What is the Stratosphere and why did Joe Kittinger fly a helium balloon to it?

On August 16th, 1960, Joe Kittinger did the unimaginable. He rode a giant helium balloon to the “edge of space” and jumped out into the Earth’s atmosphere to record the longest ever free fall at 100,000 feet or 31 km. Just hearing about the what happened can bring anxiety to oneself; it is hard to believe that Kittinger willingly agreed to do this. No one had ever attempted to do this before, so he had no idea what would happen or whether or not he would live. He jumped from the stratosphere to the troposphere at 1000 kmph, and it is reported that he felt nothing even though he was nearly traveling at “the speed of sound.” He began to feel the air pushing against his body when he reached the troposphere again, but what some might wonder is how he felt nothing when he was traveling at a rate most people will never experience? This is where one must discover what the stratosphere is and how it is essential to life on Earth.

Kittenger and his tin can

The stratosphere is 16-50 km above the surface of the Earth. The gravitational pull of the Earth is not as strong in the stratosphere as it is in the troposphere which is why it is less dense in the stratosphere. This sphere protects us from the sun’s rays because the ozone layer is located here. The stratosphere protects all life from the harmful rays (UVB and UVC) of the sun without it most life on earth including humans would surely die. At this altitude temperature’s have been recorded to be 3,182 degrees Fahrenheit or 1750 degrees Celsius.

It is important to know that Kittinger did not embark on this mission in order to obtain a world record. He did it for science. In 1960 the first person had not yet gone to the moon. There was very little knowledge of atmospheric travel or space travel. Kittinger recalls that he had no idea what was happening to him in the stratosphere because he could not feel anything and he had no idea whether or not he was suspended in space or falling to the troposphere. People like him are the reason that advances in science occur. Although he no longer holds the record for the highest free fall, it is because of him that his record was broken. His journey helped scientists better understand conditions in the different levels of the atmosphere and how to make better technology for the future. He helped daredevil Felix Baumgartner to break his record. Kittinger is quoted saying that “15 minutes before I was at the edge of space, and now I felt like I was in the garden of Eden.” It is incredible how he risked his life in order to help the people of the world understand how “beautiful,” our planet is. I can honestly say that if I was offered to do the same with today’s technology I would be terrified, but knowing that I could help others understand the environment I would do it.  It is amazing how far we have come from sending a man into the edge of space using only “tin can” and a helium balloon.



Chapter 4 Global Climates and Biomes page 88-89

60 Minutes

In New Delhi, India, “One woman dies every hour due to dowry related reasons on an average in the country.”   In order to understand this horrifying statistic, you must first understand the concept of dowry, and the role it plays in Indian society.

In Indian culture, it’s tradition for the bride’s family to provide her with riches such as “gold, jewelry, and a trousseau, before she leaves her parental home to live with her in-laws.” This practice is a means of providing the couple with a sense of economic security as they begin their new life together.   In 1961, India passed the Dowry Prohibition Act, which “prohibits the request, payment or acceptance of dowry as consideration for the marriage.” As exhibited by the horrific statistics concerning dowry related deaths, this law is widely ignored.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reported that the number of dowry related deaths have been increasing. In 2007, 8903 deaths were reported. In 2008 and 2009, the number rose to 8,383.

Dowry related deaths are linked to the phenomenon of gender imbalance occurring within Indian society. Couples want to have boys instead of girls. This is because, if you have a girl, you have to pay dowry when she gets engaged. Oppositely, if you have a boy, you receive dowry. Having a son is more profitable than having a daughter. Often, women are abused if they cannot give birth to a son. This is a cruel and ironic practice. The gender of a baby is decided by the sex chromosome that each parent contributes. Women have two X chromosomes, and males have one X and one Y chromosome. The mother can only contribute an X chromosome; the gender of the baby at that point depends on whether or not the father contributes his X or Y chromosome.   Reference, Figure 1.1

