Author Archives: Philip Ovsishcher

The Spectacular Jellyfish

Despite being brainless and consisting of mostly water, jellyfish have applications that we’ve only just begun to exploit. Between all the different species, jellyfish have incredible properties such a natural illumination, regeneration, and even possible immortality.

Jellyfish get their glow from Green Florescent Protein (GFP). Using a gene that’s involved in the production of GFP, scientists can tag proteins and then trace them through a living organism. This can be taken to the extent of tracking fertilization within fruit flies and other test insects. Recently scientists have been using this method to track insulin production in the liver, cancer call, and even HIV cell activity.

This practice can be applied to other serious viruses to help track their location and origin. This would work especially well for very infectious and hard to control viruses such as Ebola. Attaching a GFP to the Ebola virus would help doctors track it in patients that may not be showing symptoms yet and thus increasing the chances of finding and quarantining the infected population.

A species of jellyfish known as Turritopsis dohrnii is one of the many that can regenerate itself. Unlike most others, this jellyfish “ages in reverse.” It can, at any point in its life cycle, go in reverse and become a polyp again. The way it works is through cellular transdifferentiation. A process by which cells become different types of cells. Because of this, other than being eaten or killed in some other similar manner, the jellyfish is immortal. It seems to continuously just restart its cycle. With this in mind, the jellyfish is also reproducing. This could lead to possible problems in the future since the jellyfish is multiplying but not dying off. It’s already begun to spread and thrives in most, if not all, the world’s oceans.

We’ve only just begun to take advantage of all the possibilities that come from sea life. Many other sea creatures such as sharks (immune to cancer) can open the door to unthinkable medical advances.

Immortal Jellyfish


Solar Flares

In this day and age of man, technology has rapidly taken over people’s lives in the matter of a few short years. The increase in use of mobile phones, internet, GPS services has caused many to become dependent on their attachment to the outside world from a small device in their hands. What would happen if total communications were shut down between everyone even for a couple minutes? Is there anything that can cause such a threat?

Solar flares can pose a significant threat to our satellites and other electronics. A solar flare is when there is a large buildup of magnetic energy in the solar atmosphere and it is suddenly released. Radiation will be emitted and the energy expulsion is equivalent to that of one hundred megaton hydrogen bombs (Hesperia). The radiation that is released reaches Earth at the speed of light and ionizes the upper part of our atmosphere, which leads to events at the North and South poles called auroras. Another effect of the radiation is that if the solar flare hits the Earth straight on the satellites will be fried, causing major disruptions in communication and energy output. Widespread power outages can occur, major transformers can be damaged, and it would all take years to fix (Science).

One such event hit the Earth in September of 1859, where the solar flare was so huge it could be observed by eye. The damage that it caused to global telegraph lines shut down the ‘Victorian Internet’ (Science). Could you imagine if such a flare hit the Earth today? The effect would be disastrous. Physicist Pete Riley studied reports of solar storms and through a series of calculations predicted that the probability of a solar flare of this magnitude hitting the Earth in the next ten years is at 12% (Science). Even though the percent is on the lower side, people would still need to be prepared.



Bárðarbunga and Mount Ontake

All over the world there are volcanoes that are erupting daily. One such volcano is Bárðarbunga in the Vatnajokull glacier in Iceland. This volcano has slowly been preparing to have some sort of activity since 2007 and started erupting in late August 2014. Today the volcano is being observed by geoscientists daily and all activity is being recorded. So far the volcano has been erupting for several months and experiencing earthquake activity daily. The earthquakes are of a moderate magnitude ranging from 3.0 to 5.5 on the Richter scale. Lava is being thrown into the air as high as 150 meters. A lot of ash has been spewed by the volcano and many were concerned that another event like the Grímsvötn or Eyjafjallajökull eruptions, which caused air traffic cancellations over Europe, would occur again. However since the several months that the volcano has been active and releasing dust and ash clouds, there has been no major threat to air traffic.  The eruption at Bárðarbunga has caused no deaths, with sufficient warning and prepartation by volcanologists. The sad truth is that not every eruption can be predicted; such as the tragic eruption the occurred at Mount Ontake this past September on the 29th.

