Friday, February 24, 2017

Mildred Dresselhaus

History of Science
Women in Science
Edward Hessler

L. Rafael Reif, president of the Massachusetts of Technology announced the death of a very distinguished MIT faculty member, Mildred Spiewak Dresselhaus, in an e-mail, February 21, 2017.

Professor Dresselhaus was known as the Queen of Carbon for her foundational work which opened the way to later discoveries such as C60 buckyballs (fullerenes), carbon nanotubules, and graphene. I don't do her justice so please read the MIT Press Release below. While at MIT she served as the director of MIT's Center for Materials Science and Engineering. Upon her retirement she was awarded Institute Professor Emerita, the highest distinction the MIT faculty confers.

She was the first woman at MIT to become a full, tenured professor (1968), a solo recipient of the Kavli Prize and the first woman to be awarded the National Medal of Science in Engineering.  In 2014 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014, the highest civilian award in the United States.

Dresselhaus was the author of eight books, some 1700 research articles and supervised more than 70 doctoral students.

About her, Reif wrote, Like dozens of young faculty and hundreds of MIT students over the years, I was lucky to count Millie as my mentor. On this sad day, it is a great comfort to reflect on her example: someone who loved the beauty of scientific discovery and whose bold, rigorous, elegant research is now enabling new solutions to real-world problems. Someone who, personally and professionally, always took the time to do the right thing. Someone devoted to her family, who somehow made the rest of us feel like family, too.

President Reif, closed his letter this way: In sympathy and wonder.

The MIT press release reviews her life--at one time she considered teaching but no less than the Nobel Prize winner, Roslyn Yalow encouraged her to study physics, noting her great promise as a scientist. She did her Ph.D. at the University of Chicago under Enrico Fermi, another Nobel Laureate. She noted that three-quarters of the students in that program failed to complete it.

The MIT press release announcing her death contains links to a long interview for the MIT Oral History Project, an MIT press release on receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom (another MIT faculty member was also a recipient that year, Robert Solow, a recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science), an engaging, delightful 60-second General Electric commercial titled "What if Millie Dresselhaus, Female Scientist, was Treated like a Celebrity?, released two weeks before her death, and a press release when she gave the keynote address to the 2015 "Rising Stars in EECC" (Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences).  This MIT program is for female graduate students and post-docs who are considering a research career in science.

Friday Poem

Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

The poem for Friday, the 24th was written Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.

And here are some quotes from her writings.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Future of Cosmology

Nature of Science
History of Science
Edward Hessler

Sabine Hossenfelder is a theoretical physicist who writes the blog BackReaction.  The term has a technical meaning, for me a very technical meaning. You may find it otherwise!

In addition she writes a general column on theoretical physics for Forbes and the one I link is worth reading since it is about a debate between scientists and philosophers on why trust a theory.

Professor Hossenfelder is a trusted critical book reviewer, too. In addition, she occasionally posts a song/video she has made since she likes to play with technology and ideas. Occasionally, she posts news about her children who are now seven years old--twin girls.

Everyone has heard of dark matter. The evidence for it is that large scale bunches of matter in the cosmos, galaxies, for example, don't behave in the way that Einstein's theory of general relativity predicts they should.

A recent journal article she discussed prompted some comments on the future of cosmological research.  The paper relies on the power of supercomputers.

Professor Hossenfelder notes that she is a pen-on-paper physicist so the "work has a bittersweet aftertaste. It's a remarkable achievement which wouldn't have been possible without a clever formulation of the problem. But in the end, it's progress fueled by technological power, by bigger and better computers. And maybe that's where the future of our field lies, in finding better ways to feed  problems to supercomputers."

This made me smile. There is, for me, some warmth in the idea pen/pencil and paper, chalkboards and I take some small pleasure in knowing this will continue as cosmologists find "better ways to feed problems to supercomputers." Ah, tradition strikes again!

Here is the link to Dr. Hossenfelder's column on dark matter's hideout.

Galapagos Islands: 6 Tips for Visiting the Islands or How to be a Sustainable Eco-Tourist

Steven Beardsley

Seeing the male Frigate bird on North Seymour Island

I traveled to the Galapagos Islands while I had a vacation from my teaching job here in Ecuador. I was in the Galapagos for about 6 days, and I visited four islands: Santa Cruz, Isabella, San Cristobal, and North Seymour. These are my 6 tips for what to see and do and how to be a sustainable eco-tourist.

