From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

"Pluto's Story"

Written by Paul Sutter on Monday, 30 January 2017. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

During my presentation at the COSI all-team meeting last year, I spoke at the length about the amazing story of Pluto, using our decades-long hunt for answers as an example of the kind of dedication that scientists in every discipline employ in their research.

What started as a small speck of light tucked between the distant stars turned into a complex and beautiful world as NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flew by the dwarf planet in the summer of 2015.

And the man that lead that mission, Dr. Alan Stern, is coming to COSI.

At OSU my office is in the Center for Cosmology and Astro-Particle Physics, a joint venture between the departments of Physics and Astronomy. Every year we host a lecture from a leader in our field, and having Dr. Stern join us for an evening is an incredible privilege.

We'll be hosting the event in COSI's National Geographic Giant Screen Theater, so you can feast your eyes on the incredible high-resolution images that Dr. Stern will be bringing with him. His lecture will start at 7pm on Wednesday, February 15th, followed by an interview and Q&A session hosted by me.

Did I mention that the event is free and open to the public? That seems like an important detail. Oh, and word on the street is that the theater concession stand will be on OSU's tab, too.

Hope to see you there!

"Let's get ill"

Written by Paul Sutter on Monday, 23 January 2017. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

As Lindy Newman, one of COSI's excellent outreach educations, lay sick with the stomach flu on her couch during the holidays, her feverish mind began to ponder: if many of her symptoms (sore throat, fever, nausea) were due to the body's immune response to the disease, what would happen if her body just left the virus or bacteria alone?

When you come down with an illness, the symptoms you feel are often a mix of the disease's own damage to the body and your body's attempts to fight it, and that mix can depend on the particular disease. For example, left to their own devices some cold viruses would only cause small irritation (or be completely unnoticeable at all) if it weren't for our body's reaction - you know, phlegm, drainage, the works.

One of the fascinating things about the world of viruses and bacteria is how specialized they are. Just among the hundred or so cold viruses, they all target different parts of the nasal passages and throat based on the particular mix of temperature, humidity, and salinity of those parts. They simply can't live anywhere else, which limits their ability to do damage.

But the true threat may not come from a relatively innocuous cold or stomach flu, but from every other nasty critter that's trying to get in. Without an immune response to take down every single threat every single time, a bit of damage here and there can open up a gateway for new diseases to push further into more vulnerable spots in the body.

This is why HIV/AIDS is so deadly: with a depressed immune response, a simple survivable cold can open the door to life-threatening pneumonia.

So the next time you're heaving up your stomach or hacking up your lung, be grateful for a heathy immune system!

"Song of the Stars"

Written by Paul Sutter on Monday, 16 January 2017. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

This is the Monday Memo where I plug one of my side projects that I think you might be especially interested in. Thanks for indulging me!

Last April, soon after I joined the COSI team, some of you got to see the live premiere performance of "Song of the Stars", a unique and ambitious production I developed that told a story that we know from science - the formation, evolution, and death of stars in our universe - in the form of contemporary dance.

Thanks to many incredibly generous Kickstarter campaign contributions, we were able to professionally film that performance. Now, after months of effort (and a few surprises, like having to commission an original score), the film is now complete. I've never produced a film before, so to call it a learning experience is an understatement.

Now begins another round of learning-by-doing, including submitting to film festivals and working to distribute the film to PBS member stations. But the first step is a premiere, which we're hosting at the Gateway Film Center on Saturday, January 28th at 4:30pm.

After the premiere we'll have a Q&A session with myself, the film producer, the artistic director, and the score composer, followed by a dessert reception with a cash bar. Tickets are just $8 and you can reserve them here:

This project is an experiment: to bring science education to new audiences in new ways. It's a long journey and I couldn't do it without the continued support of so many people, including you. I hope to see you at the premiere!

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