Dead Zone: Not Iowa Nice

Life here on Earth has it all figured out. Plants consume carbon dioxide and water and pump out oxygen and carbohydrates. Animals consume carbohydrates and pump out carbon dioxide. It works beautifully when in balance. When out of balance, it creates spots where no life exists called Dead Zones. Dead Zone sound like something from a Stephen King novel. In reality, they are found in watersheds. The cause: lack of dissolved oxygen in the water.

Dissolved oxygen gets into water when it rushes and tumbles. How does it leave water? It gets used up by animals and by decomposition.

When fertilizer from fields runs into the water, it causes algae to grow.

No problem, right? The algae will put oxygen in the water. It does, until it dies or until the excess algae chokes out other vegetation and kills it. Decomposition uses oxygen. The oxygen levels fall and animals die due to the lack of it, just as in the Death Zone of Mt Everest where the lack of oxygen is due to lower air pressure. Just like Everest climbers, aquatic animals try to get to areas of higher oxygen…they try to swim away and also gulp air at the surface. But they become lethargic and eventually will suffocate.

Of all crops, corn uses the most fertilizer. Therefore, its production is responsible for most of the Dead Zone. This map shows where most of the fertilizer us used in the Mississippi. Because fertilizer is mostly nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, these areas are labeled “Nitrogen Hot Spots.”

The problem is acute when fresh water from farm fields containing fertilizer washes into the Mississippi. This water streams into the Gulf of Mexico-salt water–and sits on top of it because salt water is heavier.

Dissolved oxygen levels should be around 10 ppm for healthy water. Click here to check your local dissolved oxygen levels.

Sadly, the Dead Zone is projected to reach record levels this year, due to all of the flooding in the midwest.

What can be done to prevent this problem? One solution is to restore flood plains. No till farming and cover crops are other solutions.

Another is to follow the 4 Rs of nutrient stewardship.

  • Right fertilizer source at the
  • Right rate, at the
  • Right time and in the
  • Right place

However, crop farmers are not the only ones to blame for this. In fact, lots of the pollution comes from meat and dairy operations. Personally, I try to limit my meat and dairy consumption and when it comes to eggs and chicken, I buy local…but it’s not easy for me.

The Dead Zone and agricultural pollution is a huge issue for Iowa. Because of all the animal feeding operations, Iowa is number one in poop...and the excess nitrogen in the form of nitrates that comes with it. New evidence shows that this does more than cause the Gulf Dead Zone. It contributes to cancer, including thyroid cancer which is very common in Iowa, colorectal cancer, ovarian cancer, and many birth defects and pre-term birth. We need more regulations of these pollutants. We need to reduce our dependence on corn and corn ethanol in Iowa. We need more regulations on animal feeding operations–many of them are owned by China. Did you know that there is more chicken shit in Iowa than people shit? None of it has to go through sewage treatment! Not a pretty picture.

Solutions will not be easy and won’t come as long as Iowans are complacent about the issue. Last year, almost none of my students had even heard of the Dead Zone. Iowans consider themselves “Iowa Nice” because they are superficially polite. But being ignorant of pollution is not very nice, is it?

Sadly, all of this rain and flooding will be a disaster for water quality. Here is a great article with more information.

The viral blast from the past

Recently, Iowa has joined the ranks of states who have seen cases of measles, a viral disease entriely prevented by vaccine. Before a vaccine was developed in 1963, millions of people caught the diease each year. Brain swelling and death were the most serious side effects. In 2000, public health officals believed the United States was free of measles. However, in 2019, we have seen more cases than in 1994. Click here for a map and more information.

On Twitter, Dan Rather mused “Perhaps the anti-vaccine movement and the resurgence of overt racist rhetoric have something in common. As firsthand knowledge of the horrors of lynchings, the Holocaust, the scourge of horrific diseases fades with time, we forget that deadly pestilences demand our vigilance.” Some of this is true. Young parents haven’t measles. Except for cases of extreme flu and HIV, people have forgotten how horrible viral diseases can be, with their resistance to antibiotics. You can’t kill a virus because it isn’t alive. It needs your cells to reproduce. How does your body fight a virus? It has to assemble the correct chemicals to take it down and to do this, it has to learn about the virus through exposure. Vaccines provide this training.

