Friday, February 15, 2019

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education
Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Today's poem is about "stats," statistics.

The poet of this delight filled poem is the late Wislawa Szymborska who received the 1996 Nobel Prized in Literature.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Measles: The Infecting Machine


Image result for measles

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Health
Medicine
Edward Hessler

Measles is in the news again, the Pacific Northwest, Indiana, Texas and other places.

The CDC (Center for Disease Control) has a graph of measles cases from 2010 to present (as of February 7 2019). The data are updated weekly.

One reason that measles is so often in the news is that the virus has a "nose" for finding susceptible people. As STAT's Helen Branswell puts it, the measles virus is "a bear to deal with."  She quotes Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases and Research at the University of Minnesota who colorfully explains that "measles makes an infected child into a viral Uzi." Branswell continues with an example Dr. Osterhom knows well.

"Osterholm was involved in an outbreak investigation that illustrates this point clearly. Back in 1991, Minneapolis-St. Paul hosted the Special Olympics. A competitor from Argentina who was infected with measles arrived in the Twin Cities to compete. That one case led to an outbreak of more than 25 other cases in multiple states over three generations of spread.

"Many of the people who contracted measles in this outbreak had no known contact with the child. The investigation concluded some most likely were infected during the event's opening ceremonies--even though they were seated in the upper deck of the domed stadium, more than 100 feet above the point where the teams paraded into the event."

You probably know that the measles vaccine is remarkably effective. That's the good news. So? There is also bad news. These are the fears about the use of the vaccine based on long-discredited research in which a link between autism and the vaccine was first reported. The CDC provides considerable information.


What is it about the measles virus that makes it such an infecting machine? The video accompanying the Branswell article explains.






Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Development Of A Physcial Theory


Image result for michael faraday

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Cosmology
Astronomy
Nature of Science
History of Science
Edward Hessler

I'd forgotten about the videos produced by One Minute Physics or perhaps I should say, videos that are sometimes just about or slightly over, sometimes even longer than a minute. But all worth it.

This one, on magnetic fields is especially good and features the contributions of two scientists whose work was about the workings of the universe: Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell. (Clerk = Clark in Scots speak.)

Faraday, originally a budding bookbinder was a keen observer and immensely curious about the natural world--the physical side. While from a poor family ultimately he ended up as a demonstrator and experimentalist at the Royal Institution. (click on our history if you are interested in Faraday's role). He was non-mathematical. Maxwell, on the other hand,was a gifted mathematician who took the careful observations Faraday made and used them to build powerful, explanatory equations. I should add that Maxwell was not as good an analyst as a geometer and his famous equations developed from faulty analytic arguments.

The video is about 5 minutes long and worth every minute. The narrator is Neil Turok who directs the Perimeter Institute in Canada, a home for talented theoreticians.

This work provides a glimpse into how science works, e.g., Maxwell's equations don't pop from the air. They are based in empirical data.

I remember a comment a physicist once made on his first encounter with Maxwell's equations as a graduate student. He almost left his Ph.D. program, thinking that if this is what was expected of him as a graduate student that he should quit. He realized that he was not capable of making this kind of contribution. Few are.  He stuck to it and became a good physicist.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Hot Pink

Image result for southern flying squirrelEnvironmental & Science Education
STEM
Biodiversity
Biological Evolution
Nature
Edward Hessler


There are so many things yet to be learned about the natural world. Some of them are learned first by chance and then are more carefully scrutinized. Here is a recent one.

The current issue of Nature reports on another of the rare examples of fluorescence in mammals. It was discovered when a researcher studying lichens with UV light shined the light on a flying squirrel. It shimmered hot pink so he and his colleagues checked museum specimens of 135 other squirrels. Only the new world flying squirrels show this characteristic.

The short news item in Nature notes that "The role of the hot pink fur is unknown, but the team says it could help the animals find — and perhaps impress — each other in low light. The pink fur pattern could also mimic the plumage of owls, which possess a similar secret glow, to confuse avian predators."

The study was originally published in the Journal of Mammalogy and was done by researchers at Wisconsin's Northland College. And here is the Smithsonian Magazine story which includes a link to the original paper and other information.

h/t Molly

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Friday Poem


Image result for tropical

Environmental & Science Education
Poet
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Today's poem is about January in another place than here in the upper midwest.

