Saturday, July 31, 2021

Auroras On Mars From the UAE Hope Mission

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth and Space Sciences, Solar System, Astrophysics, Cosmology, History of Science, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

As surely as day follows night aurora from another planet appears. And I just posted one on Jupiter. So it goes.

The Hope spacecraft provided the image. It is a mission of the United Arab Emirates Mars orbiter that arrived in February 2021, the Arab's world first mission to another planet. 

As this brief report in the journal Nature points out "it has taken the most detailed pictures yet of the 'discrete auroras' of Mars." A scientific paper has not yet been published but is planned. They are seen via a spectrometer and occur "when solar wind runs into magnetic fields that emanate from Mars's crust. Charged particles then collide with oxygen in the upper atmosphere, causing it to glow." The images are a bonus and are not part of the primary mission.

Davide Castelvecchi report includes a comment from planetary scientist Nick Schneider on the significance of the images. "'From my work on the topic, I immediately recognized the way the aurorae draw and outline around the last vestiges of Mars' decaying field. These images really capture the fact that Mars has lost its global field, the suspected cause of the disappearance of its earlier thick atmosphere.'"

Friday, July 30, 2021

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art and Environment

Ed Hessler 

Good morning from the Center for Global Environmental Education (CGEE), Hamline University on the 211th day of the year (57.81%) or 30 weeks and one day. Today sunrise is at 5:56 am and sunset is at 8:40 pm. In between are 14h 45m 07s of sunlight.

It is National Cheesecake Day with Foodimentary providing some cheesecake facts and food history for this day.

Quote. As you will never be sure which are the right problems to work on, most of the time that you spend in the laboratory or at your desk will be wasted. If you want to be creative, then you will have to get used to spending most of your time not being creative, to being becalmed on the ocean of scientific knowledge. -- Steven Weinberg, Theoretical Physicist (and Nobel Awardee) who died July 23, 2021

Today's poem is by Kim Addonizio.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Medical Notes: Patient Access

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

Ed Hessler

There is a provision in the 21st Century Cures Act requiring health care providers to provide electronic access to eight types of clinical notes. These are consultation notes, discharge summary notes, history & physical, imaging narratives, laboratory report narratives, pathology report narratives, procedure notes and progress notes. The rules do not apply to psychotherapy clinical notes. The Act is long and complex and I highlight an explainer for this specific provision from Open Notes.

Elizabeth Preston of STAT describes what she calls "a grand experiment in medical care." Her reporting includes information on characteristics of patients likely to be reading the notes, the problem of unpacking medical jargon, making notes more readable, adjustments doctors are making in their notes, e.g., from less critical and more supportive, and problems encountered with the rollout. 

Preston begins with a story about a patient who checked her notes and found some of the descriptions "disconcerting." This is one: "'She denies recent illness."' What this phrase means is standard medical terminology--jargon--that health care providers use to say the patient "had no recent illness that would have prevented her from getting that day's treatment."

These two may make you smile: "In some cases, clinicians' notes can seem offensive. 'F/U is used for followup, for example; 'SOB' stands for shortness of breath."

This "change may seem abrupt," but as Preston notes "researchers have been studying the impact of 'open notes' for years, including a pilot program launched by three medical groups about a decade ago." 

Consider two issues the author highlights in making the shift from a tool for health care providers to one that now includes the patient consider these two: "maintaining privacy for teens whose parents have access to their notes" and patients being able "to see test results immediately, rather than waiting to hear results from their doctors." These are not trivial.

Preston's reporting may be read here. It includes much more than I've discussed. And if you are interested in information about the 21st Century Cures Act as well as full access to it see here.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021


Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Cosmology, Astrophysics, Earth & Space Sciences, Nature of Science, History of Science

Ed Hessler

The supergiant star Betelgeuse, one of the ten brightest stars in the night sky,located on Orion's "right shoulder," has been a source of speculation for about a year. It was showing signs of an explosive event. 

Astrophysicists went to work and Davide Castelvecchi, reporting for Nature explains the results "Normally, Betelgeuse is one of the ten brightest stars in the night sky. For decades, researchers have known that it undergoes cycles of dimming roughly every 425 days, during which it temporarily loses about one-quarter of its peak brightness. But in February 2020, astronomers noticed that the star’s brightness had dropped by an unprecedented two-thirds — enough to be noticeable with the naked eye.

"The unexplained dimming fueled speculation that the star could be about to explode. Betelgeuse is a red supergiant — a type of star that’s more massive and thousands of times shorter-lived than the Sun — and it is expected to end its life in a spectacular supernova explosion sometime in the next 100,000 years. This event would provide a spectacle the likes of which Earthlings have not seen in centuries: the last supernova in the Milky Way that could be observed from Earth was in 1604, and Betelgeuse is so close to our planet that its supernova will be bright enough to be visible during daytime for weeks. The star is around 168 parsecs (548 light years) away, according to the most current estimates2.

