Science Now + Beyond

So, is this a deadly disease or an episode of the X-Files?

In the first season of The X-Files, there’s a terrifying episode that takes place in the depths of Alaska on a research team vessel. A group of geophysicists perform a mass murder-suicide and Mulder and Scully, whose job is to solve unsolvable mysteries, head off to investigate.


SPOILER ALERT: When they get to the research vessel, there’s an overly aggressive dog that tries to bite everyone.

Turns out, it was infected by a 250,000-year-old microbe that had been lodged in an ice core. The ice core was slightly thawed for scientific investigation by that murder-suicided research team, so the parasite woke up and attached itself to the brain (specifically the hypothalamus, associated with aggressive behavior).

When infected, the people got very aggressive and very sick, leading to death. Several theories are thrown around by Scully & Mulder’s team, and it’s revealed that the parasite is unlike any known extant or extinct organism. Mulder believes the parasite is extraterrestrial (because of course he does), while Scully is mainly concerned about it spreading to the population (because of course she is).

In 1969, Michael Crichton published The Andromeda Strain, a scientific thriller about an extraterrestrial microbe that enters Earth, kills an entire town, and rapidly evolves to be even more deadly. And again from The X-Files, there’s a recurring, infectious alien life form that dwells deep in petroleum reserves. As the need for oil increases, and also just randomly, more cases of infection from “black oil” arise.

The life forms can infect and control their hosts completely, because they’re SENTIENT.


The threat of underground, frozen, or alien microbes awakening or attacking during our lifetime is clearly a predominant plot for science fiction. Because it’s seriously terrifying. What the heck is lurking underground? What is dormant? What will we discover as we learn more about and use more of our universe?

WELLLLL fortunately for us, we can start answering these questions, because this isn’t science fiction anymore. We’ve been waking up dormant microbes (or tiny organisms) for a while, specifically because of climate change. The fact that the ice caps are melting is already scary, but add in that we’re releasing long-dormant diseases in the process and we’re way screwed.

Uh, so what’s happening?

In the fall of 2016, a young boy that lived in the Arctic tundra died of anthrax. About 20 other people were hospitalized from infection. Even thousands of reindeer got infected. The theory is that a frozen reindeer, that had been infected with anthrax over 75 years ago, thawed and re-released anthrax into the soil, water, and food supply. This spread to the local human population, and anthrax infection landed people in the hospital or dead.

Scientists have been studying the Arctic tundra for decades, and have been uncovering a lot of potentially deadly microbes in the permafrost, or frozen soil. Since permafrost is melting at an alarmingly fast rate from climate change, scientists worry that these microbes will awaken (just like the anthrax) and infect populations.

What’s even more worrisome is if microbes that have been dormant for thousands of years (or even millions!) wake up… microbes that we haven’t studied, aren’t familiar with, and don’t have treatments for.

Cool. Are we all going to die?

Okay so, most scientists aren’t particularly worried about those microbes that are millions of years old thawing out and attacking us. But they’ve definitely found very large microbes lurking in the frozen ground that are super deadly… to amoeba. They’ve even found old microbes that have waaaaay more genes than the bacteria and viruses do today. The reason they’re able to thrive is because permafrost is the perfect resting spot for some bacteria and viruses — super cold, not a lot of oxygen, and dark.

Scientists believe the most likely outcome is that grave sites from eras of plague and smallpox will thaw out and those microbes will be re-released into the population. We’re talking diseases that we’ve ‘eradicated’, that we don’t worry about anymore, but that killed MILLIONS of people.

And I don’t care what these optimistic (or as they claim, ‘realistic’) scientists think. Diseases and humans have coevolved… we are living amongst so many different types of bacteria and viruses, most of which we’re able to resist or use to our advantage, because human evolution has taken them into account. But what if some random, unknown-to-humans-ever virus wakes up, attaches itself to my hypothalamus, spreads, and creates a massive human population of overly aggressive people that are hell-bent on destroying each other? WHAT IF IT ALREADY HAS?

I mean, scientists have already awoken bacteria, roughly 8 million years old, from a frozen Antarctic pond.


It’s important to note that we do learn a lot from these old microbes that may be useful in case one turns out being deadly and easily infectious. It’s also important to note that viruses are terrifying and can evolve way too fast.

Have y’all seen Outbreak or read The Hot Zone? You should.

Then go hide for the rest of your lives in your underground bunker where you can watch all of The X-Files and indulge in science fiction. This is truly the only way to prepare for the inevitable extraterrestrial pandemic that will kill us all.

Science Now + Beyond

Trump’s censorship order on science puts all of us at risk

In case you haven’t heard, here are some terrifying (and a couple uplifting) things that have happened this week to American science:

  1. The CDC decided to cancel its conference on climate change and health without any real reason…
  2. Many scientific agencies, like the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and USDA (U.S. Dept of Agriculture), were put on communication freezes — meaning employees are not allowed to speak to the public about the research that the public funds about the public’s safety (The USDA’s order has now been lifted, but the other agencies remain frozen).
  3. The administration froze all grants and contracts at the EPA.
  4. The Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines are going to be built.
  5. The Badlands National Park twitter account responded to the administration’s ban on sharing news by tweeting out awesome climate science facts, because that Park is a national hero.
  6. Climate change was removed from the white house website!
  7. The investigation of Flint’s water crisis was stopped.
  8. Scientists decided to do a Scientists’ March in response to ^ all of that.
  9. Greenpeace protested the pipelines in DC.

These attacks on science are not only problematic to me as a scientist, but also as a public citizen. These agencies were formed for the purpose of protecting us: the EPA makes sure we have clean water and air, the USDA makes sure our food is healthy, the NIH deals with medical issues. It is literally their job to inform us of health and science concerns. THAT’S WHY THEY EXIST.

None of these freezes are necessarily surprising, considering the current president’s views on science (he doesn’t like it). He’s a climate change denier (because in our new reality, alternative facts reign supreme over actual truth) and the new director of the EPA doesn’t think human activity is the cause of climate change. The current president and his cronies are deeply invested in the fossil fuel industry, which is dangerous to all of us.

