Black Lives Matter and the Cost of Silence

As a white man, I am not writing this because I think I have a special insight that can’t be found elsewhere. I am writing this because 1) I have a platform, 2) to promote Black voices, and 3) to take responsibility. I will highlight things that I think are important but for the purpose of encouraging you to check out the various resources I’ve provided. A lot of this will be Booktube content, but I use them because they are completely reflective of society as a whole. I started this post with a video of Kimberly Jones, the author of “I’m Not Dying with You Tonight,” discussing the problem with the system and why the riots/protests/property damage are not the problem. If anything, they speak to the severity of the problem. What’s more, it was beautiful, profound, and devastating. Please watch it.

Silence and the Power of Social Media

Now lets talk about silence and complicity. People don’t want to talk about this. Why? Because they’re uncomfortable. They’re uncomfortable because they don’t know what to say or don’t want to say the wrong thing. Well, if you don’t know what to say, do same damn research. White Fragility (check that book out, I still need to read it), isn’t an excuse not to talk. You’re going to make mistakes. I continue to do that. Just the other day, I made a comment about our responsibility and described it in a way that perpetuated a white savior complex which goes right back to white supremacy and this idea of superiority. Obviously, that isn’t what I think, or maybe my ingrained prejudices have subconsciously made me think that. The fact is, consciously, I know it isn’t true. What I intend doesn’t matter when what I say and do feed into the ideas of white supremacy and oppression. I’ve used that phrase to a lot of people, and white fragility leads a lot of us to jump to the defense. We know we don’t want to be racist, so we assume that is enough. We have to take responsibility for what we say and do and that takes work and a desire to learn and listen.

However, learning is only the beginning. Another thing Francina (the booktuber in the video) touches on is the power of social media. Those of you who haven’t shared/said even the slightest thing, I’ve noticed. I can’t make you speak out, but if you are reading this, please recognize we have to do more. Now before I go on, I recognize social media isn’t a direct reflection of what someone is doing to support. Support can be shown through donations, petitions, and protesting, and complications in life happen too that may prevent you from being as active as you’d like to be. I say this to encourage self reflection on if you’re doing enough not to pass judgment. Social media is just one small way to make a difference.

Social media, even before Covid, has become the center of some many of our lives. It shapes how we see the world (e.g. Russian bots), and because of that, it’s a powerful tool. While it is a useful means of listening and learning, it is also an opportunity to share voices that some people aren’t exposed to. It is also a way to spark a conversation. Fundamentally, it is about getting people to listen.

Being Ignored and the importance of listening

Understanding racism is to understand the oppressed. That means we have to listen to Black voices. Looking back, we can see how support for Black Lives Matter has evolved. Look at everything that is happening, all because more people are listening and believing. One question that Ashley (I’m unsure about the spelling) poses is “Why now?” She doesn’t believe us. We sit here showing support but history shows it’s fake. History shows we speak up when it’s trendy, and go away when it is not. Again, I doubt few of us would say we intentionally would do that, but intent and actions are not the same. We have to recognize our silence. We have to ask why, and we have to be aware of how easy it is to let it just fade into the background (because we have the privilege to do that; black people can’t escape it so easily). I still don’t know why now is the moment people are listening. I wish I knew.

Support for BLM with time.

The closest answer I could come to seems to be the one Ashley gives: we are afraid of being called out, afraid of being shamed. I know I am ashamed. I think back to when BLM first arose; I considered myself an ally (a term we have not right to assign ourselves). In reality, I was, at best, complicit, at worst actively fighting against it. Both are just as bad. In my years here at Western, my best friend has accused me of racism, more than once. My first reaction is to get defensive, deny, reject, and gas light. I owe her an apology. Yes, I am ashamed but not because of how it makes me look; I’m ashamed of the harm I have put into the world, even on the people closest to me. I don’t say this looking for forgiveness or a pat on the back. Yes I am ashamed. That may have been what made me care enough to listen, but that doesn’t do jack-shit to fix the problem.

1 Being an ally and what we have to do to help
2 Being an ally and making a difference

I can sit here all day and cry about the bad I’ve done, but the point of self reflection is to figure out how to fix the problem. Diana, from the second video on being an ally, summed it up pretty well. Racism isn’t a black problem, it’s a white problem. We started it. We benefit from it. It’s up to us to fix it. Black people have been fighting racism for centuries because their resilient, strong, and capable; it’s on us to decide if we stand on the side of oppression or the side of equality.

