All posts filed under: SCIENCE

Hypnotized by white culture, ‘Get Out’ is about being awakened

One of the cool things about teaching a college introduction to mass communications class is that you get to discuss the history of media, including books, magazines, newspapers, television, radio, music and movies. We also look at current events that relate to all of these mediums, and this semester, we watched a couple of current movie trailers, including “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Get Out.”


Living a Life of Gratitude Can Change Your Perspective on the World

By LaReeca Rucker This article originally appeared in The Clarion-Ledger circa 2011. Jackson resident Andi Barbrey watched a celebrity she follows on Facebook write about what she was thankful for daily, and Barbrey decided to do the same. “One day, I thanked my dad for always staying calm even though he raised three girls,” she said. “Last night, I had a rough day at work, and I said I was thankful for beer,” she laughed. “But I try to be thankful for things that have made a difference in my life. Doing the updates really makes you think about it every day.” Gratitude has attracted a lot of attention from psychological researchers in recent years in the field of “positive psychology.” It examines topics like quality of life, virtues, character and happiness, said Stephen Southern, professor and chairman of the Mississippi College Department of Psychology and Counseling. Southern said gratitude has been shown in studies to reduce stress while improving health, physically, mentally and emotionally. “Gratitude is a key ingredient in quality of life,” Southern …

Will our Miss Mississippi win the Miss USA crown tonight?

To say that Miss Mississippi USA’s goals are high is an understatement. They’re at least 238,000 miles high, and a little more if you want to make it to the moon. That’s because Paromita Mitra wants to be the first Miss Universe in space. That’s right – a Miss Universe who wants to explore the universe. Some may think that competing in a beauty pageant isn’t rocket science, but that could probably be proven scientifically untrue in the case of Mitra, 21, a Mississippi State University aerospace engineering student, who is representing Mississippi in the 2013 Miss USA Pageant that will air at 8 p.m. Sunday, June 16, on NBC. I can specifically recall not being able to speak English and pretending that I could,” said Mitra, who moved from Bangladesh to the U.S. with her family in 1992. Three years later, the family returned to Bangladesh, but eventually came back to the United States. I always thought (and still do) that America was the most amazing place on Earth,” Mitra said. “I remember wanting …

Nuclear testing in Mississippi: a little known history

He was 7 years old when U.S. government representatives came to his Lamar County home, boarded it up and evacuated his family three miles away to protect them from a nuclear blast that shook both his body and the Mississippi earth in a 30-mile radius of the Tatum Salt Dome. (Link to Clarion-Ledger story.) “We were probably about a mile and a half from ground zero,” said Kevin Saul, now 55. “They evacuated us to my grandmother’s house in Baxterville. It was just like an earthquake came through. The house was shimmering and shaking. The ground had a buckle effect to it. It would knock you off your feet.” For 30 seconds, Saul experienced the effects of the only underground nuclear detonation east of the Mississippi River and a moment in history that ultimately helped the United States government fight the Cold War. That riveting experiment helped American scientists realize that their equipment could detect the underground explosions that the Russians were also conducting. “They kept us out for a day, and we were allowed …

One more day to live?

If Myrtle resident Belinda Davis had only one more day to live, she would wake up and cook the best meal she had ever prepared, invite loved ones to her home, laugh with them and pray. They’d travel to her father’s house, the place she loves best, and reminisce about their lives together and future in heaven. I would stay in touch with the world by cell phone, reaching out to my family and friends that were not with me,” she said. “I would end the day with hugs, a prayer and a huge piece of chocolate.” If tomorrow was the last day of Ridgeland lawyer John Moore’s life, he would spend it with his wife and children (ages 1 and 5), “doing all the things my kids love to do — playing outside, eating junk food and laughing with each other. We would ride bikes, play on the swing-set, eat whatever we wanted and enjoy our time together.” And if Alan-Michael White of Dumas knew he had only one more day to live, he’d …

Miss Mississippi USA wants to work for NASA

A Hattiesburg woman has been crowned Miss Mississippi USA 2013, and she will represent the state in the Miss USA Pageant that will be televised in June on NBC. Paromita Mitra, 20, was crowned Saturday at Harrah’s Event Center in Tunica. In addition to her beauty, what may make Mitra, a former Miss Mississippi Teen USA, stand out among other contestants is serious brain power. According to, Mitra was president of her senior class, a member of the debate club and has said she wants to become an aeronautical engineer for NASA. According to her Facebook profile, she is currently studying aerospace engineering at Mississippi State University. Brains also run in the family. Her father is University of Southern Mississippi Professor Amal Mitra, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics and a Fulbright Scholar in the Department of Community Health Sciences. He has been a Southern Miss faculty member the past 15 years. “I was probably holding my breath at that moment and my heart was pounding,”  Amal Mitra said in a press release, referring …