Figure 1.1


The highest population of women in any age group is around 52 million, whereas the highest population of men in any age group is around 65 million. This serves to illustrate the enormous gap between the male and female population in India. This age structure diagram also illustrates that the population in India is currently expanding.  Additionally, it indicates that India is between the second and third stage of the demographic transition. The demographic transition has five stages; it’s used to illustrate a country’s change from high birth rates and high death rates, to low birth rates and low death rates. The demographic transition model below illustrates birth rate, death rate and population growth. See Figure 1.2


The problem of gender imbalance and dowry related deaths are prominent ones. I hope that as India progresses through the demographic transition that the culture of the country will progress with it.  If this happens than the rate of dowry deaths and the gender imbalance should decrease.  This is because, often as countries progress through the transition, societal traditions change with it, specifically gender equality increases along with female literacy rates.  These changes often attribute to the lowering birth rate as a country advances through the transition.

I think the key to combating the issue of dowry related death will be in changing societal beliefs concerning dowry, and also by combatting gender inequality within Indian communities.





Want to Be More Creative? Get Immersed in the Nature!

Nowadays many people spend lots of time indoor. Different social medias are taking away our opportunities to go out and explore the nature. Today’s children only spend around 20 minutes per day outside and this time continues to drop. The number of visits in both national parks and nature-based recreation has decline since 1980s. The modern life we are living now is much better than the one our ancestors had, but are we not missing out the benefits the beautiful nature might give us?

The study by Strayer and University of Kansas psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and Paul Atchley has shown that immersion in natural settings could improve creativity. The study involved 56 people, with 30 men and 26 women at an average age of 28. These study objects were divided into 8 different groups to participate in hiking trips without any technology from 4 days to 6 days in Alaska, Colorado, Maine and Washington state. Among these 8 groups, 4 groups (pre-hike groups) took a 10-item creativity test the morning before the trip and the other 4 groups (in-hike groups) took the same test the morning of the fourth day. The in-hike groups had a much higher average score on the test – they got a 6.08 compared to a 4.14. There are actually two factors in this experiment – nature and technology. There is no direct evidence to determine whether the study objects’ problem solving ability is improved by the increased exposure to nature or decreased exposure to technology. However, the researchers believe that these two factors are strongly interrelated to each other that they are often seen as two sides of a coin.

It does not matter whether nature immersion experience directly or indirectly, by reduce use of technology, affects one’s creativity. What really matters is that we need to understand how important it is for us to connect with the nature. Richard Louv, the author of Last Child in the Woods and The Natural Principle, believes that connection to nature should be seen as a human right. I agree with him. I think today we are trying so hard to draw the line between nature and the human society but we forget the fact that we are also part of nature. I really appreciate the opportunities like hiking in the desert or sitting in the woods for twenty minutes. It helps me to feel connected to the nature.


Trekking in Wadi Rum, Jordan




Atchley RA, Strayer DL, Atchley P (2012) Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings. PLoS ONE 7(12): e51474. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051474

Howard, Brian Clark, ed. “Connecting With Nature Boosts Creativity and Health.” National Geographic. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2014. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/06/130628-richard-louv-nature-deficit-disorder-health-environment/&gt;.

“Nature Nurtures Creativity.” U News Center. U of Utah, n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2014. <http://unews.utah.edu/news_releases/nature-nurtures-creativity-2/&gt;.

Humans and their Atypical Reproductive Patterns

By Jack Hartigan

In 1859, Charles Darwin illuminated the people of the world with the truth behind the behavioral and reproductive tendencies of organisms. On the Origen of Species delves into how organisms tend to react to improved circumstances, whether it is a disappearance of a predator, an abundance of food, a change in season, etc., by producing more offspring and expanding their population. This is done because organisms are naturally wired to do whatever is in their power to prevent the extinction of their species, and what better way to accomplish this than to reproduce as much as possible. While this trend is arguably the most biologically pragmatic truth established by scientists, it is not a completely universal truth. Homo sapiens, the genus that includes all humans, react to improved circumstances by curtailing reproductive rate rather than raising it.wolfersimage012