1. Do your planning when you get there

Arrow Marinero or Marine Rice; An expensive dish you can bargain
down to $10-15.
This tip might be counterintuitive for planners and people who like to work with travel agencies, but you save a lot of time and money just buying the plane ticket and then planning what you are going to do when you get there. Now, the Galapagos Islands do belong to Ecuador, so the locals speak Spanish, but they also speak plenty of English. I recommend learning some key words in Spanish such as “almuerzo” = “lunch” and “merienda” = “dinner.”

Otherwise, all of the guides are bilingual and will often translate what they say from Spanish to English. That being said, I booked my plane ticket through LATAM directly from Quito. If you are traveling from the United States I also recommend booking through LATAM. There is a $20 transit card fee that you buy at the airport and then another $100 fee to enter the islands. If you have a national visa or are Ecuadorian though, the fee to enter the islands is around $5.

2. Don’t Book a Luxury Cruise

You can see the launch in the very back; these launches are the best
way to get from island to island 
This tip is especially important because cruises that last between 5-8 days are not environmentally sustainable. I have also heard that the large luxury cruises do not benefit the local people, which is an important aspect of sustainable eco-tourism in the Galapagos. The cruises can also cost between $1000-$6000 dollars, and you do not necessarily get the same experience as going from island to island on your own.

For example, I paid $30 to go from Santa Cruz to Isabella and then another $30 from Isabella back to Santa Cruz. The money you pay for the launches does go to the local people as well as the $1 you would pay to take the water taxi to the launches. I will cover where to see all the different animals in a future post, but if you want to see the amazing frigate birds, especially the ones with the red neck pouch, you can book a day cruise that costs about $150. These kinds of cruises are more sustainable because a guide goes with you, the groups are smaller and between 10-20 people, and it benefits the community. Read more about why taking a larger luxury cruise can actually harm the islands:

Can Tourism ever be Sustainable in the Galapagos? 

3. Bargain, Bargain, and Bargain some more

This "almuerzo" includes fish with peanut sauce, fries, rice, and salad.
The first course is typically a soup, then the entree with a drink, and
sometimes a dessert to top things off.
An important tip I cannot stress enough is the importance of bargaining. If you are confident in your Spanish you can often reduce a hostel price from $15 to $10 or even an expensive seafood course from $18 to $15. I believe you can also try bargaining in English, though I mostly did it Spanish. Either way Ecuadorians expect you to bargain, so you should never accept the first price they give. Of course, this is within reason. If you pay about $3-5 in almuerzo that’s a pretty standard price. If you are like me and also enjoy trying out the local cuisine of a new place, bargaining is especially important for high cost seafood dishes.

4. Follow the Park Rules: Don’t feed or touch the animals

A Lang Iguana. One of many unique species you can see on the islands.
The temptation to touch Galapagos animals is strong, but don’t do it. For example, touching the babies of the Sea Lions is bad because our scent can rub off on them, making their mothers reject them. In other words, when you get to the islands don’t be like other tourists who get within a foot of the animals, try to feed them, or touch them. We need to respect that this is their habitat, and that we’re just lucky enough to be visiting them.

5. Spend about 6 days on the Islands

What you can see on the Tintoreras tour:
Galapagos Penguins and Blue-Footed Boobies
Now, you can plan what you want to do ahead of time. If you are interested in snorkeling and swimming with sea lions and sharks you can go on the Tunnels tour which is about $100 or the Tintoreras tours which is about $40. Both activities are on Isabella Island. You can also do plenty of free things such as visit the Charles Darwin Research Station at Santa Cruz or lay down on several of the beaches at Santa Cruz or Isabella. I recommend 6 days especially to get accustomed to boat travel between islands. You can certainly stay longer, but I found that I was pretty tired of the beaches after 6 days. I also recommend 2 days in Isabella, 2 days in Santa Cruz (1 day to do a cruise, and maybe 1-2 days in San Cristóbal.

