It’s #RIAuthor Month! Meet Kim Arcand


Magnitude

Billions, Trillions, Quadrillions

Scientists recently announced that they had detected tiny ripples in the fabric of space-time cause by the merger of two cores of dead stars. Gravitational waves are extremely tiny, which is why scientists need to build special, super-sensitive detectors placed thousands of miles apart to make such detections. But how small are gravitational waves really?

When Taylor Swift launched her latest single this summer, it nearly, as they say, broke the Internet.  Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do,” released on August 25, was streamed over 10 million times on Spotify, and garnered 24 million views of the video over the course of its first weekend. We’re told that this is a new record, but by a lot or a little?

This is the crux of the issue: we are barraged with various numbers and figures, some of which sound incomprehensible, throughout our daily lives. From the economy to the environment, from popular culture to current science, and practically anything in between, there are many values that can be difficult to grasp: billions of tons of ice lost in Antarctica, trillions of U.S. dollars worth of debt, quadrillions of calculations per second in a super computer, and so forth (a quadrillion is a 10 with 24 zeroes after it).

This is where the simple, yet powerful, tool of comparisons can come to the rescue.

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Take the case of gravitational waves, ripples in space-time.  They can be measured like any other wave from one peak to the next. In the case of these cosmic ripples, the distance between these peaks is a mind-blowing 0.00000000000000000001 meters. That’s a decimal point followed by 18 zeroes. That’s smaller than one ten-thousandth the diameter of a proton, the tiny particle found in the center of an atom.  If that’s not a helpful comparison, consider too that a gravitational wave is about 1 billion times smaller than an atom itself, the basic building block of matter.  That would be like the difference between Earth (atom) and a marble (gravitational wave).

Circling back to Taylor Swift, her success comes at a time when the music industry has become heavily intertwined with our digital society. Every minute of low-resolution video played on YouTube uses about 4 MB of data per minute. A higher quality video (720 or 1080p) uses 12.4 MB for that same minute.

For reference, a typical 1990s hard drive could only store 4 MB of data. Swift’s video lasts just over four minutes and amassed 43.2 million views in 24 hours. That means, even with conservative estimates, her video caused the usage of more data in one day that all the personal computers could have stored across the country just two decades ago.

The long and the short of it is that understanding scale is not just a fun mental exercise or a way to impress the person sitting next to you on the subway. Understanding scale is a form of literacy in navigating our world.

Kim Arcand

Kim Arcand was working in molecular biology and public health when she was hired for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory in 1998. Since she always wanted to be an astronaut when she was little, this opportunity got Kim close to the cosmos but without the long distance commute. Today, Kim uses data to help tell stories about science, whether in the form of a 3D model of an exploded star, a book about the Universe, or a tweet about how fireflies glow.

Follow Kim on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

Meet over 100 local authors on Saturday, December 2! The Fifth Annual RI Authors Expo

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It’s #RIAuthor Month! Meet Joann Mead


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I write because I have stories to tell and promises to keep. Starting with the stories to tell, I began writing about ten years ago. Unsettling events were unfolding around me and I was compelled to find out why. There were too many unanswered questions. Bad things happened, to me and to others. So, in an effort to make sense of it all, I began to write, to chronicle, to research and to speculate. And I wrote the first of my novels, short stories, and screenplays.

What inspired my novel, Underlying Crimes, was an outbreak in Rhode Island of diseases in children: encephalitis, neurological diseases and rampant pneumonia. I had my suspicions, not based on some fanciful ideas but on real science. I don’t write sci-fi. No zombies or walking dead for me, please. So concurrent to writing non-fiction journal articles on Disasters, Mass Casualties, and Weapons of Mass Destruction, I began writing speculative bio-crime fiction. I ruminated, I mused. What if my fears were true? Was it bioerror or bioterror that caused the children to sicken and die?

Underlying Crimes is a medical mystery and crime story set in the tiny New England state known for its culture of corruption. Now I wonder where that might be? It’s a story of corporate bioterror, unscrupulous industry rogues, corrupt politicians and crooked cops.

My “promises to keep”? To find out who was responsible for the disease outbreak and to bring them to justice. Even if it had to be in a fictional court of law, the perpetrators would be prosecuted for their crimes against human health and the murder of children.