Even more, these freezes are censorship of information that citizens of this country have a right to know about. I mean, the Environmental Protection Agency was ordered to remove their truly amazing site on climate change. It’s informative, it’s public-friendly, and it’s an example of what we as the public have a right to. These freezes are keeping scientists from researching important, timely, relevant science that affects all of us, every day. Though it is common for very short-term freezes to take place during transitions, it isn’t normal for it to happen so quickly and certainly not to this degree. This Gag Order on Science happened basically overnight, with a quick memo. This is unprecedented and it’s deeply alarming for the future of our nation.

With a climate change denier heading our country, we are all unsafe. But we’re not all equally affected. Time and time again, we see that environmental issues most negatively impact poor communities and communities of color. The Dakota Access Pipeline, for example, was rerouted from originally going through a mostly white area because those communities complained.

After the reroute, a potential spill would dirty the water of indigenous communities (many of which in this country already have poor water quality). Studies have shown that air pollution is more prevalent in non-white, poor communities than in white affluent ones. And, though the current president claims otherwise, we know where his interests lie — with affluent whites and big businesses like the fossil fuel industry.

Our public health is at risk with the current president’s dedication to fossil fuel and his lack of commitment to reversing the effects of climate change. What exactly is at risk? Longer allergy seasons, deaths from overheating, more frequent outbreaks of disease, poor air quality, etc etc etc. Even worse is that he’s risking our public health while also making it harder to have health insurance. “Can’t breathe? Can’t afford health insurance? Good.” – not a direct quote, but maybe it is #alternativefacts .

This isn’t a debatable issue or opinion. Environmental change and the presence of pollutants in our air and water will affect you whether you support the current president or not. Climate change is real regardless of what the current president claims or his removal of important government agencies and funding for research. It harms us all and we all have the right to know how & why it’s happening. It is our duty as American citizens to stand up for what is right and demand open communication between the government and the public. Do not sit idly by as the current president plays with our future.

Our lives are at risk and our futures are in jeopardy. Call your representatives, inform others, and share this widely — don’t let science fiction become reality. RESIST.

Notes from the Editor Science Now + Beyond

Time to drop some serious knowledge: The best of Science 2016

The Science section is a new one here at The Tempest, and its goals are to bring you cool science, expose you to cool scientists, and break down barriers, misconceptions, and stereotypes within and outside the science field. While trying to find #TheBestOfTheTempest16, I read through each of our Science pieces with these goals in mind. And, not to boast but… we did a pretty great job finding awesome science to write about. It helps that science has constantly been involved in politics, from climate change being an important piece of campaign platform to Trump’s terrifying lack of dedication to all things science. The scientific community made some amazing discoveries in 2016, and yet there’s still so much to do.

The fight will continue, but without further ado, here are my favorite pieces of the year, #TheBestOfTheTempest16 from Science. Hope you love them too!

1. Let’s destroy the idea that pubic hair is dirty

This piece does an awesome job debunking harmful ideas about women, which is one of the best uses of science. There are too many sexist ideals that are being passed around to young girls (and adult women) that need to be proven false. That’s what The Tempest is all about and that’s exactly what this piece does. It isn’t totally obvious why something like pubic hair is a good means of shattering misconceptions but… read the piece – because Dr. Zinger does the job right!

2. Why are there fewer women in science than men?

This piece outlines sexism and racism in the field of science itself, and why it’s important for us to change the amount of women and WOC in science. This is a piece I wrote myself, and I do get a bit personal … because being a woman in science is something that I deal with every day. I bring out some unfortunate statistics about women in STEM fields and make a case for what needs to be changed. Now is as good a time as ever!

3. 5 badass scientists you haven’t even heard of – but need to know

The first ever science piece!! I love this one because it highlights non-white male scientists and the contributions they make/have made. Women and their roles in science are so often forgotten, for reasons like women’s contributions literally being stolen by men. But this piece makes sure you remember what women are out there doing the science before men screw it all up.

4. ASK A SCIENTIST: What really is climate change?

I really love all the Ask A Scientist pieces. This column is awesome because it discusses important topics in science and politics that we may not fully understand, and helps break it down. We’ve covered topics like alternative energy and antibiotic resistance. This one particularly is my favorite because climate change is too relevant to not discuss. It’s happening now, and needs to be understood!

Love Life Stories

How my period brought me back to my brown roots

Presented in partnership with  Lunapads.

I knew I was different from everyone else before I even learned how to multiply.

It didn’t stem from the fact that I was weird – unless, of course, you counted being from another country as weird. Living in a small country town in Kentucky, a daughter of the sole Indian family for miles around was interesting, to put it lightly. The food I brought to school for lunch was smelly and foreign. I was constantly asked by my classmates to “speak Indian.” I even found myself having to correct kids around me about how I wasn’t the other kind of Indian.

The author during her early years.
The author during her early years.

I once got in trouble with a teacher for not eating during lunch time. It was Ramadan. I was fasting.

My childhood was the complete opposite of those of my white friends. I was barely allowed to leave the house outside of school, because that’s just the way things were, according to my parents.

[bctt tweet=”I knew I was different from everyone else, before I even learned how to multiply.” username=”wearethetempest”]

My days in high school were spent hanging out in the basement with my two best friends, because that was the only way I could ever see them – my parents still refused to let me hang out at their place. Because that was who we were.

Even now, having graduated college, I’m expected to be home before midnight whenever I’m visiting my parents.

I’m an adult. I have a curfew as an adult. Because it’s just the way things are.

These stark rules drove me crazy when I was in high school. They set me apart from the other kids, opening me up to the ridicule of those around me. I was constantly enraged by the lack of freedom I had, and even more frustrated when my mom would tell me, “You’re an Indian girl, you don’t do x, y, z.” I would retort with “I’m not Indian, I’m American!” and rejected much of what it meant to be Indian.

It was difficult to understand why they couldn’t let me be American – especially when that was who I felt I was.

So, of course, when I got my college acceptance letters, I decided to go to a school on the other side of the continent. Typical sheltered kid.