"But many astrophysicists warned that the supernova speculation was wishful thinking. They pointed out that the dimming was likely to be caused by more mundane mechanisms, such as a blob of unusually cold matter appearing on the surface of the star in what’s known as a convective cell, or a cloud of dust crossing the line of sight to it.

"Now, astrophysicist Miguel Montarg├Ęs at the Paris Observatory and his collaborators have found that the reason for the ‘great dimming’ was probably a combination of both of those factors."

Castelvecchi's essay includes a short movie showing the dimming sequence and describes how the mystery was solved.  

Castelvecchi also provides a link to a longer article by Emily M. Levesque with further details on stellar evolution, more details on the research, what this means for Betelgeuse, the contribution of the research for next-generation facilities, and the difficulty of predicting an explosive event. There are two additional images and some links, including to the full paper which is behind a paywall but the abstract may be read. 

Leveque also points out an anomaly that attracted the researcher's attention from the beginning: "A comparison of these images shows that the star hadn’t simply shrunk or dimmed uniformly. Instead, the light loss was concentrated in the star’s southern hemisphere," which you can see in the changing images of Betelegeuse.


Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Rethinking the Beginnings of the Pandemic Based on New Data

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

Ed Hessler

You will recall that it was only a few months ago a letter was published in the journal Science by a distinguished group of virologists that shifted our attention on the origin of the COVID-19 from market to lab. And it has gotten a fair amount of ink since. I should say this letter enlarged the candidate pool by one.

Now an evolutionary biologist Michael Worobey (University of Arizon) thinks the most likely candidate is the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. NPR's Goats and Soda's Michaeleen Doucleff reports on that conjecture. Worobey was a signer of the letter published in Science, " telling Doucleff that he signed "because more investigation is needed of both possibilities." Doucleff describes him as "a bit like the Sherlock Holmes of pandemic origins," based on his work with the 1918 flu and the arrival of HIV in New York City.

Worobey bases this hypothesis on two new pieces of evidence. A colleague, microbiologist Robert Garry (Tulane University), mapped the cases. The dots on the map show an interesting pattern. There aren't any around the viral institute; there are many dots at and around the market.

As you know "the Chinese government has claimed the vendors at the market didn't sell any illegal wildlife. Turns out they did. Two of the species palm civets and raccoon dogs were sold there and both are SARS-CoV-19 spreaders.

This does not mean case closed and Doucleff reports on what is known and what isn't about cases. Doucleff counters some of the arguments made by those challenging his hypothesis. She also notes that if the Chinese would release data for the 2019 patients as well as allow the analysis of blood bank samples and the conduct of epidemiological interviews, this would allow scientists to reach firmer evidence-based conclusions.

As Doucleff notes in the final paragraph that if new data comes to light tomorrow, his thinking may shift again, Worobey says. That, in many ways, is the way science works."

And this is one reason why this essay is an important read.

Doucleff's essay includes links to scientists mentioned, a few maps and to the online review which changed the way Worobey now thinks about the likely epicenter of COVID-19. 

Monday, July 26, 2021

Translating Physics into Blackfoot

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Culture, Society, Cosmology, Earth & Space Science

Ed Hessler

Sharon Yellowfly, Siksika Nation, translated the 2015 press release on the direct observation of gravitational waves into Blackfoot,translations that include 17 different languages.

Her son, Corey Gray is the lead technician at the Laser Interferometer Gravitatonal-Wave Observatory--LIGO (Hanford, WA), made the suggestion. Meredith Fore, writing for Symmetry, reports this story.The language is polysynthetic (agglutinative), i.e., " are made up of smaller word bits," that can stand alone. Linguists refer to these units as "morphemes." Yellowfly had to take some poetic with the press release, referring "to Einstein's theory" as "'beautiful plantings" (bisaatsinsiimaan).

Yellowfly noted in a lovely story in Atlas Obscura, "The most prominent challenge, of course, was how to translate 'Einstein’s theory of relativity.'" Yellowfly knew she only had to translate the phrase, not the theory itself. She chose bisaatsinsiimaan, or “beautiful plantings.” Bisaatsinsiimaan does not translate in any direct way to the theory itself, but rather acts as a metaphor for Einstein’s legacy. “This was a brilliant man who had this theory that hadn’t been proven,” Yellowfly explains. “The plantings of his ideas would be harvested by people later on, on so many different levels.”  

As a child, Yellowfoot was forced to attend a Christian boarding school "where she was separated from her family and her culture and where she was physically punished for speaking her own language." As a young adult she began "copying down [Blackfoot] words 'she heard from her parents and elders.'" Her intent was "to collect words on paper for her children. But soon she had the idea to do more. Now, "several decades later, her dictionary has grown quite large."

Fore includes a section on endangered languages and some efforts helping to make them thrive, including bringing endangered languages into regular use: Cartoons, video games, movies, the broadcast of a hockey game in two dialects.