Speaking up and joining the conversation is the first step. The other is calling people out; friends, coworkers, and family. Any time, any place. Speak up. This isn’t about politics; it is about basic human rights. I also intend to listen. Too often black voices are ignored, but I know as a white man, I can’t understand without listening because my experience is so fundamentally different than what it is for Black people and other POC. But more than that, I was raised by a system that taught me I should benefit from discrimination and oppression. I can easily sit here and say, “I don’t stand for that!” But that doesn’t change the fact that it is ingrained into my psyche and the society I live in.

That is why it is all the more important that we listen and believe Black people and other POC (Western students, check out the amazing memoir by an alumni of our own University, Eternity Martis). Then we use that to support them; stop supporting racist people and organizations that contribute to the oppression. Stop being silent. Lastly, vote and fight for systematic change.

I want to finish this post off with two videos from TikTok. I know many of you may scoff, but these highlight how powerful social media can be. In this first video we see a strong yet succinct message of how white people ignore Black people. Then we see a performance of a piece that references all the harm and fear the Black community has to experience. Like the first video I shared, it stresses the pain that is being felt.

September Update 2020

The more time passes the more I realize I don’t know. The biggest thing I realize is I need to listen more. There is a difference between promoting black voices and talking for them. Despite my intentions, I’ve continued to do harmful things, but it is an ongoing effort.


Support BLM:

National Action Against Police Brutality Petition :…

Victims Funds :…

Justice for Breonna Taylor Fund :… Bail Funds :…

NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund :

Ahmaud Arbery Fund :…

Minnesota Based Black Visions Collective :

Read and Learn

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racism in America by Ibram X. Kendi, available on Spotify in its entirety.

White Fragility by Robin Diangelo

White Rage by Dr. Carol Anderson

How to Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi

Here is another list of amazing resource of ways to educate yourself created by @Autumn_Bry

Selective Log of Scientific Papers | 2020

List of Papers

[1] Clayton et al., 1990 – Effects of Advancing Freeze Fronts on Distributions of Fine-grained Sediment Particles in Seawater and Freshwater

Summary (4/30). This work discusses an experimental study of sediment (dirt) particles in water as it freezes. It assumes some level of mixing has occurred sufficient enough for the sediment to be suspended in the water. The experiment is performed in a small tube with insulated edges to simulate natural scenarios. The authors track the change in salinity and sediment distribution in the ice. The findings suggest salinity removal is higher for slower freeze rates, and the same appears to be true for the sediment. However, sediment much less sediment is removed than salt, with 94% remaining in the ice. Finer particles migrated further than coarser sediment particles.

Discussion. This study says a lot of interesting things, but it is important to note the authors do not touch on mechanisms or venture to guess why sediment particles act different than salt. To me, it implies further dependence on particle size which is reflected by the distribution of sediment by size. Does this suggest HCN (or other organic molecules) will be less resistant to removal than salt? Is the difference in particle sizes significant enough to matter for HCN as it does with sediment used?

Addendum. I think it is safe to equate dissolved molecules (i.e. solutes) with suspended particles. I found this interesting virtual lab that helped me conceptualize the idea. It shows how water will break down salt into the atoms it is made of, perhaps with a slight charge. Alternatively, sugar will break down but only into individual sugar molecules. Fundamentally, these are still particles suspended in the water. We might imagine that the inter molecular forces are more important than larger particles, but fundamentally, they are just particles suspended in water. Therefore, the basics physics should still be applicable. For more on the physics, see the next paper (Remble and Worster 1999).

Further reading: Corte 1962; Reimnitz and Kempema 1979, 1987;

List of Papers

[2] Remble and Worster 1999 – The interaction between a particle and an advancing solidification front

Intro Summary (5/1). I am still reading through this but I wanted to start by reviewing the basic mechanism here as an introduction to the paper (as defined in the paper). When an ice surface approaches a particle in the liquid, the distance (H) between the two shrink. As it gets within a critical distance, intermolecular forces (e.g. van der Waals interactions) come into play and force the two apart. Whether the particle becomes entrapped depends on whether the ice front velocity exceeds a critical velocity that is essentially faster than the particle will move due to these forces. This was known prior to this paper, and this paper explores the idea further. I’ll summarize the entire paper after I finish it, but for now I want to discuss this idea as it relates to my project.

