The Big Bang: Energy, meet Matter

How did we get here?

Maria, played by Julie Andrews in the movie The Sound of Music, provided this advice: “Let’s start from the very beginning. That’s a very good place to start.” OK. In the very beginning, there was nothing.

Nil. Zip. Nothing.

Time? Nil. Space? None. Matter? Zero. Energy? Forget it.

The situation changed dramatically 13,700,000,000 years ago. Time and space and energy and matter began. Thirteen point seven billion years ago. That’s even longer than a 15-inning baseball game.

The Big Bang happened – a big, big, BIG bang.  From nil, zip, nothing to all of the mass and energy now still in the Universe. Matter and energy hurled in every direction. The time clock started ticking.   Einstein put mass on one side and energy on the other of his famous equation E = mc2. In that equation, “c” means “speed light travels.” The speedometers in all that flying stuff read “c.”

All the mass and energy that exist in the Universe today came from that one Big Bang. No new energy has been created. No energy has been lost.

Energy flying in every direction. Think of a fireworks display. A rocket flies up high then explodes. Pretty white bright lines shoot in a straight in every direction. Crowd cheers. Picture those Big Bang speed-of-light lines shooting in every direction.

matterNewton’s first law says a body in motion stays in motion unless some external force gets in the way. According to that rule, the matter should have just kept going – forever – since no friction existed. That would have led to a flat and featureless Universe.   No stars, no planets, no rivers and mountains, no me, no you, and not a single McDonald’s yellow arch.

So, is that the end of the story?

Dumb question because we ARE alive. That fast-moving stuff flying in every direction contained a surprising hidden something-or-other. That was the external force. The external force caused matter to be attracted to other matter. By that something-or-other force.

Stuff happened. Most of us older people think that electron, proton, and neutron are the smallest particles. Wrong. After Big Bang, that stuff flying through space had fancy new names. Whatever the names, they were banging into each other. After a while, they stuck together and BECAME electrons, protons and neutrons. Then atoms, made from electrons, neutrons and protons, began appearing. First was hydrogen, the simplest atom.

Back to that unexplained force.

Next post: Gravitational attraction at work

Gravitational Attraction at Work

Take a pencil off the desk. Hold it above the desk. Drop it. The pencil clunks on the desk just like you knew it would. But why?

It falls because the pencil has mass. The Earth has a lot more mass. A force starting at the center of the huge Earth mass is attracted to the mass of that little pencil. The two objects, pencil and earth’s center, are about 4000 miles apart but still close enough to cause the earth to grab that pencil and hug it. Call it what you want — the force of gravity or gravitational attraction – but here is a good way to remember: Matter likes matter. Every piece of matter in the Universe likes every other piece of matter in the Universe. Maybe it should be called the “Hey, let’s get together!” syndrome.

Newton called “liking each other” gravitational attraction, a much more boring name. His equation said the bigger the two masses were and the closer together they got, the more would be the force to pull them together.

Gravitational attraction at work: For about a half billion years after Big Bang, the sky was filled with a sort of dense fog but was also very, very bright. Then all went dark; light returning later from an exploding star.

Around seven billion years later, a giant cloud of matter formed the Milky Way. Our sun was there, one of the new folks on the block; its tremendous gravity had convinced a whole lot of other matter to tag along.. Out of that came our planet, third from the Sun with the moon (about the size of the planet Mercury) flying around it.

Picture it. Our sun was in the Milky Way but all matter was still trying to zoom away from the Big Bang explosion site. Our planet has been attracted to this huge chunk of matter (our sun.) Gravitational attraction existed; yet everything – Sun and planet surrounding it – still had the momentum to fly in a straight line away from the Big Bang explosion site.

But the Sun has a mass much, much larger than ours. The force of attraction between our earth and that much-bigger sun was strong. A real conundrum!   Momentum wanted the earth to keep going in a straight line. But gravitational attraction wanted to bring earth down and to crash into the Sun. Gravity and momentum are in a fight to the death!

Eureka! A tie! Earth’s inertia to fly off further into space was balanced by the gravitational attraction between Earth’s mass and the Sun’s mass. And, since Newton’s rule that some external force is needed change things, the tie will continue. The same type of combination of forces keeps the Moon in a pretty constant orbit around us.

