Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Bake The Moon

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Solar System, Astronomy

Ed Hessler

"Just when I thought I couldn’t love banana bread more, " writes Flora Graham, Senior Editor, Nature Briefing, "the European Space Agency (ESA) publishes a recipe that contains the main chemical elements found on the Moon."

This link includes the details, including how to participate. A contest kicked-off 17 May, 2022,  World Baking Day.



Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Egg Laying: Evolutionary Biology and Behavior

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Nature, Wildlife, Biological Evolution, behavior

Ed Hessler

One (of many) reasons I find to read Jim Williams's Minneapolis Star Tribune columns on birds is because they often include comments on biological evolution and behavior.

A recent example is a column about tree swallows in which reported on nesting and reproductive behavior of a pair, which nested in an egg box Williams maintains, followed by comments on the timing and sequence of egg laying.

First he notes that "monogamy -- one paired mate -- is a fact of life for most bird species." Still, birds sometimes do "mate outside the pair in a nesting season." He noted one likely attempt when a male "flew close to the (nest) box" and was immediately "attacked by the resident male" in "brief but serious combat."

This behavior is all about genes and getting them into the next generation with each male vying for to do this and each female making a choice on the best mate based on features such as defense of territory. As Williams wrote about the incident he witnessed, the resident male "wanted maximum return on investment. The intruder was looking for return with minimum investment."

Songbirds, in general, are early morning egg layers, and "in the next hour "the next egg in sequence is fertilized." Here are some possible reasons for this sequence based on research hypotheses: "eggs are most vulnerable to harm just before they are to be laid" and night provides "the critical hours for completion of the egg," which is the time "the bird is less likely to be active." Tree swallows "feed on the wing" which frees the female from carrying a fully developed egg. Robins, on the other hand, lay eggs midmorning and because they are ground feeders finding sufficient food, rich in protein, eggs are not likely to suffer damage until laid by "holding an egg," while the egg is completing final development.

By the way, the male resident tree swallow, "given the chance...could well have been" a rival to another pair. The ideas discussed fall under the evolutionary concept of fitness --" reproductive success " and "reflects how well an organism is adapted to its environment." (see here)

Mr. Williams wrote the column titled "Birds pair off and get down to business" for the April 20, 2022 edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The week following (April 27, 2022) another column was on genetics and evolutionary biology. Birds have an inactive gene have for teeth which is now used to make feathers. But some times a mutation will start the tooth forming process although the birds do not survive. Then he continues with a discussion of the formation of the bill, "the avian equivalent of the Swiss Army knife." Another terrific article, one that includes indirect observations on the need for suitable habitat. "Where can you find birds? Where their tools are best suited for use." And when you begin to spend some time observing birds in their habitats you will find that they further partition the habitat. Warblers provide an example, especially on their journey north. Some choose bushes near the ground, while others choose their tops; others distribute themselves in trees.

Both articles and the entire previous 229 he has written to date are found hereStar Tribune articles are behind a subscription paywall as you would expect.  If you are interested in birds, in science, in nature and how the feathery side of the world works, Mr. Williams is a reliable, knowledgeable and friendly guide.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Nature's Hotheads

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Biodiversity, Biological Evolutio, History of Sciencen

Ed Hessler

By the time I post this,  the leaves of the small populations of  resident Minnesota eastern skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) will have passed their peak. I hope you saw them in the snow.

Twin Cities Dr. Craig Bowron is an internist who wrote an essay for MinnPost that tells us all about these fascinating but stinky plants. Minnesota is at the northern and western range of the eastern skunk cabbage which "Grows only in moist swampy lowlands, the kind of places where the coldest and densest air of the night settles out and intensifies its chill."

The plant looks out of place and remind me of exotic places like the tropics of imagination. They were plants I looked for when I was a kid on rambles in the wetlands "up the hill".  This colorful and strange appearing plant was  reminder of how close spring was.

Bowron's essay describes their ecology, life cycle and reminds us that this plant's spring behavior is about genes. The only goal is to get pollinated and they co-opt some insects to do the cross-pollination work. While doing this work there is a pay-off for some of the insects, too. Bowron includes a link to a readable essay in the magazine Natural History by Robert Knutson who was the first to study their heating and respiration patterns. 

Knutson describes the skunk cabbage's ecology (including the surface anatomy of their stem and root), evolutionary relationships, insect and spider visitors, how he did his research/findings, the likely earliest description, and how its seeds germinate and grow.

