Monday, May 20, 2019

A Game About Birds

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Edward Hessler

In Wingspan (Stonemaier Games), a card-driven board game, players compete to discover birds and attract them to wildlife reserves.

It is for 10 yo and up.

You may learn more about it here which includes videos of the release trailer (released March 8 2019), how to play the game, watch an unboxing and link to the gorgeous prints of the featured birds by Natalia Rojas.

The game was designed by Elizabeth Hargrave (Maryland).

Stuart West (University of Oxford) tested the game with a team of academics, graduate students, a biodiversity analyst and "older" children (my emphasis--wish he'd been more specific). "What makes Wingspan special," West wrote in Nature," is how science infuses it. You can't play without painlessly absorbing some zoology. Perhaps a bonus card nudges you to hunt for woodland species, or you focus on species that gain points through predation. Or maybe you're just pleased to get a paricularly stunning species...."





Saturday, May 18, 2019

Roolz!

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Children
Early Childhood
Nature
Edward Hessler

Brian Doyle was a remarkable poet, essayist and writer.

I dearly miss his wise words but find myself revisiting them occasionally.

Here he lists his children's rules for nature, all 21 of them.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education
Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Today's poem is a week later than it should be. Dandelions are already blooming no matter where one looks--N, E, S, W and all points inbetween.

So a poem about dandelions by Julie Lechevsky.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Wood Wide Web


Image result for tree roots

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Microbiology
Climate Change
Sustainability
Edward Hessler

I'm a fan of the BBC's short videos.

Here is one about how microbial communities connect trees (and why this is important).

And here is a short essay from Science (AAAS) on mapping the "wood-wide web."

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Ice Stupas

Image result for ice stupaEnvironmental & Science Education
STEM
Engineering
Sustainability
Water & Watersheds
Culture
Edward Hessler


Elizabeth Kolbert begins her recent New Yorker article by providing some useful information about stupas. "The word comes from the Sanskrit, meaning 'to heap' or 'to pile up'—is a Buddhist monument that often houses a relic. Over the millennia, stupas have been built from many materials—wood, stone, earth, clay, brick—and have taken many forms, from simple domes to ornately tiered towers.

"The first ice stupa was created in 2013, in Ladakh, in Kashmir. 

"Villages in Ladakh, a high mountain-desert region bordered by the Himalayas, largely depend on glacial runoff for water. As the glaciers recede, owing to climate change, the flow of water has become more erratic. Sometimes there’s too much, producing flash flooding; often, there’s too little. The ice stupa, a kind of artificial glacier, is the brainchild of a Ladakhi engineer named Sonam Wangchuk. In a way, it, too, is designed to house relics.

...

"The stupas are created in winter, using runoff or spring water that’s been piped underground and downslope. The water is released at night, when temperatures can drop below zero degrees Fahrenheit. It shoots through a sprinkler into the air and freezes. In the course of the season, elaborate conical structures take shape, with the contours of the drip castles that kids make on the beach.

"Ice stupas can reach the height of a ten-story building. They start to melt in March, and at higher elevations—some villages in Ladakh sit more than fifteen thousand feet above sea level—the process can last through July. The meltwater helps farmers get through the crucial spring planting season, when they sow vegetables, barley, and potatoes. (Rainfall in the region averages only around four inches a year.)"

Kolbert's essay appeared in the print edition of the May 20, 2019 The New Yorker.

Here you can watch a short video--not narrated unless you know the local language. I read the essay first--beautifully written and photographed. It includes diagrams on how stupas are constructed as well as a link to the video which begins with kids at play.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

A Story Of A Lake Study

Image result for daphniaEnvironmental & Science Education
STEM
Nature of Science
Water & Watersheds
Clean Water
Edward Hessler

I try to attend the weekly biology seminars at Hamline.  The fall features invited speakers from local institutions: colleges (sometimes HU), the University of Minnesota, health departments, etc. In the spring (it is really winter!) students are the featured presenters. They have several choices: a report on a scientific paper, a design for a research study, and original research.