Much of the disinformation here in the United States is associated with Russian disinformation campaigns. We even have a crop of politicians going against doctor’s advice on vaccines and other important health issues. I’ve encountered locals who invoke their own version of god to justify ignoring doctors’ advice.

People are even refusing to vaccinate their pets. Who is most likely to believe this misinformation? “A (rural) middle age, Midwestern man with high-school diploma, low income and a tendency not to think his vote matters much: this is the identity of the average American anti-vaxxer,” However, on social media, the typical anti-vaxxer is female, sheltered, and has a sense of persecution. Because they believe they are being persecuted, arguing with them makes them cling to their beliefs even more.

It comes as no surprise that a number of these people are simply complacent. Some might engage in “magical thinking” –the hope that something is out there beyond simply what we know at this time. Both complacency and magical thinking go together to create a “it can’t happen to me” attitude. I asked a doctor in a city which has seen a measles outbreak if the cases were mostly poor people. He said, no, poor people in general appreciate medical care and trust doctors. They also know bad things can happen. This epidemic has roots in the middle class.

Thanks to scientific advances, some viral killers have been almost entirely wiped from the face of the Earth. Polio is one of those killers. Although it was always around, it spread as an epidemic in the early 1900s with break- outs occurring each summer. In the United States, the epidiemic reached its peak in the summer of 1950 with 57,628 cases, 3,145 resulting in death and 21,269 were left with some form of paralysis.

Treatments included keeping the joints warm and moist by wrapping the patient in wet wool and moving the joints to prevent paralysis.

Some patients suffered chest muscle paralysis, could not breathe on their own and were put into a ventilator known as the iron lung. Each device cost as much as an average home.

Infant in iron lung

At the University of Pittsburgh, Jonas Salk launched what was then the largest human trial in history, injecting nearly 2 million American kids with a potential vaccine. His method, made from an attenuated virus, was funded by public donations via the March of Dimes. When it was announced that his vaccine worked, Salk was hailed as a humanitarian hero. You can read more here.

In 1952 Salk give vaccine to his family. In 1955, the vaccine given to the public for free. By 1994, polio was mostly wiped out.

Famed CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow asked Salk who owned the patent to his vaccine. The scientist replied: “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”

A friend of mine remembers contracting polio in 1955, two months after the vaccine was annouced.

“I was 5 and had a terrible headache. We called the local doctor We didn’t have insurance so the doctor kept me at home and he had 2 Blue Cross nurses come over evey day to help my mom help. I could not move so my mom had to boil wool blankets and wrap me in them, then they had to exercise every joint in my body to loosen them. This was every day. Most people were in the hospital in an iron lung. Since we were poor, I was at home. It took about 2 months of constant exercising joints and boiling blankets to keep the joints loose. I was unable to move at all. This was 1955 about 2 months after the vaccination. I have had problems with moving and bones. I spent 2 months at the Shriners Hospital straightening some bones especially in my feet. Still have issues with my back. ” She adds, ” I hope parents will vaccinate their children.”

Most (98-99%) people do vaccinate their kids. However, confidence in vaccines is falling in the US. One thing compounding this problem is the profit motive in medicine. Health care costs have risen faster than incomes in the United States. They slowed after the Affordable Care Act was implimented, sadly misinformation about the act has been widespread. Although the reasons are complex, health insurance is a major factor for our skyrocketing costs. Bottom line: it’s easy to convince people that the health care industry doesn’t care about them, only about money. If you look at health care billionaires, none of them have come up with a cure. It’s no surprise that one reason given for not vaccinating is that doctors and pharmaceutical companies just want to make money. This needs to change. Another problem is the flat funding for public health over the past few years. This needs to change.

