Tuesday, May 28, 2024


Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Nature, Wildlife, Biological Evolution, Global Change, Climate Change, Habitat

Ed Hessler

The short film highlighted below is both a promotion and from a course on hummingbirds from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.  

Its title, Extreme Hummingbirds (4m 58s), tells you what it is about. It is from the online course The Wonderful World of Hummingbirds, taught by Professor Alan McGowan. When he talks about characteristics of a species, lengths and weights, he uses both English and metric units.

There is information about the course at this site. There you can preview three videos and one interactive.
What a remarkable and splendid group of birds.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Micro-Macro Images

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Art & Environment, Scale

Ed Hessler

NASA presents nine pairs of micro-macro images and asks viewers to decide which is which.

There is an introduction, a discussion of scale and color, resources and and a section where you can learn more about the pairs.

If you are interested in the idea of scale in schools see the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The seven cross cutting concepts from this document may be viewed in this handy matrix for each of them, grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. One of them is Scale, Proportion and Quantity.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

May 25 Quirks & Quarks Podcast With Bob MacDonald

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature of Science, History of Science, Paleontology, Earth & Space Science, Earth Systems, Wildlife, Agriculture, Nature, Geology, Models, Computer Sciences, Health, Medicine

Ed Hessler

This week (ending May 25) the podcast Quirks and Quarks discusses the following in its 54 minute program with host Bob MacDonald. Each segment description includes a photograph and segment lengths are indicated.

-- This little piggy escaped and wreaked havoc on crops and the environment 8m 37s 

Wild pigs that have escaped or been released from farms have established self-sustaining populations in the prairies and Central Canada and are wreaking havoc on farms and wilderness landscapes alike. A new study, led by Ryan Brook at the University of Saskatchewan, has tracked pigs to try to understand where, and how far, this porcine invasion can go. The research was published in the journal Biological Invasions.

-- Satellites and space junk burning up in the atmosphere is a new kind of pollution 8m 35s

Scientists doing high-altitude sampling of material deposited when meteorites burn up in the atmosphere are seeing a shift in the material they've been collecting. In a recent study in the journal PNAS, scientists found that increasingly the particles contain material that could have only come from vaporized space junk, such as the upper stages of rocket boosters and re-entering satellites. Daniel Cziczo, an atmospheric scientist at Purdue University, said they're now trying to find out what kind of impact this in material in the stratosphere may have on things like the ozone layer and global warming.

-- A 200 million year old marine reptile the size of a blue whale 8m 44s

Hundreds of millions of years ago, long before dinosaurs roamed the surface of our planet, ichthyosaurs ruled the Earth's oceans. Analysis of bones found in a river basin in the U.K. suggests a new species might have been one the biggest marine animals that ever lived. Paleontologist Jimmy Waldron was part of the team, who published their research in the journal PLOS One. 

-- Fox skulls are optimized for diving into snow 7m 40s

Foxes hunt in winter by listening for rodents under deep snow and then leaping and diving into the snow, plunging down to snatch their prey. A team including Sunghwan Jung, a professor of Biological and Environmental Engineering at Cornell University, did a unique experiment to confirm that the pointed shape of the fox skull is better than any other shape they tested at penetrating deep into snow. The research was published in the journal PNAS.

-- The logic behind creating more dangerous viruses to understand them better 10m 07s

Anticipating how dangerous viruses — like avian influenza or coronaviruses — could transform from more innocuous forms into much more dangerous ones could help us prepare for future pandemics. Ron Fouchier, a molecular virologist at the Erasmus Medical Centre in Holland, says without doing "gain of function" research, like the kind he published in the journal Science in 2012, we never would have known which changes to look out for with the current global H5N1 outbreak. Gain of function research, which involves experimenting with viruses to make them more dangerous, has become increasingly controversial, but Fouchier says with Europe's strict regulations to ensure safety and oversight, the risk is worth the reward.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Minnesota Roughfish Protection: In The Works

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Nature, Wildlife, Science & Society, Global Change, Climate Change, Sustainability

Ed Hessler

When I read the following headline for Greg Stanley's essay, Star Tribune December 23, 2023, "'Rough fish' in line for protection," I thought of one of Aldo Leopold's most famous quotes. I'm going to close this post with it.

Stanley's essay is protected by a paywall so to its main points.

--Stanley writes that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) just presented state "lawmakers recommendations on how to better protect and understand 23 native species that have been considered 'rough fish' by Minnesota fishery managers for more than a century."