That’s where I let loose. And this might seem weird to you – but part of that letting loose involved my period.

Let me backtrack a bit. I got my period in 6th grade.

I grew up with three older sisters, so this development wasn’t shocking or particularly distressing. I mean, it sucked – don’t get me wrong. Periods are a whirlwind of emotion and pain, especially in those weird middle school years.

[bctt tweet=”I’m an adult. I have a curfew as an adult. Because it’s just the way things are.” username=”wearethetempest”]

In 7th grade, I was hanging out in the school bathroom with my (white) friend, talking about how our periods had synced up (best thing ever, right). And that’s the moment that ties to that later-in-life crisis: I looked into my purse, realized I had run out of pads, and asked her for one. She was in total shock: “WHAT? Seriously? You still wear pads? They’re so gross – tampons are so much better.”

The author (left) chilling with friends.
The author (left) chilling with friends.

I blinked at her for a second, confused. It didn’t match up to the warning that my mom had hammered into my sisters and me, that we could only wear pads because it was absolutely wrong and forbidden and awful to put anything up there. My two worlds were colliding: school and home – and I couldn’t help but think, in that moment in our school bathroom, that it would be impossible for me to ever be truly normal. To actually fit in like everyone else.  

[bctt tweet=”That’s where I let loose. And this might seem weird to you – but that involved my period.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Fast-forward to college, when I started wearing tampons to become more like other girls…and realized, soon enough, just how tiny that rebellion actually was. But in the process – in the moments I had chosen to make myself part of the crowd, I lost myself.

Weirdly, as I struggled to figure out who I was, I found it all linked back to my period: how I dealt with it, how the experience was more than just about being clean or not – how my period was a part of me. And I’d pushed it aside to fit in, a rejection neatly wrapped up in a colorfully packaged tampon.

[bctt tweet=”My rebellion had, in some sense, only served to show me just how little I knew myself.” username=”wearethetempest”]

It wasn’t until after I’d walked onto that stage to get my diploma, packed up my things, and left college that I began to have the chance to really understand my roots again. To become comfortable with what it meant to be Indian – and American. Beyond watching more than my fair share of Bollywood movies, learning how to cook Indian food, and making more Desi friends, I couldn’t shake myself of the fact that there was still something missing. Every month I was reminded of a deep part of myself I’d struggled to assimilate.

Every month was a flashback to my seventh grade self, confused and standing in the school bathroom. I couldn’t go back to pads, to convention, to my mother’s strict rules. But I didn’t want to rely on tampons anymore either. It was too much of a reminder of my younger-self’s need to fit in. My rebellion had, in some sense, only served to show me just how little I knew myself.

The moment I found myself came sort of suddenly, a brash suggestion by one of my Desi American friends during an unprompted rant about my period: “You’ve heard of those cloth pads, right?” I stopped short, confused. She continued, “Lunapads. Haven’t you heard of them?”

It took me a second to put two and two together. “You use them?” She nodded – “Okay, but isn’t the…aftermath…gross?” My friend laughed and explained to me how they worked.

[bctt tweet=”Didn’t matter – I was intrigued. Too intrigued to stop from buying a couple @Lunapads.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Being the skeptic that I am, I found myself scrolling through the site later that night, the blue light of my phone shining dimly as I read through the different options. It seemed slightly weird to me to have to wash my pads in the sink, throw them in the laundry, and use them again.

That wasn’t normal, right?

It didn’t matter – I was intrigued. Too intrigued to stop myself from buying a couple, and waiting impatiently as the package made its way to me. When I finally got the package, I texted my friend – and, of course, told my mom all about it. To my surprise, she said a lot of Indian women actually use reusable pads, too.

So, I dove right in.

And y’all, I loved the way they look and feel. At the end of the day, I give my pad a quick rinse and stick it in my hamper. Done. After using them for a cycle, I no longer found myself cringing at my period – or the experience – like I had started to do after that middle school bathroom conversation.

Things had finally come full circle; weirdly, wonderfully, amazingly – in the most intimate moments of my life, I had found myself as an Indian-American woman – all through a few adorably decorated cloth pads.

For too many years, I’d tried to distance myself from certain parts of my Indianness that I had negative experiences about. But Lunapads have helped me move past all of that – and transform my period into a moment of self-love and acceptance.

[bctt tweet=”I’d found myself – all through a few adorably decorated @Lunapads.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I’m finally taking back the things that made me “different” as a kid, and loving that they make me different as an adult.

Science Now + Beyond Interviews

Feminist Biology: An interview with Caroline VanSickle

Here at The Tempest, we’ve discussed sexism in science and, as a result, the fact that there are fewer women in science than men. But as our representation in the sciences increases, we’ve started bringing in new perspectives. That’s exactly what Dr. Caroline VanSickle, visiting professor of Anthropology at Bryn Mawr College, does with her research. As a biological anthropologist, Dr. VanSickle applies a feminist lens to her research on human evolution. The Tempest had a chance to sit down and delve into how she does this.

The Tempest: Could you give us a summary of what you do?

Dr. Caroline VanSickle: I study human evolution, which can tell us about our evolutionary course and past behaviors. It’s a challenging science, and sometimes researchers draw conclusions that aren’t well supported by evidence. For example, we are pretty bad at determining the sex of some fossil species, let alone identifying behavioral differences between the sexes, yet there are many hypotheses about what male and female hominins were doing.

I focus on how we identify sex and related behaviors in ancient human relatives. This means I look at fossilized pelvises, because in modern humans, that’s the best way we have to estimate the sex of a skeleton. This is largely due to humans giving birth to large-brained babies while still being able to walk bipedally (on two feet). But the earlier in the fossil record we get, it gets harder to distinguish sex. Think about Lucy, who was a biped but not large-brained, so she might not have the same adaptations that we have today. I explore when our techniques work and when we need to develop new ones.

A reconstruction of Lucy.
A reconstruction of Lucy.

What led you to study this through a feminist lens?

