Category Archives: science

NERD HEROES – Ryan MacDonald

Today I am kicking off my series on NERD HEROES. Us nerds have many heroes, hundreds of them, we just don’t really talk about them enough. You don’t have to be cool to be awesome and many of our nerd heroes will never ever be described as cool.

My first Hero isn’t some eminent scientist, he’s not a world leader in anything, he isn’t rich or famous. He is ordinary. But one day Ryan MacDonald could possibly be a household name like Neil Armstrong or Yuri Gagarin!

Ryan is An Astrophysics PhD student at Cambridge in the UK who is researching exoplanets. He is nerdy, has the classic jam-jar glasses, seems a little awkward from his videos, and has a youtube channel with complex videos about orbital dynamics on it and one day ….… he might just live on Mars.

Ryan is one of the “Mars 100”, the 100 final candidates picked by Mars One, a Dutch company that is planning a one-way Mars mission to establish a colony on the Red Planet. Yes, one-way. initially everyone thought they were bonkers but as time rolls on and they chip away slowly at this enormous goal some (me included) are beginning to believe that they might just do it, it’s just a matter of a few billion dollars and a final selection process between Ryan and Mars. Regardless of whether Mars One gets to Mars or even launches a probe the whole thing is fascinating, made even more exciting by Elon Musk’s recent announcement of how SpaceX intend to get to Mars in the next few decades.

Ryan’s Martian Colonist YouTube channel is great fun and his are the most comprehensive updates on the Mars One project I can find, I have been following him for a while. I honestly look forwards to hearing about the mission’s progress and also to hear his often strange asides about space exploration and the science of astrophysics.


Regardless of whether Mars One will actually happen Ryan is a nerd hero. Just watch some of his videos and you’ll see his infectious enthusiasm for the Mars One project and space exploration in general and will come to appreciate his true SUPER-NERD status. Teachers – he gives a lot of talks and video links in to classrooms all over the world about his planned trip to Mars.

For those of you who want to hear from the man himself here are links to Ryan’s Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter.

Ryan MacDonald I salute you!

A true Nerd Hero!

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Filed under Dadbloggers, Dads, Mars, Nerd, Nerd Hero, science


<A barely audible creaking of laptop hinges, a mechanical rattling as cobwebs are wiped form the keyboard of the blogging computer, a small fluttering of moths arise disturbed form their gloomy forgotten hiding place, the feeble dusty glow from the screen illuminates an old familiar pair of glasses once again. Ancient long lost passwords are repeatedly failed and eventually reset and re-verified and …. oh for God’s sake just let me in …. aaaaaaaah…. yes. I’m in! It’s Aliiiiive! The Blog is Aliiiiive!>


Now, let’s begin … again…….

Society bombards us with sporting heroes and music stars. Some celebrities are celebrities for … well… being celebrities, what exactly is it that the Kardashians do?

It’s time we fought back. We need to spread the word about the massive multitude of nerd heroes out in the world. Not hipster-nerds, “I’m cool because I like nerds”, Big Bang Theory celeb nerds. We need to talk about real heroes; people who are nerdy, unashamedly so, and do cool things, very cool things. As I have discussed before, we nerds are taking over the earth. Let’s celebrate it.

As a starting point for my new world order I plan a little series of posts on Nerd Heroes. People who may not actually be that famous that I have stumbled across but who are doing very cool things.

The first one is underway and will be up soon. If you think  of anyone to add, or fancy writing one yourself – send me a line.

Keep nerdy!


Filed under Dads, Nerd, New zealand, science

Is science learnt or is it an instinct?

Every so often in the media there are reports and opinion pieces from educationalists concerned about instilling an understanding and appreciation of the scientific process in our children. As a Dad of 2 (yes we now have 2) growing nerds I am a little puzzled by these statements and what happens to our offspring.

The first time I gave my Mini Nerd a crayon he looked at it, thought about it, waved it a bit then took a big bite. This ladies and gentleman was the scientific process in action. “I have a crayon, I’m not sure what it does, I’ll perform some experiments. Does it rattle …. no….. Does it taste good ….. Yum! These must be for eating”. Science developing before creativity, or rather the scientific process is inherent to humans, it isn’t learnt, it’s an instinct!

Hypotheses develop and new techniques in the ever growing field of toddler mediated destruction are discovered and employed on a daily basis in the Nerd household

How and why do we squash the inquisitive minds of children? Sometimes it’s entirely appropriate, like when they are about to investigate a plug socket with their tongue or a carving knife with their hands but do we say “Stop, put it down, don’t do that” too much? It’s probably no coincidence that one of the first words they learn is NO …. It’s probably one of the commonest words they hear. On the other hand we can’t let them run riot in the name of learning ….. can we?

I was very pleased the other day when we went to the park with a ball and he spent longer examining daisies than kicking the ball …… which is exactly what I would do given the choice too. I once got sent off during a football match in school for making and wearing a daisy chain. Needless to say I am not training for Rio 2016.


The results of the gravity driven Lego acceleration experiments were inconclusive so they were repeated… endlessly.

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Filed under Dadbloggers, Dads, fatherhood, science, toddler, Uncategorized

An experiment to try

I was at a talk today by an infant psychologist. It was about attachment and the importance of babies’ social interactions. The need for love has long been established as stronger than the need for food in some rather unpleasant experiments sensorily depriving rhesus monkeys in the 50’s and 60’s, which by the way would never pass any ethics committee these days. The following video shows it, it isn’t very “nice” but fascinating nevertheless.

The speaker showed us a video of the “Still face experiment” where the researcher got a parent to show no emotion and not interact at all with their baby and watched their response.

I tried it today on The Boy, it was startling, at only 4 months he reacted just as described in the video, given his level of development (i.e. he smiled, he waved his limbs around, he looked away, he vocalised then cried. He didn’t point or gesture at anything – he isn’t capable of it) what was more startling was that he did it in only about 30 seconds.

It is abundantly clear that if only 2 mins gets this reaction imagine what damage having a disengaged distant parent would be, or worse the psychological damage done by having no stable parent at all like in the Eastern European orphanages reported so widely in mid the 90s.

Apparently your social responses and desire for social interaction is hard wired by about 18 months! The speaker put up pictures of a functional MRI study that showed temporal lobe activity in the sensory deprived kids is grossly reduced – whole bits of brain aren’t turned on when they should be! Some other researchers did weird sensory and social depravation experiments on animals (I missed the details) and their temporal lobes just didn’t develop properly. It’s amazing to think your social interaction and how people treat you determines how well bits of your brain grow!

Try it on your little one – it’s fascinating! (Clearly I mean the face experiment, not depriving them then dissecting out their temporal lobes).


Filed under Baby, Biology, Dads, doctor, psychology, science