Fore's essay includes a short video (2m 10s) of Blackfoot translations of physics terms. At the top is an image of Yellowfoot and her son standing near one of the arms of the apparatus at the LIGO site in Hanover. The story in Atlas Obscura (above) by Sabrina Imbler is more detailed and describes how Yellowfoot did the translation, details about her life including her early education, a photograph at the top showing her and her son at a high level physics conference where she asked physicists involved in LIGO to sign a commemorative T-shirt. Gray and Yellowfoot "have worked together to spread awareness of gravitational wave astronomy to Blackfoot speakers and introduce members of the scientific community to them.

"Though Gray has always considered himself a mama’s boy, this project has brought the two even closer together. They text often, about Gray’s work and random vocabulary questions that pop up as he tries to improve his grasp of the language. “'As I’m getting older, I don’t have to be as much of a disciplinarian,'" Yellowfly says. “'So Corey now feels like a child who is also my friend.'”

In this video (14m 42s) Corey Gray describes his work, comments about the translation and then his mother reads the entire press release in Sikiska (Blackfoot). Be sure to listen to some of it.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Report on the Sinking Sundarbans Delta

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Sustainability, Global Climate Change, Society, Culture

Ed Hessler 

The Sundarbans is a large mangrove delta "formed," according to the Wiki entry," by the confluence of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna Rivers in the Bay of Bengal." 

This BBC video (3m 39s) by Debatin Roy reports on inhabitants whose ancestors have lived there for centuries are leaving. The cause is climate change--violent annual storms, rising sea levels, ice-melt from the Himalaya mountains, "are gradually overwhelming the low-lying islands.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

June's Best Images From The Scientific Journal Nature

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Art and Environment

Ed Hessler

Nature has published the June's sharpest images, selected by Nature's photo team.

Take a leisurely stroll with a scroll.

How can you go wrong when one of the photogrphas is titled "Sea Snot"?

Each photo is accompanied by a short explanation about the content.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art and Environment

Ed Hessler

It is July 23, 2021. 

Good morning and welcome from the Center for Global Environmental Education (CGEE), Hamline University on the 204th day of the year (55.89% of 2021). The seconds, all 17,625,600 of them, add up to 293,760 minutes and those minutes to 4896 hours.

Between sunrise at 5:48 am and sunset at 8:47 pm there will be15h 00m 36s of sunlight.

It is Vanilla Ice Cream day and here are five facts and some food history highlights from Foodimentary

Quote. The meaning of life is a touch a scent, which comes by chance and is gone before you know it.--John Gray (Feline Philosophy)

Today's poem is by Alice Fogel.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

The North American Heat Waves

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Earth Systems, Sustainability

Ed Hessler 

In this video (7m 26s), Ros Atkins, BBC News, explains the North American heat waves of 2021.

I have posted a video by Atkins before and may have not included information about him. Here is the Wiki entry.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021


Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Earth & Space Sciences, Wildlife, Nature, Biodiversity, Water, Watersheds

Ed Hessler

Reporter Mary McQuire  had a story May 14, 2019  the mussels that provide some important muscle to water quality monitoring at Minneapolis Water Treatment & Distribution. In the event you missed it it is worth a look. Their work schedule is relentless with no time off. At the time their employment record showed that they have been doing this for more than 10 years.

Ms. McQuire wrote that they are "snuggled up side by side, a dozen mollusks live in a tank with water continuously being cycled in from the Mississippi River. If the mollusks come across anything funky like gasoline or heavy metals, they’ll all clam up, setting off tiny sensors attached to their shells.

“'Those wires are connected to a computer that we have and it will actually show a flat line telling us that they have closed,'” said (George) Kraynick of the Minneapolis Water Works.

"Minneapolis is the only city in the country that uses mussels in what’s technically called a bio-monitoring system. With how far science has come, this is a slightly primitive way to be looking at water quality, but it really works." (emphasis added).

And as far as retirement it depends on outgrowing their quarters. Mr. Kraynick told McGuire, " “Most likely, we will just set them free in the river. They’ve served their time,” said Kraynick. “They’re still young, they have a long life to lead.” (They live up to 50 years.)

See McGuire's reporting here which includes a photograph of the mussels at work.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Katmai Brown Bears

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Nature, Wildlife, Watershed

Ed Hessler

Finally, the salmon are swimming and jumping going upstream at Brooks River, Katmai National Park, Alaska and the brown bears are fishing.

There are several viewing venues, including an underwater camera just below the falls.

The bears use a variety of fishing techniques which are summarized in this FAQ (see Item 5. What are the different fishing styles bears use at Brooks River?) which is quite useful whether you are new to watching or have been there before.