--Some populations are struggling (white suckers), others eat zebra mussels (e.g., freshwater drum), two have been found to be the key in "saving one of the most endangered animals in the state" --the fish: goldeye and mooneye; the endangered species: spectaclecase mussels; what the fish that no other fish are known to do: serve as hosts for this mussels juveniles.

--Rough fish have been viewed as competitors with fish considered more desirable by those who fish. In some cases some of these species have been the focus of  elimination campaigns that do not differentiate "native fish from invasive ones."

--Minnesota "prohibits 'wanton waste,' killing animals merely for sport." However, "if the dead fish are used for fertilizer, they can be taken." Stanley reported that the "DNR said it will reconsider whether fertilizer is an appropriate use for native fish."

--The report also asked lawmakers to give the DNR authority "to expedite the rulemaking process to allow the agency to quickly set bag limits and fishing seasons for any of the native species it deems necessary."

--The relevancy of Aldo Leopold's words (below) are found in this sentence in Stanley's reporting. "Each species evolved to fill a niche in Minnesota's waters." And we need to know much more about those niches. The report identified the following for "priority studies...bowfin, gar, redhorse and buffalo fish."

--“The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, "What good is it?" If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” -- Aldo Leopold, Round River: From the Journals of Aldo Leopold (edited by Luna Leopold, Illustrations by Charles W. Schwartz, Oxford University Press 1993)

What lovely common names many of these "ruffians" have.


Friday, May 24, 2024

Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Biology of the Strawberry

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Science & Society, Biological Evolution, Culture

Ed Hessler

Strawberries have a biology, too, one most of us don't consider.
Where I grew up, they were not too far from the back door: cultivated and wild. I have always found then lovely plants to look at even when not bearing fruit.

In the Readers' Wildlife Photos section of Why Evolution is True, frequent contributor Athayde Tonhasca JĂșnior leads a lesson on strawberries titled Red Treasures.

WEIT host Jerry Coyne adds a note at the end about a famous jam. It is his favorite.

Thanks to University of Chicago Emeritus Professor Jerry Coyne for this website and to photojounalist Athayde Tonhasca Junior for the work he puts into these entries.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Annals of Dentistry: New Product Claim

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Science & Society, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler
Internet was down due to the heavy rain last night and it just returned at about 12:15 pm.

What is the most chronic disease in children?  I'd never have guessed OSS writer Jonathan Jarry's answer. 
He states that it is dental caries and makes an interesting observation about a possible reason--"the separation between medicine and dentistry." 

Jarry's essay is about a product, "a bacterium that you paint onto your teeth. It superinfects your mouth, taking over for the bacteria responsible for caries. A single application lasts a lifetime," specifically, the probiotic Lumina. I urge you to visit their site.

Jarry reviews

--the difference between the term "cavity" and "dental caries"

--how a particular bacterium was identified as the cause of dental caries

--a chance event that led to the idea of replacing the "cause" with a harmless relative

--requirements that this new strain must meet

--the search for the new strain

--a filing with the FDA for a new drug application -- I appreciated learning more about the process and reasons for the "red tape"

--a new filing to get around the strict requirements of a new drug using another pathway

--safety concerns, studies

--what we know that works and why it works including the dynamics of what goes on in the mouth's environment

And, of course, Jarry includes 3 take home messages

Read Jarry's essay and about OSS.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024


Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Science & Society

Ed Hessler

In this Show & Tell, Dr. Joe Schwarz, Director of the Office for Science and Society at the University of Montreal  shows a porcelain piece, Jack the British Bulldog, as a way of telling us about the ceramic material porcelain. 

The video is 4m 30s long.

Monday, May 20, 2024

Quirks & Quarks, May 18, 2024

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature of Science, Earth & Space Science, Earth Systems, Biodiversity, Biological Evolution, Wildlife, Nature, Behavior

Ed Hessler

This week on CBC's Quirks & Quarks Podcast with Bob McDonald. Podcasts are 54:00 minutes. Topics discussed include a photograph, an overview/summary and segment length. You can listen to the full show or return to listen to segments.

--The recent solar storm scrambled undersea sensors

--Robots are stronger, and faster, and better – but still lose to animals

--How European brown rats took over North America

--Decoding whale talk and primate calls 

--Eavesdropping on nature sounds to save ecosystems in US National parks

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Horned Marsupial Frog