I've intended to write about several seminars that have been about a wildlife management issue and had been keeping notes. They focused on the question of stocking rainbow trout and its effect on water quality (area residents were concerned about diminishing water clarity) in Square Lake, a metropolitan lake noted for its outstanding water quality. Good intentions, I've been told more than a few times, lead somewhere. In my case I missed the boat but a newspaper article provides the prompt to write a short post about this fisheries management question.

Intern Zach Walker of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (May 13, 2019) writes about this research. Professor Leif Hembre, a member of Hamline University's Biology Department has been studying Square Lake since 2003. He has kept tabs on the ups-and-downs of the population of Daphnia or water fleas (trout like them) and the lake's overall water quality. 

Hembre's research has many dimensions, one of them, of course, is in the making of an evidence-based decision on managing fisheries in a lake. The research resulted in a short, compelling tale of how nature works and how humans often conspire against it. It is also a story about resolving competing interests, a central issue that state departments of conservation/natural resources face in most of their decisions. And it is also a story about the nature of science.

You may recall Daphnia from a bio course, high school or college but if not, here is the Wiki entry and a short video on their care and handling from Carolina Biological Supply Company.

Square Lake has had a long history of stocking trout, a favorite fish for many anglers. It is also one of only three trout lakes close to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. In 2012, trout stocking stopped, a decision that has been controversial. Eventually, plans were made to renew a somewhat limited stocking program in 2017.

Fortunately, Hembre had comparative data: during stocking trout (from 2003 to 2012) and after stocking trout (from 2013 to 2015). He did not have to design an elaborate laboratory study; the lake had already done that for him. That he would be studying Daphnia to begin with is not a surprise. These critters were a focus of his graduate school work.

Below is what he found.

Following stocking the Daphnia population increased and water quality (clarity and oxygenation) increased. Daphnia are known algae foragers. There was a surprise, too (there almost always is). As Daphnia numbers increased, phosphorous levels in the lake decreased. It is suspected that phosphorous might be ending up in the bodies of Daphnia, a research opportunity for future bio majors.

Walker ends his reporting by writing, "The DNR has no immediate plans to resume trout stocking." One word in this sentence troubles me: immediate.

I hope you will read Walker's story for additional details. It is a great story well told. Unfortunately, I've yet to find it on the web. The headline is "Study: No trout helped clear up lake: Stocking halt allowed comparison."

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Pap Smear

Image result for pap smearEnvironmental & Science Education
STEM
Health
Medicine
Nature of Science
History of Science
Edward Hessler


Today marks the 136th year of the birthday of Dr. Georgios Papanikolaou who developed the life-saving cervical cancer test, aka the Pap smear or Pap test.

In honor of this contribution to medicine and women's health, today's Google Doodle shows him with his microscope and some cells. 

Here is an excellent article about him and his wife. It is in list format so it is easily and quickly read. There are two videos embedded, one of his life and the other of a self-screening program. A few highlights of a remarkable career.

--In 1898, aged only 15, he managed to get into the School of Medicine of the National University of Athens and, after graduation, he worked in the military as an assistant surgeon for a short time. In 1904, he graduated with top honours. 

--In October 1914, Papanikolaou was recruited as a researcher at Cornell University, he would work there for the next 47 years.


--He devoted his entire time to research on early cancer diagnosis through recovery and identification of exfoliated cancer cells.

--The first time Papanikolaou identified the cancerous cell in a sample from a woman with cervical cancer, he confessed it was one of the most important experiences of his career.

--In 1961, despite the fact that he was 78 years old, he decided to leave New York and settle in Miami. He planned to undertake the organisation and management of the Miami Cancer Institute.

--However, he did not have the chance to inaugurate the institute himself, he died suddenly of a heart attack on February 19, 1962. The institute was renamed the Papanikolaou Cancer Research Institute in his honour.

--Mary, his wife, continued his work in Miami until her death in 1982.

--One of the most important examples (of his work) is the famous Atlas of Exfoliative Cytology. The book is considered by many a milestone in the science of cytology.   

And for access to the Google Doodle see this link


Saturday, May 11, 2019

Big Pictures


Image result for biodiversity

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Miscellaneous
Nature
Biodiversity
Edward Hessler

Entrants in the California Academy of Sciences' 2019 Big Picture Natural World competition "were invited to submit images that showcase Earth's biodiversity and show some of the mounting threats to the natural world."

