science, writing

Grist for the Mill

As a writer, I find that if I am not constantly feeding my brain, the creative well will run dry. Right now, life has been busy enough that even with school starting, the brain has been starving. This will change quickly, I know, as next week all my classes will be in session and in high gear . But for now, I need to give the brain something to chew on. So I hit the bookmarks I keep under ‘science blogs’ not all of which are blogs, and found some really interesting stuff I thought I’d share.

Regular readers know that I took my daughters to see Suicide Squad this summer. So when I saw an article on the ‘real’ Suicide Squad, I clicked out of curiosity. The article was mostly about one member of this group, who were building and testing very early rocket engine prototypes. It’s fascinating to contemplate just how dangerous, and flat-out weird, this man’s life was.

Jack Parsons (2 October 1914-17 June 1952) was an explosives aficionado who worked at the rocketry research lab at Caltech, who also helped establish Aerojet and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Parsons’ devised rocket fuels that were the predecessors for the fuel that powered the NASA space shuttles, and made advancements in rocket propulsion, or jet propulsion, at a time when rockets were more likely to be written about in science fiction novels than studied at any university.1  During his short life he also testified as a forensic explosives expert, was deeply involved in occult magic, tried to conceive a supernatural child through a series of sex Magick rituals, and befriended L. Ron Hubbard.

In 1952, Parsons died at the young age of 37 from fatal injuries he suffered from an explosion at his home laboratory. Although officially deemed an accident, some believed the explosion could have been set on purpose, either by Parsons to end his life or by an unknown assassin.

Moving from the obsessions and drive of a genius to the work of crazed, stupid, money-grubbers (who said capitalists were evil? This.. this is evil) I found an article on the contamination – or the substitution – of illegal narcotics with other substances. In my CJS class earlier this week there was a discussion about drugs – a conversation that has threaded through all my CJS and forensic classes, for very good reasons – and this had come up. Here in Ohio, my adopted state, heroin contaminated by, or laced with (which is unclear) had been the core of a rash of overdoses. The article explains in part why: “The lethal amount of carfentanil is reported to be about 20 μg in humans, which led the police in Canada to claim that the 1 kg seizure contained 50 million deadly doses. It’s unclear if the substance seized was actually pure carfentanil. If it was, that would present an extreme hazmat risk, since the drug is so powerful and can be absorbed after inhalation or through mucus membranes and broken skin.”  As an author, writing villains who would do this kind of thing to their fellow human beings is hard for me to wrap my head around. So all I have to do for inspiration is look to the reports of what some men will do for money and illicit thrills.

Finally, an overview of one of my favorite science fiction topics: nanotechnology. Far from being Michael Crichton’s fearmongering ‘gray goo’ it has been a boon: “In a timeframe of approximately half a century, nanotechnology has become the foundation for remarkable industrial applications and exponential growth. For example, in the pharmaceutical communities of practice, nanotechnology has had a profound impact on medical devices such as diagnostic biosensors, drug delivery systems, and imaging probes.4 In the food and cosmetics industries, use of nanomaterials has increased dramatically for improvements in production, packaging, shelf life, and bioavailability. Zinc oxide quantum dot nanoparticles show antimicrobial activity against food-borne bacteria,5 and nanoparticles are now used as food sensors for detecting the food quality and safety.” The article goes on to discuss some of the potential health hazards – the same thing that makes the nanoparticles so useful to pharmaceuticals, that they can enter cells in ways larger drug molecules cannot, also makes them a potential health hazard – and the implications of untrammeled usage in countries who really don’t care about individual life and health.

So, now I’m off to class, to take another sip from the cup of knowledge, and to let all this ferment and bubble away. I’m planning in some writing time today, my light day, and hopefully this will be fruitful!

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