Another splendid essay by Craig Holdredge of The Nature Institute published in Context #4 (Fall, 2000) includes additional information and useful drawings of and about the root system, fruit heads, and skunk cabbage development. To be able to read Knutson's description of the digging up of a skunk cabbage root system and to see the drawing by Holdredge is one of the pleasures of reading the essays.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The Inner Rings of A Familiar Galaxy

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Cosmology, Astrophysics, History of Science 

I'd never seen an image of a spiral galaxy that looked like this and was immediately captured by its beauty. I could not even come close to explaining the shape. The only feature I recognized was the familiar central bar. But the second ring? Zounds.

All is explained and I learned that some spiral galaxies have a third ring even further out. 

An old expression came to mind, one from the 60s: Far out!


Saturday, May 14, 2022

A Grin From Far, Far Away

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Cosmology, Astrophysics, Universe, History of Science, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

Whaddaya' know, gravity smiles from the aptly named Cheshire Cat galaxy group, in the constellation Ursa Major.

It is due to gravitational lensing, predicted by Albert Einstein's theory of General Relativity and when scientists and engineers devised the technology to observe it another confirming piece of evidence. The link lists and discusses all the tests of this powerful theory. The number might surprise you and also is a demonstration of the relentlessness of scientists to stress test theories.

Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) features and discusses "Gravity's Grin."

Friday, May 13, 2022

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler 

Today's poem is by Laurie-Anne Bosselaar.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

3D Female Human Anatomy Models

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Medicine, Health

Ed Hessler

I wish this clip from the BBC (1m 23s) on a new 3D female anatomy model was several minutes longer but it provides an idea of some of the differences between the anatomy of men and women. This, it turns out, has important and long-overlooked implications - a few are noted - for women who come to a physician for routine checks, concerns as well as for the accuracy of a diagnosis and recommended treatment. The model is currently being used in two medical schools in the UK: Brighton and Sussex Medical School. What lovely creatures we are at this basic structural level.

For more on such models see this press release from the UMass Chan Medical School about anatomist Yasmin Carter who played a lead role in the design of a 3D female anatomy teaching model. It includes a video, too. And here is a page about that model from the publisher, Elsevier.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Green Roof: Beating the Heat in Delhi

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

Ed Hessler

As you know India is sweltering with temperatures above 100 common. In April, the maximum in the capital city of Delhi averaged more than 104 degrees.

In this short video (1m 24s) from the BBC, is shown a climate adaptation designed by a tuk-tuk driver in Delhi.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022


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

Ed Hessler

ZeFrank has a new video about sea stars.

By now you know that some like his humor, some dislike it strongly, finding the remarks obnoxious and at times not family friendly. I don't like his humor in general but I still watch because the videos are darn good and scientifically accurate. They also have a base in his conversations with experts and the literature.

Okay. You've been warned and are on your own.

Please scan the comments for further views, mostly complimentary but it is hardly a random sample.

This entry is a long one - 18m 37s, which gives you an idea from the outset that these ocean critters are complex. ZeFrank gives nature its due.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Climate and The World's Food Systems: World Food Prize Laureate 2022

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Agriculture, Sustainability

Ed Hessler 

Goats and Soda (NPR) has a story about Dr. Cynthia Rosenzweig who was named the 2022 World Food Prize Laureate "for her wok to determine the impact of climate change on worldwide food production.

Julia Simon who reported the story noted that "one big question" has informed Rosenzweig's research: "'So What?'" It is an important question with its implications for all of us.

After a brief introduction which provides some details about her scientific life, an interview with Dr. Rosensweig follows. It includes these topics: what has most surprised her, her use of models,when she realized that climate change is the most significant threat to earth's food systems, a question asked by a farmer in Northern Nigeria, stakeholder - riven research, eco-anxiety, her unwillingness to consider the idea of failure and her life-long enthusiasm, how she intends to use the prize money ($250,000 US).

You will also find some links in the story which you may read here.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

3m 05s With A Great Horned Owl Chick

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

Ed Hessler

I couldn't resist posting this short video from CBS Sunday Morning's Nature series in which we spend some time with a Great Horned Owl chick with occasional clips of a parent as well. 

The adults are large and so beautifully colored--20, 30, 40 50 shades of brown to begin with other cosmetic-like colors added. These owls are eaters of almost everything, real omnivores.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Frost On A Windowshield

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

Ed Hessler

A University of Colorado physicist whom I knew - now deceased - used to take pictues of frost and snow patterns as he walked to his office and laboratory. He then wrote articles about the physics of the patterns and what they revealed about conditions creating the patterns as well as what influenced their development overnight..

An image from Earth Science Picture of the Day (EPOD) brought those pleasant memories to the surface. It is of melting frost on a windshield and the explanation is clear. And the crystals are shown in various states: melted, in-between and full crystals. The crystal shapes are very intricate, not having the six-sided symmetry of three-dimensional snow crystals.