The Atlantic posted 11 splendid images.





Friday, May 10, 2019

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Light: A Brief History


Image result for light

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
History of Science
Edward Hessler

It seems reasonable that a history of light would be a visual one.

See this brief history of light from The Atlantic.

Below the film you can read more about the inventions.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Medical Practice

Image result for icuEnvironmental & Science Education
STEM
Health
Medicine
Edward Hessler

I recently read Intern: A Doctor's Initiation by Sandeep Jauhar which focuses on the first year of medical residency, a year noted for its brutal and inhumane schedule. Jauhar attended medical school directly following the completion of a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, in fact he missed his first day of class, a result of defending his thesis. Upon completion of his third year of medical school he started his internship. 

Jauhar made the career switch for several reasons, one of them was a desire to work in a more humane profession.  During his residency he became a critic/commentator of medicine, at first writing on the nature of internships and then more broadly about the practice of medicine. He continues to write for the New York Times, now as a practicing cardiologist.

A column by an internal medicine resident, Colleen M. Farrell (Washington Post) reminded me Jauher's book which is a wonderful read.  Both Jauhar and Farrell have a deep concern about patient care, especially the  relationship between patient and physician.

Farrell describes her first experience in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU). She was still a medical student, there to learn about lung physiology and lung ventilators. She had never seen a person in this condition. Her first reaction was wondering whether she should pray. Then she was jolted from her thoughts by a basic question from her medical school professor about lung physiology but found she "couldn't reconcile this academic discussion with the existence of the man in the bed." Could I cope "working in an ICU?"

Farrell was assigned to an ICU during her internship and in her essay she describes several wrenching cases. "I stumbled home from those long shifts (27 hours), exhausted to delirium. I would crawl in bed next to my husband, climb under his arm and sob. 'Please don't die,' I'd say...."

After her ICU assignment, Farrell read some poetry by Mary Oliver. One poem, The Rabbit, allowed her to see "my patients: bleeding, moaning, gasping. I pictured what once was, and what was lost. The poem helped me to accept what I didn't want to be true: that death as painful as it is, has its place in nature."

Farrell returned to the ICU, this time as a resident, responsible for a team of medical student interns. By then she had become more interested in the machine. and lung physiology. During one round, "I decided that the ventilator could wait and I would teach them something else. I gave each student a copy of the poem Intensive Care by Jane O. Wayne. ... I asked the students if the poem related at all to their experience in the ICU."  That experience "provided an opening, a permission slip to name the grief we experience vicariously and the helplessness we feel when medicine has reached its limits."

"Bringing poetry to the ICU," Dr. Farrell "discovered, is one way to the heart of things."  

Dr. Farrell, like Dr. Jauhar, is a physician-writer. She has a web page with a biography (she intends to become a pulmonary and critical care physician), a list of published columns, and information about Medical Humanities Chat, a Twitter-based discussion of poetry and prose "with a mission of fostering reflection, and communication in health care."

Of course, poetry and prose have a place in medicine, one that has been practiced for a decade or two. See, for example, the Bellevue Literary Review. The BLR is published by NYU Langone Medical Cener "as part of the Department of Medicine's thriving Division of Medical Humanities." Dr. Farrell is doing her residency at the NYU center.


Tuesday, May 7, 2019

It Is Said You Are What You Eat: A Case In Point

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

There is a large ecosystem of microorganisms (aka microbiota) in the gut. They help digest foot, fight infections, and break down dangerous substances. 

Baboon researchers have learned that the gut microbiota of baboons varies across baboon populations. Well this is the sort of thing that fascinates scientists. How did this happen. Genetics? Is it the distance separating baboon populations? The environment? Or is it a combination of factors?

Researchers collected samples of "poop" (or to use the more technical term--stool) from 14 different baboon populations in Kenya comprised of yellow and olive baboons. They interbreed. They examined 13 different environmental characteristics such as vegetation, climate, and soil and also analyzed the baboons' DNA.

The most important factor was very clear: soil. It was better than all the other variables. By better scientists mean that soil was the best at predicting gut microbiota.

Helen Santoro reported in Science on the findings of the paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Much of the food baboons consume "come straight off the ground with a dusting of soil, providing a perfect entryway for the soil microbes to colonize the baboon's guts."

