Friday, March 12, 2010

great future in plastics

along I-24 in Nashville The concept of plastination was more shocking when I first heard about it on "60 Minutes" or some similar newsmagazine. In the years since, I have learned a little bit about people who donate their bodies to science thanks to my conversations with Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson. When I saw a billboard along I-24 promoting a display of plastinized bodies in Nashville, I knew I had to see it.

appetite suppressant? I had assumed that the exhibit was part of Gunther von Hagens' Bodyworlds although the fact that it was in a shopping mall instead of a science museum should have tipped me off. My son and I went to RiverGate Mall before I took him to the airport the other day. After lunch in the food court, we headed to a storefront next to Sears.

the ticket seller looks thrilled The show we saw was called Bodies Human, which appears to be a second class version of the original. Bodyworld solicits and accepts donated corpses. One of the employees at Bodies Human told us that the humans in their display were unclaimed corpses from morgues in Thailand. The thought of a tourist recognizing one of the cadavers as a missing friend or relative saddened me somewhat.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

can't spell omega without omg

Darwin Day passed me by with no fanfare this year. I was aware that last Friday was the 201st birthday of both Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln but had other things to do. In fact, my wife and I were sharing a table at the World Marriage Day dinner with Dr. Kelly Kearse and his wife. Dr. Kearse was my son's chemistry teacher in high school.

During the course of the evening, Dr. Kearse mentioned that he had downloaded and listened to my interview with Bishop Stika from last year. I told him about some of my other interviews online, including those with Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass. By the way, the two will be coming in soon to record an interview about their new book, "The Bone Thief."

Dr. Kearse emailed me the other day to say thanks for a photo I sent him from that night. He also told me that he had downloaded seven more interviews from my site. He had just listened to the interview with the author of "Thank God for Evolution."

The conversation with Dr. Kearse, coupled with the start of Lent, inspired me to use my WiFi clock radio to listen to podcasts of some online homilies as I settle in for bed. One of the files turned out to be not a homily but a lecture by Fr. Don Goergen about Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. I've heard the first half-hour a couple of times as I drifted off to sleep. The whole podcast is an hour and 25 minutes long. I plugged in some headphones and have been listening to the rest of it tonight while watching the Olympics on TV.

It's pretty heady stuff about cosmogenesis, biogenesis, psychogenesis and Christogenesis. A few of Fr. Goergen's quotes stood out for me:
  • God creates the universe evolutably.
  • The world is evolving and that evolution is a manifestation of God's creative activity.
  • The world is moving in the direction of increased complexity and increased consciousness.
  • Darwinism doesn't necessarily mean atheism.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

angels 1, demons 0

"Angels & Demons" is better at being an action movie than "The Da Vinci Code" was. I started to remember a few things from the book as the movie unfolded during a preview screening last night. It's been several years since I read all of Dan Brown's books. The filmmakers changed enough plot points to keep me guessing. Fortunately they omitted a ridiculous scene in the book in which Robert Langdon uses his blazer as a parachute. The story conveniently calls for the lights to be turned off in sectors of the city, always just as Langdon arrives to investigate. The darkness covers the fact that they couldn't use the actual locations portrayed.

It didn't feel like an anti-Catholic movie to me. Granted there are bad guys attacking the Vatican but there is also respect shown to Catholic ceremonies, such as a papal conclave. They try to make you think that the church is anti-science because of the way they treated Galileo in the 17th century. In reality the modern Catholic church is known for its education system from kindergarten through college. At least one character in the movie points out that science and religion can co-exist. I'm one of those people who believe that God created evolution and that science will ultimately prove the existence of God.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

involved and committed

The ideas I had for my son's seventh grade science fair project were rejected, including the one that made it as far as the teacher. I thought that a miniature body farm, using critters that had accidentally died in the pool, would go over well. It never made it out of committee. By committee, I mean my wife.

My son presented a better idea to his teacher. He wanted to soak some teeth in Coca-Cola to see if they would dissolve. When she said no teeth, I suggested that he use rib bones from a pig. We were heavily into smoking pork at the time and finding a surplus of bones would be easy. The teacher then made it clear that she would reject anything organic. My son had to do the experiment with iron nails, which had only the most minuscule change in weight during their time in the soda.

A teacher named Stephanie Chavez at Washington Union High School in Fresno would have been more receptive to my scientific method. According to the Fresno Bee, she wants to create a "chicken body farm" using store-bought chickens. My son says that she should make sure to buy the kind without preservatives.
Description of Project: The "Chicken" Body Farm: Scientists have put together an ongoing study of how bodies decompose in different scenarios. I would like to have my AP Biology class perform a similar experiment but instead of using cadavers, we would use store-bought chickens. Students place their chickens in various created scenarios such as: submerged in water, enclosed in a box, covered in clothes and wrapped in aluminum and will track the rate of decomposition. They will also observe how long it takes for insects to show up, learn the insect life cycles and how it affects the decomposition of the chicken. The grant will provide the equipment necessary to create a secure environment in which to study as well as all the equipment needed to create each "chicken" decomposition scenario.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

bicentennial minute

Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin should each get two jars of Smuckers as they both turn 200 years old today. How amazing is it that two men born on February 12, 1809 would have such an effect on world history?

Thanks to the HD DVR, I have been working my way through the fascinating "Looking for Lincoln" that PBS aired last night. It was hosted by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The show repeats Sunday night (Monday morning) at 3am or you can watch it online.