Great links as well of related crystals and student links add much to the explanation.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Fiiday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Science 

Ed Hessler

For a while I've been considering dropping the preliminary material. Dive right into to the poem. Today is the day. It is not that I'm disinterested in what I've included but the poem is the purpose...

What I'm most interested in posting, it's central purpose, are poems. The other stuff seems a distraction.

Today's poem is by Marc Alan Di MartinoAmazon provides basic information about him and also links to his books.

I hope this better late than never is just that.

Split the Universe!

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Astronomy, Cosmology, Earth & Space Science

Ed Hessler

This entry from Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) is about a thought experiment in quantum mechanics--a paradox-- first considered by the immensely talented theoretical physicist, Erwin Schrodinger. It became known as Schrodinger's cat.

The APOD crew close the accompanying explanation--well-linked, including one to the 25th birthday celebration for APOD, a must see, and a silly button, again not to be missed-- by saying "regardless of the outcome, you should have a thought-provoking day. Or two." No question about that!

And I because I need more help in understanding this even the surface features so I turned to theoretician, Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder who in this 11m 08s video is a guide to the territory. And here is the same video with a transcript from her blog, BackReaction.  

For another view see Nobel Prize winner (2021) Roger Penrose  in a discussion with psychologist Jordan Peterson about the physics of consciousness. It includes comments on the wave collapse. (video 6m 33s).  Regardless, these explanations will likely still leave you squeezing and scratching your forehead but it does reveal the complexity of nature and some of the difficulties at understanding at the level of quantum physics. I think it is impossible without knowing and being able to do the maths with some adroitness.                           

Thursday, May 5, 2022

After the Flames

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Sustainability, Global Change, Nature, Wildlife, Biodiversity, Climate Change

Ed Hessler

Wildfires have become a commonplace worldwide and are becoming more frequent. These fires have consequences, ones that do not receive as much airtime as the event.

This video (9m 01s) is an introduction to the research of Dr. Amir AghaKouchak who, with his graduate and post-doctoral students is doing research on what happens after the flames in the hills of California.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Strandbeest Evolution as of 2021

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler 

The evolutionary development of the mechanical sculptures known as Strandbeest is updated by their creator Theo Jansen in this short, soothing, marvelous video (4m 30s) for the year 2021. I sometimes want to think of them as a new form of life!

The Jansen link includes a family tree of the Streenbeast design evolution, each with an appropriate two-part name (a binomial). The fall and winter creations are tested in the spring and summer and modified in response to their environmental behavior. 

It may be tempting to make an analogy between Jansen's spring/summer interventions which are common engineering practices and with Darwinian ideas for the mechanism of adaptive evolution. So to be short, even abrupt: Don't! I'm not going to further explain but a few links are provided below if you are interested.

Here are a few differences: there is no blueprint in envisioned, the aim is not optimality but about getting genes into the next generation, natural selection works with what is at hand (relentless tinkering;as Darwin put it "the variations are relentlessly scrutinized"), individuals do not evolve but populations do.  Jansen is able to directly intervenes on a single machine, not a population of them, replacing/removing/modifying parts, able to immediately observe the effects, making further changes when necessary with a specific aim in mind. achieve the vision he had in mind.

For starters see this, this, and from the University of California Understanding Evolution website. selection.

Jansen notes that "at summer's end the Strandbeest are declared extinct," with some of the parts pitched into the "boneyard," becoming "fossils." You can see some of the fossils at his website where they are for sale.


Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Dino Poop Detective

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Geology, Earth Systems, Paleontology

University of Colorado Department of Geological Sciences professor Dr. Karen Chin is a hunter for fossilized dinosaur feces, known as coprolites. She uses them to study their diet, the conditions under which they were preserved and to learn about ancient paleo communities and ecosystems.

Science Friday presented her work on how she studies the deep past using coprolites on The Macroscope (video 7m 01s).

Monday, May 2, 2022

Mosquito Time

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Nature, Wildlife, Evolutionary Biology

Ed Hessler

Mosquitoes are getting anxious so some True Facts about The Mosquito by Ze Frank (October 9, 2021) are not likely outdated although the thought of them is one you might wish to defer.

Here is a long one (17m 10s), but in mosquito country it is both necessary and worth the time. When Ze Frank talks mosquitoes he means mosquitoes.

You know all about Ze Frank so you are on your own, including reading the comments with their usual range from informed to uninformed. I find some gross; others find them funny. And I'm not, as you know, a great fan of his humor but I am a fan of the accuracy of these videos which are deeply researched.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

2021 Sky

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Astronomy, Earth & Space Science, Solar System

Ed Hessler

Days and nights arrive and leave. What do a year's worth of them look like when combined?

In 2021, a skycam took a photo of the skies overhead every 15 minutes and then, I assume, powerful computers took over and created a picture of the entire year. It is revealing and provided me a new way to think about the overhead, e.g., as a dark hour glass embedded in a palette of fading blues.

