warn the public about a comet, first discovered by Dibiasky, scheduled to collide with the Earth in six months. Encountering the ineffectual POTUS Orlean (Meryl Streep) anda CEO tech billionaire, Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance), only concerned with making a profit, Mindy...
How does wind happen?

How does wind happen?

Have you ever wondered how wind happens? This short article describes the cause of wind and some of its patterns.

Hurricane Katrina. Courtesy of NOAA Quirky Queries answers your random science questions. If you have a query, let us know! — This is an excellent question, and one that I was curious about myself when I was younger. I would often ask my parents scientific questions, and they would do their best to respond, sometimes without actually knowing the correct answer. When I asked this same question, my parents told me something along the lines of “wind is caused by the rotation of the Earth.” While the Earth’s rotation does play a significant role in wind and weather patterns, this is not...
The Colorado Wildfires: How Climate Change is Changing Wildfires

The Colorado Wildfires: How Climate Change is Changing Wildfires

Recent wildfires in the west are just another example of how wildfire seasons are not only increasing, but also becoming more common all over the country. As weather conditions continue to change due to the global climate crisis, more extreme events such as drought and heat waves cause new areas to become susceptible to the possibility of wildfires.

2020 Colorado Wildfire. Photo by Malachi Brooks, via Unsplash. In 2022, as of early February, there have already been 2,388 fires that have burned a total of 40,822 acres across the U.S., surpassing a 10-year average of 1,924 fires and 38,501 acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. In 2021, the state of California faced unprecedented fires that raged throughout the year, burning a total of 2.5 million acres and changing officials’ definition of the “fire season” to a “fire year.” One of the most recent catastrophic wildfires occured on December 30th of last year, when a suburban neighborhood...
Dinner in the Woods: A Catalog of Edible Fungi on Haverford’s Campus

Dinner in the Woods: A Catalog of Edible Fungi on Haverford’s Campus

Haverford’s nature trail has more delicious offerings than a pleasant place to gaunt and jog; you might find your next dinner!

Amanita muscaria (also known as “Fly Agaric”), a beautiful mushroom with a rich history. Image taken in the Haverford Pinetum. Note: All images featured in this article were taken by Oscar Garrett. Disclaimer: Foraging is a fun hobby with tasty rewards, but it can result in injury or death with the right combination of ignorance and misfortune. Do not eat anything you find without being 100 percent sure of its identity. The contents of this article are intended to educate you of these fungi's presence on campus, not identify them. Consult a field guide or foraging expert before consuming any...
How do Snakes Move?

How do Snakes Move?

How do these legless creatures slither, glide, crawl, and climb? Here we discuss multiple different mechanisms of snake locomotion (including flying!).

Characters Kaa, an Indian python, and Mowgli in Disney’s “The Jungle Book” (1967). From the Disney gallery. Quirky Queries answers your random science questions. If you have a query, let us know! -- How do these legless creatures slither, glide, crawl, and climb? Here we discuss multiple different mechanisms of snake locomotion (including flying!). Serpentine locomotion Snakes are known to slither. They move by pushing off of rocks, branches, and other surfaces in order to propel forward, but how do snakes travel on flat surfaces? Slithering, called serpentine locomotion, is dependent on the muscles that connect a snake’s skin, spine,...
Researchers Highlight Concerns About Personality Testing in Workplace Training

Researchers Highlight Concerns About Personality Testing in Workplace Training

The use of personality testing in the workplace has expanded from personnel selection to workplace training. However, several concerns regarding the use of personality testing in workplace training have been identified.

Personality Test Cartoon. Photo by breakthroughvisuals.com While personality tests in the workplace setting were originally used for personnel selection, human research departments (HRDs) have increasingly employed personality tests in workplace training despite the paucity of evidence supporting their use for this purpose. Several concerns about the use of personality testing in workplace training were identified in a 2017 study by Lundgren et al., who analyzed multiple case studies. Using data collected in Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands between 2012 and 2016, the researchers reviewed interviews, test reports, product flyers and email correspondence from publishers, associations, psychologists and HRD...
Parthenogenesis: Virgin Births Provide Hope for the Endangered California Condor

Parthenogenesis: Virgin Births Provide Hope for the Endangered California Condor

California condors are a species that have hovered on the brink of extinction for decades, and captive breeding programs established in the 1980s have brought the species’ numbers back from just 22 in 1982 to 525 at the end of 2019. Now, a phenomenon called parthenogenesis, observed in two cases of California condors, brings up many questions around the birds’ reproductive ability and genetic variation.

