Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Flat or Round: Still Seeking the Answer

STEM
Environmental and Science Education
Miscellaneous
Edward Hessler

On Saturday, November 25 2017 Mike Hughes hopes to disprove what he believes is a conspiracy.  That conspiracy is the roundness of the earth and involves astronauts. He has either dismissed the history that shows the earth is not flat or does not know it.

Hughes, AKA Mad Mike Hughes, has constructed a steam-powered rocket in which he will ride to gain the evidence he is seeking. He has flown one before and was injured in the landing (parachute assisted) from which he recovered. The launch ramp consists of a modified a used motor-home. Two major parts--launch ramp and the rocket--in the price range of $20,000.


The aim is to reach an altitude of 1800 feet during which he will take pictures to provide the evidence he is seeking.

The rocket is painted with Rust-Oleum paint in a brilliant red with signage that reads research and flat earth in large bold lettering. This refers to the major group sponsoring the flight.

Of the announcements and stories I've read, there are two I like.

Washington Post's essay by Avi Selk includes a video about the project, the video in which he was injured and a link to a story about Cleveland Cavalier basketball player, Kylie Irving, a kindred spirit.

NPR's Colin Dwyer fills in details and provides additional information. Dwyer also includes a Go-Pro video of the flight in which he was injured.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Urban Bird Mini-Grants

Biodiversity
Art and Environment
Nature

Environmental and Science Education
Edward Hessler

The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology is offering Celebrate Urban Bird Mini-Grants. The aim is to connect communities with nature, birds, arts and citizen science.

No experience with birds is required. The range of the grants is from $100 to $750.

Out-of-the-box (OotB) or out-of-the-nest projects (OotN) are welcomed.  Included in the description are some past programs funded by this grant program. Here are two OotB/OotN projects: an oncology center that encouraged patients to collect data while they waited for appointments; a courthouse that offered outdoor programming for children waiting for their parents.

Information about the program, requirements and timeline may be found here.







 

Life in a Bubble

Biodiversity
Nature of Science
STEM
Environmental and Science Education
Edward Hessler

Writing for Science, Elizabeth Pennisi summarizes a study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

She begins by writing California’s Mono Lake is three times saltier—and much more alkaline—than the ocean, making it inhospitable for most life. Yet the tiny alkali fly (Ephydra hians, pictured) thrives on its surface. It even survives underwater....

Read all about it.

It made me think of Leslie Orgel's most well known rule: Evolution is cleverer than you are. To read about his rules and what they mean see this incomplete Wiki entry.

Leslie Orgel was a noted chemist.





Monday, November 20, 2017

Feedback

STEM
Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

Since this teacher response to a student's answer has been viewed more than a million times and garnered some 200 responses it is likely you've seen it as well.

The worksheet itself is described at the bottom as "reading support and practice," explicitly for "use with pp. 120-133".  The prompt for the student is "Suppose you wanted to build a house on this land and still protect its natural resources.  What could you do?  How would it protect the natural resources?"

The answer: "You can just forget about the house."

The teacher's response in red is "ha-ha!" followed by an emoji (indicating full credit?).  This made me think about feedback.

I know nothing about the teacher but assume s/he was trying to be useful and helpful under the constant constraints of time and all too often, grinding duties.  

In his book Assessing Student Performance: Exploring the Purpose and Limits of Testing, the late Grant Wiggins devoted a chapter to feedback and ways as well as the need, for improving it.  I think it is too often undervalued in education. He writes "What is wanted is user-friendly information on how I am doing, and how, specifically, I might improve what I am doing."

I'd like to know what the student was thinking.  The student might have been asked a reason or two for the response or to respond to a "what-if" question.

Does this tiny snippet from a student demand more of a response and what kind?  Is the teacher's response at all useful? How? If not, what are your reasons? What would you write on this worksheet so that the student might profit from your comment?   Would you routinely take class time for discussion of student responses (a sample of them)?  Why or why not?                    


Sunday, November 19, 2017

World Toilet Day: 7 Toilets from Around the World

Health
Water & Watersheds
Sustainability
Edward Hessler

It is November 19, World Toilet Day.

First, be grateful you have one, e.g., ceramic, sparkling, flushes easily, sanitary, convenient, and low flush.


Greta Jochem of NPR writes, To get a better idea of the range of toilets around the world, take a look at Dollar Street. It's a project that catalogs everyday objects — like toys, soap, stoves and of course, toilets — to provide a snapshot of life at different income levels across the globe.

