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Lectures for a New Year: Mary Roach is an Awesome Space Nerd

Mary Roach is thoroughly awesome: she's funny, whip-smart, and well-read. In other words, she's one of us. Roach is the author of Stiff, Spook, Bonk, and most recently Packing for Mars; in this lecture, Roach tells stories about space (mainly from NASA), including exactly the kinds of questions we all have about space: what's it like to be there? Does it smell weird? How does food work? What if you get mad at your fellow astronauts? And of course, what's up with the toilets??

Topics: funny (and sometimes slightly gross/weird) stuff that happens in space. Roach has interviewed tons of people, plus read zillions of transcripts of NASA transmissions, to find the best bits for you.

For: anyone who is not currently eating lunch.

Representative quote:

"The Space Toilet. You may not really appreciate gravity in your lives the way that you should. ... [In space] you're sitting on a shop vac, essentially." Later: "Okay. I give people the impression that this entire book is about crapping in space, and it's not, really, honest to God, it's not. But there's just one more thing [about crapping in space] I have to tell you."

Viewing tip: jump to about three minutes in for the actual lecture. Also, you can download the lecture directly from YouTube (link is below the video player) if you want to take it offline.

Further Reading

You're in for a treat, as Roach's books are universally awesome: funny, smart, educational, and easy to pick up -- basically great vacation reads, but with science content. The book she discusses in the lecture above is Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void. See also: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers; Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex; and Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife.

Transcript

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science
What Pop Culture Gets Wrong About Dissociative Identity Disorder
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From the characters in Fight Club to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, popular culture is filled with "split" personalities. These dramatic figures might be entertaining, but they're rarely (if ever) scientifically accurate, SciShow Psych's Hank Green explains in the channel's latest video. Most representations contribute to a collective misunderstanding of dissociative identity disorder, or DID, which was once known as multiple personality disorder.

Experts often disagree about DID's diagnostic criteria, what causes it, and in some cases, whether it exists at all. Many, however, agree that people with DID don't have multiple figures living inside their heads, all clamoring to take over their body at a moment's notice. Those with DID do have fragmented personalities, which can cause lapses of memory, psychological distress, and impaired daily function, among other side effects.

Learn more about DID (and what the media gets wrong about mental illness) by watching the video below.

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History
Scientists Reveal Long-Hidden Text in Alexander Hamilton Letter
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Age, deterioration, and water damage are just a few of the reasons historians can be short on information that was once readily available on paper. Sometimes, it’s simply a case of missing pages. Other times, researchers can see “lost” text right under their noses.

One example: a letter written by Alexander Hamilton to his future wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, on September 6, 1780. On the surface, it looked very much like a rant about a Revolutionary War skirmish in Camden, South Carolina. But Hamilton scholars were excited by the 14 lines of writing in the first paragraph that had been crossed out. If they could be read, they might reveal some new dimension to one of the better-known Founding Fathers.

Using the practice of multispectral imaging—sometimes called hyperspectral imaging—conservationists at the Library of Congress were recently able to shine a new light on what someone had attempted to scrub out. In multispectral imaging, different wavelengths of light are “bounced” off the paper to reveal (or hide) different ink pigments. By examining a document through these different wavelengths, investigators can tune in to faded or obscured handwriting and make it visible to the naked eye.

A hyperspectral image of Alexander Hamilton's handwriting
Hyperspectral imaging of Hamilton's handwriting, from being obscured (top) to isolated and revealed (bottom).
Library of Congress

The text revealed a more emotional and romantic side to Hamilton, who had used the lines to woo Elizabeth. Technicians uncovered most of what he had written, with words in brackets still obscured and inferred:

Do you know my sensations when I see the
sweet characters from your hand? Yes you do,
by comparing [them] with your [own]
for my Betsey [loves] me and is [acquainted]
with all the joys of fondness. [Would] you
[exchange] them my dear for any other worthy
blessings? Is there any thing you would put
in competition[,] with one glowing [kiss] of
[unreadable], anticipate the delights we [unreadable]
in the unrestrained intercourses of wedded love,
and bet your heart joins mine in [fervent]
[wishes] to heaven that [all obstacles] and [interruptions]
May [be] speedily [removed].

Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler married on December 14, 1780. So why did Hamilton try and hide such romantic words during or after their courtship? He probably didn’t. Historians believe that his son, John Church Hamilton, crossed them out before publishing the letter as a part of a book of his father’s correspondence. He may have considered the passage a little too sexy for mass consumption.

[h/t Library of Congress]

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