6. Be a Sustainable Eco-Tourist:

Going with a guide is important;
you still get to take
great photos without
damaging the natural environment
The Galapagos Islands is an incredible place. It has some of the most unique animals on the planet from Darwin’s finches to Penguins and the Galapagos Tortoise. At the same time, The Galapagos is a fragile place that deserves care and respect while visiting. While on the islands I learned a little bit about sustainable ecotourism. Essentially, “sustainable ecotourism” is tourism that “Supports the protection of natural areas by generating economic benefits for host communities, organizations and authorities managing natural areas with conservation purposes”

In other words, tourism can be sustainable if it economically benefits a community, but not all tourism is “eco-tourism.” For the Galapagos Islands sustainable ecotourism is important for the economic well-being of the people and the environment. The Galapagos has a history of exploitation and degradation by pirates and buccaneers that have taken advantage of the Giant Tortoises oil and carapaces for commercial use. Being conscious of the water you use and making sure to turn the light off when you leave your hotel room are all important ways of being a sustainable eco-tourist. Also, be conscious about when and how you choose to visit the islands. Peak holiday seasons aren’t always the best because too many people can be damaging to the natural environment.

I hope these tips are helpful when you plan your own visit to the islands. I personally believe that everyone, natural lovers, naturalists, teachers, and conservationists alike, should visit the Galapagos Islands. But it’s up to you have an experience that benefits you, the local people, and the environment.
Look for future posts where I go into more detail about the animals you can see in the Galapagos and the kinds of activities you can do.

Thanks for reading and Hasta Luego!

Check out these additional resources on Eco-Tourism:

Who are Eco-Tourists? 

Eco-Tourism in the Galapagos

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Reason Why There Was No First Human

Biological Evolution
History of Science
Environmental & Science Education
by Edward Hessler

Inspired by Richard Dawkins's The Magic of Reality, PBS produced a short video—an excellent teaching tool—which explains why there was no first human. It is nicely done and includes most of the major species along the way, from way back then to the present.

EVO is a book on the evolution of human generations displayed in a single 30 m long page—folded in a zig-zag pattern that traces human history back through 153 generations. Father, grandfather, great grandfather, great,-great grandfather all the way down to the beginning.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

We Are Water MN - A program that uses stories and science

Water & Watersheds
by Guest Blogger: Britt Gangeness

Britt Gangeness coordinates and develops outreach and education projects at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). She has been working with the Minnesota Humanities Center on the Smithsonian Water/Ways project since 2014 and was thrilled to see the exhibit hit the streets this summer. She has a B.A. in Biology and M.Ed. in Environmental Education.

Minnesota has a very unusual geographic position. We sit atop a triple, continental-scale water divide, a divide that sends water north to the Hudson, east to the Great Lakes and the Atlantic, and south to the Gulf of Mexico. Almost all of our water comes to our state as rain or snow.

This means we are not receiving polluted water from a state with lower environmental standards. But it also means we have a responsibility to keep water clean — for our community and for other states and nations.

Whoa, that's a big responsibility. How are we doing?

Right now, 40% of the water in Minnesota is not meeting standards set for safe for swimming, fishing, or drinking.

Because of investments through the Clean Water Legacy, Minnesota is on track to improve water quality by 6-8% by 2025. Many people believe this is not good enough. In February 2017, Governor Mark Dayton challenged the state of Minnesota with an aspirational goal to improve water by 25% by 2025.

To reach this goal, every community in Minnesota must believe that clean water is important, have an understanding of the local issues they are facing (which vary widely across the state), and have relationships on which to draw to solve these problems. Other social factors that are important to achieving clean water goals are social norms, emotional connections to people and places, self and collective efficacy, and a value of the collection good over personal interests.

In directly addressing these social measures, We Are Water MN works with Minnesota communities to learn about local water issues, rediscover the reasons we each care about clean water, and bring participants into deeper personal and community involvement with water. We:
  1. Educate through a traveling exhibit. The exhibit features statewide and local information about Minnesota's position as the headwaters of three major basins; the sacredness of water to Minnesota's first peoples, the Dakota and Ojibwe; land changes over time; the current stresses on water; steps needed to make progress; and stories about the meaning and use of water by local people.
  2. Engage with host communities that are ready to address important and difficult questions around water. Host communities develop cross-sector partnerships; deepen their knowledge, understanding, and commitment to water issues; create companion exhibitions; develop high profile programs, events, and stewardship projects; and conducted local story-collecting initiatives. 
  3. Connect a cross-sector, cross-disciplinary network of scientists, historians, humanities scholars, storytellers, artists, and other water stakeholders to protect and preserve water in Minnesota.