In her piece on NPR are shown seven toilets from around the world.

And here is Dollar Street.

Taking a Look at This Land

Art and Environment
Miscellaneous
Edward Hessler

Jack Spencer started looking at America through the lens of a camera in 2003.

The result is a book, This Land (you can take a inside) published this year by the University of Texas Press.

Here are some images he took.

Some potential images overwhelmed him. Washington Post writer May-Ying Lam notes that "On occasion, (Spencer) encountered places where he felt there was no way to do justice to the experience of being there. 'You don't even bother with the camera. You're just completely humbled by how beautiful it is.'"

There is an essay about Mr. Spencer here.



Friday, November 17, 2017

An Award from NABT to Bertha Vazquez

Biological Evolution
STEM
Environmental and Science Education

Edward Hessler

This just in from Glenn Branch, National Center for Science Education.

"Bertha Vazquez received the Evolution Education Award for 2017 from the National Association of
Biology Teachers (NABT). Vazquez received the award at the NABT's recent conference in St. Louis, Missouri.

"The NABT award, sponsored by BEACON and BSCS, 'recognizes innovative classroom teachers and their efforts to promote the accurate understanding of biological evolution with the larger community.'"

"Vazquez teaches at G. W. Carver Middle School in Miami. and directs the Richard Dawkins
Foundation's Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science."


Mr. Branch provided these links:
 

About NABT's awards, visit: https://www.nabt.org/Awards-About

For Vazquez's "Sharing the Passion for Evolution Education," visit:
https://ncse.com/blog/2015/08/sharing-passion-evolution-education-0016580

And for the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science, visit:
https://www.richarddawkins.net/ties/


If you only have time to read one, read the last. Ms. Vazquez is remarkable in many ways. In a note to me in September she told me how TIES started.  

"We kicked off TIES together, Richard Dawkins and I. I met him a few times here locally and then talked to him at length at a private event back in 2014. I told him I had decided to start helping middle school science teachers with evolution workshops in Miami. Just on my own, with the blessing of my district supervisors. He wanted to help so he came to my middle school. We invited teachers from all over the district and I interviewed him in my school auditorium (pic attached). Hundreds of science teachers came. Then he asked me to do this nationally and he would pay me. Almost three years later, we've presented or confirmed 73 workshops in 28 states. I run a very positive project. I feel that the NCSE takes care of the creationist teachers. We focus on the good teachers in the middle, who just want good resources and content knowledge. HHMI is superb but is geared more towards high school and college. Our niche is middle school."

HHMI is the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. 

h/t: Glenn Branch, NCSE 

Friday Poem

Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Today's poem is by Naomi Shibab Nye.

And for some history about the humble onion see this short history from the National Onion Association.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Hurricanes and Aerosols Simulation 2017

Simulations 
Models

Climate Change
STEM
Environmental & Science Education
Pollution
Edward Hessler

NASA has produced a simulation tracking aerosols over land and oceans for the period August 1 to November 1, 2017.

"The first thing that is noticeable," according to the release, "is how far the particles can travel. Smoke from fires in the Pacific Northwest gets caught in a weather pattern and pulled all the way across the US and over to Europe. Hurricanes form off the coast of Africa and travel across the Atlantic to make landfall in the United States. Dust from the Sahara is blown into the Gulf of Mexico. To understand the impacts of aerosols, scientists need to study the process as a global system.
,,,
 
"During the 2017 hurricane season, the storms are visible because of the sea salt that is captured by the storms. Strong winds at the surface lift the sea salt into the atmosphere and the particles are incorporated into the storm. Hurricane Irma is the first big storm that spawns off the coast of Africa. As the storm spins up, the Saharan dust is absorbed in cloud droplets and washed out of the storm as rain. This process happens with most of the storms, except for Hurricane Ophelia. Forming more northward than most storms, Ophelia traveled to the east picking up dust from the Sahara and smoke from large fires in Portugal. Retaining its tropical storm state farther northward than any system in the Atlantic, Ophelia carried the smoke and dust into Ireland and the UK."

Dust, sea salt and smoke, blowin' in the wind, all used in understanding of atmospheric physics.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Health: The Global Killer

Pollution
Health
Medicine
Sustainability
Edward Hessler

On October 19, 2017, the British Medical Journal, The Lancet published results of a major study on global disease and premature death. The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health summary is another wake-up call on us and our relationship to the planet and to each other. It reads:

Pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and premature death in the world today. Diseases caused by pollution were responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths in 2015—16% of all deaths worldwide—three times more deaths than from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined and 15 times more than from all wars and other forms of violence. In the most severely affected countries, pollution-related disease is responsible for more than one death in four.

