Kids Can’t Identify Tomatoes

This is a serious problem in America. This isn’t about mass farming versus local farming. This isn’t about organic versus traditional.

I could go on for days and days about those topics.

But this isn’t about that.

This about kids being so out of touch with food; so removed from the entire process.

It doesn’t matter if you work minimum wage for your entire career. It doesn’t matter if you have a personal chef. Everyone in this country, regardless of education, economic status, or anything else–everyone, should know how to identify the ingredients their food. They should know what they look like, where they come from, and how to cook them a differently.

I’m not saying no processed foods ever. I’m not saying if you can’t pronounce don’t eat it (I have a minor in chemistry, you’d be surprised what I can pronounce). What I’m saying is there are sometimes foods and their are everyday foods.

You, and your kids, should know what everyday foods look like, how to cook them, how to buy them, and mostly, you should be eating them.

Watch this video from TEDPrize winner Jamie Oliver and when the kids don’t know what a tomato is, you should either be horrified or disgusted. Personally, I was both.

Schrodinger’s Amoeba — Well Schrodinger’s Cat

Have you heard of Schrödinger’s cat? Possibly on a funny shirt or a internet cartoon that you didn’t understand?

It’s a quantum mechanics thing, but basically it involves a kitty in a box with some radioactive material and poison gas. It’s just a  thought experiment–no one’s actually putting cats in boxes with such things–but it basically shows that if you put the cat in a box it is both alive and dead at the same time.  As long as you never look in the box to know, it will always exist in both states: as both happy, living kitty playing in a box and as dead, poisoned, radioactive kitty.

My wife is carrying Schrödinger’s Amoeba.

Well, it’s my Amoeba, but in the way we’re doing our pregnancy, it could be called Schrödinger’s Amoeba. Mrs AmoebaMike and I are not finding out the biological sex of AmoebaJr before delivery.  Friends and relatives find this highly annoying. They want to know.

Of course, they all have their suspicions/predictions as well.

But there’s no way for them to know. We don’t know. Not even our doctor knows!

So until AmoebaJr arrives next month, AmoebaJr is both a boy and a girl at the same time. It is only by observing its sex that we force the universe into a single answer.

Schrodinger's Amoeba

Mole Day — An Explanation

Happy Mole Day!

For many of you, it’s likely you have no idea what a mole is. Sure you know of a mole as a raised piece of skin that’s darker than the surrounding area. You also know a mole as a small underground-dwelling insectivore. It’s possible you even know a mole is a type of spy. There’s even the kind of mole that you put on your food, but that’s pronounced differently. “Mole-ay” sauce, as it’s pronounced, is a dark-red/brown chili-based sauce used in Mexican dishes.

But there’s also the mole used in science. A mole, whose unit is simply mol (mole : mol :: kilogram : kg :: meter : m), is a unit of measure used almost exclusively in chemistry.

A mole (mol) is an amount of substance that contains as many particles* as there are atoms in exactly 12 grams of carbon-12.

*By particles, I mean atoms in a sample (such as C) or molecules in a sample (such as H2O).

So 1 mole of carbon has the same number of “particles” as 1 mole of anything else, be it water, sodium, or gold.

Now what is that number? The short answer is, it isn’t important. lol

The slightly longer answer is 6.02 x 10^23, which is called Avogadro’s number. Yes, it’s a HUGE number.

So if you have 1 mole of Carbon (pure carbon 12), it will weigh exactly 12 grams and will have 6.02 x 10^23 number of carbon atoms in it.

If you had a mole of water, it would have the same number of H2O molecules, but would weigh 18 grams (16 grams for the oxygens and 2 x 1 grams for the hydrogens).

So just as a dozen diamonds (made of carbon) would weigh a different amount as a dozen gallons of water, so does a mol of carbon weigh a different amount than a mol of water!

If at this point, you’ve missed what mole day could be celebrating, I will tell you that today is October 23rd. Otherwise known as 10/23, a magical part of Avogadro’s number. :-) So scientists and numerologists unite! And at 6:02 am and pm, particularly, celebrate.

World Tapir Day

April 27th is World Tapir Day. For those of you that aren’t familiar with the tapir, let me introduce you.

Tapirs are large herbivorous mammals about 7 feet long, 3 feet high and weigh a few hundred pounds. They live in South and Central America as well as parts of Asia. Some species can be found in rain forests, while others live up in the  mountains.  There are 4 species of tapir and the species have different colorings, with the Baird’s tapir being a dark brown, Malayan tapir being black and white, Mountain tapir being dark brown (but thicker fur), and the Brazilian tapir being dark grey/brown (babies are light brown with white markings).

But the thing you’ll probably notice first about the tapir is its proboscis, which is shorter than anteater’s. It’s very flexible and aids in grabbing foliage like an elephant’s.  As you can guess, the tapir has a very good sense of smell. It also has good hearing, both of which help compensate for the fact that tapirs don’t have excellent eyesight.

Like dogs and cats, and so much other wildlife, tapir are most active at dawn and dusk.  They are related to horses and rhinoceroses, which means they shared a common ancestor a long time ago.

Tapirs are big enough to not have much in the way of natural predation. When they are attacked, a tapir’s defenses include running away, hiding under water, and using its strong herbivore jaws to bite. Humans are the tapir’s biggest threat. They can live up to 25 years or more, but more research has to be done to learn more about their typical lifespan.

To the tapirs of the world, today, we salute you!