In addition, there are special presentations you can watch to learn more and a comments section. Some of the regular watchers who have been doing this for years sometimes provide interesting commentary.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Ticks Suck

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

Ed Hessler

Ticks are among us...everywhere even where never expected such as beaches. This news clip (2m 20s) from San Francisco reports on a new study warning of an increase in Lyme-Carrying Ticks in northern Californian coastal areas.

According to Sheila Eldred (NPR), "ecologist Dan Salkeld and a colleague were surprised when they found 180 ticks in less than a mile on a coastal trail near Muir Beach in California one day in 2016." And what you might expect from scientists, Salkeld told Eldred that "'we were delighted at the high numbers of ticks!'" The reason? It is about sample sizes and data. There is a link to a report on their findings which was published in June. Salkeld also is a researcher for the Bay Area Lyme Foundation.

According to Eldred's reporting the expansion of new habitats is a growing and concerning trend. "And," she notes, "more of them appear to be carrying pathogens...with abut 50,000 cases reported each year -- and far more going unreported."

Eldred's report is both timely and informative. She describes the ticks of concern, where they are likely to be found, the importance of geographic location, influences of weather factors what to do if you are bitten and includes photographs of the six most common tick types with descriptions of each as well as the diseases they may carry. Additionally, she describes how to avoid getting bitten in the first place and then what to do if you do get bitten.

The essay includes a link to the Tick Finder Map from TickEncounter at the University of Rhode Island. The map is interactive so you can select a region and set the time of year to learn how tick activity changes.

I owe the title of this post to Eldred.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

A Leopard And A Cow Video Corrected

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Biological Evolution, Nature, Wildlife

Ed Hessler

I went back and forth on whether to post this, not wanting to add to confusion but decided that it is important to set the record straight. And also as a reminder to not believe everything that is posted.

The video below came from a blog I frequent and trust. It turned out one of the stories wasn't exactly true and a correction was published next day. I was not surprised by such characteristic forthrightness. But I found the true story even more interesting and fascinating. 

First the original; second the corrections. I chose two, both different from the one the blog authors posted because there is more information.


A Pakistani farmer became curious about why a leopard was visiting one of his cows at night. 

He set up a camera to find out and the result is shown in this remarkable video (4m 13s).


I post two, here and here.

I hope I've not made matters worse. 

It is a good lesson for me, one that tells me there are some things I should check. On the other hand - isn't there always one? - , there are reliable sources who do some of this work for us. 

I'm grateful for that work, effort and care..

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Audubon Photography Awards (APA)

Environmental & Science Education, Art and Environment, Biodiversity, Biological Evolution, Nature, Wildlife

The winners and honorable mentions of the 2021 Audubon Photography Awards have been released

For the first time there are videos which are not to be missed and also a Female Bird Prize.

Information about the contest, the prize and the judges whose decisions were made on technical quality, originality, and artistic merit are included..

As usual, without other eyes and a ready willingness to tell another about this news, I might have missed them. Thanks again, Molly.





Friday, July 16, 2021

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art and Environment

Ed Hessler

Good morning  on 16 July, 2021 from the Center for Global Environmental Education, Hamline University, Saint Paul, MN. Today 53.97% of the year is behind us..

There will be 15h 13m 55s of sunlight between today's sunrise at 5:41am and sunset at 8:55pm.

It is National Corn Fritters day and Foodimentary has some facts about corn and food history.  And what a diverse lot is the latter.

Quote."...unlike the snow leopard, we are not solitary creatures but members of a shared community, accountable to and dependent n one another whether we lie it or not.."--Kathryn Schulz, The New Yorker

Today's poem is by Jim Peterson (there is a short biography under the poem).

Thursday, July 15, 2021

A New Cookie with Sustainability in Mind and Practice

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Sustainability, Reduce-Reuse-Recycle, Society

Ed Hessler

There is an informal National Cookie Day (December 4). The website notes that "the English word 'cookie' is derived from the Dutch word koekie, meaning 'little cake.'"

Another "little cake" is soon  to be added to the long list of cookies. Re-Toast is its name and is a cookie "in the shape of miniature toast (and appearance) that's made with 30 percent ingredients from waste products." (added) It will come in three flavors--cinnamon, mocha and pumpkin spice. The ingredients are not considered "recycled" but "upcycled" according to a report about its development from the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS), University of Minnesota.

The ingredients include bread scraps, brewers spent grain and Kernza flour (trademark name for the grain; it is a perennial grass) and will be packaged in "reusable and recyclable packaging made from tin and food-grade paper wraps. Re-Toast was developed by four graduate students in food science and nutrition.

The product won first place at the American Society of Baking Product Development Competition. Radhika Bharathi was the team lead and said this about the competition and what led them to the recipe. 