The full article is available free of charge. It is worth taking a look. Some of the numbers are numbing.

The Wiki entry on The Lancet includes the following information about this very well-known and highly regarded medical journal. It "was founded in 1823 by Thomas Wakley, an English surgeon who named it after the surgical instrument called a lancet, as well as after the architectural term 'lancet arch' a window with a sharp pointed arch, to indicate the 'light of wisdom' or 'to let in light.'" 

Wiki describes the various lancets (instruments). 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Google Doodle for November 14

STEM
Edward Hessler

Who invented the hole puncher?  How long has it been in use?

Today's Google Doodle is a celebration of the hole puncher, this "masterpiece of mechanical design and efficiency."

Today is its 131st birthday.

So punch a few holes as you sing Happy Birthday.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Physics of Bread

STEM
Environmental & Science Education
Miscellaneous
Edward Hessler

While at Microsoft, Nathan Myrvold was its Chief Technology Officer and also founded its research wing (Microsoft Research). He took the money and ran, not away, but to a new career. He opened the Cooking Lab in Seattle, part of Intellectual Ventures and returned to his scientific roots and continued growing his innovation roots.

Myrvold's first publication from the Cooking Lab was a mere six volumes long, 2438 pages, weighing in at 23.7 kilograms (~52.2 pounds) titled Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking. Price: $625. Visually it is stunning and the photography, if you've not seen it, may leave you wondering how the photographs were made.

Since then, Myrvold turned his attention to bread science. The new publication is 5 volumes but has more pages (2642) than Modernist Cuisine, weighs more (24.2 kilograms or ~53.4 pounds) and also includes a recipe manual. It is priced at $625.

Physicist Robert Crease has written an article about Modernist Bread and its author. The book is a meditation and is a call for experiment and innovation in break making. Here is a quote from Crease's essay. Think of it as an abstract of the book.

Myhrvold tells me he has no apologies for all the physics in the book. “One interviewer asked me what made me think I could put science in the kitchen. I said, ‘Science is always there! I only took the ignorance out!’”
So what is the ignorance that Modernist Bread is now taking out of baking?
“A lot, it turns out,” he says. “Just because a cooking practice is old doesn’t mean it’s good. In the 1970s, there was an artisinal bread movement that advocated returning to the supposedly good bread-making of the past. Nonsense! The best bread is being baked now!”
If you like bread or even if you don't, Crease's essay is fun to read and includes some pictures, too.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Field trip to the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Organics Recycling Facility

CGEE Student Voice
Waste Diversion
by Jenni Abere


My class visited one of the sites where Hamline's organic waste is sent to: Interesting things: the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) Organics Recycling Facility (ORF). It was great to see where our food waste goes, and it was exciting for me to see a commercial composting facility since I am currently working on a project comparing composting with anaerobic digestion.

This ORF accepts 150,000 tons of organic waste annually, and the footprint is relatively small. There are plans to move to a larger site so they can expand their operation. They accept both residential and commercial organic waste. Each load is assessed, and if it is more than 5% contaminated, it is rejected, and the hauler has to bring it to a landfill.

The most surprising thing I learned is that they use a ratio of 25:1 for carbon and nitrogen (essentially, yard waste to food waste). This is much higher than the backyard compost and vermicompost ratio I'm used to of 2:1. It's because the large windrows don't need as much nitrogen to reach high heats. 

Temperatures and moisture levels are monitored closely throughout the process. If it's too dry, there is a drip irrigation system; if it's too wet or too hot, they use a windrow turner to fluff up and mix the compost.

The machinery is a particularly cool piece of this. All the organic waste goes through a grinder to help it break down faster. The aforementioned windrow turner straddles the ten-foot-tall windrows and rotating blades mix it up. Finished compost goes through a screener. The smallest stuff is ready for sale. The larger pieces can be returned to windrows to continue breaking down.

Another surprising thing I learned is that contamination is removed after composting, not before. Many of the windrows we saw had pieces of plastic that has floated to the top, so it looked more contaminated than it really is. In the screening process, plastic is light so it gets blown off. The ORF's residual rate of what they have to send to a landfill is less than 1% of everything they accept.

The ORF offers several finished products in addition to pure compost. Their blends (compost mixed with dirt and/or sand) are the most popular. The photo below shows their different products.