The measles outbreak is an example of public misinformation as well as a consequence of government’s failure to adequately fund public health.. As a new election season gears up, look for candidates who put you and your family’s health first and make sure to vote for those who give accurate information. The way things are going, vaccinations could become illegal some day. Can you imagine health care workers thrown in jail for vaccinating people? Don’t let it happen.

Can you spot the E. coli in this contaminated water?

1919: lonely hearts club killer

A recent news article about a man with four wives at one time was accompanied by a photo of a man few would consider handsome.Yet he was able to sweet talk four women he met on social media and weasel his way into their hearts and bank accounts, gaining $20,000 from one victim. Yet he will face no jail time! He’s not the first unassuming man to take advantage of women, nor will he be the last. The year 1919 saw the arrest of such a man–the year’s most notorious serial killer.

During WWI, the nation of France suffered the loss of over 1 million men. Most casualties were junior officers and a large proportion came from the countryside. Although women had stepped into men’s roles during the war, the country hadn’t granted them full rights. Women were unprotected without a man–and not well protected from men either.

Although married to his cousin, Henri Landru saw opportunity in this situation of inequality. Between 1912 and 1919, he took out newspaper matrimonial advertisements. He had several locales and aliases and I will tell about his last.

Using the name Georges Dupont, he rented a villa in Gambais, south of Paris and bordering the Rambouillet Forest. The villa was surrounded by walls and boasted a large garden. It was close to the cemetery, the Seine, and far from neighbors. Despite its remoteness, neighbors recalled dark smoke from the chimney on occasion. At his villa, he entertained women, ten or more, all widows in their 40s. They and their bank accounts were never seen again. (Click here for a map of the region and vacation rentals.) All in all, he may have killed twenty women.

Landru was described as “nice but shabby” and his attempts at chivalry were noted as grossly exaggerated. He enjoyed dressing as an eighteenth-century nobleman, eschewing love at first sight, and bestowing flowers and compliments on lonely women. Young Annette Faucher met him through her infatuated aunt. She recalled, “He made me sit in a chair and uncoiled my hair. He went down on his knees, took my hands, fixed me with his eyes, and said, ‘Annette, I am your master, you belong to me.'” She added,”he must be the devil.”

Investigations into Landru began when a policeman noticed sparks and thick smoke coming from his chimney. It was a warm day. A woman was missing. His home and yard were searched. Coincidentally, Monsieur Henri had documents referring to single woman–all of them missing. Landru claimed he had purchased furniture from them. The only corpses on site were three strangled dogs and one cat. To be fair to Landru, French citizens did on occasion burn their possessions during the war, rather than have them seized by the Huns. Police were convinced he was a murderer, wooing lonely women and robbing them. They combed through his villa and dragged a nearby pond. They found a bone fragment from an eye socket and a stocking. Part of a shinbone was found under wall next to the cemetery.

Landru in court

This was enough to arrest him in April 1919. As the police drove away with him, angry women pounded on the car. He met his end via guillotine.

Is this his head? From:

You can read more about him here. He’s been the subject of fiction and non-fiction. Perhaps his head is in a museum.

I’ve posted about how much things have changed since 1919. We know about vitamins. We know about antibiotics. We brush our teeth. Women can vote. We can’t cure lonely hearts. And misogyny still has a grip on us, with nearly 90% of women reporting harassment. Sexist attitudes prevail, particularly in the South. Sexism and authoritarianism go hand in hand. What do authoritarian societies do? They take away women’s rights.

Landru was referred to as a Bluebeard. Bluebeard was a man in a French folk tale who killed a series of wives. He had an unsavory blue beard but kindly women convinced themselves that it wasn’t so bad. One has to wonder if things like war and lack of women’s rights are orchestrated to give bad men access to good women. And ladies, we need to ask ourselves why we have such low standards. Be familiar with signs of a bad man. Things must change.