World Tapir Day card

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This post has the most monstrous image I’ve made to date.  I hope it will become more popular and useful than my current heavy hitters the cell and even Louis Pasteur’s experiment of spontaneous generation, which I’ve seen make the top ranks of both Google and Bing image search!

In this image, I’ve covered energy as it passes from the sun in the form of light to the chloroplast of plants. In the chloroplasts, there are structures called thylakoids where the magic happens. This is where photosynthesis takes place in two parts, 1) light-dependent reactions and, 2) Calvin Cycle.

The waste products here are eliminated and the useful products are then sent to the mitochondria.  The first step is 1) glycolysis, followed then by 2) the Krebs cycle (also called the Citric Acid Cycle) under aerobic conditions OR, 2) fermentation (under anaerobic conditions)

There’s a LOT of stuff that happens here. These are the basics.  This stuff can get extraordinarily complicated–the guy the Krebs cycle is named for won a Nobel prize for his work!

I’ve never, personally seen an image that attempted to go from the sun to photosynthesis to cellular respiration but I tried to keep it as simple as possible. That said, if you feel something’s missing, its probably because it is. Some steps weren’t explicitly mentioned for simplicity’s sake.

One final note: ATP gives you a burst of energy. If you need energy to do anything for longer than about a minute and a half, you want sugar. Sugars provide longer-lasting energy.  ATP (which makes up about a half-pound of your total body weight) doesn’t store, in other words, it gets used shortly after it’s made. ATP actually gets recycled over 1,000 times a day by humans!

Energy path thumb

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But AmoebaMike, what else do I need to know about taxonomy and evolution?

In order to standardize names of organisms, back in the the 1700s, a Swedish botanist named Carl Linnaeus developed a two-name system. Referred to as, binomial nomenclature, it is the system with which we use–even still today–for naming organisms.

Carl von Linné, Alexander Roslin, 1775.
Scientific Hottie
Carl Linneaus,
Image via Wikipedia

The word binomial means “two names.” So it is by using two names that we fully name each organism, in the same way that you have both a first and a last name. In binomial nomenclature, the first of the two names indicates the genus name. A genus is a group of closely related species. The second name is the species name; often it is a Latinized version of a word that describes a trait of the species, a location where the species can be found, or even an influential person in the discovery or science of that particular species. See the accompanying image.

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Finally, you need to know how organisms are classified. Scientists try to make maps, or trees, called cladograms to show the relationship between different species. It used to be that organisms that were organized in cladograms based on physical similarities the species shared with one another. For example, as the name implies, the horseshoe crab looks like a crab.  In fact, it’s actually more related to spiders than it is to crabs!

Now that science has advanced greatly in the past half-century or so, cladograms are built using information scientists gather from DNA and RNA sequencing.  We’re finding out that like the horseshoe crab, some things we thought were related aren’t really all that close!  Have you ever heard of a panda or a koala being referred to as panda bear or koala bear?

Bears are members of the family Ursidae.  The bears you think of when you hear the term “bear”, like the grizzly bear and the polar bear are in genus Ursus.  Ursus is one of the genera of family Ursidae. Pandas are members of family Ursidae, but their genus is Ailuropoda. So they’re technically bears!

Koalas share the same class as the bears, Mammalia.  That’s as close as they’re related.  Koalas aren’t bears any more than dogs or whales are bears.

One last note: as you see in the image, the proper way to discuss a species is using the full name and italicizing it. The genus name gets capitalized, but can also be abbreviated by the first initial. For example, koalas would be Phascolarctos cinereus or P. cinereus and pandas would be Ailuropoda melanoleuca or A. melanoleuca.


We recently covered Taxonomy here at AmoebaMike.  Taxonomy, a way of classifying organisms, fits very well with evolution.

There is of course an issue with evolution: the hot topic that pits “religion vs science”.  That of course is hogwash as the Pope (more than one) came out and said that evolution is not some fad hypothesis. But then of course, plenty of other Christians really dislike Catholics so that’s not enough for some people.  It’s an argument that probably takes over 6% of the internet already, and I won’t replay it here. I just wanted to point out that it is a hot button issue.

So moving past the issue of man being created in the image of God, evolution can actually tell you a lot. It shows how different species are related to each other. For example, did you know that you have more in common with a whale, than a whale has in common with a shark?

While sharks and whales both live in the ocean, sharks are actually a type of fish that doesn’t have bones. Whales, on the other hand, are mammals. And like humans, which are also mammals, whales suckle their young. Sharks are cold-blooded and whales are warm-blooded. Sharks breathes through their gills underwater and whales breathe air through their lungs.

You are even more closely related to a sea anemone than the sea anemone is to an oak tree despite the fact that they pretty much just stick around in the same place.

How do you determine who you’re closely related to?

The same way you do with people!

Let’s take person A.  You’re related to person A.  How do you know is person A is your sibling? Look at your parents. Do you share parents? No? Do you share grandparents? If yes, person A is either an uncle/aunt or a cousin!

Looking at other organisms, primates like chimps are closely related to humans because a long time ago (a very, very long time) they shared a common ancestor.  Even further back, we share a common ancestor with a cat. Further in the past, we share a common ancestor with a jellyfish. And still further, we share an ancestor with a rose plant.

Does that mean you came from a chimp? a cat? a jellyfish? a rose plant? Of course not!  You didn’t come from any of those organisms any more than you came from your cousin or your uncle just because you share a common grandparent!

Through much hard work, including gene sequencing, a giant family tree is being constructed. Only it’s not like Geni where you can how closely you’re related to President Obama; it’s actually a tree of all life.  Fittingly, it’s called the Tree of Life. Check it out!

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