What’s a STEM major? What’s an athlete?

I’ve always had a soft spot for athletes who were science majors in college. It isn’t easy to balance the demands of a physical training regimen along with a full course load, particularly when said course load includes a number of lengthy laboratory classes, so I’m impressed when someone tackles both. I don’t know why I haven’t been keeping an actual list of scientist-turned-athletes (or vice versa), except that I don’t really have any purpose for doing so. But apparently I’m not the only one who has an interest in scientist-athletes, so I’ll take a first pass at starting a list.

We should probably set some parameters first. For our purposes, I’m happy to keep these as broad as possible.

What is a STEM major? As a start, I looked at the US Census Bureau’s graphic, Where do college graduates work? A Special Focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (thanks, Chemjobber!) Declaring a major or field of study is sufficient, no degree needs to be completed (although we could probably tack on a column to indicate a completed degree).

Who is considered an athlete? How do we define what constitutes a professional athlete? It’s easy to say that anyone who makes it to the majors counts. Independent leagues of various sports should be included, as should Olympians. If we’d like to include as many female athletes as possible, we should consider college athletes as well… but the list could grow unwieldy.



synthetic alternatives to mud

I recently wrote about alternatives to baseball rubbing mud for increasing tackiness on baseballs. These might be spray-on products, or they might be impregnated onto the surface of the ball itself. One area of knowledge that I wish I had a better grasp of (no pun intended): the leather tanning process. Based on my very rudimentary understanding of the leather tanning process, the goal is to displace water trapped within the collagen fiber bundles of the animal skin. This is achieved by replacing water molecules using either a vegetable tanning process, which uses tannin-based compounds (yes, the same tannins that you find in wine) or a mineral, particularly something chromium-based. What if, instead of using a naturally occurring tannin, you replaced this with a modified tannin molecule that has a moiety which provides an enhanced grip?

In fact, the leather manufacturer responsible for producing the leather used in NFL footballs has their own “Tanned-in-Tack”. I suspect that Mizuno, who uses Deguchi Northern Kip leather in many of their products, uses a similar tactic in producing baseballs for NPB. Many of these leather tanning processes are trade secrets, but some companies have patented their own leather tanning and treatment processes. For example, Wilson Sporting Goods has U.S. Patent 5,069,935, for waterproofing leather for making footballs. There is also U.S. Patent 4,689,832, for creating a partially de-tackified leather containing nitrocellulose and silicone resins. It’s an interesting area of work, and I’d love to revisit the process of leather tanning someday. Based on my own reading, I suspect that the best way to achieve a baseball having a tackier feel and a better grip is to adsorb a substance having enhanced grip during the leather tanning process. Rather than replace the rubbing mud with a spray-on product, let’s look at changing the material of the baseball altogether.

link dump

Trump pick for NASA chief doesn’t understand science – Fortunately, there is bipartisan opposition, mostly because Marco Rubio realizes that NASA has a significant impact on his state. But Bridenstine’s name has been floated out there for a few months now.

“When discussing climate change, Bridenstine uses a tactic perfected by the tobacco industry; specifically, the sowing of doubt to obscure science. The tobacco industry internally adopted the slogan “doubt is our greatest ally” in its efforts to hide that its products were killing thousands, which it achieved through sloganeering and PR statements honed to suggest it was unclear if the science was conclusive about tobacco’s effects. In the same vein, Bridenstine once said that the climate “has always changed,” and noted “periods of time long before the internal combustion engine when the Earth was much warmer than it is today.”

The Salon story takes a broader look at the tactics Republicans have used to propagate their anti-science rhetoric. This type of logic is dissected in the book Not a Scientist: How Politicians Mistake, Misrepresent, and Utterly Mangle Science, which I highly recommend.

Citing The Bible, The EPA Just Changed Its Rules For Science Advisers – The headline is exactly as it sounds.

“Pruitt used a story from the Book of Joshua to help explain the new policy.

On the journey to the promised land, “Joshua says to the people of Israel: choose this day whom you are going to serve,” Pruitt said.

Meanwhile, head of the House Science Committee Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, says, “Today’s announcement shows that we have an administrator with common sense, commitment, and courage.”