Much of the information for this post came from this source.

The Lost art of Aspic

Flavors pop in this raspberry walnut combination in honey aspic was made from gelatin, fruit, nuts, a teaspoon of honey, and a half cup of water.
Eggs, celery, dill, red peppers and salt flavor this savory aspic.

Recently I wandered into the Detroit Institute of the Arts to take in their newest exhibits. As always, they were impressive, but a trip to the third floor and the displays on late 17th century France left a lasting impression. Specifically, a computerized rendition of an aristocratic multicourse meal and the use of aspic in nearly every course had me wondering–what ever happened to aspic? The last I’d thought of it was a 70s album titled Lark’s Tongue in Aspic--the title being a reflection of the enormous waste associated with the greediest people consuming an esoteric portion of beautiful creatures.

A trip down aspic memory lane reveals much about this touted dish, which fell from aristocrat grace as soon as it evolved into Jell-O. Aspic is a gel made from boiled bones or shells. Veal, pigs, and seafood were popular sources of aspic. Aspic making was a time consuming process back in the day but provided a collagen rich medium to suspend and preserve savory and sweet items. Chemically, the bones are broken down into collagen fibers which hook up with each other, not as bone strands but as a cross linked gel. Click here for more information and drawings. It’s a little like making slime or Silly Putty, but this process is much older and unlike the slime or putty–which you’d never want to eat– gelatin is full of useful amino acids. It’s nutritious.

Aspic artistry lent itself to colorful displays that were bursting with flavor–and zero carbs holding it together. It could even be applied to individual bites as a thin preservative coating because aspic seals out air and bacteria.

Along with the aspic came the mold, and the gorgeous display of a shimmering aspic packed with a mixture of delights. Even into the 60s, when aspic gently fell into unpopularity, these molds were proudly hung in the kitchen of many homes.

According to this excellent article, aspic inched towards mass production and lost snob appeal when chemist Peter Cooper devised dried, prepackaged, easy to dissolve gelatin in 1845.

Fifty years later, he sold his patents to a cough syrup company. The owner advocated this as a dessert base and his wife developed the sugary version named it Jell-O. It didn’t take off as a product until it was sold to a more savvy businessman in the early 1900s. Once aspic became Jell-O and widely sold, aspic faded into near obscurity. Now people take collagen powder to restore their skin when they could easily be embracing the age old art of aspic. Does gelatin aid digestion? Many experts think it does. Other virtues attributed to gelatin include better skin elasticity and increased bone strength.

If you want to make your own aspic which looks like a horrific process, here’s a site with a recipe.

For more information on Jell-O and its history, go here.

There are plenty of aspic recipes out there. Tomato aspic is a Southern dish. It looks like something to serve on Halloween but I’m sure it’s healthy.

A new aspic enthusiast, I prefer to start with packaged sugarless gelatin and add my own inspiration. Your creation will set up in about 4 hours is surprisingly filling and satisfying. Happy aspicing!

First in line to go to prison for a miscarriage

Iowa was once a sensible state but it’s been heavily influenced by crazy as of late. Recently, a man introduced a bill to make miscarriages and causing them illegal–or at least subject to investigation.

I do hope lots of people go to jail, and for starters let’s put those who pump out air pollution –and politicians who vote to deregulate it–in jail. Yes, air pollution is associated with miscarriages.Yes indeed it is highly correlated with miscarriage, premature birth, and still birth.

Low blood oxygen as seen near Confined Animal Feeding Operations and fossil fuel combustion can cause miscarriages and numerous problems for developing children. Not only do the pollutants use up oxygen, they can bind to maternal hemoglobin and starve the woman and the embryo of oxygen! The same goes for nitrates, ubiquitous in Iowa waters.

Next we can screen all men for faulty sperm. Faulty sperm is associated with a high rate of repeat miscarriages.

If a man has faulty sperm, he needs to be castrated to prevent miscarriages, right? And what causes faulty sperm? Pollution.