Back in my undergrad days, I was taking a fascinating human evolution class. I loved thinking about what we can tell from bones — what these creatures were doing and how they were living. But I learned that the story was male-dominated: “we became bipedal so that men could use tools and go hunting and do all these things and that’s how we got bigger brains”, while women were just there. That bothered me. So, when I got to graduate school, I wanted to be able to use human evolution to figure out more about what those women were doing.

That led me to study Neandertals, who walked on two legs and had big brains like us, but they had a different skeleton. My question was, “did they have the same birth constraints or were they doing something different?” It turned out that there weren’t many female Neandertal skeletons to look at, which means all the previous work on Neandertal birth was looking at a single female and a bunch of male remains. That didn’t seem right. My thesis turned out to be about what we can gather from really fragmented remains. I was able to find out that Neandertal females had a different shaped pelvis and birthing mechanism than we do. This means we can’t just assume that all large-brain bipeds will have the same sex-identifying features in the skeleton.

A Neandertal skeleton, left, compared to a modern human skeleton, right.
A Neandertal skeleton, left, compared to a modern human skeleton, right.

I became interested in the fact that even though we can’t easily identify sex of fossils, we have all these theories based on sexual division of labor and how that affects social systems of hominids. I went into a post-doc position in Feminist Biology, which focused on applying a feminist perspective into a biological science. I was able to expand my studies into how we can do good science without taking modern-day gender biases and applying them to the past without much evidence.

Are you discussing these topics in your courses?

I do emphasize who is doing the science and what that might mean for how they are interpreting the evidence. There were men of European descent finding fossils and publishing on them (even the ones that were found by women), and that’s where we get these male-dominated stories. So I like to bring in examples from the blog Trowel Blazers to show that women have done a lot. When we talk about human evolution, we should remember the biases that framed theories and what may be missing about women and their role in evolution.

Do you think biological anthropology is doing a good job of considering gender bias?

In terms of how well-represented women are in the field, statistics on undergraduate degrees suggest we’re doing pretty well. But there are still problems to address. Even as undergraduate degrees have been increasing, the gender ratio of tenured and full professors has remained the same. This directly affects the questions asked and the conclusions drawn in scientific research. We don’t really see studies where researchers are overtly gender-biased today, but everyone has implicit biases. And for scientists, that affects their research. That’s why we need to be clear that the goal of using a feminist lens in paleoanthropology is to challenge that kind of implicit bias.

 Do you think feminist biology can help make those changes?

A lot of times when I tell people that I do feminist biology, they look at me like “you just have a feminist agenda, which will take away objectivity and make bad science.” It’s actually completely the opposite! I’m recognizing bad science that has happened because of gender bias in the past and I’m calling that out. Science is never completely objective because it’s a human endeavor, but it’s our job to be critical of that. So in that sense, bringing a feminist perspective to science is really helpful.

Should young girls pay attention to this work?

Who is doing the science affects what kind of science gets done. You see this across the STEM world. For example, even though we’ve been studying heart attacks since the 60s, we only recently found out that the symptoms of a heart attack are different in the female body. For decades we’ve been taking medicine that was only tested on male bodies! That’s terrifying. It also affects what we understand about ourselves. Take human evolution: when researchers were mostly guys, the story was “being male was a really important part of humans evolving as a species.” And it’s only recently where people are like, “wait, that doesn’t make sense.” A perspective that challenges long-held gender-biased beliefs about science makes science better, and makes it clear that girls are welcome in what has historically been a male-dominated world.

Make sure to follow Dr. VanSickle on Twitter, and follow her work here. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Science Now + Beyond

ASK A SCIENTIST: What is alternative energy?

You’ve heard “alternative energy” thrown around in numerous conversations and contexts, including the political sphere. Why are politicians so obsessed with it? What does alternative energy have to do with climate change? And why should you, why should I, why should we even care?

For this week’s Ask A Scientist, I’m here to answer these questions and help you understand what alternative energy sources are and why they’re important for our future — and today.

What is alternative energy?

Alternative energy is energy that we make in ways that don’t use fossil fuels (like coal or oil) or nuclear power.

Okay – so that seems pretty simple. But let’s break down why it’s important that we use alternative energy and why we keep talking about it.


We use energy to do pretty much everything. We can’t have electricity (so no lights, no internet, etc) without energy. It can come from various places, like the sun or burning coal, and we take that energy and convert it to something usable for humans.

Right now, most of the world’s energy is produced by burning nonrenewable sources, like fossil fuels.

The top 3 forms of energy come from nonrenewable fossil fuels.
The top 3 forms of energy come from nonrenewable fossil fuels.

Because we use so much energy, we are burning a lot of nonrenewable resources to meet the needs of our huge world population. As you can see from the graph above, the amount of energy we consume only seems to increase with time.

Why is using nonrenewable resources bad?

Actually – lots of reasons. First of all, we are using nonrenewable resources faster than they get made since it takes millions of years to create fossil fuels. This is why they’re “nonrenewable” — we can’t renew them fast enough. Secondly, and absolutely most importantly, the burning of fossil fuels increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is linked to all sorts of problems. Increased global temperatures, ocean acidification, crappy air quality, etc etc etc are caused by increased CO2. Mining and drilling for these sources is dangerous and harmful to the environment. Not to mention, oil spills and pipeline ruptures (which happen all the time) are deadly, contaminate drinking water, and are increasing as we rely more on fossil fuels.

Unfortunately, energy companies make a lot of money using nonrenewable resources and, in the past, have not particularly cared (or believed in… or whatever) for the negative, harmful effects they have on society. Recently, however, alternative/renewable/clean energy has gained momentum for a few reasons: 1) scientists continue to prove just how harmful burning fossil fuels is; 2) many countries are beginning to make it a priority to cut greenhouse gas emissions and; 3) it’s become much more affordable.

What kinds of alternative energy sources exist?


Think back to your high school biology days. What did you learn was the source of energy of all life on Earth? The sun.

Sunlight and heat provides a ridiculous amount of energy to us every day. In fact, the amount of solar energy that is available to us on Earth is several times the average world consumption of energy. Even more, solar energy costs less money for consumers, but the costs of maintaining solar power plants are a bit higher than fossil fuel plants. Fortunately those costs are lessening as we continue to study and implement solar power.

