Ridge Report Writing and Photography Contest

This year, you can submit a short story, poetry piece, and/or photography connecting to one of three possible themes. Your options are "Hush", "Bang", and "Click". Be as creative as you want!

Entries will be accepted starting Monday May 1st 2017

The deadline for entering is Friday May 20th 2017

First place winners in each category (short story, photography, and poetry) will have their entry published on the Ridge Report website and will be awarded a prize.

Click on each category to submit and know about the rules and requirements.

Short Story

Monday, October 23, 2017

Science Fiction #1: Tardigrades

My name is Clara, and I’m the writer for Ridge Report’s new column, Science Fiction. Each article in this column will take a certain idea from a sci-fi story and talk about how it’s related to the technology we already have (but no knowledge of sci-fi is necessary to understand the content). If there’s a certain story you’d like to see, don’t hesitate to tell me about it in the comments!

You may or may not have heard of an animal called the tardigrade.

The tardigrade, also know as the water bear or moss 
piglet. I suppose I can see the resemblance.
Perhaps you read about it in scientific news articles a while back. If you’ve been following CBS’s Star Trek Discovery, you’ll know about the giant tardigrade-like creature that the starship Discovery used to navigate their ship for a couple episodes. But if you have no idea what a tardigrade is, or if you’d like to learn more about them, then it’s worth learning exactly what makes these tiny creatures remarkable enough to earn a mention in one of the most renowned sci-fi franchises in the world.

Tardigrades are pudgy, 8-legged, water-dwelling animals (check out the pictures!). There are over 1000 known species of tardigrade, ranging from 0.05 mm to 1.2 mm in length but generally no larger than 1 mm. Despite their microscopic size and nonthreatening appearance, they are nearly indestructible (though particulars vary by species).

A tardigrade in its dehydrated state.
They were first discovered in 1773, and have since been found almost everywhere — from rainforests to Antarctica to the deep ocean. Some species can withstand temperatures as low as -272℃; others as high as 150℃. When food and water are scarce (or when, like in Star Trek Discovery, the tardigrade is under extreme stress), tardigrades dry out to a point where they are less 3% water, but are still able to survive. A tardigrade that had been in this dehydrated state for 30 years was rehydrated by scientists and was still able to reproduce and continue living normally. (Whatever ‘normal’ means for a tardigrade, that is.)

Of course, tardigrades are unable to live indefinitely in these extremes — they are adapted to live in wet environments, such as the bottoms of lakes. But you have to agree that tardigrades are impressively resilient — what other animal could possibly survive these conditions?

And it doesn’t even end there. Tardigrades are the only animal able to survive in the vacuum of space. This doesn’t just mean  the cold -- it includes surviving the lack of oxygen and the intense radiation from the sun. In 2007, a group of tardigrades (in their dehydrated states) were left in space for 10 full days. 68% survived and some even went on to reproduce. Maybe they aren’t fully resistant to the conditions in space, but… 10 days? A human would be dead in 30 seconds, max.

This is partly due to a protein that shields tardigrade DNA from being damaged by certain types of radiation. So if you were hoping to get bitten by a radioactive tardigrade and gain all its ‘superpowers’, you’re out of luck (to be perfectly honest, you were never in luck to begin with, but... keep hoping, I suppose). The good news, though, is that this protein can be transplanted from tardigrades to humans, and it increases human resistance to x ray radiation by 40%. This could be good news for the future of space travel. One glaring problem with long-distance travel in space is the huge amounts of harmful radiation. Although it doesn’t fix the problem, this aspect of tardigrade biology could certainly help.
Discovery's tardigrade, known by certain characters as

Despite all these incredible characteristics, tardigrades are still relatively unknown to the general public. It’s a good thing Star Trek Discovery is giving them the publicity they deserve. If any animal deserves a mention in a sci-fi show, it’s the tardigrade — it sounds like a science-fiction creature on its own.

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