My second novel, an international bioterror thriller, spans the globe, from Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China to Copenhagen, Pisa, and the US Northeast.  In Tiger Tiger: Underlying Crimes, a sultry scientist and her lover, a nihilist Italian professor, plot a 9-11 style bioterror attack on America using his students as infected human time bombs. The plot is inspired by real science:  the lab creation of virulent, contagious super-flus that can kill tens of millions. Even Bill Gates has warned Global Security groups of this ominous possibility.

Our femme fatale scientist manipulates microbes and men. Her “Tiger Flu” lab-created bioweapon is the most contagious and deadly known to humankind. She infects her “test” subjects with her Honey Sweeties, candies laden with lethal “Tiger Flu”. The morale: “Never take candy from a sexy stranger.” I’ve written a screenplay adaptation for a feature film that I hope someday will make it to the big screen.

Other inspiration comes from having lived in London England, Moscow Russia (back in the USSR), and Zimbabwe, Africa. My husband and I have traveled on six continents. I take megabytes of photos and often invent characters, settings, and story details while in situ.

I’m currently writing a third novel in the Underlying Crimes series. Gene-edited designer babies anyone? Oh, what terror that could be!

My books are available on Amazon

Visit my website: UnderlyingCrimes.com

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Joann Mead is a writer, teacher, and researcher. Her first biocrime novel, Underlying Crimes, was inspired by her published research on disasters and emerging threats. She brings her unique perspective from teaching science in four countries (United States, England, Russia and Zimbabwe), working in biotechnology and in medical research. Her second novel in the Underlying Crimes series, Tiger Tiger, is a cautionary tale. A sexy lab researcher and her bioterrorist lover plot a 9/11 style attack with their lab manipulated super-lethal ‘Tiger Flu’ targeted at America.

GIVEAWAY! You can win a copy of Underlying Crimes! Just leave a comment below. One winner will be chosen at random and the author will contact you directly. Contest ends one week after publication. US residents only, please.

Meet over 100 local authors on Saturday, December 2! The Fifth Annual RI Authors Expo

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Nov 16 – Meet RI Author Kimberly Kowal Arcand


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At seven years old, I proudly announced to my parents that I was going to be an astronaut when I grew up. Even though they could not drag me on an amusement park ride more adventurous than a bumper car, my parents apparently thought it best not to discourage me. I had one of those little white plastic Space Shuttle models with a working cargo bay, and I would fly it around my room and make up pretend missions with pink and blue Care Bears serving as the crew.

Alas, it was not the career for me. Neither was being a doctor, which came later (I realized I didn’t like needles), nor a veterinarian (this was quickly squashed by a stint volunteering in an animal hospital). I knew that I wanted to do something in science — I just wasn’t sure what form it would take.

Fast forward a few decades and you find me happily working for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, a mission that studies the high-energy phenomena of the Universe such as exploding stars, black holes, and colliding galaxies. My feet are planted firmly on the ground, but as Visualization Lead for Chandra, I get to use data to tell exciting stories about objects that are far, far away. These stories can be in the form of a tweet about distant colliding galaxies to a 3D-printed model of an exploded star in our Milky Way (http://3d.si.edu/explorer?modelid=45) and lots of things in between.

Beyond my day job using data to tell stories of the high-energy Universe, I found a path to telling stories in writing science books. I have always enjoyed reading and writing, since I was young enough to understand the words. I fondly recall a mythology-writing exercise in my 6th grade English class, where I used leftover silver brocade wallpaper to cover the cardboard binding of my original story — complete with painstakingly hand-colored illustrations — about where rain came from.

Today, I am happy that the binding techniques of my current books are a bit more sophisticated, and the visuals I curate come from artists, photographers and scientists around the world.

In essence, the storytelling truly matters. Science can be complex, so how the story is told is incredibly important. For me, coming up with the best visuals, metaphors, tone of the book is a key part to making scientific topics accessible. I love the process of figuring out all the details to create a book that can be entertaining as well as informative.

Kimberly Kowal Arcand is the co-author of three popular science books including the new release “Light: The Visible Spectrum and Beyond” with Megan Watzke, published by Black Dog & Leventhal/Hachette Book Group.  Find the book on Amazon or visit her website  here

 

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