science thursday

Girls in the first few years of elementary school are less likely than boys to say that their own gender is “really, really smart,” and less likely to opt into a game described as being for super-smart kids, research finds.

The study, which appears Thursday in Science, comes amid a push to figure out why women are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, fields. One line of research involves stereotypes, and how they might influence academic and career choices.

Andrei Cimpian, a professor of psychology at New York University and an author of the study, says his lab’s previous work showed that women were particularly underrepresented in both STEM and humanities fields whose members thought you needed to be brilliant — that is, to have innate talent — to succeed.

“You might think these stereotypes start in college, but we know from a lot of developmental work that children are incredibly attuned to social signals,” Cimpian says. So they decided to look at kids from ages 5 to 7, the period during which stereotypes seem to start to take hold.

Young Girls Are Less Apt To Think That Women Are Really, Really Smart

Photo: Marc Romanelli/Getty Images/Blend Images

On a scorching Thursday afternoon, a somber 8-year-old sits on the grass and watches his classmates have fun at the school playground, a bowl of cereal in his hands.

“Dean, are you alright?”

The boy looks up at his science teacher, then back at the kids, and gives a curt nod. He knows he doesn’t have to explain himself. Soon enough, he won’t even be coming to this school - his dad already started showing the signs they’re close to moving again.

“Perhaps you should finish your lunch inside. It’s too hot to be eating out here.” The teacher suggests.

He shakes his head. “I like the sun.“ 

When it’s quiet, the boy thinks the man is finally gone.

“Very well,” He jumps a little at the deep voice by his side, looking over at this teacher, now sitting right next to him. "You know, all this sunlight is actually made out of tiny little light specks called photons.” 

The boy looks down at his lunch. “Like cereal is made out of grains?” 

"Exactly. But unlike cereal grains, these light specks take thousands and thousands of years to reach us.”

“But yesterday in class you said it only takes eight minutes.”

The teacher smiles. “I see you were paying attention.”

The boy ducks his head, blushing. He really likes the science class, but he doesn’t want to be a nerd. His dad always says brains without brawn is like a gun without ammo - you can’t kill monsters with it.

“You’re right, Dean. Light does take eight minutes to reach Earth from the sun’s surface, but that’s only the last leg of a long, arduous journey that started deep inside the sun. It’s almost like when you have something very important to say to someone, and you hold it inside yourself for a long time to perfect it before it actually reaches their ears.”

“Except… I never really say it.” The boy replies, downcast.

“There’s nothing wrong in taking your time to perfect it.” 

They sit in silence for a moment. 

“Dean, do you know what happens to some of the light specks that never reach the Earth?” 

The boy shakes his head.

“They travel across the universe, getting to see planets, stars, and even entire galaxies. But the ones that end up here—” He bops the tip of the boy’s nose, “—are the truly lucky ones.”

The boy can’t contain the laughter that escapes him. 

When he goes back to the motel that day, he digs up everything he can about stars and photons. He goes back to school on Friday, eager to share his new knowledge with the science teacher, but he’s nowhere to be found. On the following day, John starts packing up. Dean never saw him again. 

Or so he thinks.

Dean tells Castiel he loves him on a scorching Thursday afternoon. 

Cas’s been pent up on restoring the garden they found at back of the Bunker last month, and that’s where Dean finds him.

“Heya, Cas.” 

“Hello, Dean.” Castiel replies with a warm smile, watering the Forget-Me-Nots he planted just a week ago. They’re growing beautiful. 

“Can we talk?” Dean asks, blood pounding in his ears.

“Of course.” Castiel puts the watering can aside, regarding him with soft eyes.

Dean opens his mouth, but nothing comes out. 

Damn it—he’s been working on this for months, and now he’s stuck. He can’t even remember the words anymore.

“Dean?” Castiel asks, expression growing worried by the second, and this so not how he wanted this to go.

In the midst of his panic, a sun ray flickers through the cracks of Cas’s hair, and before Dean knows it, he’s blurting out, “Photons!” 

Castiel tilts his head.

“They… they’re the elementary particles of light, and—” Dean swallows. “At the sun’s core, all these badass nuclear collisions produce them as gamma rays, which are the most energetic…” The enthralled look on Cas’s face has Dean losing focus for a moment. He’s sure Cas already knows all this, but he’s still staring at him like a kid learning something new. “…the most energetic type of light there is. If it wasn’t for the sun’s inner layers where they get bounced around for a long-ass time, we’d all get deep-fried extra crispy. By the time they reach the surface, most of them are visible-light photons, the kind that can’t… deep-fry us.”

Dean closes his eyes, sucking in a breath. “That’s kinda how I feel about you. Cas, this feeling, it’s nuclear. And it’ll always keep getting bounced around my 50 layers of bullshit, and trust me, it’s gonna take a long time for me to be able to get out how bad I—” Need you. Want you. Love you. “But no matter what I say or do to show how much you matter to me, that’s not even scratching what’s going on inside.”

When he allows himself to open his eyes, he finds Castiel staring at him with a fondness that almost hurts to look at.

“I’d like to kiss you now, if that’s all right.” Castiel says.

Dean gawks, then blurts out an euphoric laugh. “Hell yeah.”

Cas’s lips taste like coming home.

“I’m sorry, wish I’d said this earlier.” Dean pants, “But I wanted to make it perfect, and—” 

“There’s nothing wrong in taking your time to perfect it.” 