While the PBS show makes a compelling case for visiting the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum, the fun website Roadside America has compiled a list of more unusual Lincoln-related tourist attractions. One is a tribute to the girl who urged Abe to grow a beard. Another is too gross to be true.

Three years ago I wrote a blog entry about the annual Darwin Day celebration. A couple of months back, I posted an interesting interview with the author of "Thank God for Evolution." This morning, I heard most of a Robert Krulwich report on NPR that examined why Darwin waited so long to publish his theory. Fortunately NPR, as usual, made the text and audio of the report available online.

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Sunday, November 30, 2008

evenings came and mornings followed

As a former pastor, Michael Dowd is a great interviewee. As the interviewer, all I had to do was ask a few simple questions, reset who the guest was at regular intervals and make sure the show ended on time. Dowd, the author of "Thank God for Evolution", could have easily filled the half-hour without me.

To say that I was extremely enthusiastic about the topic would be an understatement. The idea of The Great Story, or Evolutionary Epic, fascinates me. I have long believed in both the concept of creation and the facts of evolution. Simply put, six of God's days equal about 14 billion of our years.

At the end of the interview that aired this morning, I felt that there was still plenty of ground to cover. I asked Michael if he could stay for another thirty-minute show, which will air next Sunday. I should have used this technique to extend my interviews with Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass, which always seem to end too soon. Since I enjoyed the conversation so much, I thought you might too. Here are both shows, for your podcasting pleasure.

Part 1: Part 2:

Michael Dowd was in town to speak at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church last Tuesday. He and his wife have no permanent address. They live on the road, traveling from one speaking engagement to the next. That's one way to get to all 50 states.

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Monday, November 03, 2008

duck and cover

Let's assume for a minute that the results of Tuesday's election leave half the population unhappy and worried about the future. What will they think when the U.S. Department of Energy's Public Warning Siren System is activated on Wednesday near the Y-12 National Security Complex?

Don't panic. The Oak Ridge sirens are tested on the first Wednesday of every month. Oh by the way, in the event of an actual emergency, go inside and close all your windows and ventilation systems. Unless of course the actual emergency occurs during the test. Then how would you know?

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

deep in the heart

They do everything bigger in Texas, which is why they are moving forward with plans for not one but two body farms. An article in The Dallas Morning News today reports that in addition to the newly opened Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University in San Marcos, there's one coming soon to Sam Houston State University in Huntsville. Dr. Jerry Melbye, the director of TSU's facility has a license plate that reads DR4N6. I remember once seeing a license plate in California that was either NNNN6 or NNNNSICS.

Of course the original Body Farm is at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Given that Sam Houston used to live in East Tennessee, it's apropos that his namesake college would get a body farm too. Last month UT opened a new training center at the National Forensic Academy in Oak Ridge with a bang.

Since my last Body Farm update, I've noticed that some kids at Bronxville High School in New York are reading "Death's Acre" and posting their book reports on their forensics class blog. I found this interesting because I used to scoop ice cream at the Baskin-Robbins that was in Bronxville.

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

howdy pardners

Dr. Bill Bass founded the Body Farm because corpses in Tennessee are different from the ones he had examined in Kansas. In order to determine the time of death, he needed to study the decomposition process. Bodies decayed faster in summer than winter. The rate depends on the climate. The forensic anthropologists in Knoxville came up with a formula based on the average daily temperature. It works pretty well but to truly advance the science, more body farms must be opened in different climates. Dr. Bass has spoken about this in some of our radio interviews over the years. A new article on the How Stuff Works site also describes the dilemma a couple of pages in.

The second body farm after Knoxville's is at Western Carolina University. The climate there is almost identical to here. At least they made an effort. I think It would be more useful to have a body farm on the Carolina shore than in the mountains. Maybe their farm helped convince the next school to try one.

A new body farm is about to open at Texas State University. Their clever logo shows a skull wearing a cowboy hat. You may recall that the locals were concerned about buzzards when the plans were first announced. The Fox affiliate in Austin recently aired a report about the new place. The news anchor said that the San Marcos ranch will be the largest body farm in the world. Texans are always talking about size, aren't they?

Lastly, I came across a blog by someone who attended a summer class at the original Body Farm. It's worth a click if you have a minute.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

fallout boys and girls

Given the choice, would you have left your baby teeth for the Tooth Fairy or donated them to science? The owners of almost 300,000 baby teeth in the St. Louis area chose science. The St. Louis Baby Teeth Survey collected primary teeth from 1959 to 1970. The teeth were measured for radioactivity to see if humans were affected by above-ground atomic bomb tests. The results were a factor in the ending of those tests in 1963.

In 2001, a bunch of the old baby teeth turned up in an ammunition bunker at the Tyson Research Center of Washington University in St. Louis. I don't know why a university needs an ammunition bunker but I'm sure they have a good reason.

An article in today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that researchers will track down hundreds of the baby teeth donors to see how healthy they are as adults. They wonder if kids with more strontium-90 in their teeth will have a higher rate of cancer.

Joseph Mangano, executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, told the newspaper:
"For this first year, we will be studying only male tooth donors. First, it is much easier to locate males at current addresses, since many girls donating teeth in the 1960s have changed their names. Second, the death rate is much higher for males, and may yield a larger sample of donors who are either living with cancer or have died of the disease. Seven percent of males and 3 percent of females who were young children in the 1960s are now deceased."

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