SGU Episode 548

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SGU Episode 548
January 9th 2016
SGU 547 SGU 549
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
C: Cara Santa Maria

Quote of the Week
We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?
Richard Dawkins
Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Topic


  • Mild OCD habits of the rogues. Occulus Rift coming out.

You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.

Forgotten Superheroes of Science (5:26)[edit]

  • Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green: an inspirational young physicist who received a $1.1 million grant to pursue her breakthrough in treating cancer using lasers and nanoparticles

S: All right, well, we got a great show for you this week. We're gonna start off with a Forgotten Superhero of Science. Bob?

B: Yeah, guys. For this week's Superheroes of Science, I am covering Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green, who was an inspirational young physicist who received $1.1 million dollar grant to explore her breakthrough in treating cancer with lasers and nanoparticles.

S: Wait a minute. She's a physicist who's studying and treating cancer?

B: Yes, yes, interesting meshing there. I like this scientist. I wanted to cover someone who basically wasn't dead or already past the prime of her or his career, but someone who is impressive and already made potentially game changing advances. And I also love that she realizes her power to inspire people who aren't typically pushed into STEM careers. She is, after all, one of less than a hundred black female physicists in the entire US. And to that end, she almost never turns down speaking engagement requests.

She said, “I accept to because I feel like it's a responsibility. I don't feel like I have the luxury to say I'm too busy.” So she really takes seriously this idea that she can be a big inspiration to people who don't normally go into those careers. And she has been busy. She came up with her treatment to help people who have exhausted modern chemo treatments, and have been sent home after the treatments, essentially to die; there's really nothing more that modern medicine can do for these people.

And her patent pending treatment uses nanoparticles that fluoresce, and lasers that heat them up. And this technique has been tried before (I think we may have even talked about them in the past), but she seems to have made some significant headway against some of the major problems such as delivering the nanoparticles to the cancer cells, the cells that you want to target, and proving that it works in animals.

S: But it's still experimental in humans.

B: Yes, yes, but it's so promising. I mean, a million dollar grant, somebody saw some promise in what she's done. So she seems to have come farther with this specific technique than anyone else has. The real cool thing is that the particles are harmless by themselves. You could swallow them and walk away, no problem. The lasers are harmless as well. Shoot one right through your head, no problem. But together, they can destroy whatever they are near.

So they're harmless apart, and together they can do some amazing things, or they appear to, and I have a lot of hope for this technique. I've been thinking about this specific technique for getting rid of tumors for many years, and it just always frustrated me. Like, “Damn! It just seems like something that shouldn't be that much of a problem.”

S: The idea's great.

B: Yeah

S: The idea's fantastic. But it's a technically, very challenging.

B: Yeah, like these nanoparticles have to be taken up just by cancer cells. So that's ...

S: Right.

B: Think about it. So that's apparently one of the sticking points, it definitely was. So, remember Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green; mention her to your friends, perhaps when discussing near infrared photothermal nanotherapy-induced tumor progression.

(Cara chuckles)

S: Yeah, I think it's a good idea to highlight a young scientist at the beginning of her career. That's great.

E: Definitely.

News Items[edit]

FTC Smacks Down Lumosity (8:34)[edit]

Picky Eaters (23:27)[edit]

New Elements (29:45)[edit]

(Commercial at 37:03)

Who's That Noisy (38:53)[edit]

  • Answer to Last Week: The Cage

What's the Word (41:55)[edit]

  • Fugacity

S: All right, Cara, What's the Word?

C: I'm excited about the word this week. I don't fully understand it still, but I think I have a decent handle on it. I'm no chemist, so bear with me. The word this week is fugacity. Yes, you hard me, fugacity. What do you ... any guesses from the gallery?

J: I know what it means. It means it's a fake gas.

C: You know what's funny is that (laughs) it's

J: Foogazzi.

C: Kinda

E: (Chuckles) Foogazzi!

C: It does kind of involve gas, but not because of the way that it's spelled.

B: Doesn't it mean evanescent?

C: It does mean evanescent!

E: Ah, cool word.

C: So, think about the word “fug,” right? When you hear the word

E: Yeah, cosmic fug

C: fug, what does it remind you of?

E: Carl Sagan.

C: Reminds you of running away, fug, leave,

E: Oh, that too. Fugitive.

