Monday, April 23, 2018

What's In A Name?

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Environmental & Science Education
History of Science
Edward Hessler

Universities and colleges have a practice of naming buildings after people. Koltoff Hall is one of the buildings serving to enclose the mall on the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota. The building was designated a national chemical landmark by the American Chemical Association in 2014. Who was Koltoff?

Izaak Maurits (Piet)  Koltoff (February 11 1894 - March 4 1993) was professor of analytical chemistry at the UM-TC from 1927 - 1962. He is the father of modern analytical chemistry, transforming it from a toolbox of laboratory techniques to a major chemical branch. 
Koltoff's productivity was staggering: nearly 1000 scientific papers, 51 Ph.D. students and oversaw the production of an enormous study of analytic chemistry (28 years, 17000 pages, 30 volumes, 295 authors).  During WWII he made major contributions to the development of a techniques to produce synthetic rubber.  He was the recipient of every major chemistry award, short of the Nobel Prize. 

Paul Nelson wrote a short biography of this remarkable chemist for MNopedia, published in MINNPOST, April 4, 2018. I didn't know that he lived on the UM-TC campus from 1927 until shortly before his death. Nor did I know Kolthoff's motto which nicely summarizes scientific practice: Theory guides, experiment decides.

And if you link to the MNopedia entry there is a chronology of events in Koltoff's life.
The Wikipedia entry provides other details of this remarkable chemist and person.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Earth Day--2018

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Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

Today is Earth Day.

The first was in 1970, 20 million celebrants. This year is # 48.

The focus of the Earth Day Network is on plastics and there you can find information about them and decide on how you can reduce your plastic footprint. They are everywhere, a remarkable invention that came with a bite.

Ron Meador's lede on Earth Day in MinnPost caught my attention, an article about products with a green theme but are not what they seem. He wrote,

It would be better to cut consumption, period.

If you are interested you can read his full comments on recent product-pitches that have come his way.

To these I add five facts from the Brookings Institution that caught their policy eye. The five are about water use, nations and ocean policies on oceans, U. S. and oil production, a surprising relationship between natural disasters on the education of adolescent girls around the globe, and wildlife extinction rates.

The good, the bad and the ugly.

Image result for votingJane Yolen has written a lovely poem in a collection of poems for the younger set about and for this day. It is a great poem to roll around and off your tongue. Here you can read about her and her work.

PS--Another way to think of Earth Day 2018 is to celebrate and take action on November 6, Election Day. And between now and then to become informed on environmental positions of candidates and include this in calculations about how to vote.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Letting the Cows Out: JOY!

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Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

It is spring and the cows spring along with it.

And here is another that is too good and touching not to miss.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


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Environmental & Science Education
Invasive Species
Edward Hessler

Common starlings. Aggressive. Destructive. Oddly beautiful.

The United States had not a single starling until the idea that this country should have all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare's plays captured the imagination of Eugene Schiefflin, a wealthy New Yorker.  So European starlings were introduced in the late 1800s and as is often said, history. From a few, many. Many would argue way too many.

The 13-minute film, The Commoners, is a short story about this invasion and takeover.

There is a lesson or two here but not ones that have informed many decisions and their often unintended consequences.

The family, Sturnidae, includes roughly 120 different species of starlings worldwide.  You can view them on the Internet IBC Bird Collection. One of my favorites is the Superb Starling which is widely distributed in East Africa. What a handsome bird.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Natural Water

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Environmental & Science Education
Clean Water
Edward Hessler

You've all heard about the raw water craze (craziness), a recent fad. I'll say a few things about it.

What could possibly be wrong with untreated water? Say rain, snow (maybe not the yellow stuff but who knows?), ground water, natural springs, lakes, streams, rivers. Each of these contains a different suite of minerals, particles, bacteria, parasites, alga, viruses, etc.

Water, the raw, untreated kind is a "natural" product where natural = good (Even better, perhaps the best). According to raw water advocates, it may even contain probiotics or "healthful bacteria."

Clean water, the treated kind--filtered, treated, purified--is among public health's and sanitary engineering's greatest successes.  The United Nations General Assembly in July 2010 recognized "the human right to water and sanitation." Sufficient. Safe. Acceptable. Affordable. Physically accessible. For all. For everyone.

Image result for water treatment plantNature has its own "additives," some known as well as their health various hazards and some not yet known to science or are their potential effects. You may see some of them here. These are taken with an electron microscope which shows not only details and often paints them as lovely...beautiful.

A Google search will lead you to many articles and essays about raw water. Here is one from the site ArsTechnica.

You may want to listen to this classic by the Sons of the Pioneers.

Saturday, April 14, 2018


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Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

If you have a cat, have you ever noticed or suspected a preference for it being right-pawed or left-pawed?  Do you know which paw they lead with as the step down from a step or when they step over an object? This dullard has never paid any attention to such details.

Anthropologist and aileurophile, Barbara J. King reported on a new study published in Animal Behaviour in which researchers found that of 44 cats involved in the study a paw preference was shown. The cats consisted of  24 male and 20 spayed females, composed of mixed breeds, and between 1 and 17 years old. One of the best aspects of this study is that the moggies were tested at home, in an environment in which they are comfortable and know well. Owners collected the data "until 50 responses were reached per question."

Unlike humans, this preference for laterality does not exhibit itself at the population level. Male kittehs were much more likely to be lefties while female kittehs were more likely to be righties.

The owners were also asked whether the cats preferred to sleep on the right or left side. This position does not show right or left lateralization.

There was one other test that required an experimental apparatus in which the moggies had to reach for food through holes. King notes that this is a "forced" test rather than the spontaneous tests the owners were observing.

Image result for catBarbara King's essay may be found here and I urge you to read it. Her account is full and rich. I just borrowed some notes. She includes some of her exchanges with one of the study co-authors, Deborah Wells as well as what this research may mean and why it is important.

"For the moment," King writes, "I'm headed off to watch my cats more closely than I ever have before."

Friday, April 13, 2018

Friday Poem

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Environmental & Science Education
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Well,  it is Friday. Two poems by Raymond Carver that happened to be on the same page.

Read a short bio of Raymond Carver.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Premature Babies

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Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

At first blush that there is a connection between slaughter houses and premature babies seems a stretch. What?

Preemies sometimes have difficulty breathing and this is where slaughterhouses enter the picture.

"Every week, foam extractors make the trip to an Ontario slaughterhouse to siphon an off-white liquid out of cow lungs. The foam is purified and shipped across the globe, where it is shot into the lungs of struggling premature infants. Their lungs, like the rest of a premature infant's body, aren't quite ready for birth and haven't started producing this foam called pulmonary surfactant themselves. Experts say arrival of surfactants in the neonatal ICU in the 1980s was a groundbreaking development. STAT's Eric Boodman visited a slaughterhouse in Canada to trace how surfactant goes from the roar of the slaughterhouse to the sterile hush of the NICU."

To read Boodman's story and also to view a very good animation on this therapy click here.

March for Science Minnesota 2018

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Environmental & Science Education
History of Science
Edward Hessler

Yesterday (April 11 2018) I had a call from Doug Allchin, a member of the local organizing committee that the MN March for Science 2018, scheduled for this Saturday, April 14 (St. Paul)  had been cancelled due to the weather. 

I loved Allchin's comment: "An ironic tribute, perhaps to the power of science to give us such clear advance warning!"  And I add, a decision based on the best available evidence!

It has not yet been rescheduled. For the official announcement see here and as the web site says, "Stay tuned for further information."
Keep those big boots handy (or walking shoes).