Janice Boekhoff

Fun Science Fact


Did you know that space dust rains down on us constantly? And a lot of it, too. Scientists estimate as much as 40,000 tons per year. Space dust is thought to originate mainly from collisions between comets and asteroids and is composed of fine particles made of mostly silicate minerals with some sulfides, metals and carbonaceous material.

No wonder my central vacuum gets such a workout every week. And to think, I blamed the hairy dog and my crumb-dropping kids.


Reference: http://www.universetoday.com/443/constant-rain-of-space-dust-adds-up/, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/139217/interplanetary-dust-particle-IDP

Photo Credit: ID 25681056 © Nienora | Dreamstime.com

Our Mindless Brain?


In the last several years I’ve developed the habit of snacking late at night after the kids go to bed. And not harmless snacking either—cookies, cake, candy, anything chocolate, really. Next thing I know, all the sugar has kept me awake until after midnight. When I finally fall asleep, here comes the crazy dreams because my brain is wired. Like the one I had where I was an acrobat balancing on one toe on the head of a pin, while singing that addictive song from Frozen. Okay, so maybe the dreams are kind of fun, but still exhausting.

I’ve tried to break this habits several times with little success. I end up beating myself up for being so weak. Why can’t I stop? I didn’t used to have this problem.

Turns out there’s a reason habits are so hard to break. They involve multiple parts of the brain in a phenomenon similar to the “chunking” used in our memory storage. Habits are imprinted in multiple circuits between the neocortex (specifically the infralimbic cortex) and the striatum (in the midbrain). These areas of the brain set up feedback loops to help us determine if a particular behavior is worth repeating. Once we decided that it is, the striatum sets up boundary markers for these chunks of behavior so they can be completed easier. God has hard-wired this into our brains so that we can use our brain power for other functions while our habits are performed almost without thinking. Which is great, unless it goes awry with a bad habit.

Amazingly, researchers have found that, even though habits feel out of our control, they aren’t. In testing mice, they discovered that turning off the neurons in the infralimbic cortex (using a light-sensitive technique called optogenetics) caused the animals to lose their habitual behavior. It seems that a decision-making part of the brain is monitoring the habitual activity, even when we haven’t consciously decided to perform it.

What does this mean for my bad habit at bed time? Since I’m not about to allow researchers to embed light-sensitive electrodes in my brain to turn off some of my neurons, for me, it means a lot of work. Breaking a habit is not unlike breaking an addiction (albeit on a much smaller scale). I need to make the conscious decision every night to ignore the chunk of my brain dedicated to my bad habit. One way to do that is to find a reason to break the habit that’s more important to me than the habit itself (perhaps disrupting that feedback loop in my brain).

Something more important. Like maybe losing weight or better sleep at night. Problem is, those things can’t compare with cookies—hence my dilemma. Perhaps I should re-think the electrodes in the brain thing?

What about you? Do you have any bad habits you’ve tried to break or have broken? Have you stopped a habit only to have that chunk of behavior come back?

Reference: Graybiel, Ann M., and Kyle S. Smith. (2014). Good Habits, Bad Habits. Scientific American, 310 (6), p. 39-43.


Photo Credit: ID 18932264 © Hubis | Dreamstime.com


Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

Psalm 1:1-3

We have a Magnolia tree in our backyard which has bloomed only a few flowers in the last two years. Finally, I started to investigate why the tree wasn’t flourishing (yes, it took me two years to get around to this). Near the base I found a few spider-plant shoots. I’m not very good with plants, but I figured they weren’t part of the Magnolia tree. When I pulled them out, I discovered wild onions—made me cry even—sapping the life out of my tree.

What’s sapping the life out of your walk with Jesus? Do you have a secret sin buried deep and it’s taking all your energy to feed it? If so, you need to get it out of your root system. Or maybe, like the magnolia tree, your life is just too crowded, too many things pulling at your resources.

After I got rid of the onions, the tree perked up and developed four more blooms within a couple of days. Are you blooming and productive or are you barely making it through the day, feeding things that aren’t worth it?

Dear Lord, give us Your wisdom to know what needs to be taken from us so You can do more through us. In Jesus name, amen.

Fun Science Fact



Anyone up for a fecal transplant (insert tasteless joke here)? Medical professionals have pursued these transplants as a way to help patients with recurring infections of Clostridium difficile infection (CDI). This is an infection of the gut which can be difficult to cure with antibiotics, and in fact, may be caused by high doses of antibiotics which kill the body’s good bacteria along with the bad.