Figure 1 from http://freakonomics.com/2011/06/10/the-rich-vs-poor-debate-are-kids-normal-or-inferior-goods/

This behavioral pattern of humans is shown in Figure 1, where the inversely proportional relationship between reproductive rate (TFR) and occupational income is displayed by year, with lower TFRs in high-income families and higher TFRs in low-income families. This trend is essentially the reason behind the shape of the demographic transition, in which humans are shown to lower their reproductive rates as their respective country becomes more and more developed. Dr. Anna Goodman of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine offers an explanation to this phenomenon by categorizing the reproductive tendencies of humans into two categories; r-selection and K-selection. R-selection applies to humans who produce many offspring but do not invest themselves fully in each child. This is used in conditions that cause high infant mortality rates. The other strategy, K-selection, applies to humans who produce very few offspring, but dedicate themselves fully to their nurturing and well-rounded development. This is used in conditions where contraceptives, medical attention, and food is handily available.

The demographic transition essentially shows that, as a country advances through the chronological stages of the transition, the reproductive rates of people in the country begin to spiral. This is because as countries advance through the stages of the demographic transition, they become more developed and the economical situation of the countries improves.




The Ecological Advantages of Algae

“Even though algae is the tiniest plant on earth, representing only 0.5% of total plant biomass, algae create about 60% of the Earth’s oxygen – more than all the forests and fields combined.”

–Mark Edwards (Green Algae Strategy)

Two of the most prominent concerns today are renewable resources and clean water. The most promising route for alternative energy along with water filtration is algae. There is so much potential in these tiny organisms that must be understood and utilized to their full potential in order to solve some major problems with the environment.

Microalgae are a part of a group of many organisms referred to as algae. Algae are photosynthetic organisms that can range from the size of one cell, to chains that group together to make a massive single organism. Cyanophyceae, or blue-green algae, Chlorophyceae (green algae), Bacillariophyceae (including diatoms) and Chrysophyceae (including golden algae), are the types of microalgae most commonly used for wastewater treatment, biofuel, and CO2 fixation. CO2 fixation is the process where CO2 emissions in the atmosphere are converted into organic carbon compounds.

Algae have the potential to kill three birds with one stone. With carbon emissions skyrocketing, there is a desperate need for carbon fixation. There is also a desperate need for a new, sustainable source of crude oil. The use of Microalgae is more efficient then other methods, takes up less space, has no risk of leakage and also provides the crude materials to make biofuel. An additional benefit can be added if the algae are grown in wastewater.

Algae grow using nutrients, which are drawn from the water. These nutrients are actually waste products such as nitrogen and phosphorous. They absorb the nutrients and then use sunlight and CO2 to grow through photosynthesis. When they grow, they create lipids that can be used as biofuel. The actual algae mass left over after extraction can be used as fertilizer.


Figure 1 http://algae.illinois.edu/Projects/Hydrothermal.html

Figure 1 is a visual that shows the inputs and outputs of Algae growth. It shows that the algae only need waste to grow and release beneficial outputs. This is why algae have great ecological impacts if used correctly. Just by growing and living in a certain ecosystem, the algae can clean the environment it is in and clean the air that we breathe.



Enhanced CO2 fixation and biofuel production via microalgae

By: Kumar,Amit;Ergas,Sarina;Yuan,Xin;Sahu,Ashish;Zhang,Qiong

Image Source:


Cultural influences and how they negatively affect society

Different cultures have different social pressures. In america there is little to no pressure, any more, to have a lot of children. In India there is a high social pressure to have many children. The fact that India is a developing country is a large factor in why the pressure to have kids is the way it is. When you are living in a poor country like India the health care isnt as good as somewhere like the USA, you have babies knowing that there is a chance that one or more could die. When you have multiple children, once they grow up, they could help the family’s income by getting jobs. In the USA there isn’t as much of a need for raising one’s children with the idea that they could work for the family.