“'The theme for this year's product development competition was "sustainability—caring for our future" and when we talk about building sustainable food systems, we have to talk about food waste! About 40 percent of all food produced in the U.S. gets wasted and bread is the most consumed and also the most wasted food, so why not give the bread a second chance? That is why we decided to think of a solution to using this leftover edible bread as an upcycled ingredient. We collected leftover bread scraps from local Twin Cities bakeries and developed our own self-curated quality process to make sure it is safe and ready to be used as a functional, nutritive ingredient for baking. I wanted to make sure that we incorporated Kernza® in our formulation because it fits so well in the theme of using sustainably sourced ingredients to develop ReToast.'"

I didn't know that bread is the most wasted food.

And yes there are plans for commercialization. The link includes photographs of the snack and the team upon receiving the award and links.


Wednesday, July 14, 2021

The Delta Variant

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Society, Culture

Ed Hessler

The Washington Post in its free coronavirus series has a story on the highly contagious delta variant. Several FAQs are answered and discussed.

But first, Delta is one of four "variants of concern" according to the CDC. The CDC classification may be found here and includes these categories: Variant of Interest (VOI), Variant of Concern (VOC), and Variant of High Consequence (VOHC). These are the definitions.

Variant of Interest (VOI). A variant with specific genetic markers that have been associated with changes to receptor binding, reduced neutralization by antibodies generated against previous infection or vaccination, reduced efficacy of treatments, potential diagnostic impact, or predicted increase in transmissibility or disease severity.

Variant of Concern (VOC)A variant for which there is evidence of an increase in transmissibility, more severe disease (e.g., increased hospitalizations or deaths), significant reduction in neutralization by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or diagnostic detection failures.

Variant of High Consequence (VOHC). A variant of high consequence has clear evidence that prevention measures or medical countermeasures (MCMs) have significantly reduced effectiveness relative to previously circulating variants. 

The CDC report notes "there are no SARS-CoV- 2 variants that rise to the level of high consequence."This report is updated regularly.

Washington Post reporters Lindsey Bever and Joel Achenbach start with a few facts to which I've added material from other parts of their reporting.

--This coronavirus variant is now found in all 50 states and is already dominant in many parts of the United States.

--It accounts for close to 52% of all new infections, "five times the prevalence four weeks earlier (week ending July 3).

--That the Deltaa variant has become the dominant strain was expected but the rapid rise was troubling. In the language of health experts delta is "the most 'fit' variant of the coronavirus," i.e. "it's likely to outcompete other variants to infect more people with covid-19." It is considerably more transmissible than the original coronavirus. The delta variant is likely to "cause surges...where vaccination rates are lower" which in turn will pse "the most serious risk to those who are older, sicker and unvaccinated."

--The best news is that "all three coronavirus vaccines authorized in the United States offer strong protection against severe disease and death from covid-19," (my emphasis) They offer "strong protection against severe disease and death from the delta variant, although they appear to offer less robust protection against minor to moderate infections." 

And if you are not vaccinated continue to wear masks and get vaccinated as soon as possible. Make this a priority. The delta variant is very good at finding the unvaccinated--the best of the variants so far. Not wearing a mask makes it even easier.

And if you've had the two injection vaccines, the increase in protection between one shot and two shots is dramatic, say from 33 percent to 88 percent. Only one study, a small one, on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, showed "a strong antibody response against the variant. Whether booster shots will be required is an open question. And if you've had one injection, get the second in the series.

The authors provide answers to these commonly asked questions: what the delta variant is, why the delta variant is of concern, vaccines effectiveness, how the delta variant is likely to affect the United States, whether symptoms from delta infections differ from infections from other variants of the coronavirus, and whether booster shots will be needed. They also report on people who are immunocompromised, the risk to children and how they can be protected.

One thing that is maddening is the mixed messages we are and will continue to receive since the decision was made that this is a personal responsibility without informing people about risks regarding choices such as wearing masks (when and where, for example) and returning to "normal" (what that is and what it means for personal responsibility?)

This doesn't seem at all likely to change.

The Washington Post report may be read here which I urge you to do.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Schoolkids Report on Aliens in 1994

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Children, Astronomy, Solar System, Society, Culture, health, Medicine

Ed Hessler

A video from the BBC Witness History series (4m 13s) tells about "schoolkids who said they saw 'aliens.'"

I didn't recall hearing about this event which is described in the introduction. "In 1994, 60 children at Ariel school in Ruwa, Zimbabwe said they'd seen a 'UFO' and 'aliens with big eyes' in bush land near their school playground. The story was reported around the world.

"A BBC crew were among the first on the scene and spoke to pupils and teachers. There were also reports of strange lights and a 'craft' in the sky in other parts of Zimbabwe, as well as in Zambia and South Africa."

Was it a case of mass hysteria? In a literature review published in the Malawi Medical Journal, Demobly Kokota, a psychologist at the Malawi Medical School, summarizes cases of mass hysteria events in African countries.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Those Soulful Shades of Blue

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Art and Environment, Biodiversity, Nature, History of Science , Society, Culture

Ed Hessler

An photograph of a blue bird I ran across dazzled my eyes. The blue was one I'd never seen, blue beyond blue. Seeing that image reminded me of an essay on the color blue I read in Aramco World by Tom Verde about humankind's quest for blue. It is a less than common color in nature, including minerals, animals and plants. Many of the blues we see are not the result of pigments but physics, a good example of structure and function.