A recent article in the Quad City Times (June 27, 2014) detailed the difficulties of one woman suffering from her seventh round of CDI. She visited the bathroom 20 to 30 times a day and made multiple trips to the hospital due to dehydration. A fecal transplant with donor material from her husband cured her CDI within a day.

Currently, most places restrict fecal donors to family members, but researchers are looking into the safety of using banked stool from other donors. These fecal transplants appear to restore healthy microbes into the guts of the patients. The Mayo Clinic claims to have a 90 percent cure rate from the procedure. That’s an amazing—if somewhat yucky—statistic.

References: http://www.mayoclinic.org/medical-professionals/clinical-updates/digestive-diseases/quick-inexpensive-90-percent-cure-rate, Quad City Times, June 27, 2014, Associated Press, “Is Human Waste an Experimental Drug? FDA grapples with oversight of fecal transplants.”

Photo Credit: ID 24636807 © Massimo De Candido | Dreamstime.com

Radiometric Age-Dating–The Assumptions


Why talk about a stuffy topic like radiometric age-dating? The answer is that people are using it to claim the earth is billions of years old and if I’m going to believe something huge like that, then I want to know where that number comes from.

Last week we defined radiometric age-dating and discovered there are two types: 1) radiocarbon dating (done only on organic material that is a few thousand years old) and 2) radioisotope age-dating (done on volcanic deposits using elements like argon, lead, and strontium). If you missed this post or want a review of it, click here. This week we’ll build on the post from last week and talk about the assumptions inherent in radiometric age-dating. I just realized how much this intro paragraph sounds like a textbook—sorry. If my geo-girl persona comes out too much in the rest of this, leave me a comment and ask me to explain in places where I might confuse you.

To get numbers in the millions or billions, scientists make some assumptions and then measure the amount of isotopes in the rock sample. Therefore, those assumptions are vital to getting a good number that you can have faith in. Reasonable assumptions might lead to a reasonable answer, but unreasonable assumptions lead to junk. I will leave it up to you to draw your own conclusions about the reasonableness of the assumptions for radiometric age-dating, but I can confidently say they are unproven assumptions. This means there is no way to know for sure if they are reasonable. Although scientists may state it like a fact that the earth is billions of years old, it really is only their opinion.

These assumptions are:

1) No daughter element was present when the rock formed (a parent radioactive element decays into a daughter element, i.e. potassium 40 decays into argon 40)

2) The decay rate of the parent element is constant

3) No alteration from groundwater or weathering has occurred in the rock

4) No daughter element has been added to the rock since formation

The first assumption has actually been proven false in the case of argon 40 (the daughter product of potassium 40). Rock samples from fresh lava show significant amounts of argon 40 already present. This explains why several rocks with known eruption dates (meaning we can say for certain they are young) have dated as millions of years old. Similar issues have occurred in rocks dated using other elements like strontium and uranium. If radiometric dating methods worked for rocks of known age, then it would validate the method. Instead, proving this assumption false, proves the entire method false. If we can’t trust the results for rocks whose dates we know, then why would we trust it for unknown rocks?

On to the decay rate. Scientists have measured the decay rates of these isotopes in the laboratory with precision. What we know is that the decay rates have measured as constant since we’ve been measuring them. Does this mean they have been constant in the distant past, even millions of years ago? Maybe, but maybe not. Some scientists think we have reason to doubt constant decay rates based on small amounts of helium which have leaked out of old uranium-lead-dated granite crystals (see reference below for more on this).

For the sake of brevity in this post, I’m going to lump 3 & 4 together because they have the same inherent problem—the earth is not a closed system. Fluids and gases are always at work in the subsurface. While scientists can look for evidence of alteration on the rock, and sometimes we can find it, the absence of alteration doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Is it reasonable to conclude that nothing has changed in these rocks in supposedly millions of years?

All radiometric age-dating methods are based on these same four assumptions. Certainly they are unverifiable, but what do you think? Are they reasonable?


References: “Radiometric Dating: Problems with the Assumptions.” Dr. Andrew Snelling. (https://answersingenesis.org/geology/radiometric-dating/radiometric-dating-problems-with-the-assumptions/)

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