The poet is Denise Levertov who died in 1997.

Seeing A Cancer From The Inside


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Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Health
Medicine
Nature of Science
Edward Hessler

Video journalist Dominic Smith in a recent article in STAT, reports on one of the first uses of virtual reality technology by oncologist Dr. Ray Mak and researcher Christopher Williams of Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

More than a year ago Bill Hobbs was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs (commonly associated with exposure to asbestos). It is rare. It is aggressive. Life expectancy is in the neighborhood of a year.

Some physicians are using virtual reality technology in their study of images of cancers.  It improves the quality of the visualization, perhaps because it is so immersive. Mr. Hobbs was asked whether he wanted to look at what the physicians were seeing, images of his insides and the effects of radiation treatment.  He is the kind of person to leap at such an opportunity.  Hobbs exclaimed, almost from the outset "'I'm going 3D, boys.''

Hobbs noted that while It doesn’t change anything in the sense of, am I going to get better quicker because now I know something I didn’t know? Not particularly. But what it does do is show you what they’re doing and they can tell you why they’re doing it, and that’s a good feeling to have.

Smith's reporting reveals Hobbs' optimism and enthusiasm to get on with things no matter the circumstances. In addition there is a video which of this remarkable person and this stunning technology which seems certain to improve understanding of treatment plans.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

I Love Bread


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Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Culture
Edward Hessler

It was Oprah who said that but I'm in that group of people, too.

This recent New Yorker video is about breadmaking and bakers who love talking about bread and their techniques.

A Time Line of Hominin Evolution

Image result for neanderthalEnvironmental & Science Education
STEM
Biological Evolution
Biodiversity
Edward Hessler


Hominins are the group that includes modern and ancient humans and all of the other extinct relatives. Today, our closest living relatives are chimpanzees, but as the American Museum of Natural History notes, "extinct hominins are even closer. Where and when did they live? What can we learn about their lives? Why did they go extinct?"

The fossil information scientists have collected and analyzed is the subject of a ~ 6 minute film, a time-line of 7 million years of hominin evolution. Our family tree is as fragmented as you might expect but an evidence-based picture has emerged and continues to grow as new fossils are found.

Did you ever think that we are the last hominin, the last of relatively young line?

Ellas Beaudin and Briana Pobiner of the Human Origins Program, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History have summarized the top 6 human evolution discoveries of 2018.  Here they are in headline form. For what these discoveries mean, Beaudin and Pobiner discuss each of them.

--What does it mean to be human?
-- Migrating modern humans: the oldest modern human fossil found outside of Africa.
-- Innovating modern humans: long-distance trade, the use of color, and the oldest Middle Stone Age tools in Africa.
--Art-making Neanderthals: our close evolutionary cousins actually created the oldest known cave paintings.
--Trekking modern humans: the oldest modern human footprints in North America.
--Winter-stressed, nursing Neanderthals: Neanderthal children’s teeth reveal intimate details of their daily lives.
--Hybridizing hominins: the first discovery of an ancient human hybrid. Beaudoin and Pobiner admit to some hype here. The original authors refused to go this far referring to this ancient human known as Denny was a “first generation person of mixed ancestry.” 

Jason Organ who blogs for the on-line journal PLOS just published Beaudin's and Pobiner's story.


Monday, February 4, 2019

Play-Based Learning


Image result for kindergarten

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Children
Early Childhood
Play
Edward Hessler

I'm a fan of play-based learning and sad/worried that is going missing from many kindergarten classrooms.

Defending the Early Years (DEY), a consortium of early childhood education teachers and academics, has produced a short video on play-based learning. It features now retired kindergarten teacher, Jim. St. Clair who tells us about play-based learning, its importance and provides some illustrations from his practice.



Borders


Image result for minnesota wolf

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Biodiversity
Behavior
Edward Hessler

The headline of a short story about the Voyageur's Wolf Project by City Pages writer Jay Boller is spot on. This data map of Minnesota wolves is incredible.

It is!

The locations were collected from each wolf's radio collar every 20 minutes during the summer