The Earth’s hot center is metallic, the source of Earth’s magnetic field.   The magnetic field is what pulls your compass needle to N (north), but more importantly, that magnetic field shields Earth from those death rays sent down by the Sun. A strong burst from the Sun, though, can send enough through to provide us with those magnificent Northern Lights.

Our planet’s surface was dry at first but water was in the atmosphere. As our earth cooled, the water vapor in the atmosphere became water; then came the oceans. Many scientists feel a good deal of our water came from colliding comets made of frozen water. Wherever the water came from, for a long time the Earth was just one long, uninterrupted ocean of water.

Volcanoes interrupted. Sometimes that collection of lava got high enough to peak over the top of the constant ocean. Volcanoes, however, were not the only source of land. What else could there be? Colliding candy bars.

Imagine taking a thin chocolate candy bar and, holding both ends. Apply a little pressure. The bar splits into a bunch of funny-shaped flat surfaces. Since our Earth is a sphere, how could those funny-shaped flat plates cover the earth? The only way it worked was to have gaps between them.

As the earth’s molten surface cooled, the hard crust—now eight of them. Think of a whole bunch of broken chocolate pieces pressed all around a round scoop of ice cream. Those eight plates covering the earth float on top of the boiling molten center of the earth, protecting what is above from that intense heat.

“Float.” Those plates slowly floated around, large and small, banging into one another, parting company, crashed again (sometimes hard enough to lift up today’s mountains), and kept moving – as they still do today! (Plate-drivers must have been texting while they drove.) The very ground on which you live has been all over the globe – below the equator at times, close to the South Pole at times and really, really cold, near the equator and really hot, and finally setting here at the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere.   The continents began to take their places.

Next post: The Reign of the Prokaryotes

Previous post: The Big Bang: Energy, Meet Matter

The Reign of the Prokaryotes

Here we pick up from Saturday, with the formation of the planets in our solar system and the continents on our planet, Earth. Most of the junk flying around in space had been gobbled up by the Sun, Jupiter, and the rest of the continents. The Earth finally was freed from a constant bombardment of comets and good-sized asteroids. Damaging asteroid strikes did not disappear; they just became much less frequent.

Volcanoes erupted regularly. Between those violent crashes and the volcanoes, the earth’s boiling hot surface included an atmosphere of methane, steam, hydrogen sulfide (the rotten egg smell), and carbon dioxide, in addition to nitrogen and carbon dioxide. No oxygen, though! The earth finally cooled a little, turning the steam into water. Rain poured down for a long time, filling the oceans.

Around four billion years ago, conditions were cruel. The atmosphere and the oceans were a chemical soup. The oceans were green and acidic, the skies orange with high levels of methane, ammonia and carbon dioxide. A complete list of all the ingredients of both the ocean and the atmosphere are not known for certain, but any living plant or animal of today would immediately die if placed in that environment.

Despite these horrific conditions, life appeared. Out of that fiery, dense Big Bang explosion comes the itty-bitty little particles out of which you, your parents, the ground you walk on, the Moon, the stars – everything! – is made. Little bits of that stuff got together just right and out came the first DNA.

Life begins. In the water. Life’s first DNA. That DNA, though, was NOT simple.

Well-preserved bacteria from the era 3.6 to 3.2 billion years ago was found in Western Australia. General agreement for life’s beginning is 3.7 to 3.8 billion years ago.

What arrived was the earth’s simplest form of life. But what is life?

  • A simple explanation: on one hand are living things, plants and animals; on the other hand, inorganic matter.
  • A more precise definition: Living things take in food, grow, and have wastes; they reproduce; and have DNA.

Those first living organisms were single celled. Biology calls them prokaryotic; “bacteria” is easier to remember.

Here is an introduction to that first life form, the prokaryotes. Each organism was surrounded by a thin membrane. Inside the membrane, nutrients moved around, messages were sent, and a variety of other complex tasks carried out. The instructions for all this action were in the DNA. The DNA directions included how to do those things—move, use food for energy, eliminate waste, and reproduce.

Those first living cells were tiny, tiny, tiny. A piece of paper is about one millimeter thick. Those first cells were 1/1000 of a millimeter! Two examples of prokaryotic organisms today are bacteria and green algae.

Those tiny organisms stored essential genetic information coiled up inside. To create this two-for-one step called reproduction, the cell first had to grow to twice its own size. Then it split into two, creating a matched copy of the original. The process was not really that simple but that is an outline.