Before I get to the bird and a structural blue, I want to snatch a few items from Verde's essay which is also beautifully illustrated. I urge you read this captivating story. Below are the blues  discussed and a few comments from the essay.. By the way, the quest for blue through the ages presents a rich and complicated history--social, cultural, technological, engineering, art/ceramics, human ingenuity, protoscience and science.

Egyptian Blue: To the Egyptians it was "a source of inspiration and worship, blue was also the color of the cosmos, fertility, sustenance and rebirth.." I'd never thought about its use in headdresses with their bold blue and gold stripes. The raw materials were scarce and presented their own particular difficulties and eventually the Egyptian artisans invented this blue (ca 3250 BCE). Roman military  engineer and architect Vitruvius "preserved the knowledge of to make Egyptian blue." He recorded the ingredients and manufacturing details.

Faience. Further experimentation led to the development of this blue. It could be worked with, especially "for small jewelry and decorative objects." Potter Amy Waller told Verde that making faience was difficult and it is only"in the last century or so that we have an understanding of how faience was actually made." Waller's website has information on and photographs of Egyptian faience as well as a list of readings.

Ultramarine. In its day it was costly, rare, celebrated and very much sought after, this color "from beyond the sea.".  "Michelangelo left a painting permanently unfinished in Rome because he couldn't get his hands on enough ultramarine. Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer penniless in 167,5 in part because of his lavish use of the pigment in many of his famous paintings, such as the "Girl with a Pearl Earring' and 'Woman in Blue Reading a Letter.''' Vermeer would have had to pay $228 dollars an ounce in today's U.S. currency.  It is discussed in an Arabic treatise on purifying the gemstone lapis lazul by Jabir ibm Hayyan, the "father of chemistry." Interestingly "Arab alchemists were more interested in the pharmacological virtues of ground lapis than its color although it was use to "illuminate manuscript editions of the Qur'an.". In the early 19th  century, European chemists, mimicking their pharaonic Egyptian predecessors, mixed china clay, soda, charcoal, quartz and sulphur to produce an affordable, synthetic ultramarine. ... As ever, the business of blue played a major role in its use, production, procurement and prestige.

Cobalt Blue. Aas Verde puts it, this was a case of blue meeting white. It was known as "Muslim blue" and was made from Persian cobalt, a mineral known to be imported to China during the first quarter of the 13th century CE.," where it was used in statuary and wall paintings. However, "it was used in tough yet translucent porcelain--an invention dating to the Han Dynasty (22 CE - 250 CE)--that popularized cobalt-based-blue on an international scale. The Chinese "were not especially fond of mixed blue-and-white patterns. ... The driving force behind the adoption were wealthy Muslim merchants living in Quanzhou who controlled much of export, marketing and even manufacture of Chinese blue-and-white porcelain targeted to serve almost exclusively and Islamic market." It led to Dutch Delft, Danish Royal Copenhagen,  English blue-and-white wares and, across the Atlantic, American Currier & Ives designs--and more." The city Iznik "in western Anatolia," became noted for pottery and there is a photograph of the famous "Blue Mosque," in Istanbul, Turkey" which is "covered with 20,000 hand-painted ceramic tiles that feature more than 50 designs."

Indigo. It is also known as True Blue because it is colorfast--dyed linen borders found with Egyptian mummies retain their blue even today. An aggressive smear campaign was launched by those with financial stakes in the flowering plant woad. Indigo was claimed to be poisonous, even  referred to as "The devil's dye," with prison and even death following its use instead of woad. Indigo is from an Indian plant Indigofera tinctoria. Verde writes that "owing to its prestige, indigo blue became the color of European royalty, especially the French, who adopted it for robes and heraldry." Indigo blue became "a favorite for heavey-use attire uh as military uniforms, industrial work coveralls, and pants, e.g., blue jeans." The "Blue Qur'an" is made from parchment dyed with indigo on which calligraphers used gold leaf. It dates to the late ninth and 10 centuries in Tunisia.

YlnMin Blue (aka MasBlue). It was discovered at Oregon State University in 2009 when a graduate student was exploring the electronic properties of manganese oxide and is described as "brilliantly blue." The blue is brilliant and extremely stable. It is also a "cool" pigment, i.e., it has a high solar reflectance and will likely be used in exterior applications applications" for reducing surface temperatures, lowering cooling costs and energy consumption.
Now to the bird, one not quite in hand. This brilliantly exuberant blue is the result of microscopic physical structures. It is worn by the male of the species, Grandala coelicolor, a result of biological evolution and works by physics.  The link includes a video (8m 27s) which explains the physics and other details. Be sure to scroll down for more pictures.  