Kala Harvey’s story

Kala Harvey spent Nov. 24, 2008, attending Northwest Community College, where the former high school valedictorian was one day away from finishing her first semester. Around noon, she and sister, Candace, took their brother out for his birthday lunch, and around 6 p.m., the girls reconnected to take their usual fitness walk. Within moments, Candace heard the sound of a speeding vehicle approaching from behind. She turned, and saw it coming toward her on the wrong side of the road. Candace reached for Kala to pull her out its path, but missed by a hair. The car struck, knocking the teenager upon the windshield, then tossing her against the hard pavement. “They had been gone about 20 minutes when I received the call,” said mom Alma Harvey. “Candace was screaming and crying. I went to where they were and found Kala in critical condition. I didn’t really recognize her, but I recognized what she was wearing.” A helicopter airlifted Kala, 18, to The MED in Memphis. Doctors were not encouraging. They could find no sign …

The Challenger disaster – 25 years later

Where were you when the Challenger disaster happened? For many members of Generation X, the event could be compared to the Kennedy assassination as the defining tragedy of their youth. I recently did a story about the event’s Mississippi connections that I have posted below: Jane Merchant grew up in Huntsville, Ala., where her father worked for NASA as an Ordnance Guided Missile School instructor. Those early childhood experiences led her to shoot for the stars in an attempt to become the first teacher in space. Merchant, a ninth-grade social studies teacher at West Point Junior High School in 1986, applied for the position that was later awarded to Christa McAuliffe. It’s been 25 years since McAuliffe and six astronauts died during the Challenger disaster. Mississippians still live with the tragedy. On Jan. 28, 1986, Merchant was teaching when she heard a knock on her classroom door. It was the school secretary. “She had tears in her eyes and said the Challenger had exploded,” she said. Despite tragedy, Merchant, now 63, said she is proud she …

The Yoda Bat – Cute, he is

I often have the sneaking suspicion that aliens may live among us, and I think the recent discovery of the Yoda Bat confirms this. I just clicked on an NPR link that took me to the National Geographic website where the 10 Weirdest New Animals of 2010 were featured. The Yoda Bat was perhaps the most adorable of the 10 with his pointy green ears and nose, but Yoda wasn’t the first creature that came to mind when I saw his funny face. To me, he bears a striking resemblance to The Neverending Story creature and a Star Wars tauntaun. I thought I might be alone with these thoughts until I saw other NPR commenters say the same. Some comments were rather hilarious. My favorite reaction to the Yoda Bat was, “OH. HELL. YES,” followed by, “Cute, he is,” and, “OK, to all of us bent on destroying the planet, how can you honestly look into the loving eyes of the Yoda Bat and not want to live with the land? Seriously, this bat fills …

The New American Gothic

I’m a fan of robots, and while doing an Etsy search, I ran across this painting by seller buttonempire of Canada. It’s appropriately called New American Gothic, and you can still purchase it for $80. It made me smile. I also found this robot nativity scene pretty adorable. PsAndQs sells it for $45. Got a comment? E-mail me at or Tweet me at @lareecarucker. Save

Mississippi’s prehistoric past

Millions of years ago, Mississippi was completely under water. That’s why you can sometimes find stone imprints of sea creatures and other fossils. Paleontologist George Phillips, who works at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, said the state is fossil-rich. Last fall, he discovered a 70-million-year-old dinosaur bone in New Albany. The thigh of a duck-billed dinosaur (hadrosaur) is almost a yard long. “There are so many people who are happening up on these things at construction sites,” said Phillips, adding that most Mississippi kids find fossils in country driveways filled with gravel that typically date to the Paleozoic era, some 420 million to 350 million years ago. Got a comment? E-mail me at or Tweet me at @lareecarucker.