Reproduction required no external help. The cell was on its own to grow-split-grow-split- … and on and on. Do not scoff at these prokaryotic cells. They are by far Earth’s most consistently successful organism. The reign of the prokaryotes begins and continues for more than two billion years.

Here is a timeline of the beginning of the story from Big Bang to you.

big bang to you

These little bacteria cells had a little tail; they could move about in the water. Today, they exist in plants and animals as well as in the atmosphere. In your body, they help digest food. They also cause you sickness.

The enquiring mind is saying, “How does science know all this stuff? Do they just make it up?” A complete answer would take a book. Next week, a brief explanation!

Next post: How does science know all this stuff?

Previous post: Gravitational attraction at work

Raising Student Performance with Foundation for Excellence

Foundation for Excellence is a detailed, objectives-driven program designed to raise student performance every year.

In addition to annual performance growth, Foundation For Excellence includes:

  • An annual validity check linked to commonly known academic performance measures;
  • A connection between academic performance to a career-directed secondary school experience, based on the student’s personal likes and dislikes, beginning at age 12.
  • A long-range viewpoint, beginning at Grade 2 and carrying through post-secondary school education.

First, let’s take a look at annual performance growth.

In most K-8 schools, at the end of a unit (e.g. Long Division), after quizzes and homework, a unit test appears. The time devoted to this unit is limited by the teacher’s year-long schedule.

At the end of that group instruction, some students have total mastery, some have just a little error baggage, and some leave with a lot, as the following graph shows:

Usual performance distribution after new unit is taught.

Usual performance distribution after new unit is taught.

That error baggage may (or may not) be corrected by another teacher.

The Foundation for Excellence model also begins with timed group instruction, but includes no exam at the end of the unit.

Instead, each student begins working through diagnostics—shorts list of items designed to identify ANY and ALL of that student’s error baggage.

The student works alone at his or her own rate. When diagnostics have been completed, the mastery test is given.

As the following graph shows, no student leaves this unit until he or she can show a 90% mastery of the content:

Same unit, performance distribution with Foundation for Excellence.

Same unit, performance distribution with Foundation for Excellence.

Next post (Thursday, March 5): How does this lead to annual student performance growth?

Enter Oxygen

On Wednesday, we asked: how does science know all this stuff? The answer: rocks.

Rocks store old information. First, a rock holding such critical information must be found. Once found, then the rock that held that information must be dated. In the rock are elements that have a “nuclear decay” — they shoot off a little energy which basically creates a new element. Time is measured by the amount of the new element in the old rock. The equipment used is pretty sensitive.

Logic also gets involved. If the rock fossils are all single celled, then that rock existed before multicellular life appeared. The single cells are at the lower level; multi-cells one layer up.   In a big, broken stone or a cliff with many layers, clearly each new layer appeared after the one below. By piecing all this information together, geologists can make reasonably accurate estimates for timing of ancient events.

When scientists asked, “What happened?” and “What are the steps that made it happen?” the response usually falls back on Charles Darwin’s natural selection interpretation.   Most people have heard that term “evolution”; unfortunately, however, a large percentage do not really understand the details. All at once, first life was under attack. The next step (which saves the prokaryotes) in the story is an example of now Darwin’s approach works.

Those first little bacteria were flourishing, thriving on an oxygen-free environment. They were having a jolly time covering the earth. But then — the plot thickens — they came under attack.

What attacked them? Oxygen. Photosynthesis arrived near the middle of the Reign of the Prokaryotes. Bacteria capable of photosynthesis were ingesting carbon dioxide and spewing out oxygen. Soon the atmosphere had a lot of oxygen. To the existing prokaryotes, oxygen was poison; they were dying off in droves. If they all die, well, this story ends and there would be no you or me.

Why didn’t then all die? Darwinian interpretation involves a two-step process.

Those bacteria reproduce by splitting in two. After the split, both parts have exactly the same DNA structure. But random accidents happen; sometimes one of the cells does NOT have exactly the same DNA structure. That oddball cell is called a mutation. So start with the first step: random mutation.