Solar panels convert sunlight into electricity.

Converting sunlight into electricity does not emit any CO2 or other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Solar energy is sustainable, renewable, and clean.


Hydroelectricity comes from flowing water spinning a turbine/wheel, which in turn produces electricity. This type of power has actually been around for millennia – cool, right? Even better, hydropower doesn’t create pollution or actually use up water, so it’s clean and renewable.

A hydroelectric dam uses turbines to convert water movement into electricity.
A hydroelectric dam uses turbines to convert water movement into electricity.

Hydropower costs less than most other energy sources, so it’s considered a pretty competitive source of energy. A major downside of hydropower, however, is that dams are built in order to get water movement into useable energy. Dams can disrupt animal’s lives both within and outside the body of water itself and often displace communities of people when being built.


Using wind to turn turbines, wind power is a renewable and clean energy source. From year to year, wind power is pretty consistent – but from day to day, not so much. As you know by living and going outside, some days are windier than others. Because of that, wind power usually has to be supplemented with another form of energy on less windy days.

Regardless, wind power is rapidly increasing as more countries recognize its benefits. Not only does wind power emit no pollution or use up any resources- it’s also very cost-efficient, and only getting cheaper. Once a turbine is put up, costs to operate the machine are basically nothing, since wind is free.


There are quite a few other alternative energy sources that are gaining momentum in the energy revolution. As climate change becomes more threatening, scientists and governments are working together to find energy solutions that can generate the power we need with the least amount of environmental harm, cost, and overall disadvantages. If you’re interested to see how our presidential candidates feel about alternative energy and climate change, check these out: Hillary’s climate goals and this piece outlining their differences regarding climate change and Trump’s dedication to fossil fuels.

Science Now + Beyond

Why aren’t you protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline?

Y’all know about the on-going protests against the pipeline being built through Native land (if you don’t, here). Hundreds of years after the genocide against Native Americans began, they are still fighting for basic rights like land and religion. Tribes have lost battle after battle, proving over and over again that this country cares little for Native communities. Often times, these battles involve elements of environmental justice, with communities concerned for their health and water supply.

Protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline are rightfully concerned about potential pipeline ruptures, which would pollute their drinking water and destroy local ecosystems. And this isn’t just some ridiculous concern based on paranoia. Pipelines rupture all the time. Check out this comprehensive list of pipeline accidents in the US since 2000.

Recent rupture

In fact, a pipeline that runs from Houston to the East Coast just had a rupture last week in Alabama. The pipeline company announced that 250,000 gallons of gasoline were spilled about 30 miles south of Birmingham, AL. Currently, the leak is being contained in a retention pond and hopefully it doesn’t reach nearby rivers and watersheds that supply water to the population. In the wake of the current protests, it’s interesting how few media platforms are reporting on this rupture. What does it take to get media attention? Polluted water? Disrupted ecosystems? Death?

Protesting the pipeline

The dangers of pipelines, and continuing to use nonrenewable sources of energy in general, are real. And they’re deadly – not only to wildlife, but to humans too. The communities most threatened are low-income and communities of color, who are often alone in their protests against environmental racism. Or should I say, their requests for basic human rights, like clean drinking water

But if supporting the livelihoods of people who you don’t know or see or economically/racially relate to isn’t up your alley, here are some other reasons you should be protesting the pipeline:

1. The more we rely on oil and other fossil fuels, the amount of pollution and death increases across the country. The data proves it. Protest the pipeline because it’ll probably lead to problems in your own community, considering we keep building more.

2. The disruption and destruction of local ecosystems itself is enough to warrant protests against pipeline construction. Ask any high schooler learning about ecology – even small disruptions in an ecosystem have a domino effect, causing large problems. And messing with water, which is what pipeline leaks/spills do, is a major problem since all living things depend on water for survival. Including you. Many endangered wildlife populations are at risk from potential pipeline ruptures across the country.

3. The pipeline goes right under the Missouri River. A spill there could most certainly affect majority of the nation, considering the Missouri River connects to several other watersheds, including the Mississippi River watershed. Gasoline won’t just hang out in the one river the rupture happened near, it’ll follow the natural flow of water.

4. The use of nonrenewable sources of energy, like oil and other fossil fuels, is a major contributor to global warming. As a society that is growing more conscious of climate change, we should all be actively involved in the alternative/clean energy revolution. Protest the pipeline for its inevitable role in increasing our dependence on fossil fuels.

5. Gas prices rise when pipeline leaks happen. And remember how point 1 says more pipelines mean more accidents? Protest the pipeline.

All of that said, why aren’t you protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline?

Health Care Reproductive Rights Science Wellness Now + Beyond

Here’s how to pick the right birth control for you

If you’re like me, you’ve toyed with the idea of switching up your birth control over the past few years, but have never pulled the trigger. You’ve asked your friends questions, heard horror stories about weight gain, chaotic hormones, and volatile bleeding, and have stayed loyal to the pill.

The truth is, the implant, the IUD, and the injectable are significantly more effective than the pill, and yet the pill is the most commonly used form of birth control for women ages 15-44 in the United States.

But, why? Why would we use a method that we know is less effective? And more importantly, why does North America have 7% of women citing an unmet need for family planning?

The Implant

While telling people you have the implant may sound like you’ve been probed by aliens and/or microchipped like a dog, the implant is hands-down one of the most effective methods of non-permanent birth control for women. The implant is a small, thin rod that is inserted into the upper arm. Your arm is numbed by your physician, and implanted within a matter of minutes. It releases the hormone progestin, which keeps the eggs from exiting the ovaries, keeping it from possibly getting fertilized. The implant lasts four years and can be removed at any time by your physician.

The benefits of the implant:

  • With perfect AND typical use, 0.05% of women will become pregnant
  • Once inserted, there is no upkeep
  • Can be used by women who cannot take estrogen
  • Gives continuous, long-lasting birth control without sterilization

The disadvantages of the implant:

  • Irregular bleeding (most common)

What about weight gain?