Schematic diagram of a freezing front impinging upon
a foreign particle. From paper. Explanation in text above.

Summary (5/11). This work uses the fundamental physics of particle entrapment to calculate critical solidification velocities (i.e. how fast the water freezes) needed to trap a particle of a given size. They consider the effects of different scenarios of inter molecular forces and briefly consider the effect of buoyancy on the process. As a particle approaches the ice interface, thermomolecular pressures repel the particle. However, within one particle diameter, the process is slowed. Once the solidification velocity reaches a critical point, the particle will become entrapped. The critical velocity is inversely related to the particle radius (e.g. larger particles move slower). Significant buoyancy differences will effect the forces at play, either hindering or encouraging particle entrapment.

Discussion. This is an interesting look at the role of intermolecular forces in this process. I want to look back at Buffo et al. (2018 and 2020) to see if 1) he references this paper and 2) how it relates to his work. I know I’ve seen van der Waals interactions mentioned in the code at the very least. Worster et al. mention that particles with different conductivity will react differently, so I need to think about the conductivity of organics vs water (probably closer than salt?). There is another point in here where Worster says that the higher thermal gradients promote particle repulsion, but that seems to conflict with sea ice observations which suggests thermal gradients are a major factor. This is also only mentioned in passing, so I don’t know what to make of it. My main take away is to investigate intermolecular forces more closely and the role they play.

Further Reading. Israelachvili 1992; Sen et al., 1997; Dash et al., 2006

List of Papers

This and That: Using CASSINI INMS Data to Study Atmospheres and Plumes

Well, this is embarrassing. This is not what I had planned to discuss this week. This is the point where I go over the different test cases I’ll be using Tekton on. Unfortunately, my time has been almost entirely monopolized by my attempts to prepare a lab for the Astrobiology Class. The lab is done. The trouble has been with the results I keep getting which are slightly off from what all the published literature is saying. After much review, I think I’ve figured out the issue which relates to over-saturation of the main (higher sensitive) sensor. So it wasn’t all for not, but given the amount of time its taken me, I think its worth something discussing so we can all get a better idea of how to deal with other types of data sets, especially non image ones.

Cassini-Huygens Mission


Cassini-Huygens is an unmanned spacecraft sent to the Saturnian system. Since its arrival in 2004, it has provided many discoveries that have fundamentally changed the course of future planetary exploration.  With its many moons and rings, many consider Saturn to be like a mini solar system.


The Cassini-Huygens Spacecraft is made up of two main components: the Cassini Orbiter and the Huygens Probe. The orbiter hosts a range of science instruments in:

  • Optical Remote Sensing: used to study Saturn, the rings, and moons in visual and infrared wavelengths.
  • Fields, Particles, and Waves: used to study the dust, plasma, and magnetic fields around Saturn and its moons.
  • Microwave Remote Sensing: uses radio waves to map atmospheres, determine mass of moons, and collect data on the rings. It also unveils details about the surface of Titan.

More details about the spacecraft instruments are available online:


The Huygens probe hosted its own set of instruments to more closely study Titan.


 Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS)

 INMS characterizes the neutrally charged particles and low energy ions in the gases in Titan’s atmosphere, Saturn’s magnetosphere, and the ring environment to determine their chemical, elemental, and isotopic compositions (Fig. 1).

Fig 1: Example of compositions from INMS at Enceladus (from JPL)

The instrument counts the number of particles present. These counts are converted to a specific density of particles in a region for a range of masses from 10 to 100 Daltons (the atomic mass per elemental charge). These correlate with specific compounds by their molecular weights, thereby revealing the abundances of each.



Ion measurements are done in two modes: open source and closed source (Fig. 2). The closed source mode is used to measure non-reactive neutrals such as CH4 and Nitrogen. Open source mode measures positive ion species which tend to be less abundant. If you’re interested in identifying neutrals, the best route is to filter out the open sourced data, but this will impede your ability to study both ions in the spectrum. This allows for separating neutrally charged species from the charged ion species. Closed source increases the pressure of the incoming species to help facilitate readings. However, reactive species would react with instrument walls and thus require a different approach.