The second step is called natural selection. Change is triggered by those reproductive mistakes. The mutation fights to survive – to find food, to reproduce. Most mutations die off; after all, they happened by chance. But along comes a mutation that CAN survive even if oxygen is in the air. That mutation flourishes, reproduces like crazy, and starts dominating. A change has occurred in that bacteria cell’s DNA. Children who come from this somewhat changed DNA are also better-able to handle oxygen. That new, DNA-altered bacteria thrived. The “random” part is the mutation. The “natural selection” here is that nature selected the bacteria that reproduced and thrived most successfully.

Another question: Did this change occur because of just one mutation in one cell? Many believe that other bacteria, under the same strained conditions, could also have created mutations that could thrive on oxygen and be successful. Perhaps there were hundreds of such mutations and, probably, they were not all exactly the same. They could all a little different BUT all can handle living in oxygen. Over time, they will converge to one big happy family, all of whom have a DNA structure altered in a manner allowing them to thrive on oxygen.

A lot of time had passed, but the Reign of the Prokaryote finally came to an end. In their nearly two billion year dominance, evidence shows that all over the Earth, where there was water, some form of bacteria was growing. Sometimes it made its way onto land.

Soon more complex life will join them on Earth. That more complex cell only formed because two groups of bacteria species joined together, merging permanently.

The beginning steps – life beginning, the new life form flourishing and then a more complex form appears – happened in an environment capable of making dramatic changes. Like it or not, each new life form had to be in harmony with the environment around it. Next week, we’ll look at a sort of short description of how these dramatic environmental shifts happen.

Next post: A look at the dramatic environmental shifts that allowed for a new form of life!

Previous post: The Reign of the Prokaryotes

The Beginning of Gender

During the Reign of the Prokaryotes, the continental plates of today, estimated to be about 20 miles thick, were pretty much in place. The location and configuration of those plates can make a huge impact on environment. Earth today has these distinctly separated land masses: the Americas, with one fairly narrow connection from North to South; Africa and Eurasia, again with reasonably narrow connection from Eurasia to Africa. Australia and the South Pole are separate.

Over time, more complex life forms continued to develop, BUT they had to live through some truly dramatic changes on earth. Here are just a few examples.

The land masses move – very slowly, but they move. When one drifts into another one, serious damage can be done. Some land is pushed down; some land is pushed up, making mountains. This is how all of today’s mountains were formed.

At times, all the land masses are connected. One big continent. A supercontinent! One big ocean. One big continent. When a supercontinent is formed, different currents disappeared, which also caused prevailing winds to change. When ocean currents change, rapid cooling or rapid warm up can be triggered.

If all land is massed at one location, the land near the center is no longer impacted by ocean temperature. The ocean is too far away. So the center of this huge land mass can display huge variations in temperature and rainfall.

When a supercontinent begins to break up, the oceans can once again flow between them. New ocean currents form. Sometimes they make the land around them warmer; sometimes colder. Life trying to survive must change enough to survive.

At times, huge land masses would drift over the South Pole. Huge glaciers build up. Impact: those glacier use up a lot of water from oceans. Water levels fall. Continent gets colder. Glaciers form that are 2/3 of a mile thick. When most of the planet freezes, science calls it a Snowball Earth. These have happened more than once. When this happens, habitats disappear; life forms at that time struggle to survive.

Back to first life, the little bacteria. When they had appeared, no competition existed – they could reproduce as fast as they wanted to. And they did!

How? To start with, those first prokaryote cells had a membrane with its DNA (genetic structure) floating around in the center. One cell can reproduce without any outside help. A cell made a copy of its genetic structure, splits in two, and eureka, two cells for the price of one, each with the original DNA. Acting alone, they can reproduce quickly — some as fast as every fifteen minutes! Compare that to your mother’s waiting time of nine months. No wonder they spread from their birthplace all around the world.

Those bacteria, remember, ruled the earth for over a billion years, and during that time mutations led to a whole variety of bacteria species. Instead of swimming around independently, they merged together. Green algae, still all over the earth, is just one of those clusters of bacteria.

So how and why did new organisms appear? Near the end of the Reign of the Prokaryotes, two of those clusters – each cluster representing a different species – joined together. Why? Well, it might have been due to a suddenly tough environment – maybe a Snowball Earth.  Not sure. Did one want to eat the other for dinner? Not sure. Scientists are sure, though, that one cluster sort of dug itself into the other.

So, one species was living inside the other. Remember the definition of life: The need to have food, use those nutrients for energy and growth, and then get rid of unused waste? As independent prokaryotes, they reproduced quickly, dumping their waste. Sounds pretty unpleasant, doesn’t it? Living in each other’s waste?