This was a great experience to see how a large composting facility operates, and I've already worked what I learned into my research paper.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Fiddle Making Workshop

Aesthetics
STEM
Schooling
Edward Hessler

The jig has been up for a long time. I need to say that out loud.

It must be clear to you that I like watching people work more than working. I confess that this is partly true. What I love watching is people with brains in their fingertips.  And I love hearing people talk about their work.

This lovely film was shot at the Chicago School of Violin Making where the emphasis is on making violins by hand.  The film is short, ~ 6 minutes.  There is some sound, including music but mostly this is a meditation on human creativity and abilities.

Ah, the human touch.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Seeing Seeds

Biodiversity
Biological Evolution
Seeds
Edward Hessler

A seed is both the beginning and the end of a plant's life.--Teri Dunn-Chase

Late summer and fall are the time of year to notice seeds.

May-Ying Lam and Adrian Higgins (Washington Post) select a few images of seeds from Seeing Seeds (2015), by Robert Llewellyn and Teri Dunn-Chase to show us their beauty and diversity.

The first is an image of the buttonball fruits of sycamores.

You may find some seeds from plants you know but which might have missed your careful notice.

In the link to "Seeing Seeds" you will find 53 images of seeds, all unlabeled. What you will notice is that there are many ways to be a seed.

Friday Poem (on a Thursday)

Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

The poem is posted early. I'll be off the grid for a few days.

Today's poem is by Billy Collins. 

Instead of a biography, I've chosen an essay/video by Washington Post writer, Lillian Cunningham. In the embedded video Collins talks about running into a former student on a train and reflected on his teaching.   The essay is about leadership, the social responsibility of artists, his character (personal traits), etc.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A Nickname for MU69



Cosmology
Astronomy
Edward Hessler

Four billion miles (643737000 km) out there at the very distant edge of our solar system is an object designated as (486958) 2014 MU69.

NASA's New Horizons probe will be in the neighborhood January 1, 2019 and NASA wants a handle, a nickname, something much more memorable than the alphanumeric (shortened usually to MU69) for this minor planet.

At this site, you can make your suggestions and explain your reasons.

The campaign ends December 1, 2017, at 20:00 GMT (noon, Pacific Time).

And for all the information about the New Horizons mission see here.

BTW, I'm not entering. My nickname--the first one that occurred to me--will suggest why: ocarina.

Happy naming.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Calling All Kids and Kids at Heart

Play
STEM
Edward Hessler

There really is a life size LEGO House and someone is going to spend an extravagant overnight there,  November 24..

The winner who may bring 1 to 3 guests will be flown to LEGO headquarters from anywhere in the world which includes "Brickfast" in bed.

Details and pictures here.

An important house rule: “Parents are advised to wear LEGO-proof slippers at all times.”

Dark Matter Day

Cosmology
History of Science
Nature of Science
STEM
Edward Hessler

Aaarrgghh! Late again. As usual.

In addition to Halloween, October 31 was also International Dark Matter day. I noticed, with some relief that the date was "on or about" but wonder whether November 11 is close to about.

Symmetry magazine provides some pics from the celebration as well as a poster you can download.

Cosmologist Sean Carroll says that the following are the important facts about dark matter: 
It’s dark. Doesn’t interact with electromagnetism, at least not with anywhere near the strength that ordinary charged particles do. 
It’s cold. Individual dark matter particles are moving slowly and have been for a while, otherwise they would have damped perturbations in the early universe. 
There’s a goodly amount of it. About 25% of the energy density of the current universe, compared to only about 5% in the form of ordinary matter. 
It’s stable, or nearly so. The dark matter particle has to be long-lived, or it would have decayed away a long time ago. 
It’s dissipationless, or nearly so. Ordinary matter settles down to make galaxies because it can lose energy through collisions and radiation; dark matter doesn’t seem to do that, giving rise to puffy halos rather than thin galactic discs. 
Here is a short animation on dark matter and the force (Star Wars), with attention to some of their similarities.

For a short primer about dark matter see here.


Midwives Around the World

Medicine
Health
Water & Watersheds
Edward Hessler


Photo credit to WaterAid/Al Shahriar Rupam

Another photo series honors midwives, this time midwives around the world. And it makes important links to "clean water, decent toilets, and good hygiene."

The series is titled My Midwife, and "is part of Water Aid's Healthy Start campaign."