The M-Files: Mississippi UFOs

When we asked readers if they had ever seen an unidentified flying object, we received many responses, and a number were from individuals who wanted to remain anonymous, fearing they would face ridicule if they came forward with their unexplained sighting. One of the interesting things about these folks is that they all seemed like credible, well-respected professionals, who thought telling their story would damage their credibility, like the radio reporter who saw a mysterious light in the Gautier sky a few years ago. It moved rapidly — faster than anything she’d ever seen — then suddenly stopped and remained still a minute and a half before darting back across the sky in the same direction from which it came. Another man wrote to say that, in September of 1973, he was living in Germany on an Air Force base with other military personnel when he and about 10 to 20 others who were outside on their balconies spotted a large triangular object that moved from the southern horizon to the northern horizon in about …


New York Times writer Olivia Judson predicted today that Darwinmania will erupt next month upon the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s premiere announcement of the discovery of natural selection. The following year will be the 200th anniversary of his Feb. 12 birth, as well as the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species. I have not finished reading The Origin of Species. (I have a habit of buying books, reading part of them, then buying more books.) But I decided to purchase it a while ago as a reference since Darwin’s theory still seems to be the subject of controversy, particularly in public schools where some argue that creationism and intelligent design should be offered in the science curriculum. I guess, because the theory has been controversial, I expected the book to be more philosophical when I began reading it, but it’s essentially a science text about natural selection. The word “evolution” sparks debate, but for some reason, most people seem to be OK with the term “natural selection.” “Natural selection” makes …

Be afraid, be very afraid

National Geographic is promoting its new film “Sea Monsters,” funded in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation. The film explores prehistoric sea creatures that are the basis of legends like the Loch Ness Monster (a claim I was fascinated by as a child). Eighty million years ago, places like Kansas were at the bottom of the great inland sea that divided North America, and these “sea monsters” swam above. (My childhood dream was always to stumble upon one’s fossilized remains while poking around in the dirt.) Sadly, the site’s theater listings indicate that “Sea Monsters” isn’t playing in Mississippi, but it is showing in Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana if you want to check it out. I spent a lot of my childhood sitting on the carpet in the children’s section of the West Union Attendance Center school library right beside the librarian’s desk where the “strange” books were stored. They included “Thirteen Ghosts and Jeffrey” and the mysteries of the Loch Ness monster, Big Foot and the Bermuda Triangle. Were you fascinated …

Flim review: The Elegant Universe

Science lovers will appreciate the Nova series, Physics: The Elegant Universe. It’s amazing how producers found a way to explain the most difficult concepts and subjects. I love the way one video about Einstein chronicles the birth of his idea through other scientists who conceived pieces of the puzzle he eventually put together to birth E = MC squared, and I love that the film is non-discriminatory. The producers give credit to the women scientists who also played a major role in the puzzle. The film humanizes the scientists, whose personalities you really get to know and understand. It’s a powerful series that demonstrates how the secrets of the universe can be handed down over hundreds of years. Puzzle pieces exist that those wise enough have been able to tap into and decipher, taking us one step closer to the big answer. Got a comment? E-mail me at or Tweet me at @lareecarucker. Save

My Genographic Project results

Several years ago, I began researching my ancestry using and was hopeful I would be able to trace at least one family surname back to Europe or the area of the world in which my ancestors lived prior to coming to America. For some surnames, it was easy to find a family connection to others who had conducted extensive ancestry research, and I was able to discover that my roots are most likely Irish and German.Other branches of the tree were more difficult, and roadblocks stalled my search, leaving me to wonder exactly who I descended from. I recently stumbled across another ancestry research alternative while visiting the National Geographic Web site. National Geographic sponsors The Genographic Project, a global ancestry research project that tests the DNA of participants and categorizes the results according to the genetic markers found in your DNA. Pay $100, and you will receive a DNA testing kit. Swab your cheeks with the contents, send the DNA back, and several weeks later, your DNA results will be securely posted on …

Film review: ‘Deep Sea’

“Deep Sea IMAX” is so beautifully and colorfully filmed with a cast of sea creatures so interesting and animated, it could almost be considered the prequel to “Finding Nemo. If you are intrigued by marine biology and enjoy learning about new animal species, you will enjoy this film narrated by Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet. It’s much better than than James Cameron’s 2005 film “Aliens of the Deep” and “Deep Blue,” two other films that explore the deep sea. Got a comment? E-mail me at or Tweet me at @lareecarucker. Save

Film review: ‘Children of Men’