In any event, it turns out the invader had something the host needed AND the host had something the invader needed. Thus, the merger was, in a sense, a sign of cooperation. Little by little, they became more dependent. Soon, the invader species was there for good. Two species became one. Sounds romantic, eh?

“For good” meant neither one of the original two species was an independent organism, with their own special DNA, like they had been before. Each had sacrificed its independence to create a brand new organism – an organism with its own DNA. And the new organism was much, much more complex than any of the bacteria species. The new organism’s name: eukaryote, pronounced u-car’-e-oat, with emphasis on the car.

Remember when the prokaryotes avoided extinction? That process that saved them was Darwin’s random mutation and natural selection model. However, changing two different species of bacteria into to a new complex membrane with its own DNA is really quite different. Mutation then natural selection does not work here. Science needs another answer.

Here is how science sees this step happening. Those first bacteria cells had their DNA floating around in the membrane. Think of DNA as chief record-keeper. All those DNA records are in a sort of file; each file controls a behavior. Those various files are called chromosomes. Each chromosome was a set of directions for swimming or providing energy or getting rid of waste and so forth.

Careful studies can see pretty solid evidence that the parts of the new, more complex eukaryote came from the structure of the two bacteria species from which they formed. Scientists can see remnants of some of those “files” (chromosomes) that were in the bacteria which are now in the eukaryote.

This important pattern continues: that which is new builds out of that which already exists.

None of those files can function without available energy to do the task. For the more complex cell, nutrients taken in merge with oxygen to provide that energy. This is true of all animals. A very similar cell merger yielded a eukaryote that used carbon dioxide and sunlight to make energy in a different manner. That merger is called plants. So the distinction between plants and animals followed parallel paths, not necessarily at the same place or time. The difference between plants and animals is in how they make energy.

A key file inside the membrane controlled reproduction. The first step in the reproduction of eukaryotes mimicked that of bacteria.

  • First the cell made an exact copy of itself.
  • Then that cell would split, making two cells exactly alike.

Again: eukaryotes building on what the prokaryotes had already done. But after that, the process becomes much more complex. Science believes these are the steps:

  • The DNA “doubled up” as it is today – with two strands (the earlier bacteria had but one strand.) Perhaps the two built off the single-strand DNA from each bacteria.
  • Then, by going through a complicated series of steps confirmed by science, two new cells resulted.
  • The two cells were called “gametes.” The brand new gamete cell is a sex cell.
  • The result of a complicated series of steps was that one gamete represented one gender and the second gamete represented the other gender.
  • Only the sex cell part of the doubled-up strands was used for the new DNA used in reproduction.
  • Science named the smaller, quicker gamete “male” and the bigger, slower-moving gamete female.

Exactly when this happened – perhaps a billion years after the first single-celled eukaryotes – two genders had appear. The author’s first thought was the lyrics of a song: “Then peace will guide the planets, and love will steer the stars.”

Wow! Two billion years of life had passed without any mention of male and female. Two species of bacteria got together and, after some time, merged into a brand new, more complicated cell. After a while, that more complicated cell organizes such that sex cells appear that define gender for the first time. Getting to this point took perhaps a billion years after the first eukaryote cell – a billion years for that incredibly important gender identification step to appear!

Anyway, the story has a few more steps. On Friday, I’ll explain.

Next post: Gametes and more

Previous post: Enter Oxygen

From one cell to many: Eukaryotes

At first, one cell included both gametes; a cell like that is called hermaphroditic, which means both the two genders still reside in the same membrane. They reproduced with hermaphroditic cells breeding with another. But before long, the two genders separated. One gender produced the egg and the other the produced sperm, just as humans do today. Soon the hermaphroditic cells pretty much disappeared and the single-sex cells dominated. Logic suggests a lot of reasons why that should not have happened:

  • Males compete with one another for the most desirable female with which to mate. Sometimes these competitions get pretty brutal.
  • The process the eukaryote goes through to reproduce is considerably more lengthy in time than is the prokaryotes process. Waste some time, fall behind.
  • And finally, the product of the reproductive process includes males and females. Males cannot reproduce. Thus the system is only half as effective as before.

Despite these, the event happened—and had it not happened, Earth would still have no living things but the single-celled prokaryotes.