A memory close to Dean’s heart makes him chuckle.

“What?” Castiel asks.

“Nothing, you just reminded me of someone.”

“Then tell me all about them.”

Right there, among billions and billions of photons, Dean holds Cas close and talks about the one teacher that ever looked at him like he was worth believing in.

Heaven may have ensured he wouldn’t recall taking different shapes to visit the Righteous Man, but as the sunlight makes Dean’s face glow like it’s echoing the brightness of his soul, Castiel thinks that if he’d been Dean’s science teacher, he would’ve told him the exact same things.

i just got six hours of homework done in two and a half hours, i’ve had a gallon of coffee and approximately three ibuprofen, and i’m ready to fight


Last Thursday, in a New York Times op-ed, neurologist and best-selling author Oliver Sacks revealed that he has been battling cancer in various forms for the past nine years and that it has now metastasized in his liver. The words are as powerful as they are hard to read. Oliver Sacks’ contributions to psychology, and especially music psychology, are monolithic.

No one understood the power of music better than him — and these 11 quotes are proof.

Yesterday I realized that I really should congratulate myself. So far, I’ve handed in all of my computer science assignments in on Thursdays. If a general goal I want to accomplish is not finishing things at the last minute, this is an encouraging step. Especially because assignments were feeling pretty daunting earlier this week.

Plastic makes great food packaging. It’s waterproof and flexible. And best of all, it’s impervious to all known bacteria — until now. Researchers have found a bacterium in the debris fields around a recycling plant in Japan that can feed off a common type of plastic used in clothing, plastic bottles and food packaging.

The bacterium is a new species called Ideonella sakaiensis, named for the Japanese city Sakai where it was found growing on plastic debris made from a type of plastic called PET or polyethylene terephthalate. “It’s the most unique thing. This bacterium can degrade PET and then make their body from PET,” says Shosuke Yoshida, a microbiologist at Kyoto University and lead author on the study published in Science on Thursday.

A Plastic-Eating Bacterium Might Help Deal With Waste One Day

Photo: Pedro Armestre/AFP/Getty Images


Throwback Thursday: What would you see as you fell into a black hole?

“What’s amazing is that even if you weren’t being pelted with infalling light that catches up to you from behind — which accounts for the “half” of the visible Universe that still has something to show you — you could still bring gravitational sensors on board. Once you crossed the event horizon, whether there’s light or not, you’d find something shocking.

Your sensors tell you there’s a gravitational gradient that’s downhill, towards a singularity, in all directions! The gradient even appears to go downhill towards the singularity directly behind you, in the direction that you knew is completely opposite to the singularity!”

When you travel towards an object like a moon, planet or star, the closer you get, the larger it appears. Halve the distance and its angular size doubles; reduce the distance to a quarter and it appears four times as large. But for black holes, their gravitation is so strong that relation no longer holds as you approach the event horizon. Instead, the region of “blackness” increases much faster than you’d expect, eventually taking over a full half of the sky as you crossed the event horizon and causing all the light-paths to contract down to a point behind you the instant before you hit the singularity.

Throwback Thursday: This cover from November 1955 is incredibly prescient as Adrienne LaFrance covers the recent discovery of the three moons that belong to an enormous planet in a far-off constellation, Centaurus. Read the excerpt below from “Astronomers Just Found a Mega-Planet With Three Suns:”

HD 131399Ab isn’t the first planet found to have three suns. But it is the first such planet to be found in a wide-orbit system—​by far the widest known within a multi-star system. This is weird because multi-star systems are usually so unstable that they ejects planets, ​which are subject to competing gravitation force from all those suns.​This particular planet’s unexpected survival is therefore peculiar, and perhaps revealing. It could mean that such systems are more commonly hosts to planets that scientists tend to think, according to a paperpublished in the journal Science on Thursday.


Throwback Thursday: Pakistan’s First Female Astrophysics Ph.D.

“But this story was more than just an important milestone and step forward; when I saw it, I felt it was an opportunity to bring a much richer story to the world. There’s a story here — not of “the first Pakistani woman to get her Ph.D. in Astrophysics” — but of a human being who followed her passions to achieve her goals, the struggles she faced, the help and support she had along her way, and… a window into the unique life of a real person.”

What I found in the course of the interview — and in the aftermath — was not merely someone with an amazing story who achieved great things, nor merely someone who did good work that they loved. I found what turned out to be a remarkable person, and one that I’m glad to be in contact with three years later. Come learn the story of Mariam Sultana for today’s Throwback Thursday!

Treasure Thursday (because we totally didn’t forget to post this on Tuesday)

This is an animation of the  Astronumicum Caesareum (Astronomy of the Caesars). It is a masterpiece of printing.

Apian sought to make astronomy easy in this lavish book for royal patrons. He reduced complex astronomical computation to simple mechanics with the aid of paper volvelles – those pictured are for Mars – adapted from the astrolabe. The discs enabled the casting of horoscopes (used by doctors to treat patients), and the forecasting of eclipses and comets. The reader was expected to know little more than the most basic mathematics.

Throwback Thursday: How Fast Do Stars Run Out Of Fuel?

“This is why a star whose temperature might be half that of the Sun can live hundreds of times as long, and an incredibly hot star — like R136a1 (at the core of the cluster below), with 260 times the mass of the Sun — will live less than 0.1% as long as our Sun.”

If you ever wondered how stars lived, died, and transitioned through their life cycle, this is where the answers you’ve been seeking are.