In clinical studies, the mean weight gain in US IMPLANON (one of the two most common forms of the implant) users was 2.8 pounds after 1 year, and 3.7 pounds after 2 years. Approximately 2.3% of users reported weight gain as the reason for having IMPLANON removed.


The hormone-releasing Intrauterine Device (IUD) is the second most effective non-permanent form of birth control for women, clocking in at a 0.2% of women becoming pregnant from both perfect and typical use. The IUD is a small, T-shaped device that is inserted into the uterus by a physician. There are two separate types of IUDs that work in slightly different ways.

The Copper IUD

The Hormonal IUD

  • Thickens the mucus that lives on the cervix to trap the sperm, and sometimes will stop the egg from leaving the ovaries
  • Mirena works for up to 6 years
  • Skyla and Liletta work for up to 3 years

The Injectable

Birth Control Discounts and Coupons

If you don’t like getting your flu shot, then this method might not be for you. The Injectable, also known as the Birth Control Shot, is an injection that prevents pregnancy for three months. Like the hormonal IUD and the implant, the shot releases progestin into the body. With perfect use, the injectable is just as effective as the IUD, with a 0.2% rate of pregnancy. Here’s the deal, though: if you are someone who cannot stick to a specific schedule, the injectable is not for you. With typical use, 6% of women get pregnant.

What about my beloved pill?

I love the pill. The pill is my friend – but it might really be time to say goodbye. With typical use, 9 out of 100 women will get pregnant. With absolutely perfect use: talking taking the pill at exactly the same time every single day, your risk of pregnancy is 0.3%.

It’s also important to remember that these forms of birth control are to prevent pregnancy, not protect against STDs! Always use condoms to ensure safety.

Why do some people not have access to contraception?

Money and transportation. Those who are in poverty have unequal access to birth control. Birth control can cost anywhere from two to $200 per month for women. Having access to the birth control pill by age 20 significantly reduces the probability that a woman is in poverty; early legal access to the pill reduces female poverty by 0.5%.

Science Now + Beyond

Does buying organic actually matter?

Should I shell out the extra two bucks for the organic chicken? There has to be a reason it’s two extra dollars, right? RIGHT?

Actually, that is right – it’s not a ploy for your hard-earned pennies after all. Buying organic will not only make you feel like one of those hair-flipping, healthy Whole Foods, yoga-on-the-grass-outside girls, but scientists are increasingly hopping on the organic train.

Break it down for me.

Here’s the gist of it: the purpose of organic foods is to avoid exposure to chemical pesticides. Do you want to be eating a cocktail of pesticides every time you bite into an apple? No, thank you. At least, I don’t think so. When we’re talking about organic meats, we mean that there can be no added growth hormones or antibiotics, the animals cannot be fed animal by-products or pesticide-grown feed, and the animals must have outdoor access. All of which sound pretty reasonable to me.

Why are pesticides bad?


  1. Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., of Washington State University found that pesticide exposure increases your likelihood of two things: cancerous tumor development, and your body’s inability to control tumor growth.
  2. Chemical Cocktails. The EPA limits the amount of each specific pesticide allowed on your food, but there is no limit to the number of different pesticides applied. Read: effects unknown. I prefer regular cocktails.
  3. The Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics has linked common pesticides to ADHD in children ages 8-15.
  4. Contaminated Water. In the Southern United States, where there are an abundance of factory farms, as many as one-third of all underground wells fall below EPA safe drinking water standards for nitrate – a form of nitrogen that is concentrated in chicken waste. Contaminated run-off from pesticides and fertilizers disproportionally affects low-income and minority communities.

What are the benefits of buying organic?

Besides avoiding chemicals, there are several benefits of eating organic to you AND to the environment.

The first is that eating from organic farms allows for both a healthier water supply and soil content due to a reduction in fertilizer and pesticide run-off. Toxic waste sites and facilities that release toxic emissions (such as factory farms) are more likely to be found in low-income neighborhoods containing primarily minority residents. Low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately encumbered by water hazards, from lack of clean drinking water due to inequalities in the execution of water policies and federal stipulations, to legacies of discrimination in housing that perpetuate water injustices (such as the recent lead contamination of low-income communities in Flint, MI that was brought to light by Virginia Tech researchers).

The second major benefit is the nutritional value in organic foods. The British Journal of Nutrition found that organic crops contained higher levels of vitamins antioxidants than their non-organic brothers and sisters.

Lastly, a recent USDA-funded study found that salmonella frequency in fecal samples from organic poultry farms was considerably lower than conventional factory farms – 6 percent versus a whopping 39 percent.

Okay but … I still can’t afford it.

Me neither, sister. At least, probably not all of it. Here’s a short list to prioritize which foods are the most important to buy organic:

“The Dirty Dozen” for 2016 provided by the Environmental Working Group: strawberries, apples, nectarines, peaches, celery, grapes, cherries, spinach, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers. These foods tested for the highest concentrations of pesticides as compared to other produce. These are the ones you are going to want to try to find organic versions of.

The cleanest? Avocadoes. Go on with your guacamole-self: non-organically.

Chicken. Organic chicken is typically raised without the drugs and growth hormones that cause chickens to grow abnormally quickly to speed up the slaughter process. What they eat, we eat – when we eat them, that is.

Beef. Organic cows are also raised without the typical drug cocktail of conventional factory farms. However, you should always be looking for “grass-fed” beef; cows are not, by nature, able to successfully digest the conventional grain diet that is used to fatten them up. Grass-fed cows are often healthier.

Eating organic allows for a lower exposure to pesticides and chemical cocktails, the effects of which are still being studied. Not only that, but it gives space and opportunity for local farms to grow in profit and compete with the big produce giants, while declining the level of water and soil pollution that pesticides produce. What do you think? Is it worth the hit to your wallet?

Race The World Inequality

Non-black teachers, listen to your black students

I’m not black and I don’t know what it’s like to be black in this world. I’m not worried about my own life or the lives of my sisters or my parents when it comes to police brutality. Even when Indian men have been brutally handled by police, it is because of anti-blackness. I am very privileged to not feel unsafe at the hands of police. Despite this, I am outraged by police brutality, systemic racism, and blatant anti-blackness in this country because I am a decent human being who values the lives of other human beings.