The rate of evolutionary progress with the appearance of sexual reproduction increased dramatically. Looking backwards, sexual reproduction was a critical step leading to us. Period. Too many argue, “Well, it had to happen or we would not be here!” That statement assumes that the potential benefits are known by natural selection in advance. But the Darwinian process is randomness; pure, unadulterated randomness. Forecasting the future is not part of the process.

So two prokaryotes species game up their identity to make the eukaryotes but the eukaryotes were not gracious all. Their DNA called for ingesting food. To those new, bigger cells, bacteria were food. In fact, after a while a hole in the greedy eukaryotes membrane appeared, allowing the eukaryotes to swim along ingesting the bacteria. That hole eventually became our mouths. But the gobbling eukaryote was still a single cell.

In time, those special-duty single cells began to work together, sort of like “You make the soil, I’ll get the seeds, Al can plant them, and Louise will pick them.” They attached themselves to one another. But they retained their own DNA. Bigger cells had a competitive advantage. The problem: a single cell had a size limit.

Eventually, in order to get bigger, those the cooperating single-celled gave up their independence, in a one sense, to stay alive. They merged together, and became multicellular. The individual direction-centers were merged into one more complex DNA.

Multicellular means that now a lot of single cells, each with special functions, work together. As life becomes more complicated, so does the DNA at each step of the way. The DNA, remember, is the main library where all the directions are kept. As the organism becomes more complex, progress is maintained in the DNA.

Eukaryotes are the new kid on the block. So what, you say? Plants, fungi and animals will evolve from the new kid on the block. “Animals” include YOU!

timeline

Fossil evidence of this trip from single-celled to multicellular is scarce. Those first organisms were soft; a billion years or so later they do not leave any marks. However, scientists, working in their labs, have done a pretty good job of recreating this last transition. The evidence indicates the trip from single-celled to multicellular was a step-by-step process, a convergence, and not one big dramatic change.

In the absence of fossils, estimates of when this last step happened conflict. Based on evidence available suggest multicellular life appeared about 1.5 billion years ago, or 2.2 billion years after first life began. However, the appearance of two genders will indeed speed things up.

Caused by randomness?

Fossil evidence of this trip from single-celled to multicellular is scarce. Those first organisms were soft; a billion years or so later they do not leave any marks. However, scientists, working in their labs, have done a pretty good job of recreating this last transition. The evidence indicates the trip from single-celled to multicellular was a step-by-step process, a convergence, and not one big dramatic change.

In the absence of fossils, estimates of when this last step happened conflict. Based on evidence available suggest multicellular appeared about 1.5 billion years ago, or 2.2 billion years after first life began. However, the appearance of two genders will indeed speed things up.

Now, a quick review of those “six colossal and scientifically explained events.”

six-events

What does science say about those six steps?

Start with the Big Bang.

An inquisitive mind is saying, “What caused the Big Bang?” Science has no response to the cause. Well, “What was there before the Big Bang?”   Some say “nothing.” Others believe the Big Bang is part of an endless cycle, that mass and matter existed previously, slowly crushed down to one point. Then Big Bang 2, and the cycle goes around again – and again – and again — throughout infinity.

But wait: the cycle cannot exist unless it started at some time. So the question remains, “What caused Big Bang?”

What has science to say about gravitational attraction?

Every piece of mass in the universe is attracted to every other piece of mass in the universe. Gravity appeared immediately with Big Bang. What caused that?

Einstein said space and time curved sort of like the capital letter “U.” One side was heavier so the lighter objects on the other side fell toward it. To scientists, that makes sense in the big, big picture but does not explain why the dropped pencil was pulled toward the desk.

Much research effort has been directed toward a little particle called graviton, theorized to be the cause gravitation force. The search to find one has not been successful. It seems the world of gravity and the world of subatomic particles (electron, neutron, and so forth) will live side and never fit into one unified theory.

Newton gave us the equation but not the cause. In his book, Lloyd describes this a “a mysterious thing” and “force of gravity, a kind of invisible glue that makes everything in the universe want to stick together.”

So what caused life to begin?

In the 1950s, two scientists did produce amino acids, the building block for life, from gases which were available at life’s beginning. This caused a good deal of excitement, but no one has been able to make those amino acids produce a cell machine that reproduced itself. Compared to living animals today, the prokaryotes DNA is simple; but compared to no DNA at all, the prokaryotes are very, very complex. Somehow, organic grew from inorganic. That step was not in any way simple!