Radiation, environmental toxins, and aging contribute to faulty sperm. The jury is still out but there is evidence that being fat can cause faulty sperm. And being an older father contributes to “miscarriage, birth defects, poor neurodevelopmental outcomes, and childhood cancer.” In fact, bearing the child of an older man can increase the mother’s risk of diabetes.

To avoid jail time, men above the age of 40 should not attempt to reproduce.

Here come the miscarriages. Let’s send the right people to prison!

Fracking causes air and water pollution associated with miscarriage, low birth weight, and also contributes to low sperm quality.

Therefore, the first on trial should be the frackers.

Women, we all know that miscarriages happen in around 20% of all pregnancies. I’ve never had one but those who have may soon get in line to sue those who cause them if this bill goes through. I’m half hoping it does.

Sexist, racist pollution

Detroit Refinery, owned by Marathon Oil, sits beside one of Detroit’s poorest neighborhoods.

I’m sensitive to health and safety regulations being cut. To me, these are protections. As a chemist, protections mean a lot to me. As a baby, I was given a lot of tetracycline. When my permanent teeth came in, they were grey and stained. This has affected my whole life. Yes I have crowns but that is not the same as real teeth. They need more maintaining. They need replacing at times. They make me self-conscious–but I still like to smile. And I have not gotten one penny of compensation for it all.

This is why, when I wrote about a dystopia in Mixed In, it was one in which there were no consumer protections and no environmental protections. The only regulations were for personal behavior. 

I’m fortunate in one way, my problem has not been passed on to my kids, However, a new article discusses the many ways pollution is linked to disease and weakness that persists genetically.

Pollution can make people and animals more susceptible to disease. and this occurs at a genetic level, meaning, future generations will suffer.  For example, fluorocarbon pollution from substances such as fire fighting foams and water proofing chemicals found in food packaging  have been linked to a weakened immune response. The result in humans is that those exposed get more colds, respiratory infections and gastroenteritis. This is particularly common in young girls. These changes are at a genetic level–in other words, will be passed on. Additionally, those exposed are less protected by vaccines. which work by boosting the immune system.

Some substances such as zinc, lead, and phthalates used in pvc and other plastics boost the infecting ability of bacteria and viruses.

In other words, unregulated pollution can doom generations of people while making pathogens stronger.

Another thing about pollution: It’s racist. African Americans are most likely to live in the shadow of pollution and are the least likely to profit from it. Do you think they don’t know it? Of course they do. And so do the politicians who spout the phrase “job killing regulations.” These guys know exactly what and who pollution harms and they don’t care. The question is: do you?

1919: the year we went outside to play

Family with rickets in 1900 (from

In the 1600s, a plague occurred in England. It was called rickets or “The English disease.”

Children were born healthy but between 6 months and two years, the disease “began to rage.”

The disease was most obvious in the legs and spine. The babies grew up bow legged or knock kneed with curved spines. For a century it was seen in the wealthy, who didn’t go out much and used plenty of white make-up containing lead to make themselves pale and cover their wrinkles. Gradually, people began to see a link between poor diet, lack of outdoor exercise and rickets.Travelers noted that people in Japan, who valued time outdoors, did not have rickets, nor did people in the tropics–even if they were malnourished. Prominent health experts such as Florence Nightingale and Welsh surgeon Hugh Owen Thomas began advocating “sunshine” therapy. Cod liver oil–foul tasting but packed with yet undiscovered Vitamin D– was used as a preventative.By 1919 rickets was associated with poverty and poor living conditions. In 1909, among infants 18 months or less who had died, one doctor found rickets in 96% (214 of 221) at autopsy.