The eruption at Mount Ontake was a phreatic eruption that is just flash steamed water. The water rapidly expands in volume causing a break in the above rock. Since the reaction was so sudden there was no warning of an eruption causing the deaths of forty seven hikers who could not escape the fast approaching ash cloud. Compared to the Bardarbunga volcano, there is no movement of the magma coming up from inside the magma chamber. Bardarbunga experiences towering flows of lava sometimes shooting up into the air. The eruption of Mount Ontake is the deadliest that Japan has experienced in over a century.

The Carbon Cycle

Carbon is essentially the staple of life and makes up eighteen percent of living matter

(CC). Carbon does no stay in the body of a living organism but cycles throughout the environment in many processes. However the impacts of too much carbon are being noticed and becoming a great issue. Most people know that carbon exists in a gas form as CO2 and is the main product of respiration. CO2 gas gets recycled out of the atmosphere by mainly plants and algae and turned into sugars for the plants food. Eventually these plants will either get eaten or respire the carbon back into the atmosphere. Carbon that gets eaten will eventually turn into waste and be processed by fungi and bacteria. When the carbon nutrient goes back into the Earth it will either be turned into limestone, a common type of rock found in the State College area, or over a process extreme heat and pressure lasting millions of years be turned into the main sources of the world’s energy; oil, coal and natural gas.

However with increasing use of these carbon resources harmful effects have started to occur in our environments. Globally there has been an increase in temperature but in the artic temperatures have been increasing twice that rate, causing a decrease of ice by nine percent (nrdc).  The dangers from melting ice leads to the loss of habitat for animals that thrive in these polar regions, an increase in sea levels that will change borders and flood islands, and changes in migration patterns of animals.

There are many options that we could follow to change the outcome of global warming, many of which are already being implemented at Penn State. The recycling program, Mӧbius, has so far diverts 65% of its solid waste from lands fills and a reaches 75% through composting (sustainability). With the participation of many students and staff we are reaching these numbers, however every bit counts and more percentages are added each year. Other avenues to follow would be the type of energy that we use. Wind and solar energy is already being put in place in many parts of the country and many researchers are working on ways to optimize our energy collection from those sources.


Solar and Lunar Eclipses

A natural event that has been occurring since the formation of Sun, planets and stars are solar and lunar eclipses. We are able to observe these eclipses on a regular basis and have data from hundreds of years of observations. Eclipses occur when the Sun, Moon and Earth line up on the same astronomical plane producing a shadow either on the Moon or the Earth.

Specifically for a solar eclipse the Moon is in between the Sun and the Earth from the Earth’s point of the view the Sun will be either partially or entirely blocked out by the Moon. The different types of solar eclipses include total and annular eclipse and a hybrid when it switches from one kind to the other based on the Earth’s curvature. A total eclipse is when the Moon has completely obscured the Sun causing the corona and solar flares to become visible. An annular eclipse is when the Moon is farthest in its orbit from the Earth causing the sun to only be partially blocked out with a thin ring visible.

A lunar eclipse is when the Earth will cast a shadow on the Moon and indirect sunlight will cause the Moon to subtly illuminate and often turn orange or brown in color. There are three types of lunar eclipses; penumbral when only part of the Moon is blocked from sunlight, partial where a portion of the Moon passes through the Earth’s shadow and a total lunar eclipse when the entire Moon is covered in shadow.

These astronomical events can be observed by anybody at any time, however lunar eclipses are more likely to been seen when they occur, depending on if you are on the right side of the Earth at the time. Solar eclipses are hard to see because the shadow that they cast gets gradually narrower as it travels towards the Earth. From this only a small section of the Earth is actually in the shadow and with roughly seventy-five percent of the Earth being ocean, they are hard to see. The next solar eclipse that we might be able to see, or at least the tail end or beginning will be on August 21st, 2017.