Trust me, scientists have tried and tried to repeat the process in the lab. But by 2001, a leading science journal reported, “Scientists are far from creating life in the laboratory, and it may never be possible to prove exactly what chemical transformations gave rise to life.” No matter how hard chemists, biologists, and molecular biologists tried, they could not replicate those last steps to life.

Some scientists speculated that life was carried to earth on a comet. Proof of that claim is unlikely. In 2009, Scientific American reported, “Scientists are now aiming at creating fully self-replicating artificial organisms.” Notice this article did not use the word “life.” The target has gone from “life” to “an artificial organism.” A year later, another scientist wrote, “It is virtually impossible to imagine how a cell’s machines could have formed spontaneously as life arose about 3.8 billion years ago.”

One of religion’s sharpest critics (Dawkins) agreed, writing, “The origin of life only had to happen once. We can therefore allow it to have been an extremely improbable event, many orders of magnitude more improbable than most people realize.” In other words, to a person with a Ph.D. in statistics, he is saying, “This event was not caused by randomness.” Hmm.

Student Performance Diagnostics

How does Foundation for Excellence lead to annual student performance growth?

Figure 1

Working individually after group instruction, fast-learning and/or highly motivated students will demonstrate mastery more quickly.  With 90% mastery before leaving a level, the percent of students reaching the upper level will increase each year.

 

In the usual group instruction model, error baggage will inevitably accumulate over time. Only those who begin at the very top will stay there.

Figure 2With 90% mastery required (instead of the usual 60-65%) AND an accumulation of more students in PR95-99, median scores can be expected to increase each year.

Question: How can the Foundation for Excellence get 90% mastery before a student can move on?

Answer: The task was not simple.

Distribution of Diagnostics by Level and Curriculum area:

Diagnostics Distribution Chart

No error baggage will escape.

If that student leaves group instruction with error baggage, each error WILL be identified and corrected.

Now go back to first page: “an objectives-driven program.” What are the objectives? We’ll get into that on the next Foundation for Excellence post.

The Mystery of Gender

Two types of single-celled bacteria merge to make a more complex cell.

After all, those bacteria were extremely efficient in passing along their genes to future generations. In their billion years or so of the Reign of the Prokaryotes, they had spread everywhere the oceans took them and even up onto some land masses. If the name of the game is successful reproduction, it sure looks like the prokaryotes had the upper hand. Nothing was broken; why fix it?

In the dog-eat-dog evolution that most people connect with Darwin’s theory, why would two successful and independent bacteria species give up their independence by cooperating to produce a new cell? Why not just keep reproducing their own stuff?

The cause is not explained by Darwin’s mutation followed by natural selection. Teamwork is the agreed-upon cause. Evidence shows that the new eukaryotic cell is clearly related to the two single-celled organisms. Maybe one species used the other as meal, but whatever caused it, symbiosis is the term used for a merger like this – an event that happens when one organism needed something the other organism had. At this time, the environment may be been nearing a Snowball Earth time. Maybe the two organisms needed this merger to stay alive.

What caused the two genders to separate within one of those more complex cells?

Science can tell you everything you want to know about inheritance of traits. But if there exists a scientific answer to the question, “How come the material making up the two genders separated in that cell?”, this researcher’s efforts failed to find it. However, one can find a lengthy list of why this SHOULD NOT have happened. Reasons:

  • Sexual reproduction makes the process less efficient. The result: it burns up more energy than just splitting into two new cells.
  • Look at the complication this adds to reproduction. Bacteria just split cell – and that’s it! The more complicated way: that egg floating around needs a mate.
  • That mates uses energy to get there. That energy might be better spent just splitting like the prokaryotes did.
  • Connecting with a mate brings in the idea of competition. Over time, females invest a lot of energy into being the most attractive so a male is drawn to them.
  • Two genders exist but only one reproduces. The other half does not reproduce.

My statistical side is screaming at me, “No. Genders were not necessary. The deck was somehow stacked to help guide that sorting!” What caused the two genders to become separate from one another?

“The deck was stacked.” How?  Science has pretty much agreed on this: each little step depends on and draws from that which existed before. Keep that mind through this review of the steps to here.