California Condor. Photo by Chuck Szmurlo, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Parthenogenesis is a form of asexual reproduction whereby females eggs develop into embryos without fertilization from a male. While this phenomenon is commonly observed in fish, reptiles, and plants, it is rare or unknown in birds such as the California condor. As part of the captive breeding program of California condors, Oliver Ryder and his team developed a genetic database for all California condors such that breeding programs can work to maintain genetic variation in condor populations and prevent inbreeding, as described in an article published in October...
The Traveling Salesperson Problem: In Search of Polynomial Time

The Traveling Salesperson Problem: In Search of Polynomial Time

The Traveling Salesperson Problem is one of the most famous open problems in computer science. What is it, and why is it so important?

GLPK solution of a traveling salesperson problem. Photo by Xpron. Public domain, via Wikimedia commons. Imagine you are planning a road trip. To save time and gas, you want to choose the shortest route that goes through all the cities you want to visit. How do you figure out what path to take? One option is the brute force approach — measuring and comparing the lengths of every possible route to find the shortest one. However, the number of possible paths grows very quickly as you add more destinations. With five cities to visit there are 24 possible routes, but...
What Do We Do With E-waste? Flash Joule Heating Presents a Solution

What Do We Do With E-waste? Flash Joule Heating Presents a Solution

With Apple rolling out a new iPhone every year and planned obsolescence encouraging consumers to buy and throw out more and more electronics, electronic waste is piling up in landfills globally. An article published in October this year proposes flash Joule heating as a potential solution to the millions of tons of e-waste produced every year.

Electronic waste. Photo by John Cameron via Unsplash. With Apple rolling out a new iPhone every year and planned obsolescence encouraging consumers to buy and throw out more and more electronics, electronic waste is piling up in landfills globally. Over 40 million tons of e-waste are produced annually, making it the fastest growing category of solid waste globally. E-waste often includes heavy toxic metals that can leach into the surrounding environment, contaminating soil, water, and food sources. Workers who dispose of e-waste have been found to have higher lead content in their blood because of exposure to dangerous dust and...
Nobel Prize in Medicine Awarded for Discovery of Temperature and Touch Receptors

Nobel Prize in Medicine Awarded for Discovery of Temperature and Touch Receptors

The 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded for research on how we feel temperature, touch, and bodily spatial awareness. This discovery marks a key breakthrough in our previously limited understanding of our sense of touch.

2021 Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine, David Julius (above) and Ardem Patapoudian (below), and the discovered temperature and touch sensing proteins. Images via NobelPrize.org. This year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to David Julius and Ardem Patapoudian for their discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch, marking a key breakthrough in our understanding of how mechanical stimuli are converted into electrical impulses in the nervous system. Sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste, our five major senses, connect our bodies and brains to the world. A sixth sense, proprioception, which helps our body know where it is...
Seaweed: A Savory Solution to Save The Oceans

Seaweed: A Savory Solution to Save The Oceans

Eutrophication is a huge issue that is suffocating our oceans, and farming seaweed may be the key to saving them.

Algal bloom resulting from eutrophication. Photo by Lamiot, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Growing up Korean-American, I ate a lot of seaweed. My mom often made kimbap, vegetables and rice wrapped in seaweed, for me to eat at school. Every year for my birthday, I ate miyeokguk, a seaweed soup. I would have dried and salted strips of seaweed as a midnight snack. Seaweed has always been a huge part of my upbringing and diet, so I did not think much of it and never considered that it would have the potential to save the planet —...
Emerging Solutions to Microplastic Pollution

Emerging Solutions to Microplastic Pollution

While the problem of microplastic pollution still looms large, scientists are developing technologies to remove existing microplastics, prevent new plastics from reaching waterways, and even avoid harmful microplastic manufacturing with the development of bio-based plastics. New, innovative technologies involving microorganisms may also be on the horizon.

