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Daily Planet’s Ziya Tong Dishes on “Forces of Nature Week” and How to Escape Quicksand

In preparation for the Daily Planet's much anticipated “Forces of Nature Week,” Science World blogger, Elizabeth Hand, jumped on a long distance call to Toronto, to chat with one of the hosts of the show, science enthusiast, Ziya Tong. Ziya has been working in science for over ten years and it has been a wild and crazy adventure.

What was the "a-ha" moment that sparked your passions for the sciences?

Ziya: I grew up in Hong Kong, which is a real urban jungle. It wasn’t until I went to Africa, when I was 21, that I made the connection. It was a humbling and awesome experience to be out in the wild. That was where I met Jane Goodall, who is so inspiring. Suddenly, I was surrounded by all of these brilliant scientists, in this incredible natural environment and something went bing and I thought, “this is it!”

What is the best part about working on Daily Planet?

Ziya: I think the greatest thing about working on Daily Planet is that I have the opportunity to learn and share what I learn. I learn a minimum of 20 new things a day. I get the chance to meet with genius minds and am introduced to new ideas and perspectives. Plus, it’s really fun! We go on adventures each year, where we travel to fascinating places and are able to explore the wonders of the world, in person.

Take the other day, for example. We did a story on echolocation, which is a sort of biosonar. A person or an animal can make sounds and fine tune their listening skills to recognize the echoes of those sounds, to locate and identify objects—even if they can’t see them. For the show, we asked a blind man to explain a modern art sculpture using this method. While he was describing what he perceived of the sculpture, we positioned an artist behind a curtain to draw what the man was describing.

It was amazing how well he was able to describe the sculpture, which would have been a difficult thing to describe—even for a sighted person.

Starting next week, Daily Planet is featuring "Forces of Nature week." What are some topics you'll explore?

Ziya: We have a week of crazy survival stories in the works! One is on the International Ice Patrol, which I was fascinated to learn about. We all know the story of how the Titanic sank—because it hit an iceberg—but you’ll notice that we don’t hear stories about ocean vessels hitting icebergs today. That’s because the International Ice Patrol is monitoring and mapping the presence of icebergs, so that ships can avoid them.

The truly interesting thing I learned about that is, while there used to be only five icebergs to avoid, in the face of rising temperatures, chunks of ice fall off the glaciers and fall into the sea. In 2013, there were 13 icebergs as a result of this shift.  Then, in 2014, the patrol located 1,546 icebergs!

We will also talk to engineers in Wisconsin, who are developing a tent that can withstand hurricane strength winds, which is the kind of tent that I’d like to have, if I was buying a tent.

Other stories we will follow include  the story of a man who would like to break the world record for walking around while on fire, how to survive a shark bite and I personally demonstrate how best to get out of quicksand. 

How exactly did you get out of the quicksand?

Ziya: Well, it was surprising how difficult it was! We went to visit David Willey, a physics professor in Pennsylvania, to try out his homemade quicksand contraption. It was a giant clear tank full of sand that they poured 300 gallons of water into.

I was surprised to find that I sunk so quickly! I just jumped right in and once the water stopped pouring in, it became a solid, which made it impossible to just lift my leg. To pull my leg straight up was like lifting a car with my foot! In order to get out, I had to move very slowly! So, insider tip: don’t move too quickly when trapped in quicksand.

Noted! Thanks for the tip. So, what adventures await you after next week, Ziya?

Ziya: I’m going to investigate animals that live on volcanoes! You might not think that there are many animals that want to live on, what is essentially, a ticking time bomb, but there are some and we’re going to look into how they survive such extreme conditions.


For more on these topics, tune in to Daily Planet's “Forces of Nature Week,” which airs Monday, April 13–Friday, April 17 at 7pm, ET, on Discovery.