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Bottled Water Then

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Watersheds

Ed Hessler

The following is a letter from General James Wilkinson to President Thomas Jefferson (January 18,1802)


Presuming that a sample of the Waters of the Mississippi & Arkansas Rivers, remarkable for their difference to each other & to the Waters of all other Rives within my Knowledge, may not be unacceptable to you, I avail myself of a conveyance by Doctor Carmichael of the Army, who will have the Honor to deliver this, to send you a Bottle of each, taken from those Rivers in their lowest & least disturbed State--that from the Arkansaw being not full--& may not be uninteresting to remark, that the "voyageurs" of the Mississippi, who drink constantly of, & prefer, its Water, are never afflicted by the Graval*, and that they ascribe curative properties to its external application in cutaneous affections. ...

Your obliged, Obedient, & ready Servant
Ja: Wilkinson

*"Graval. A term applied to aggregations of urinary crystals which can be recognized as masses by the naked eye (as distinguished from sand) also the disease of which these are characteristic." OED (And here from a medical dictionary--in other words kidney stones. My addition).

McLaughlin notes that "Sen. William Plumer of New Hampshire reported that Jefferson proudly served Mississippi water at a dinner party at the President's House, although it is doubtful whether it was the same water Wilkinson had sent almost three years earlier. (There is a citation which includes this note: "On 3 December 1804, Plumer attended a dinner at the President's House where 'there was also exposed on the table two bottles of water brought from the river Mississippi. ...'").

Both Wilkinson's letter and McLauglin's comment may be found on pp.310-311.
Source: McLauughlin, J. (1991). To His Excellency Thomas Jefferson: Letters to a President. New York: Avon Books.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

The Wakhan Corridor

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Culture, Society, Global Change

Ed Hessler

The BBC's Simon Urwin introduces Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor, once seemingly untouched by time but now sure to be touched, if not squeezed hard, when it is directly linked to the outside by a new road with China.

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is bordered by China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan or as Urwin puts it it is "on the cusp of six borders." The photo-essay opens with a picture of a street scene in Mazar-e-Sharif, the 4th largest city in Afghanistan large urban center which is "320km  northwest of Kabul." 

Under it is a contrast,  picture of the Wakhan Corridor, a "350km-long panhandle," locataed "at the convergence of three of the world's major mountain ranges: the Hindu Kush, the Karakoram and the Pamir Mountains - known as the Pamir Knot." (The last link is a video (4m 48s) which is not in English but has the most helpful illustrations I've seen.)

Urwin tells us, each short section isintroduced by a lovely photograph, the Corridor's rural life, the Wakhi, "a population of around 12,000," who unlike "the majority of Afghans are (not) conservative Sunni Muslims." The "Wakhi are Ismailis, who belong to the Shia branch of Islam." Life's cycle is dominated by farming this semi-arid area, described by one farmer as one of feeling "a great connection to the land, and whilst we pray daily, the rhythm of life revolves more around the fields, the seasons and nature.'" Urwin describes "the centuries-old game of buzkashi, sometimes described as rugby on horseback with the body of a goat as a ball."

The Wakhan Corridor has been untouched by tourism and was once part of the Silk Road, "the trade route that emerged in the 1st and 2nd Centuries BCE linking China with the Mediterranean" and transporting valuable goods such as silk silver, gold, lapis lazuli" by camels. It has also been a contested territory, especially a conflict between Russia and Great Britain for control of Central Asia" in the late 19th Century.  Urwin observes that with a new road and access, geopolitics could again come into play

There is a scene of new construction--a lovely bridge built without heavy equipment. In the end, Urwin closes by reporting on the mixed emotions of farmers about this new road. That change is ahead is clear but the nature of the changes are not so clear..

Friday, July 9, 2021

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art and Environment

Ed Hessler

Good morning on July 9, 2021 from the Center for Global Environmental Education, Hamline University, Saint Paul MN.

It is day number 190 and today 52.05% (or  27 weeks and one day) are past. We will have 15h 24m 30 s of sunlight between sunrise at 5:35 am and 9:00 pm.

It is National Sugar Cookie Day and Foodimentary has some facts about cookies --the money we spend on Oreos! -- and some food history.

Quote: "...There bid good morning to next day,/ There meditate my time away:/ And angle on, and beg to have/ A quite passage to a welcome grave." --Izaak Walton, The Anglers Wish

Today's poem is by Sara Burnett.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

The Nurse Who Ruffled Feathers

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

Ed Hessler 

More than 200 years ago was born Florence Nightingale (May 12, 1820 - August 13, 1910) who became a "boots-on-the-ground clinician." A war in which she was a nurse "in the mid-1850s, led her to three insights that came to define her professional life, " writes primary care physician, Danielle Ofri, in STAT.