For some reason, science fiction movies and stories set in England just seem a little more creepy. Maybe it’s because Europe is across the pond, and Americans just aren’t as familiar with it. Sometimes sci-fi movies set in the U.S. seem a little over the top and unbelievable, but I’m somehow able to buy that a virus can wipe out most of London and turn the remaining survivors into the walking dead. That is the plot of “28 Days Later,” one of the creepiest sci-fi/horror films in years, and “Children of Men,” another recently released sci-fi film set in England that depicts a dystopian futuristic society, shares similarities. In the future, the world becomes a very violent place, and for some reason that’s never clearly explained, women are no longer able to have children. The last child was born 18 years ago, but something miraculous has happened. A woman has become pregnant, and Clive Owen is willing to risk his life to help her and the baby survive. It’s a film you’ll probably have to …

Film review: ‘Idiocracy’

When the government recruits two average people (Maya Rudolph and Luke Wilson) from modern society for a time travel experiment, something goes awry, and they are transported to the year 2505, where things have changed quite a bit. Smart people, who put a lot of thought into having children, have been outnumbered by the Jerry Springer guest population, who haven’t put much thought into anything, including basic hygiene and waste management. As a result, the world is now populated by stupid people, and the two “average” people who were sent to the future are the smartest people on Earth. The science fiction concept from Mike Judge of “Beavis and Butthead” fame is interesting because it seems like there’s a sad possibility it could pan out, but the movie could have benefited from a stronger screenplay and supporting cast. It’s worth a laugh or two. Got a comment? E-mail me at or Tweet me at @lareecarucker. Save

Trends: When it comes to art, you can’t get more original than this

If having a photographer take your portrait isn’t intimate and personal enough, you might want to hand over your DNA to someone who can create a completely original piece of art for your home. A company called DNA 11, with the slogan “From life comes art,” takes DNA and fingerprint samples and turns them into colorful works of abstract art. Essentially, your chromosomes become cubes and your fingerprints become swirling labyrinths. The company allows you to select the color and size of your art. Then it sends a kit for collecting your own DNA samples. The samples are sent back to a lab, digitally enhanced and printed. This sounds really cool, in an X-Files sort of way. I just hope Big Brother and/or a mad scientist who wants to clone art lovers isn’t behind this. Got a comment? E-mail me at or Tweet me at @lareecarucker. Save

Film review: ‘Aliens of the Deep’ – Where are the aliens?

I was very excited about renting this 2005 film, because I’m fascinated by marine biology, particularly the unusual animals that live at the bottom of the ocean. Hoping to get an exclusive view of the strange creatures we rarely see, I put this in my Netflix cue thinking director James Cameron (of “Titanic” fame) would take me to the bottom of the ocean and show me a number of interesting creatures I’ve never seen before. I thought the film would consist mainly of underwater photography of the unique inhabitants, but to my disappointment, viewers only see a few glimpses of the strange “aliens” as they pass by Cameron’s submarine. The bulk of the film is about Cameron and his crew of scientists. Way too many scenes show them preparing to venture below and sitting around inside the vessel discussing the origins of life and the possibility of its existence on other planets. If I wanted to rent a film about astronomy, I would have looked for something with Carl Sagan or Stephen Hawking in the …

Trends: A step beyond glow-in-the-dark

A company called LumiGram is now making shirts, purses, pillows, table cloths, etc., out of fiberoptic material. I guess it’s a step beyond glow-in-the-dark. I’m not sure if it’s my style, but it’s a pretty interesting idea. It has that “Studio 54” disco look, and that’s a scary thought, because that means not only have the ’80s trends like leggings returned, disco and the styles of the late ’70s and early ’80s may be right around the corner. I’m not sure any of us are prepared for that level of tackiness again. Got a comment? E-mail me at or Tweet me at @lareecarucker.Photo credit: Lumigram Save

Film Review: Deep Blue

You know those CDs that have soothing sounds of waterfalls, crickets, ocean waves and blowing wind? “Deep Blue” is the video version of that. If you have some time and want sit back, relax and watch a calm-inducing film, you might enjoy renting this movie about the ocean and its inhabitants. The photography is wonderful and so perfect it almost seems animated. Narrated by Pierce Brosnan, you’ll learn about the animals that live on shore and the strange and fascinating creatures at the bottom of the ocean. Some are almost unbelievable. Got a comment? E-mail me at or Tweet me at @lareecarucker. Save