WWI was hard on Germany and its allies and orphans were particularly ill-fed, kept indoors, and thus were rickety. A German doctor,Kurt Huldschinsky, noted how pale they were and estimated that half had rickets. He attempted to treat them, first with x-rays and then with ultraviolet light on one arm. The later treatment improved rickets in the exposed arm and the doctor theorize that sunlight must help the body make a chemical that prevented rickets. Vitamins were newly discovered (as of 1912). That very same year–1919-Sir Edward Mellanby, did experiments on dogs with rickets and discovered Vitamin D and its role in preventing rickets. Thus it was established that exposure to sunlight and Vitamin D, such as in cod liver oil, could prevent and reverse rickets.Following this, having a healthy tan became important to white people and being outside was important to all. Accordingly, women’s fashions became more revealing.

By the 1920s, Vitamin D was added to milk in the United States. We now know Vitamin D is important in calcium absorption and behaves like a hormone, affecting all cells in your body. Although it has been touted as a cure all for everything from cancer to depression and it does help the immune system, some of the claims need more study.

Rickets can still be found today. Children have even died from rickets! Those most susceptible are young, breastfed, elderly, thin, smoke, drink, have dark skin, and live in northern or cloudy climates. There are also cases of genetic deficiencies causing rickets.

Children with growing pains can be helped by a dose of Vitamin D.

Be careful. You can get too much Vitamin D. Confusion, stomach pain, fatigue, and thirst are among the symptoms.

Going outside with non-covering clothes for 20 minutes several times a week can provide enough Vitamin D. Prolonged exposure doesn’t translate into more Vitamin D so no need to overdo. Vitamin D is fat soluble and stored in the body. A dose can last up to two months.

High Vitamin D foods include salmon, trout, mushrooms, and eggs.

Rickets is once again on the rise in the United States, the UK, and Canada. Fortunately, since 1919, the cause is known and it can be cured.

1919: Model-Ts, gas stations, and Barnstormer Beginnings

A 1919 Model T Ford (at the Henry Ford Museum)

In 1919, there were 104 million people in the United States and 6.8 million cars.When cars were first developed, they were toys for the rich. It wasn’t until 1908 when an affordable car, the Model T, was built. In 1913, the first assembly line helped speed the production of the Model T. A Model T could go 40-45 mph and got fuel economy of 13-21 mpg. The Ford Company offered an astonishingly high wage of $5 a day. Although electric cars were also available in the 1900s, cheap gasoline–and the Model T– edged them out of the market.

E-cars smelled much better than gasoline powered ones, but cost much more and suffered from limited range.

Here’s what a filling station looked like in 1919. Drive-through filling stations first appeared in the US in 1913. Before that, gasoline was purchased at hardware, grocery store, or blacksmith shop stores.


This video of 1919 New York shows a city filled with cars and trolleys. It would be another 20 years before cars replaced horse drawn carriages.

Airplane technology leapt forward during WW1 which was just ending in 1919. WWI saw the first air conflicts during war. Pilots were the new sexy heroes. After the war, ten thousand men had trained to fly.

What does a country do with extra airplanes? Beginning in 1919, the government sold them for a fraction of the cost. Most of these planes were the Curtiss Jennys. Many ex-military bought their own planes and performed stunts and gave rides. Thus began the Barnstormer phenomenon where people paid to watch daring areal performances and get airplane rides. This became a popular entertainment in the Roaring Twenties. There were few restrictions on this entertainment. Anyone who could scrape together the $50 or so to buy a plane and some lessons and who had the nerve to fly and do stunts could get together an act. This was an equal opportunity venture and many wing walkers and dare devils were women and African Americans.

A woman prepares to jump from one plane to another; from

img_6044I took this photo at the Henry Ford Museum

Barnstorming was popular from about 1920-1927. It was a brave way to make a living and escape poverty. As airplanes became more common, they became regulated and the dangers and economic mobility of Barnstorming came to an end. The great American road trip, however, was just beginning.

1919: Mcsquared

Albert Einstein wasn’t a famous scientist in early 1919. His theory that massive objects such as the sun can affect space  was unproven. Most people believed, as Isaac Newton had stated, that 

Angel child holding the world in her hands, elements of this image furnished by NASA–an illustration of one frame of reference. But what if she threw the earth at you or away from you?

space was unchangeable. You know, heavenly. And with one way to observe it.