Photo Credit to WaterAid/ Behailu Shiferaw

Lisa Schectman, U. S. Director of Policy and Advocacy at WaterAid told Huffington Post reporter Caroline Bologna that "We advocate that access to water, sanitation, and hygiene should be integrated into health policy and delivery locally, nationally and internationally. It is our hope that these photos shine a light on the need for improved access to these services to ensure that the next generation of children is given the best start in life--a healthy start."

Bologna's Huffington Post essay and some of the photographs in the series may be seen here. Visit WaterAid to learn more about their campaign to improve the health and nutrition of newborn babies and young children.


Photo credit to WaterAid/ Danielle Donders of Mothership Photography

 

Monday, November 6, 2017

A Year's Worth of Full Moons

Astronomy
STEM
Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

If you've seen one full moon, have you seen them all?

Nope.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.

Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) published 12 consecutive images, November 2016 to October 2017. All of them are at the same scale. Moon size varies and the reasons are discussed.

The caption includes a link to the famous illusion that the moon-when-closer-to-the-horizon-is-larger, a link to a short explanation of a libration which includes an explanation of this term, the slight wobble a moon shows in a month's time, and a link to a video of a complete lunar cycle (one month in length), a lunation.

There is a bonus, too, a partial lunar eclipse (August 2017).

Photo credit Talha Zia

Storm Drains

Water & Watersheds
Art and Environment
Sustainability
Waste Diversion

by Edward Hessler

Above the fold in the November 2017 Park Bugle is a story about a mural painted on a Lake Como parking lot. It is the first storm-drain mural in St. Paul.

The aim of the work is "to bring attention to the drain's presence and function in directing stormwater runoff--and any pollutants captured by the runoff--directly into the lake."



The actual painting started with a wonderful coincidence. When artist Gustavo Lira went to the lake to fill a bucket with water for his paintbrushes, he scooped up a small turtle. The mural features a turtle right near the drain.

You may read the article and see the mural here.

The Park Bugle, a community newspaper, serves St. Anthony Park, North and South/ Falcon Heights/ Lauderdale/ and Como Park.

-----
What You Can Do
Leaves are falling! Make a difference by helping keep them out of lakes (like Como Lake), streams and the Mississippi River – so our water stays clean.

Sign up to Adopt a Drain today! This simple act can have a big impact, not just today, but for future generations.

adopt-a-drain.org

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Iona Opie

Early Childhood
Education
Culture
Society
Edward Hessler

I just learned that Iona Opie died. She was 94 years old.

She and her husband, Peter (he died in 1982), were unique anthropologists/folklorists of childhood games and play. Neither of them were academics; they were merely curious about childhood games and that passion directed their lives.

According to an obituary in the Guardian, she and her husband were "exiled by the London blitz to Bedfordshire in 1943, and there the couple walked by a field of corn. Iona, who was pregnant, picked up a bug and recited 'Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home / Your house is on fire and your children all gone.' It flew and they were 'left wondering about this rhyme – what did it mean? Where did it come from? Who wrote it?'” 

These questions led them to a search of local resources where they found nothing. Rather than dropping their wonder, the two of them started a lifelong research and publishing program. It was Iona Opie's conviction that childhood rhymes were "uniquely British," and that "we're nourished with nonsense, and it does us a lot of good." 



She and her husband were perfectly matched for this kind of work and the kind of life it demanded. They were often referred to simply as 'The Opies.' "I did it all the time," Peter Opie wrote; Iona Opie did the research. They were narrowly focused, choosing to live simply and isolated from friends and a social life. Their method was careful observation and recording as children played games in streets, on sidewalks and fields without adult supervision. Ultimately, they made categories of what they observed.

I was bowled over when I discovered two of their books, even developing a small file on them and some of their findings which I copied onto three-hole punched notebook paper (now recycled). 

The two books, which I strongly recommend are: The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren and Children's Games in Street and Playground: Hunting, Racing, Duelling, Exerting, Daring, Guessing, Acting, Pretending.

You can take a peek inside "Lore and Language." You just have to read the opening to the introduction. There you will find a report from a Paris schools inspector (1880) who heard a troubling chant in the classroom of teacher Stephan Mallarme who wasn't troubled but intrigued.  It makes one want to repeat it aloud.

The book includes a distribution map of their field work.  Here are a few of the categories: just for fun, wit and repartee, riddles, parody, topical rhymes, ridicules and epithets, jeers and epithets, pranks, rivalry, etc.
Image result for opie


Here is the obituary from the Guardian article mentioned above, two from U.S. papers, the  New York Times and the Washington Post, and this remembrance from the British Library, where the Opie papers are housed.  The latter includes a picture of the two of them in the field.