Microplastics in the Azores, an archipelago in the mid-Atlantic. Photo by Race4Water, via Wikimedia Commons. From heavy metals to hydrocarbons and oil to plastic debris, marine pollution is a world-wide problem. According to a review by H.S. Auta et al. published in 2017 by Environment International, plastic composes 80-85% of marine litter, and on our current trajectory, the amount of plastic litter in water bodies will only increase. Microplastics don’t decompose easily, and with increasing production and few effective clean-up methods currently implemented on a broad scale, we’re likely to see more and more microplastics in our environment. Microplastics are...
Haverford Bee Handbook

Haverford Bee Handbook

Which bees should I be afraid of? What should I do if a wasp lands on my sandwich? Did I just see a murder hornet? This is your guide to the bees on Haverford’s campus.

Bees run the world. They are widely recognized as being integral to biodiversity and food security. Their little lives impact our water cycle, carbon cycle, GDP, architecture, and so much more. Interior of the Vessel in Hudson Yards, NYC (left), honeycomb (right). Photos by Soly Moses and Archana GS. Honeybees First and foremost, the honeybee is an excellent pollinator, skilled honey maker, and close friend to Haverford’s campus. Our own beehive hosts thousands of fuzzy, golden-brown bees that help pollinate our produce at the Haverfarm. The honeybees you encounter on campus are most likely female worker bees collecting pollen and...
Autumnal Nights: The Full Moon and Evening Star

Autumnal Nights: The Full Moon and Evening Star

Read Haverford Physics and Astronomy Professor Karen Masters’ seasonal guide to stargazing. What’s in store this fall: full moons, eclipses, and Venus, bright in the night sky.

A photo of the moon and Venus in the sky. Photo by Sean Rozekrans via Wikimedia Commons. As the evenings draw in, the Full Moon is a beautiful and accessible stargazing object. As is the case in the Spring, many cultures have festivals during the Fall that are set by the Lunar Calendar, and so they are explicitly or implicitly tied to the Autumnal Moons. For example, the date of Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur is set by the “lunisolar” Hebrew calendar, which means it (usually) starts on the date of the closest New Moon to the Autumnal Equinox (the date when...
The Amazon Rainforest’s Sinking Carbon Sink

The Amazon Rainforest’s Sinking Carbon Sink

The Amazon rainforest is one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, and was once an important carbon sink in the fight against climate change. However, a newly published study ten years in the making shows that the Amazon has switched from being a carbon sink to a carbon source, releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than it takes in.

Aerial photograph of the Amazon rainforest taken near Manaus, Brazil. By Neil Palmer/CIAT, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons. The Amazon rainforest is one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. It is the largest tropical rainforest on Earth, spanning 2.6 million square miles (roughly 70% the size of the United States). The Amazon contains at least 10% of the world’s known species, and, for many years, it has functioned as an important carbon sink. If you’ve been following the news on climate change, you probably know that trees are one of the good guys in the story, able to store...
Reef Shark Conservation: Is It Too Late?

Reef Shark Conservation: Is It Too Late?

Reef shark populations have severely declined in the past decade, and many species are now functionally extinct, according to a recent report. Is it too late to save them?

Blacktip reef shark. Shot by Talon Windwalker via Wikimedia Commons. Sharks are commonly heralded as an important species in oceanic and reef ecosystems, serving as an indicator of reef health, fish populations, and even seagrass growth. However, few people outside of the marine research community have noticed the alarming decline in shark populations, especially on reefs, until now, when it may be too late.  A July 2020 report published in Nature shocked many coastal communities across the globe when it announced that 20% of the reefs observed had no sharks over multiple months of observation. Although evidence of shark population...
What is Dark Matter?

What is Dark Matter?