In 1905, Albert Einterin had proposed his Theory of Special Relativity, with acknowledged assistance from Dutch physicist Hendrick Lorentz.

This Theory dealt with light. Einstein proposed that light has the same speed no matter how it is observed. This is different than for example, a bullet shot from a moving train. To someone watching the train pass, the bullet would travel at its speed plus that of the train. Light however, doesn’t change speed. It won’t move faster if you shine a flashlight from a train (He came up with this theory while riding a train.) Thus, Einstein said, nothing can be accelerated to go faster than the speed of light. This theory also describes the famous E=mc2 equation showing that energy and mass are interchangeable. This equation is the basis of nuclear chemistry and nuclear bombs. Bombs either involve loss of mass due to fusion (creating a heavier element from lighter ones as powers the sun) or fission (busting an atomic nucleus into smaller pieces). In either case, mass is converted to energy in the process.

One consequence of Special Relativity is that time and space are not constant but can change relative to the observer. If a clock is moving along, as if on a train, time is “normal” to a person on the train. But to an observer, it appears to be moving slower…it contracts. If the train can reach the speed of light, time will appear to stop. Likewise, as the train moves away, it appears shorter in length (but not height or width). Near the speed of light, it will contract to have almost no length.

As for mass, which as we know is related to energy, it will get larger and larger as the train gains speed until the mass will be almost infinite. Another way to think of this is that the train will be so massive it will become unstoppable. The contraction in length and in time and increase in mass are called the Lorentz factor and can be calculated with an equation.

In 1916, Einstein proposed the theory of General Relativity: gravity is caused by curves in space and time. That’s right, attraction is not caused by masses acting on each other as Newton thought, but because objects bend space-time.

His ideas make sense–the sun can make a dent in space like a bowling ball or a heavy partner on a mattress. The dent can be thought of as pulling planets towards the sun as if they are circling a drain.

Einstein based his theory on observation of the orbit of the planet Mercury.

Gravity isn’t the force Newton thought it was. The bodies aren’t acting on each other. They are reacting to the dents made in space. Each plant makes its own little dent.

Here’s the Earth making a little dent in space circling around the Sun’s bigger dent. From

Instead of saying that the Earth and the Sun attract each other in a fixed stage-like realm, Einstein said that each warps the space and time surrounding the other. This is what Einstein called General Relativity. He took his inspiration from the orbit of Mercury.

One prediction of General Relativity was that light from the stars would be bent towards the sun as they passed it. (This was also predicted by Classical Gravity but not to the same extent.) He calculated that the shift of light from the Hyades cluster would be bent one two thousandths of a degree. Of course, the sun was too bright to be able to observe this, until the eclipse of 1919. Several British and Dutch astronomers saw this as a great time to observe the light as it passed by the sun. They devised an experiment where they would measure the light bending as it passed the sun during the eclipse.

To pinpoint the position of the Hyades in the sky, (British astronomer) Eddington first took a picture at night from Oxford. Then, on 29 May 1919, he photographed the Hyades as they lay almost directly behind the sun during the total eclipse… experienced that day. Comparing the two measurements, Eddington was able to show that the shift was as Einstein had predicted and too large to be explained by Newton’s theory.”

Another phenomenon predicted by Einstein that held true is that light will lose energy and change color (become more red) as it is affected by gravity.

Another key idea of General Relativity is the equivalence principle. Gravity pulling in one direction is the same to as acceleration in the opposite direction. A train accelerating forwards feels just like sideways gravity pushing you back against your seat. An elevator accelerating upwards feels just like gravity pushing you into the floor. (Elevators became popular in the 1880s.) Two difference forces might feel the same: this is sometimes called Einstein’s Elevator.

Today’s GPS devices rely on the precise measurements made by the theory of relativity.