This work leads to still another question (the research cycle continues): "How do these soil microbes survive once they take up residence in an animal's intestines?"

Monday, May 6, 2019

Tinder for Measles Outbreaks

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Health
Medicine
Edward Hessler

More than 700 cases of measles have been reported this year according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Helen Branswell, writing for STAT, notes that "With the year only a third of the way through and measles spreading in a number of outbreaks across the country, this year's total could well top the 1994's 963 cases."

We are not alone in this struggle with measles. It is international. Branswell continues "More than 112,000 measles cases were recorded globally in the first three months of the year, with major epidemics in countries including Ukraine, Israel, and the Philippines.

Branswell's report is mostly about the growing number of people susceptible to measles, tinder for future outbreaks as she puts it. In a recent United Nations survey of 10 high-income countries, "the United States topped the list of nations in terms of percentage of children who were not vaccinated against measles from 2010 to 2017, with an estimated 2.6 million children who didn't receive their first dose of measles vaccine during that period.

As you know the measles vaccine is effective, protecting some 97 percent of those vaccinated from the disease. Measles vaccination is a two-step affair with the first vaccination occurring around the time of a child's first birthday and the second, between the ages of four and six years old.

You may wonder about the 3 percent who think they are protected. They are susceptible but what protects them is "herd immunity, the phenomenon where enough people in a population are immune to the pathogen that it cannot effectively spread within it."  This is what we depend on but now we are threatening such immunity. "Nationally," according to Branswell, "the percentage of children who received one or more doses of measles-containing vaccine remained pretty stable between 2013 and 2017, hovering between 91.1% and 91.9%." However, this is "near the lower end of the vaccination rates--between 90% and 95%--needed to maintain herd immunity...."

There is another problem with measles and that is the distribution of those susceptible which is not even across the U.S.. There are pockets or clusters e.g., "Brooklyn and in Rockland Country, north of Manhattan, where transmission is largely occurring among unvaccinated familes of Orthodox Jews. ... And "California, for instance has seen low vaccination rates among children in some affluent, highly educated families...." 


Branswell cites Dr. Karen Smith, director of the California Department of Public Health who notes, "'Overwhelmingly the schools that have very low vaccination rates tend to be the Waldorf schools, the Montessori schools, but also then a number of charter schools. Most of those are small schools that cater to a very specific community.'"

And there are other factors, e.g., the role of  probability, increased today by international travel where a susceptible travelercan return infected and not know it but able to start an outbreak(s) elsewhere. This probability is made more likely when the level of protection among the general population is lowered. Another factor is states and counties that have non-medical exemptions.

Branswell's essay contains an animated video on what makes measles so contagious and, of course, more details.















Wellness and Urban Agriculture

CGEE Student Voice
Urban agriculture
Food and Society
Accessibility
Maren Grunnet


              ‘Wellness’ is often cited as a benefit and justification for urban agriculture projects. Gardening brings many mental and physical health benefits, leading to wellness throughout the community. But what about those who will never be well, how can urban agriculture better their lives? Wellness is oppressive. Wellness is a social construct, but can be applied to the land and ecosystems. Wellness can never be the whole picture of why we do urban agriculture. Johanna Hedva’s Sick Woman Theory provides a general description of how the concept of wellness is used to keep people in ‘sickness,’ and there are many applications of this theory to urban agriculture. Through anti-capitalism, care, and community building, urban agriculture can be a force against, not for, ‘wellness.’
              ‘Sickness’ is the state many of us live in, as outlined in Johanna Hedva’s Sick Woman Theory. In this theory, Hedva lays out a world in which the sick (those with disabilities, chronic mental or physical illnesses, or those experiencing oppression) are exploited and kept sick by capitalist social structures. Capitalism places profit as the motive in everything, leaving those who are sick and unable to create profit for themselves as something to be profited off of.
In urban agriculture we can see this profit motive working with the concept of wellness. Many metrics used to measure urban agriculture focus on pounds of food produced or number of people reached, numbers that incentivize the capitalist push for endless economic growth. Endless growth inherently involves exploitation of people and ecosystems, making and maintaining their sickness. When urban agriculture, as is often necessary to receive funding, utilizes these ideas it is maintaining power structures. The possibilities for funding to maintain urban agriculture without the assumptions of growth and profit, whether it is defined as pounds of food or number of volunteers, are limited. Funders of all sorts are therefore oppressive and damaging to urban agriculture communities through their power and expectations. Our society values profit, often off the backs of Sick Women, even from community organizations.
              Urban agriculture, however, can be an incredibly strong force to fight back against these structures. By creating more equitable economies and social structures, community gardening provides opportunities to support Sick Women in many ways. Growing food for someone is one of the greatest acts of care we as humans can participate in. It is also a great act of resistance against our current industrial food systems that disconnect us not only from the land and agricultural process, but the care. Sick Women can participate in this act of resistance by enjoying a meal made from the soil up, or by gardening. Valuing the whole cycle is an important step in fighting ‘wellness.’ It’s not just the production and consumption of healthy food that will improve our communities, but the sharing and nourishing we can do with food. Ideally, the food producers and consumers will be connected intimately and equally. The power dynamics inherent in profit-driven food systems would be replaced with dynamics of reciprocal respect and care.

