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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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

Wisdom


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Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Biodiversity
Edward Hessler

Wisdom, a Laysan albatross, the world's oldest living bird (ca. 68 yo), not only has returned to Midway Atoll but has laid another egg.  It is thought to be her 40th.

Wisdom was first banded by Chandler Robbins in 1956. She was anonymous, just one of 8400 albatrosses banded that year.  She was mature and was estimated to be about 5 years old. In 2002, when her fame began, Robbins returned to Midway to band and reband birds. Can you imagine his surprise and pleasure he learned he had banded her 46 years earlier. She would have been more than 50 years old.

Wisdom and her mate Akeakamai ("lover of wisdom) have returned to the same nest-site on Midway Atoll each year.  Biologists refer to this as "nest-site fidelity." Usually, albatrosses lay eggs every other year, but this pair has laid, hatched an egg and raised a chick every year since 2006. The nesting season is from October to December and then spend the rest of their year mostly in the air gliding above the Pacific Ocean and feeding, e.g., on squid and small fish and also and unfortunately on plastic surface debris.

Robbins, a US Fish and Wildlife Biologist (USFWS), died in 2017, age 98. What lovely symmetries he and Wisdom have experienced--he finding her after 46 years and their longevity.

The USFWS Pacific Region has a web page on Wisdom and the albatrosses of Midway that includes photographs, a photo album of Wisdom through time, the contributions of Chandler Robbins (he was a physics and maths major in college, taught school for a while and then joined the USFWS), and information about the refuge and the birds who rely on it and many links to stories.

A web page about Wisdom is found Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Monument.


Data Driven, Pixel Animated Range Maps for Birds


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Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Nature of Science
Biodiversity
Miscellaneous
Edward Hessler

In 2015, the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology made an observation about the range maps of birds. Today's maps are made of ink and paper, but tomorrow's maps will be made of pixels and data.

You can see what the lab meant when their data analysts took a deep look at NASA generated satellite maps and 12 million checklists submitted by 120,000 people to eBird.

The result are maps that are dazzling. The maps provide information about where birds are (seasonally), how their populations are doing and at a scale nearly fine enough that you can almost to pick out individuals. These maps are also dynamic.

Here is how to use eBird's newest tools. They will change the way you look at range maps. I hope you take a look and hit a few of the links.




Kids and Changing Toys: Get Back to Basics


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Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Children
Early Childhood
Society
Culture
Edward Hessler

For many of us this season of the year is a special time for kids and gifts.

The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that "Kids will be always kids, but their toys have changed―and it can be overwhelming! We are inundated with all kinds of sensory-stimulating noise and light toys, and digital media-based platforms with child-oriented software and apps."

The Academy has some recommendations which urge gift buyers to get back to basics in making selections for the traditional toy categories of pretend, manipulatives, art, language and physical activity (large motor).

The Academy includes toy shopping reminders, toy safety tips, a list of resources and an important thing to remember:  A certain toy is not necessary for your child to reach his or her next developmental milestone. There is no one app that will teach your child to read. While it's easy to fall victim to the marketing, you are your child's best teacher.

A Tool Chest


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Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Society
Culture
Miscellaneous
Edward Hessler

Over at WEIT, Jerry Coyne posted a photograph and a short movie of a toolbox, no a tool chest, made by Henry O. Studley a cabinet maker who made organs and pianos and no doubt repaired them when necessary.

It is a lovely work of art and cabinet making at the highest level.  Dr. Coyne includes a film in which master carpenter Norm Abram, whom you may remember from This Old House and/or The New Yankee Workshop, gives us a guided tour of the chest. This inspired Abrams to make a tool chest for his workshop.

As you will learn, Studlley made the tool chest as a gift. It ended up--thank goodness--as part of the collection of the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History.  


Book Covers on the Move


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Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Art and Environment
Society
Edward Hessler

It is said you can't judge a book by its cover.

Animator Henning M. Lederer has turned his attention to book covers making judgment if not more difficult, more fun and mesmerizing.

This is one of the videos in his Covers series.

h/t Aeon

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Scientific Illustration: Cyanotypes


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Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Art and Environment
Biodiversity
Edward Hessler

Writing for the New Yorker (January 28, 2019), Andrea K. Scott calls attention in the wonderful section, Goings On About Town, that the New York Public Library currently hosts an exhibition of "the woman responsible for the world's first photography book, published in 1843--and illustrated with exquisite velvet-blue cyanotypes of British algae."  The book was "signed with her initials, A. A., instead of her name.  Not long after Anna Atkins died, in 1871, an enthusiast attributed her book to an 'Anonymous Amateur,' but the British Museum set the record straight almost immediately."

Samples of the exhibit are not accessible at distance--they are truly goings on in town, but the J. Paul Getty Museum has the illustrations from the scientific reference book, British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions.  Anna Atkins was a botanist and through this publication "established photography as an accurate medium for scientific illustration."

I'd not heard of her or of this beautiful book--a very pleasant discovery. 

Blue cyanotypes, just one of those soulful blues (from "A Soulful Shade of Blue" by Buffy St. Marie).

Friday, February 1, 2019

Friday Poem


Image result for cold

Environmental & Science Education
Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Its been cold this past week--numbingly so, searing and brittle.

This poem by Robert Frost has a provocative title, "Good-Bye and Keep Cold."

What in the world is he talking about?

Our usual reaction to the very deep cold and biting wind of winter is "stay warm."