I used to teach in rural Arkansas and over 90% of my students were black. When I mentioned where I worked to people within and outside the community, I was told to beware of “those kids.” I once had a museum educator come do science for my students and she told me afterwards that she expected bad behavior because of what she’d heard about us. I heard hateful, negative talk about “those kids” If any of you teach in a predominately black or low-income school, you hear it too.

Believing that all black kids are worthy of a precaution is exactly what gets them killed. How else could someone think a 12 year old with a toy gun was remotely threatening? This is the kind of rhetoric that’s in the back of people’s minds when they murder innocent black people. This is what people are thinking when they defend the actions of power-hungry cops. These are the thoughts that lead people to need more evidence (because somehow videos are insufficient) before condemning police shootings. When I see people on social media and the news talk about the black victims of police brutality being “thugs” or giving the police the benefit of the doubt (because it’s easier to believe all black people are dangerous than believe that some police officers are capable of murder), I am outraged, terrified, upset, worried.

I see my former students posting on Facebook about Philando Castile and Alton Sterling and proudly stating that Black Lives Matter. Knowing that any one of them feels unsafe because they’re black enrages me beyond belief.

Educators don’t simply teach students concepts, skills, and facts. They serve as mentors, therapists, supporters, and encouragers. This makes teaching one of the most difficult and important jobs in the world. As a face that students will see 5 out of 7 days a week, you are someone that they should feel safe around. And if you teach black or brown students, you should be making the effort every day to make them feel valued, loved, and appreciated. In this world and during these terrible times, they should know you’re on their side.

It’s also the job of educators to inspire thought and action. These are important times in our country and all students should be actively engaged in what’s happening. It is important to learn how to engage your classrooms in meaningful ways. Students need these discussions – all students. And it’s your job as an educator to facilitate these discussions and empower your students to civil action.

It’s your job as an educator to listen. Listen to your students as they process their feelings and understand the horrors they’re witnessing. And listen to your black neighbors, friends, and colleagues as they tell you about the injustices they’re facing and how you can help.

Systemic racism is alive and well within the confines of your classrooms. Educators perpetuate educational racism every single day and you might be doing this subconsciously. Have you ever thought “oh, they just won’t do this assignment” or “there’s no way they’ll understand this concept, so I can’t teach it”?

Educational expectations for black children are lower across the nation in schools, black students are more likely to be held back and disciplined than white students, and schools with more students of color spend less per student than majority white schools. Schools stress white, middle class classroom norms to students who don’t fit those identities. Stereotype threats burden the minds of students of color and cause them to perform lower in class. In a society where the school to prison pipeline is very real and black men and women are being murdered for nothing, we have to do better by our black students.

If you are in front of the classroom, molding the minds of these young people — the responsibility is on you. Your students need to know they can count on you to push back against racism. It’s the job of educators to stand against the ignorance that is putting students’ lives at risk. Even as someone who no longer teaches, I want my former students to know that I am on their side, like I always have been and always will be. I want them to know that I will always fight for and alongside them. Just as I continue to be inspired and supported by my former teachers, I will continue to support my former students… because that’s the job of a teacher.

Books Pop Culture

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is anything but magical

I still remember when the last Harry Potter book came out. My sisters and I went to the nearby Walmart (because our town didn’t have a bookstore) to buy 4 copies at midnight. I stayed up for the next 9 hours reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, grasping onto every word. My heart broke at every major death (RIP DOBBY & HEWDIG & FRED) and I felt a sad satisfaction as I finished the final pages of the best book series ever written in the world.

Harry Potter means to me, as it does to many of us, so much more than 7 great books. I met some of my best friends in a Harry Potter chatroom (that we named SPEW) and some of my best memories relate to the series in some way. So when JK Rowling decided to release Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, parts 1 & 2 on Harry’s 36th birthday … I was VERY EXCITED.

I picked up the books on July 31st around 3pm.


I was unreasonably excited and felt like a pre-teen/teenager again. It’s been 9 years since a new HP book came out. IT FELT SO GOOD. Also Snapchat had a Harry filter and it made everything so much better.


I immediately started reading. The difference between a novel and a play was quickly apparent. The pacing was weird and (obviously) the dialogue was central to the story. But… I wasn’t drawn in or compelled. I was becoming more and more disappointed as I read on.

Without giving too much away, the play begins 19 years post-Battle of Hogwarts as Harry and Ginny’s son Albus Severus Potter (come on) boards the Hogwarts Express for his first year. Albus is scared of being sorted in Slytherin. None of this is news — this is the shitty epilogue we were all forced to read at the end of book 7.

And since most of us are competent humans, it’s 100000% predictable that, hey, Albus gets sorted into Slytherin.

And then the play fast-forwards through his first 3 years and his solidified BFFness with Scorpius Malfoy (seriously?) and his growing isolation from his hot-shot celebrity father. All that happens in like 4 pages.

And then Albus and Scorpius have a bad idea to save Cedric from dying and go back in time to screw some shit up so Harry has to find them and save them/the world because that’s what The Boy Who Lived does. Except he’s doing it for his son because #fatherhood.

Oh also at some point Harry tells Albus he wishes he wasn’t his son or something because apparently men are incapable of expressing feelings so they just say things that are clearly not okay to say to your children.


About 250 pages into the book, I actually left to go get dinner. I remember not sleeping or eating for hours during HP 5, 6, and 7. So me leaving before finishing should tell you a lot. Anyway, when I came back, my cat had taken my seat.

She was even less amused than I was.

From this page onward, the play sort of picked up. It was slightly more amusing. Particularly because of Draco and Ron, who were both brilliant and true-to-themselves which I very much appreciated. Also Ron has the BEST quote of the play. I won’t post it here, because out of context it makes no sense. But just know it happened and that it’s lovely and that you should read the play for that purpose alone.