The power of stories

Through my work on the project, I've had the opportunity to learn about water quality from my MPCA colleagues, listen to interviews of people from the six tour sites, and collect images of the special places they describe. Now, I don't just think of regional water quality trends. I think of people — THESE people.

And I smile, because there are an awful lot of people out there who care about all the little plants, and animals, and flow rates, and smell of the mud, and the places where loons nest (to name a few of the minutia they care about). They treasure the special events in their lives that happened in and around the water.

Stories are a great way to reconnect Minnesotans to the preciousness of our waters: the history; sacredness of Minnesota's first people, the Dakota and Ojibwe; the land changes over time; the current stresses on water — and most importantly, the future story they are part of creating.

Stories can also be used to bridge traditional divides. People don't want to be immediately dismissed because they might have a view that you consider wrong. Stories ask the listener to simply put themselves in the shoes of other people — to understand their problems — especially if we listen to stories that break stereotypes, that present people as individuals rather than as a group, and have conversations or programs that increase contact between isolated groups of people.

How do you use stories and storytelling in your work?

Try it! Listen to these stories and consider your own experiences. 

Becky and Don Waskosky live on the bluff overlooking the Le Sueur River. In 2010, storms dumped 10 inches of rain in the area and sent a torrent of water down the river. It eroded more than half of the bluff that lies between the Waskoskys' house and the river below.

What has happened in your life that inspired you to take action to serve water?

Pat Duncanson's family has been farming in southern Blue Earth County for nearly 100 years. He is very passionate that drainage needs to be part of our southern Minnesota landscape, but that it can't be done like it's been done for the past hundred years.

Demonstration of solutions is important. What are your success stories? 

Learn from three women about why they participate in Nibi (Water) Walks — indigenous-led, extended ceremonies to pray for the water.

Are there cultural or spiritual practices that shape your water ethic?

More about We Are Water MN

We Are Water MN is a touring exhibit and community engagement initiative that will be in Detroit Lakes from February 25 to April 8. It will also be at the Eco Experience (Minnesota State Fair), along with the Water Bar, a free educational experience that serves flights of tap water and generates conversation about water. We Are Water MN is a partnership led by the Minnesota Humanities Center and including the MPCA, DNR, MDH, and Minnesota Historical Society. It is a true collaboration — we develop content together, set goals together, and share networks and resources. We have been working with 6 non-metro Minnesota communities for 2 years and are now in the final stages of the tour.

You can listen and read some more stories collected by this project at Click on "story maps." 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Minnesota March for Science

by Edward Hessler

Just in case you missed it, there will be Minnesota March for Science, similar to the big march in D.C.

This link is the place to go and to keep checking for more information about the local march as it develops.

The march will be held on Earth Day, April 22, 2017.


Earth Science
Environmental & Science Education
by Edward Hessler

My favorite 'splainer of geology, Marcia Bjornerud, Lawrence College has written a short essay on the earth's magnetic field for The New Yorker.

It is a story of reconstructing the magnetic field using archeological materials, mostly fired pottery. Bjornerud notes that "The makers of these old jars, diligently stamping handles with the royal brand, had no idea that they were contributing to a twenty-first century debate about the very heart of the planet."

If you don't already you will understand the importance of the earth's magnetic field, especially a stable one to us, and some idea of how it is studied. It is also a story of how a science works and where curiosity about a phenomenon leads and may lead.

It may be read here.

Magnetism: Wikipedia

The superficial, easily observed, features of magnets are deceptive. Consider what we learn in school.

The late science educator Mary Budd Rowe collected some statements gleaned from first grade boys taking part in a study of magnets. They had all had experiences with magnets. Each had 4 magnets of different shapes, a piece of iron, and a heavy piece of plastic. These were typical statements about concepts that are commonly taught in the primary grades. I abbreviate them in parentheses following the statements.
  • "Look it magnets together." (attraction depending on how they are arranged)
  • "This one and this push apart." (repel depending on arrangement)
  • "When you put it this way, it sticks; but this way it like pushes apart." (attraction, repel, arrangement counts)
  • "If you put the iron and the magnet together, it doesn't stick so hard." (magnets attract iron when brought near iron; the force of the attraction between two magnets is greater than the attraction between a magnet and a piece of iron)
  • "It won't pick this plastic up." (magnets do not attract some objects brought near them)
from Teaching Science as Continuous Inquiry.