The 1919 eclipse made Einstein famous. Most people didn’t really understand any of the science but they seized on it as a blow to the absolute world, including moral taboos and “absolute” roles for women they’d been raised with. It was particularly popular with the young who saw the universe as giving them permission to seek their own truths.

At the time, Albert was divorcing his first wife, a physicist, in order to marry his cousin, who he felt would take better care of him. Wisely, his ex had put in the divorce settlement that if he won the Nobel prize, she’d get half the money. He won the prize and never did publish anything as grand as those two theories developed while collaborating with his first wife, Meleva Maric. People, including their son, to speculated that the work was as much hers as his. She did get half of the prize money, but struggled financially for the rest of her life. And Albert was an absolute jerk to her. Read here for more.

1919: Yo-ho-ho

In many areas of the globe, before there was sugar on the table there was honey and/or maple syrup. Sugarcane was only found  in New Guinea and Southeast Asia. A clever chemist in India figured out how to boil the canes and evaporate the liquid until the sucrose crystallized. This made it easy to transport and sell. Sugar made its way to Europe around 700 AD. It was an expensive luxury. It wasn’t until Europeans took over the Caribbean region in the 1600s and turned it into sugarcane plantations with slave labor that it became widely used in the North–as a food and fuel commodity.

Molasses treacle in dish: 100 years ago, molasses was a commonly used sweeter

Sugar beets were made popular by Napoleon (early 1800s) but rapidly became more expensive than sugar from cane. In 1938, mechanical cane harvesters were developed in the United States, making sugar even cheaper to produce. Today, sugar is the world’s largest crop.

Molasses (called treacle in England) is the liquid left over after sugar cane is boiled and the sugar crystals and fiber removed, It’s the most nutritious part of the sugar plant, containing calcium, magnesium, iron, and vitamin B6. It can even de-frizz hair.

How to make molasses.

Recipes, including shoofly pie.

All of this tasty goodness is not why I am writing about molasses. One hundred years ago on January 15, a Boston accident released 2.3 million gallons of molasses across the city’s north side, home to mostly Irish and Italian families. Shorty after noon, the locals heard a crash and a wave of molasses engulfed the neighborhood. Twenty-one people and countless horses were killed. Buildings and a train trestle were destroyed. The cause: a faulty molasses storage tank.

One hundred years ago, molasses was a popular sweeter. People bought it by the gallon. It was used in baked beans, barbecue sauces, and gingerbread as it is today. It was the sweetener of choice for coffee, pancakes, and cornbread. It was added to collards and carrots. It was THE sweetener. However, the molasses in this incident wasn’t for cooking and baking. The company which owned the tank, Purity Distilling Company, was in the rum and alcohol business. Yo-ho-ho as they sang in Treasure Island. Yes, rum is basically fermented molasses. It wasn’t a great business to be in at the time, considering that Prohibition was ratified on January 16, 1919. The company had supplied industrial alcohol to the military for the war but now the war was over. Thus, Purity Distilling Company wasn’t too keen to repair their leaking molasses tank, painted brown to hide the drips. They needed to make as much rum as they could before it became illegal.

A few days prior, they had a fresh batch of molasses delivered from Puerto Rico. It was still warm as it sat in the thin steel tank. Possibly, it was already fermenting and producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. Molasses is a non-Newtonian fluid. It flows more easily under pressure (as does chocolate.) The molasses burst forth at a speed of about 35 mph. It crashed through buildings and knocked people and animals over. Then, as it cooled, it got sticky, trapping them like flies on fly paper. The combination made for the deadly spread of the molasses. All in all, it covered two city blocks. Click here for photos.

People stand by the busted molasses tank in 1919

The tragedy cost 100 million in today’s dollars. Although terrorism was blamed at first, the company was held responsible and fined. Residents of the neighborhood today claim they can smell the molasses on warm days. The tragedy is a reminder of why we need industrial safety regulations and is, in part, why we have them today.

Great video recounting the tragedy and adult and children’s books about the tragedy.