[bctt tweet=”Just read it, but certainly consider yourself warned.” username=”wearethetempest”]

When I finished the Cursed Child, I didn’t really feel much different. I hadn’t been moved by the text like I had with the original series. I was, very plainly, disappointed. It didn’t have the original humor, creativity, and story-telling. And, honestly, I feel like I’m betraying my childhood by admitting the script didn’t have that Harry Potter magic we all adore.

I imagine the pacing and plot may suit a play much more than a sit-down reading. J.K. Rowling herself insists that this story needed to be told as a play. Unfortunately it’s not showing in America anytime soon, so I won’t be able to confirm/deny that. So I can’t help but feel let down and wanting more.

This perfectly expresses my current feelings.
This perfectly expresses my current feelings: angsty, OOTP Harry.
Malfoy’s initial face represents my initial excitement. Then I was “punched” with reality.

Overall, the play is maybe a commentary on parenting or growing up or how weird teenagers are or what not to name your children. And, because of my undying love for the original series – I recommend this read to any Harry Potter fan. It’s a bit nostalgic and all Ron-Hermione shippers will appreciate the timelessness of their love (because it is the only true love other than Buffy+Angel). And it’s really quite fun. Don’t expect any deep meaning or intention from JKR – reread the series if you’re looking for a compelling and powerful story. Just read the Cursed Child as it is, and certainly consider yourself warned.

Pop Culture Gaming

I tried Pokemon Go for a week so you don’t have to

I should mention that I never played Pokemon as a kid. I’m still not entirely sure how to pronounce it. When friends first started posting about it on Facebook, I got really confused. Figured it was some weird Pokemon-fan-only thing and ignored it. BUT THEN EVERYONE STARTED POSTING.

I saw someone mention Pokemon Go and fitness. What? Is this phone app gonna make me exercise? I was slightly worried. But I was too intrigued and became committed.

Day 1: Sunday

I downloaded the app. I got to create an avatar for myself, which generally I love doing. I couldn’t find my skin color. I chose the darkest shade. It makes no sense for me to be the darkest shade, considering I’m a relatively light-skinned Indian woman. I took a picture because I was outraged by how not-dark the options were.

The darkest shade
The darkest shade

The outfit choices were also not that great and I had to wear a hat. Normally, I don’t wear hats because my head is too small. But I guess it’s necessary for Pokemon catching.

Pokemon catching. WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN? No clue. But I know I gotta catch ’em all.

My friend taught me how to walk around and catch Pokemon. There were tons of Pokemon around the house! WHO KNEW?! So once you find them, you have to throw Pokeballs at them, which will open up and consume the Pokemon. And that means you caught it. Sometimes they move so you have to try again.


I played for another 10-20 minutes, walking around trying to understand what was happening. I caught 5 Pokemon and got up to level 3 on my first day! I felt really accomplished.

Day 2: Monday

I work at the zoo on Mondays and Wednesdays, so once Monday rolled around I had to slow down on the Pokemon catching. But once work was over, I walked around the zoo and noticed TONS of Pokestops – little areas where you get Pokeballs and stuff FOR FREE. And I caught Pokemon around the different exhibits in the zoo.

Y’all, at this point…like already by day 2, I was kinda obsessed! I even played while watching X Files, which I’m generally very attentive to because of my obsession with David Duchovny. As my obsession continued, I actively researched aspects of the game to figure out what all the features were. What did it mean to power up my Pokemon? Why was I evolving them?

[bctt tweet=”Y’all, at this point…like already by day 2, I was kinda obsessed! ” username=”wearethetempest”]

I couldn’t really figure out the answers to these questions, but I powered-up and evolved several of my Pokemon because I could.

A Pidgey & a Fox
A Pidgey & a Fox

Day 3: Tuesday

On day 3, I finally reached level 5 and was able to join a TEAM. There are 3 possible teams: red, blue, and yellow. Actually they all have names, but I only can ever remember my own team: Team Mystic. I liked Team Mystic because it reminded me of Ravenclaw — the team dedicated to knowledge and being a nerd.


In the evening, I took the train to go into the city and it was THE BEST DECISION EVER. I got so many Pokestops and gathered like a bajillion Pokeballs. AND. ANDDDD. I caught TWO Jigglypuffs!!! I remember Jigglypuff from when Pokemon was big because I thought it was cute. I found these catches very exciting. All while sitting on the train … and not moving.

Day 4: Wednesday

I collect data at the zoo on iPads using a map of the enclosure that beeps at me when it’s time to mark stuff down about the monkeys. After one of the beeps on this day, an older woman asked me “oh, is that the Pokemon Go the kids are playing?”

My data collecting app DOES NOT LOOK LIKE THIS.

Anyway, I still hadn’t made an effort to take a walk or be more active to catch Pokemon. I somehow managed to reach level 6 while NOT moving. I continued to catch more Pokemon from the comfort of my couch and dining table. Sometimes I “lured” them with this device that sent out like a pheromone to attract Pokemon for 30 minutes.

I started to transfer Pokemon to get “candies” — I can then use those candies to evolve or power up my Pokemon. Transferring Pokemon gets rid of them for good, but that’s okay WHEN YOUR AREA HAS LIKE 23947298347234972349 PIDGEYS. I’ve evolved several Pidgeys because why would I need them all. (No seriously, if there is a benefit to having several just hanging out, let me know).

Day 5: Thursday

Today, I actually took a walk for the purpose of catching Pokemon. Y’all … this game got me to be active. It worked. IT WORKED.

But, just like real life, I still haven’t been to the gym… I think the gym is where you can train your Pokemon to fight and then do battles. I might some day venture to a gym to battle, but I’m slightly worried my little Pokemon will die. I DON’T WANT THEM TO DIE. I like them. Do they die? I don’t know. But I’m certainly attached to my collection and I 10000% want to catch them all.

[bctt tweet=”Y’all … this game got me to be active. It worked. IT WORKED.” username=”wearethetempest”]

After spending several days on the app, I wonder if playing with the cards back in the day was as excitin. Pokemon Go has made me slightly regret never having joined in back in like 4th grade when it was big. Reader, don’t potentially regret not trying this game out. Get it. Play it. Love it.