Dark matter is mysterious to many, and exploring this phenomenon usually leads to more questions than answers. Professors Dr. Karen Masters, associate professor of Physics and Astronomy, and Dr. Daniel Grin, assistant professor of Physics and Astronomy, provide key answers and explanations.

Dr. Karen Masters, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy (left), Dr. Daniel Grin, Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy (right). Dark matter is mysterious to many, and exploring this phenomenon usually leads to more questions than answers. Professors Dr. Karen Masters, associate professor of Physics and Astronomy, and Dr. Daniel Grin, assistant professor of Physics and Astronomy, provide key answers and explanations.  This NASA Hubble Space Telescope image shows the distribution of dark matter in the center of the giant galaxy cluster Abell 1689, containing about 1,000 galaxies and trillions of stars. Dark matter is an invisible form of matter...
How Quickly is the Universe Expanding? The Hunt for the True Hubble Constant

How Quickly is the Universe Expanding? The Hunt for the True Hubble Constant

Though scientists have researched the increasing expansion of the universe for years, a contentious debate still churns regarding the true value of this rate of expansion and how it may be changing right before our eyes.

Microwave emission map that shows the Cosmic Microwave Background, a distribution of early universe temperatures. The blue spots are colder than the red spots. Via NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day/Planck Collaboration It is now a well-known fact that the universe is expanding, but how quickly is it growing? Despite decades of cosmological research across the globe, no astronomer can definitively identify this rate of expansion, the Hubble Constant H0. Such uncertainty stems from Hubble Tension, the quantitative difference between two different methods used to calculate H0. Luckily, Dr. Bruce Partridge, one of the original collaborators on the Planck Satellite...
Russia’s Neutrino Detector: A New Realm of High-Energy Particle Physics

Russia’s Neutrino Detector: A New Realm of High-Energy Particle Physics

Scientists in Russia recently launched a new telescope designed to detect heavy particles coming from all across the galaxy, moving us closer than ever to understanding extreme astrophysics.

Setup view of the Antares Neutrino Telescope, François Montanet Via Wikimedia Commons Some of the biggest mysteries in modern astronomy involve the emission of neutrinos, including high-energy astrophysical events like supernovae and black hole formation that also emit high-energy light in the form of gamma rays. These neutrinos are subatomic particles that interact very weakly with their surroundings, so they can only be observed using very sensitive telescopes, complicating the process to observe them. To further the studies of extreme phenomena like black holes, rapidly-rotating neutron stars called pulsars, and galaxy merger events, where two galaxies collide, scientists in Russia...
Crystal Synthesis: A Sneak Peak into the Norquist Lab

Crystal Synthesis: A Sneak Peak into the Norquist Lab

Asher Maitin ’21 explains the Oxide Project in the Norquist Lab, where students work to generate crystals using compounds that are largely neglected in published literature.

Simulated image of crystal structures. The work done in Alex Norquist’s Chemistry Lab at Haverford College involves both the synthesis of novel compounds with exciting properties as well as addressing inequalities in material chemistry datasets. For instance, some materials can be used for material synthesis but are not due to various human-driven biases and decisions. One example is the material availability bias, referring to the cost of a material, or how readily available the material is to locate and use.  The Norquist Lab at Haverford is divided into several different projects, all pertaining to material chemistry and machine-learning, which can...
Ingenuity: The First Powered Flight on Mars

Ingenuity: The First Powered Flight on Mars

Ingenuity, which landed on Mars in February 2021, is the first powered aircraft to take place on Mars. Exploring Mars from the air gives scientists a unique perspective: they will be able to survey Mars’ geology in ways never attempted before.

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter on the belly of the Perseverance rover, ready to be dropped off at the helicopter’s deployment location. Photo by NASA. Ingenuity, which landed on Mars in February 2021, is the first powered aircraft to take place on Mars. Exploring Mars from the air gives scientists a unique perspective: they will be able to survey Mars’ geology in ways never attempted before. The Perseverance Rover has recently made headlines as the most recent rover to be sent to the red planet. Its main objective is to detect signs of life and to collect rock and soil samples....


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