The crude birth rate in India in 2014 is currently 19.89 births/1,000 population, while the crude birth rate in the USA is lower at 13.42 births/1,000 population. In india there is an intense social pressure to have children and it has a negative impact on pollution, the economy, and the population size. It might sound like a brilliant idea to just tell the people in India to stop having so many kids, but it doesn’t quite work that way. The culture in India has been the way it is for years upon years. America used to be this way, in 1910 the birth rate was at 30.1/1,000 population. The birth rate was so high because back then a family would be better off bigger because the kids could help out on the farm or in the family business. This high birth rate declined as industrialization, and advances in society slowly grew.


“I did not want to have children now. I want to study.” said by Nineteen-year-old Kalawati Kumari is an important quote because it shows that people in India do want change. She was married into an arranged marriage, and had children when she didn’t want to. I think that the presence of people like Kumari in India will slowly begin to change the long standing culture into something similar to the birth culture in the USA. The change that went on in the USA went along with a change in economy, and a different way of thinking because of it. If the way of thinking that Kumari has could spread to many other Indian people I believe that the problem of overpopulation, caused by a high birth rate, would be diminished. If the overpopulation problem was solved then the economy problems in India would be easier to solve, the pollution problems in India would be easier to solve, and the culture of pushing people into marriages and to have children that they might not want would slowly start to fade.



Females Usually Live Longer than Males… Right?

After the 1918 flu epidemic, Women’s life expectancy has risen steadily. In fact, Women’s life expectancy has risen and stayed above men’s, creating an age gap of about 4-5 years. What are the reasons that women tend to live longer then men? Theories suggest that it could be due to the fact that men work at more dangerous jobs, are more likely to fight in wars, and some even suggest it could be because men often avoid seeing a doctor more than women or women have a more advantageous biological makeup.

Luckily for males, the age gap is closing, and their life expectancy is increasing. It is projected that by 2035, men will close the life expectancy gap with females. The reasons for the increase in life expectancy is due to the improvement in safety in the work space and how women are taking on more of the dangerous jobs. For example. there is less of a mortality risk for men when in a career such as mining or being a soldier and women have taken more of the responsibility of these jobs, therefore sharing the risks.

Yet, the close in the life expectancy gap is not completely because of males. Unfortunately for women, mainly American Women, their life expectancy’s have began to decrease. As of now, the drop in life expectancy for American women has affected about 12% of the U.S. women population. Of the 12%, most women lived in rural areas and had low-incomes.

Figure 1.

Figure 1.


Figure 1 shows the areas where women have been recorded to die earlier than the average American woman. The colors represent change in life expectancy from 1987 – 2007. As Figure 1 represents, the American women life expectancy rate has mainly decreased by 1.1-2.5 years across the country.

So why has American women’s life expectancy decreased? In the 1,000 counties that recorded women who had a low life expectancy, a lot of the early deaths seemed to be related to the increase of diabetes, lung cancer, emphysema, and kidney failure among women. Yet what do these health problems all have in common? They all are long-term consequences of smoking. Women started smoking more casually and consistently much later then men did, therefore women are facing these consequences later. Researchers have also found evidence that the increasing issue of obesity in America also affects the decrease in American women’s life expectancy.

Figure 2.

Figure 2.


In Figure 2, Urban/males (blue, fragmented line) and urban/females ((red, fragmented line) represents how over time the gap between males and females is decreasing, both with male’s life expectancy increasing and women’s life expectancy decreasing.

Out of all the deaths in America, both male and female, about half are due to life-style choices or environmental causes. Yet a lot of these deaths can be avoided through personal actions such as quitting smoking, drinking alcohol, eating healthy, and exercising more often. Through these adjustments, people will live longer, and instead male’s life expectancy increasing and women’s life expectancy decreasing, both male’s and female’s life expectancies can be increasing..