Calibrations and Sensitivities of INMS Data


Each species (mass value) must be calibrated to account for instrument sensitivities and other factors. These factors vary for each species, so it requires a close analysis of each potential species. A sensitivity factor,  of units counts/s/cm3, varies for each potential species measured. These are listed in a calibration file on the Planetary Data System (PDS) website. The results are also effected by the angle and velocity of the spacecraft and is accounted for using the Ram enhancement factor,  which is unitless. It’s dependent on several factors: the velocity of the spacecraft relative to the target (e.g. Titan), the angle of the INMS aperture ( theta), the temperature of the air (Ta ) and the instrument (Ti ), as well as the mass of the molecule (m) being considered. Then density, , can then be ascertained,



where N is the number of counts that the instrument measures and tIP is the instrument integration period (0.031032 seconds). Needless to say, converting the raw data to physical number is a long and complex process. However, we will be circumventing the calibration process and calculating the results for the three known major species: hydrogen, methane, and nitrogen. The Sensitivity and Ram enhancement factor are shown in Table 1.


There are two sensors on the INMS instrument. One is a high sensitivity sensor and the other is low. The high sensitivity works such that as it approaches saturation, the counts become throttled. This begins being significant after 40,000 counts. When it becomes completely saturated, the high sensitivity counter goes to 0. In order to get an accurate reading, you have to design a method that uses both counters, following these rules:


where C1 represents the first column of counts (high sensitivity) and C2 represents the second column of counts (low sensitivity). If the high sensitivity response is completely saturated, C2 will be much higher. Occasional readings may give 0 and 1 for C1 and C2, but these are still false and need to be filtered out. To be extra cautious, we choose values higher than 12 because the sensor becomes unreliable below this point.


Another issue associated with saturation is dead time, where the receiver is overloaded with so many points that the detector misses some point as it lags in a way. However, this barely produces a 20% lag for even 20,000 counts, well above the highest counts we will deal with. For that reason, we will not worry about this correction.

Lastly, during closest approach, CASSINI begins to enter Titan’s atmosphere. Drag slows the spacecraft down, so thrusters must be used to maintain velocity. The exhaust includes high quantities of hydrogen, which can contaminate the hydrogen (2 Daltons) counts. You will be dealing with a flyby where this effect is minimal, but it is important to be aware that it may skew your results slightly.

Titan is the only moon in the solar system with a thick atmosphere. Nitrogen is the dominant species in the atmosphere, with a few percent methane present. Other components have been suggested based on a mix of ground studies and Voyager and Cassini observations.

The major constituents that were expected to be found in Titan’s atmosphere are shown in Table 1. Solar UV radiation and energetic particles interact with Titan’s atmosphere, ionizing and dissociating compounds. Over time, the most abundant constituents (methane and nitrogen) combine to form larger compounds. This is visualized in Figure 3.


Saturn has many icy moons other than Titan. Enceladus stands out because it is well known for its huge plumes of water emanating from the tiger stripes in the south pole. The ocean extends under the entire ice shell but is likely largest in the south pole. Its close proximity to Titan could prove hopeful for potential mixing of compounds between the two worlds.


PDS: The Planetary Data System

The Planetary Data System is an archive of all the public scientific data from NASA planetary missions, astronomical observations, and laboratory measurements. It offers several ways of browsing data whether by the body of interest, a particular mission, or by specific fields of science. We will navigate using the PDS Nodes which are located on the left side of the PDS home page. The nodes are broken down by area of research as follows:

  • Atmospheres: specializes in non-imaging atmospheric data from all non-earth missions.
  • Geosciences: specializes in data related to the study of surfaces and interiors of terrestrial planetary bodies.
  • Cartography and Imaging Sciences: specializes in all the digital image collections from past, present and future planetary missions.
  • Navigational & Ancillary Information (NAIF): specializes primarily in engineering related information such as system navigation and other mission functions.
  • Planetary Plasma Interactions: specializes in data related to solar wind, magnetospheres, ionospheres and their interactions with planetary atmospheres and surfaces.
  • Ring-Moon Systems: specializes in all data related to planetary ring systems.
  • Small Bodies: specializes in data related to asteroids, comets, and interplanetary dust.

There are a lot of other ways of navigating the site, and this is just one way of trying to find what you have.

Learn more at

Several flybys have been studied for Titan. One example is the one done by Waite et al. 2005 to get an idea of the range of values you might see a signature from a particular molecule.