              An organization in Saint Paul that is exemplifying these ideas is the Urban Farm and Garden Alliance. The Urban Farm and Garden Alliance is a coalition of 8 community gardens in Saint Paul working together for restorative justice through food. Their gardens are located primarily in the Aurora/Saint Anthony and Frogtown neighborhoods, communities with a history of violence by the government and oppression. Through these community gardens and programs to include many people in the gardens in many different ways, they create a more caring environment. They accomplish this “by offering free education on sustainable gardening practices, healthy eating, reconciliation workshops, training in conflict resolution and by promoting social and environmental justice through cultivating and sharing of food.”
              Another big step the Urban Farm and Garden Alliance is taking to encourage sustainable relationships with Sick Women is to change the way community garden impacts are measured. In 2015, in collaboration with the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, the UFGA participated in a summer research study on how to better measure the yields of community gardening. Through both quantitative and qualitative means,  they sought to “redefine yield to include the social benefits of community gardening.” By taking into account input from many different community members, they were able to begin developing a more holistic process to understand the impacts of community gardening.
              Urban agriculture is a strong tool for positive change. By building relationships of care and respect through the production and preparation of food for each other, it can be a powerful way of supporting Sick Women in our communities. Organizations like the Urban Farm and Garden Alliance are finding ways to reach out and care for everyone.

Photos:
Source: https://www.growinglotsurbanfarm.com/
Caption: Good Earth.  Good Food.  Good Neighbors.
Source: http://urbanfarmandgardenalliance.org/
Caption: Our gardens.

Resources:
Grewell, Rachel. “Urban Farm & Garden Alliance Nelson Report,” 2015.
Hedva, Johanna. “Sick Woman Theory.” Mask Magazine. Accessed January 15, 2019. http://www.maskmagazine.com/not-again/struggle/sick-woman-theory.
hubba177. “Urban Farm and Garden Alliance.” Text. University of Minnesota Farm Families of the Year, December 28, 2016. https://mnfarmfamilies.cfans.umn.edu/families-by-year/2015/ramsey-county.
Lazard, Carolyn. “How to Be a Person in the Age of Autoimmunity,” n.d., 11.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

A River of Many Colors


Image result for river of five colors

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Water & Watersheds
Nature
Biodiversity
Edward Hessler

Thanks to CNN's travel writer, Lucy Sheriff I now know about an unusual river, the so-called River of Five Colors. She writes,

Visit Caño Cristales during the wet or dry seasons in Columbia, and you'd be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about.
However, travel there from June to November, the moderate months between the extremes of the wet and dry seasons, and you'll witness one of Mother Nature's crowning glories.
What occurs there from June to November is unique, the only place on the planet that this is observed. See Sheriff's short report here which includes pictures of this rainbow river. And here is a link to the responsible plant, Macarenia clavigera.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Friday Poem


Image result for science fiction

Environmental & Science Education
Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Today's poem is about science fiction.

The author, Tracy K. Smith, is currently the 22nd Poet Laureate of the United States. Her father was an engineer who worked on the Hubble Telescope.