However, when you think about what's next or underneath these observations which are good ones to make what really is a magnetic field? These simple magnetic effects suddenly become complicated.

Dr. Bjornerud did her undergraduate work in geology at the UM-TC and her M.S., and Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin. In this short YouTube interview she talks about teaching and the work of some of her students at Lawrence College.

Bjornerud also wrote a lovely, beautiful book on geology titled Reading the Rocks: An Autobiography of the Earth.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Friday Poem

Art and Environment
by Edward Hessler

Today's poem is by Langston Hughes and it is one you may have read before.

This poem—always powerful and even more timely today—and a short biography of this celebrated poet and writer may be found here.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Cajas National Park: A Candidate for an UNESCO Heritage Site

CGEE Student Voice
Environmentalism in Ecuador series
by Steven Beardsley

On the balcony by the Park Center
Cajas National Park: "A Gateway to the Snowy Mountains
This past Sunday I went with several other teachers to Cajas National Park, a park that is just about thirty minutes outside of Cuenca. Cajas became a national park just 20 years ago in 1996. It is an important place for Ecuador and especially Cuenca because it gets all of its clean water from the naturally forming lakes and rivers in the mountains. There are over 12 different routes you can take ranging in difficulty based on whether you want to hike a flatter trail or rock climb some of the major hills. Another past time in Cajas is trout fishing that was mentioned to me by more than several cab drivers. You can also camp out in the park for another $2-$4 dollars and rent camping equipment. Learn more about planning a visit to Cajas National Park.

Meeting *Matteo the Majestic Alpaca

One of the many Alpacas we saw by the Park Center
The five of us took route A, or the least difficult route, through the park. It took us past the first major lake about a quarter the size of Lake Superior in Minnesota, though the park itself is home to over 200 major lakes. Along the way we saw several large alpacas, posing perfectly in the breeze and sun. In the pictures I am bundled up because the weather in Cajas can be unpredictable. Lows are 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit even dropping to below freezing at night. So if you consider camping in this wonderful place, remember to bring plenty of layers.

Biodiversity in Cajas National Park
The "Quinoa" Forest

Another cool thing about Cajas is that it is home to "at least 600 species of vascular plants, 43  mammals, 157 birds (including 24 hummingbirds), 17 amphibians and 4 reptiles". Route A had us traveling through a mix of the moorland and paper trees that are known locally as “quinoas” (although they aren’t the actual grain that you can have with a salad), and several lagoons and marshland. In Cajas you can see Condors (we didn’t see one sadly D: ), wild horses, cows, alpacas, Andean parrots, hummingbirds, and many other animals.

Archaeological & Scientific Research at Cajas National Park

We were over 12,000 ft. above sea level! 
Cajas has also been the source of many scientific and archaeological investigations. Incan ruins can be found at various sections of the park such as near the Laguna Toreadora and Laguna Atugyacu. Next time I hope to continue exploring the park and maybe visit some ruins as many of the routes range from 1-2 hours to 2 full days. Regarding scientific research, the University of Cuenca has taken students out to do field studies of the water and biodiversity. We saw a meteorological site dedicated to monitoring the changing weather in Cajas. In the morning it can be warm and very sunny only to switch to rain and even sleet in the afternoon and evening.
Part of the Route A path we took; It was a beautiful day

Luckily, we had a very beautiful and warm evening. I definitely want to visit this ecological paradise again and see more of the Incan ruins and meet the various wildlife. You can learn more about Cajas National Park through the links in the post. This month and December I hope to travel to other ecological places in Ecuador such as the Banos in Cuenca, the Amazon rainforest, and some islands in the Galapagos Islands.

Hasta Luego-Until then.

Me and the other CEDEI Teachers at Cajas National Park

*We didn't know if they named the Alpacas, but I decided to call this one "Matteo."

*More great pictures of the park below