I'm Chels. I blog about science, art, tennis, and my adventures in journalism. Officially, I'm a Science Writer at Brookhaven National Lab and I blog for them, too. Unofficially, I'm pretty awesome.

Or, you know, owsome.

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Posts tagged science

Cool things I learned while I toured our Light Source this morning

  • The source of electrons for the crazy bright x-rays we’re gonna make is just a lightbulb filament. Same basic size, same basic technology. That’s crazy to me, when you think about how this will be the brightest x-ray synchrotron in the world!
  • Some of the beamlines have to be stabilized in vibration-free areas so we can look at materials on the scale of one nanometer (which is absolutely insane, in and of itself), and one of the biggest sources of vibrations we’re battling is the waves of the Atlantic hitting the south shore of Long Island. They’re low frequency so they spread really wide and far, which means they make it up to our light source at Brookhaven. Nutso!

Hangin’ out at the PHENIX detector this morning.

How Your Body Knows Left From Right  |  It’s Okay To Be Smart

I never even thought to wonder why the left side of my body is the left and the right side is the right, but the answer is so unbelievably fascinating that I almost can’t handle it. In my early embryo days (and yours, too!), tiny little hairs in a special bunch of cells began to beat in unison and point to what later became my left side. They washed a current over the outside of my embryo cells leading pressure sensors to turn on a gene that then decided which organs go where. I mean, WHAT?!?! That is so cool! 

Fermilab from above.

Example of one of the 700 plates used by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey telescopes, built at Fermi. They use these to figure out what’s up with the accelerating expansion of the universe.

Copper radio frequency cavity at Fermilab. This is the kind of thing that used electromagnetic waves to zing the particle beam around the Tevatron particle collider.

Tour Brookhaven National Lab 

Got a question on that last post about tours of Brookhaven, so here’s the deal: 

  • Every summer, Brookhaven National Lab opens its gates to the public on four Sundays for free tours. Each one has a different theme, but you get to tour facilities, hear talks from scientists (if you want) and check out the grounds. This year, we’re doing tours of the National Synchrotron Light Source, the Center for Functional Nanomaterials, the National Weather Service station, and the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. Click the link above for more info. 

  • If you can’t make it out during the summer (and summer is the best time to come because our particle collider is shut down, so you can GO INSIDE IT), call our tour office and they can help you find a time to visit the Lab. 


Supernova remnants are impossibly stunning. Exploding stars fling a ridiculous amount of energy out across the cosmos, giving us killer images like the one above.

But supernovae also send out extremely energetic charged particles, which can strike and damage cells. Ol’ Mother Earth protects us with a luscious atmosphere and powerful magnetic field, but deep space explorers aren’t so lucky. Astronauts traveling beyond Earth’s orbit are exposed to these powerful, star-born cosmic rays. So how do we protect them and evaluate the risks?

Well, clearly you can’t just send a person out into space and see how long it takes them to develop cancer. So what we work with at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory are many experiments with different cell types that we expose to this type of radiation here on Earth—and then we use a lot of mathematical manipulations to extrapolate our data into the health risks for people.

That’s molecular biologist Peter Guida in a great Popular Mechanics (popmechinterview on the threat to Mars explorers. Guida works at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory here at Brookhaven Lab, using our accelerators to safely simulate the ion beams blazing through deep space. Go read the whole thing.

One of the coolest places at Brookhaven is the NASA Space Radiation Lab. They do some of the most fascinating work using a beamline that shoots off the side of our atom smasher, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. It might actually be my favorite lab at Brookhaven. 

Wow. It’s Okay To Be Smart explains how the cycle of oxygen and carbon atoms in a really cool, visuals-only video. There’s another video with Joe telling you what you’re looking at, but go ahead and watch this one first. It’s interesting how easy it can be to understand something without much explanation. 

Ethiopia’s blue volcano burns deadly sulphuric gas | New Scientist

"It’s a volcano, but not as we know it. This cerulean eruption takes place in the Danakil Depression, a low-lying plain in Ethiopia. The volcano’s lava is the usual orange-red – the blue comes from flames produced when escaping sulphuric gases burn."

Getting close enough for the photo made the photographer’s skin peel and left his clothes reeking of rotten eggs for weeks, plus it ruined his camera, but he said it was worth it for the shot. I’d say so. 

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