C: running away.

S: A fugstate.

C: A fugitive, exactly. A fugstate. So, fugacity actually has two different meanings. I love words that mean something differently in kind of general parlance or general literature than they do in scientific usage.

So, just like you said, Bob, if something is fugacious, or if it has fugacity, it is passing away quickly; it's transitory; it's evanescent; it's fleeting. But more specifically, when we look at that from a scientific perspective, and even more specific than that, from kind of a thermodynamic and chemistry perspective, what we're talking about is actually a type of measurement. But that measurement sort of does refer to the general definition of fugacity.

So this is a tendency of a substance. Usually, we're talking about a fluid, and oftentimes we're actually talking about a gas (which is a fluid), to move from one phase to another, or from one site to another. And as we get more and more specific into this definition, we're actually talking about the tendency of that gas (or sometimes liquid), that fluid, to escape or to expand in order to meet equilibrium once again.

And so the fugacity of a system is actually almost synonymous to a pressure measurement within that system. And what we're looking for is the pressure value that's needed to make the properties of a non-ideal gas satisfy the equation for an ideal gas, which sounds crazy, but all an ideal gas is, is kind of the way that a gas, you know, should behave, because gases are really complex, and do lots of complicated things in chemistry.

So if we were just to like, do short-hand, back of the napkin math, we would say, “This is what a gas would do under certain situations.” That's an ideal gas. In reality, a real gas (or a non-ideal gas) is a lot more complicated than that. So the fugacity of this system is actually the pressure needed to make the properties of a real-life gas satisfy an equation for an ideal gas. And what we're really looking at is how quickly that gas dissipates, or how quickly it leaves the system, because that's what gases tend to do.

Now, if we're gonna talk about the etymology of this word, where it came from. Of course, we said already, fleeing, or likely to flee. That was as early as the 1630's. It's from the Latin Fugacy, or like you said, Jay, Foogazzi (chuckles), which works for me, very punk rock. And that actually means, “apt to flee, timid, shy, transitory, or fleeting; which comes from an earlier form, which is fugare.

E: (Italian accent) Ferget about it.

S: Ferget about it.

C: (Italian accent) Fugare. It's (inaudible 45:31) but okay. So, fugacity, you think you could use it in a common conversation?

S: The technical version of it?

C: Probably less so (chuckles), maybe.

S: Nah, it doesn't come up that often.

C: No, it doesn't come up too often, but I think it's one of those cool things where you know that scientists are saying this, but you could probably use it in a much more poetic way, like blowin' this popsickle stand.

Name That Logical Fallacy (45:51)[edit]

"You really did your research on this one. You just took the word of one literature search study. They didn't actually study anything, except paper." "Hang on a second. As a 30-year teacher here, a couple of caveats. 1) This premise could be reduced to 'everyone learns the same way.' Not true. 2) It presupposes that students will do just as well in learning information/acquiring skills in an 80-minute lecture instead of being presented the material in different formats that work different modalities. Not true 3). There is also a mountain of evidence to show students have 'learning preferences' as opposed to 'learning styles.' --It *is* true that one's 'learning style' (determined from assessments) *does not* have good predictive powers like a good scientific theory should. (Just because one is a visual learner doesn't mean she will need that modality to learn the next new thing) .....however, teachers absolutely should present material in different ways because we do all learn differently. Different cultures, different families even, value a wide range of acquiring skills and knowledge." "SGU - Please review the studies I linked and come back when you have more than a mag share to contribute."

(Commercial at 1:03:46)

Science or Fiction (1:05:01)[edit]

Item #1: A newly published paper suggests that globular clusters would be a likely location for extraterrestrial civilizations. Item #2: A new study finds that there is no negative correlation between hours of work and relationship satisfaction for dual career couples. Item #3: Researchers have found a strong correlation between homophobia and the belief that sexual orientation is a choice rather than biologically determined.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:19:47)[edit]

"We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?" - Richard Dawkins

S: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information on this and other episodes, please visit our website at, where you will find the show notes as well as links to our blogs, videos, online forum, and other content. You can send us feedback or questions to Also, please consider supporting the SGU by visiting the store page on our website, where you will find merchandise, premium content, and subscription information. Our listeners are what make SGU possible.


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