Ofri notes two things about those insights. They were revolutionary and unpopular:

--Medical care has the potential to do harm.

--Nurses require stringent and scientific training.

--Medical care does not exist in a vacuum from the world around it.

Ofri describes what led Nightingale to these insights, noting that the third one "has received less historical attention. You've heard of the term "miasma," no doubt. "While the public muttered disdainfully about India's ''miasmas,' Nightingale focused instead on data," including sanitation, water quality, housing, food, use of alcohol, and physical activity. (my emphasis)

Ofri turns her attention to the prescience of Nightingale's observations and to the re-envirioning of the health care system, post COVID-19, noting that her list is short. "But even at our creative best, " she writes, "the medical disparities will remain entrenched unless society is re-envisioned as well. Medical care does not exist in a vacuum from the world around it."

The heroism -- we love heroes, at least in the short term -- is far from enough and why should we expect others to do the heavy lifting for us. This is a partial prescription offered by Dr. Ofri; "Remaking health care will mean focusing on the lanes that relate to educational quality, job security, housing stability, and paid sick leave (to name a few) in addition to the more traditional  medical lanes like expanding primary care, enhancing mental health and addiction treatment, improving care coordination, controlling drug prices, detoxifying electronic medical records, improving patient safety, and achieving universal, equitable access to health care."

Please read her essay.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Restoring an Island Ecosystem

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Wildlife, Biodiversity, Sustainability, Behavior

Ed Hessler 

This is a success story about the successful campaign to eradicate an invasive species, the yellow-crazy ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes), from the Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuge which is included in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. The ant is quite large and acquired the epithet "crazy" because when it is disturbed it moves erratically. The Wiki entry provides the details about this ant.

And Vanessa Romo of NPR provides the story.  She writes that "the nonnative invasive insect had been threatening ground-nesting seabirds on the atoll since at least 2010, nearly wiping out" one colony of seabirds "and wreaking havoc on other seabirds."

The birds nesting there are ground nesters and in their evolution never had to deal with ground pests. The ants, according to Romo's reporting "would swarm the birds and their ground nests spraying formic acid into the animals' eyes and beaks."

About the formic acid Monument Superintendent, Kate Tonilo told Romo, "'In many cases it blinded the birds. In chicks, [the acid] would cause beak malformations making it impossible for them to eat ... so they would just starve to death.'" There is so much to be learned about the natural world and as reported by Romo, Tonilo pointed out that "It is unclear what provoies the ants to spray their acid, adding that that aspect of their behavior has not been studied."

A Crazy Ant Strike Team was formed and in a survey in December 2017, "the yellow crazy ant was last spotted ... but it was too soon to tell if the ants had been fully extinguished because their colonies are underground."  The ants turned out to be choosy eaters of "bait concoctions that the ants would eat and take back to their colonies." And as you might expect some great noses were involved in finding colonies, "two dogs--Guinness and Solo."

By the way there is a travel restriction. "'If you to to Johnston, all of your clothes have to be brand new, off the shelf, never worn, and frozen for 48 hours before you can be brought to the island.'"

To give you an idea of requirements to serve as a volunteer for the Crazy Ant Strike Team here is one posting.

What good news!

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

SETI: Narrowing the Candidatess

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Cosmos, Astronomy, Earth & Space Sciences

Ed Hessler

"Because that's where the money is."--reply of bank robber by Willie Sutton on why he robbed banks.

I was reminded of this quote when I read Alexandra Witze's essay in the British science journal Nature about scientists searching who search for "extraterrestrial life should narrow their hunt to stars and planetary systems that have an occasional view of Earth as it passes in front of the Sun." (my emphais)

There are about 2000 candidates that have been "pinpointed" by astronomers "from where, in the not-too-distant past or future Earth can occasionally be detected transiting across the face of the Sun." They have "the cosmic front seat to see us," said Lisa Kaltenegger of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, "who led the analysis" reported in Nature

Witze's essay includes a bar graph showing the number of stars that have been swept by human-made radio waves, the number in the right position to have spotted Earth in the past 5000 years, and additional stars that will have a view of the planet in the next 5000 years. 

The purpose of the study was to identify "which stars have 'a better-than-average shot of discovering and characterizing the Earth,' said Sofia Sheikh" who works at the Berkeley SETI Research
in California.  Here is a video (5m 08s) by Sophia Sheikh about new strategies for SETI made when she was nearing the end of her Ph.D. at Pennsylvania State University.

Witze notes that the method used "is the same one that Earth-bound astronomers have used to discover thousands of exoplanets: detecting the light of a distant star dimming slightly and regularly, as an orbiting planet passes across its face."

Read Witze's reporting here where you can read the abstract of the paper on which it is based. The rest of the paper is behind a subscription/paywall. Witze's essay includes and illustrtion of Earth illuminated by the Sun with stars having "a past or future view of Earth as a transiting exoplanet appear highlighted.