I'll be ever grateful for their work and the recording of a national treasure of nonsense.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Work

Biodiversity
Agroforestry
Sustainability
Edward Hessler

This short film (4 minutes) on the harvesting of cork.

It looks like hot, hard work by very skilled workmen who live on location until the work is done. They must do this without wounding the tree. Like many skilled workers they make it look relatively easy.

Cork can first first harvested when cork oak (Quercus suber) reaches maturity at 25 years. Thereafter, cork can be harvested once each decade. Cork oak is an evergreen, never losing its leaves all at once.

I read credits for several reasons. One is to gain a sense of the work required by many to produce a film. The other, of course, is to read who's who, the players, and I was pleased to see the names of the workers.

This film is a story of exploitation and stewardship.

Cork played a role in the development of biology. Upon viewing a thin slice of cork, Robert Hooke (1636 - 1707) noticed empty spaces surrounded by a wall. He named them cells, after monk's cells. His finding launched one of the important and enduring theories in biology known as cell theory.

This film from Khan Academy describes the process from Hooke's finding to modern cell theory.  I'm not fond of the narration but liked the images. It may remind you of being in school...say it once then repeat, hoping that it sticks. The basic ideas are there and that is what counted for me.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Friday Poem

Poetry
Art and Science
Edward Hessler

Today's poem is from the Times Literary Supplement.

And there is a bonus, a painting by Paul Gauguin, "Yellow Haystacks."

Thursday, November 2, 2017

CRISPR-CAS9 System

Genetics
STEM
Environmental & Science Education

Genetics has been turned upside down or fast-forwarded with the discovery of a neat DNA scissors known as the CRISPR-CAS9 System.

Here is a recent short animation from Nature Magazine which explores some of its immediate possibilities.

Brave New World to use a worn phrase. This genetic technology is fast-moving with implications that deserve our attention but trying to keep regulations up-to-date and to fully consider ethical issues are behind the science. It is likely to remain this way.

I think if you continue to watch you will find a discussion of these issues.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

My Tree

Environmental & Science Education
Women in Science
Nature of Science
Miscellaneous
Edward Hessler

"Like most people," writes Hope Jahren, "I have a particular tree that I remember from my childhood."

I also have such a tree. It stood on the flood plain of the Canasawacta Creek or "crick" not too far from my house, close enough to visit every day if I wanted. The map to which I link is not immediately informative on first view but if you zoom in, move the cursor, reposition the map, the name "East Branch Canasawacta Creek," SE of Plymouth will appear.

I visited this tree regularly when I was growing up, primarily to climb and sometimes to get as close to the top as I dared or could. It was tall, fully adult. I never climbed to the very top--handholds and footholds escaped me. The tree was a massive tower with a one or two long horizontal limbs at the bottom with the trunk dividing not too far from the base into several trunks.One of the tree's horizontal limbs was just low enough to let me get into the tree.

The tree was an American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) also known as as American planetree and to me as buttonball because of its fall fruits. It is a tree of mottled bark that sloughs off in large and small flakes, leaving greenish white blotches on its gray, brown and whitish and smooth surface. The trunk is dark and rough near the bottom and gradually becomes smooth and blotchy as you go up. See here and here.

Do you have a memory of a particular tree? 

There were other trees in my life, many of them that I knew reasonably well and visited but it is the sycamore that I most remember as it stood tall, alone and invitingly on the crick flats.

Hope Jahren is a scientist who grew up in Austin, MN where her father taught physics at the local college. She is the author of Lab Girl, a beautifully written memoir interspersed with short chapters on aspects of trees/plants (she is a geobiologist). Jahren has had an extraordinary relationship with her laboratory manager, Bill who has been with her from the beginning and for whom she feels responsible for providing a living wage. They remind me of a very close brother and sister who love and respect one another.

Jahren writes with insight about science's Dharma wheel--the relentless search for funding, those short periodic cycles and the importance of publications to keep the funding going. There are also two extraordinary chapters, one about her manic episodes; the other about the birth of her son. She doesn't spend a lot of time on being a woman in what is primarily a male profession but you might want to boot some of them and one in particular in the seat of the pants.

You will find excellent reviews here and here. You may visit her laboratory at the University of Oslo where she, her family and Bill moved in 2016, here.  I hope you will visit these pages. I also hope that her funding is more secure, too. I also hope you will consider reading the book.