The image is featured, with an explanation, on Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD). Run your cursor across it to read the labels

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Two Resources for Creating Wildlife Gardens

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

Cornell University's Laboratory of Ornithology announced a downloadable guide entitle "Creating a Garden for Birds"--basic design considerations.

The announcement also included tips on keeping a nature friendly yard "wild," planned to keep it from "running wild" or looking that way.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

Good morning from the Center for Global Environmental Education, Hamline University, Saint. Paul, MN on April 29, 2022, the 119th day of the year, its 17th week. and in one more unit: 24.11% of 2022. Sunrise is at 6.04 am and sunset at 8:15 pm giving us 14h 11m 00s of sunlight.

For Foodimentary it is National Shrimp Scampi Day with a photo, 5 food finds about shrimp scampi and some events in food history.  National Day, calls our attention to National Zipper Day ("Automatic Continuous Clothing Closure") and has a short zip through its history where you can learn why KKK is sometimes found on a zipper pull and the origin of the quote I included.

Quote. Truth in science can be defined as the working hypothesis best suited to open the way to the next better one. -- Konrad Lorenz, shared the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine award with Karl von Frisch and Nikolaas Tinbergen.

Today's poem is by D. Nurske.


Thursday, April 28, 2022


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

Ed Hessler

Here is an interactive from the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology on the multi-functional "clothing" birds wear.  Their uses are amazing, all of them the products of evolution! 

It is, just as advertised, All About Feathers and you can participate in this lesson from the Bird Academy..

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Spring Warblers

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

Ed Hessler

A small wood filled with spring warblers is shown in this video (6m 39s) from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to "help celebrate the imminent arrival of spring migrants" (upstate New York). We are taken there by two ornithologists, Jessie Barry and Chris Wood who share tips on birding and warbler-watching.

Whether you know any of these birds or all of them I think you will be captivated by their color, diversity and especially by seeing so many of them in such a small place. Barry and Wood call attention to the value of these habitat patches. They are not to be dismissed as they provide resting and "fueling" stations as the birds migrate to their northern summer homes.

There is a link to a map and a full list of what they found (66 species, 430 individuals), including a few notes about some of them. 

Whether "pishing" is a term new or old to you here is an interesting article on "pishing." It raises some interesting ethical questions as well as tells you birds for which it is most useful. 

Happy warbling!

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The Journal Nature's Science Image Gallery for March

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Art and Science.

The journal Nature's Science Image Gallery--the best of March--obviously has been open for a while but not here so now that April is nearly past, it is time time to open. These were taken and selected by Nature's photo team.

Admission is free and it is open all hours. As usual,the museum labels are very helpful., one of the reasons I enjoy this exhibition so much.

Take a look here.

Monday, April 25, 2022

A Dog's-Eye View of Climate Change

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Climate Change, Global Change, Biodiversity, Nature

Ed Hessler

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE)culminated its #ClimateEdNOw campaign on Earth Day 2022. Part of the campaign included short essays by scientists, educators, authors, and science fans "about the critical importance of honest, effective, and immediate climate change education."

Two contributors were from Minnesota: Greg Simons, Science Department Chair at Shattuck-St..Mary's School, Faribault and John Abraham, professor of thermal science at the University of St. Thomas. In addition, U. S. Representative Sean Casten (D - Illinois) contributed a short video (39 s).

The very last but certainly not least commentary is by Buster, the NCSE staff dog and Director of Fun. He provides  "a dog's -eye view of climate change" that remind us of its ever multiplying ripple effects as it reshapes the Earth's landscapes, atmosphere, waters and oceans.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

From the Historical Record About Picture Books.

Environmental & Science Education, Literacy, Children, Early Childhood

Ed Hessler

I'd never seen this proclamation about picture books by authors and illustrators. It includes a list of belief statements and what the writers and illustrators condemn and declare. There are 22 signers (provided I counted accurately). One of them, Carson Ellis, illustrated and hand letter the proclamation.

It was written in 2011. Yikes!

Publisher's Weekly has a story about its development.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

A Day In The Life Of A Wolf

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

Ed Hessler

Many of us would like to know how critters spend their time day-by-day, hour -by-hour, even minute-by-minute.  With the advent of smaller and smaller recording devices, sometimes on animals, sometimes on permanent cameras in their habitats we can, including night-watching (infra-red). All of these are relatively non-intrusive data collection methods.

MPR posted a story and video (25m 34s) about one day-in-the life of a wolf (photos taken every 5 minutes). By the way it was 91 degrees that day. The accompanying story provides some details about the day, what the wolf did, including travel long distances, and eat. Additionally, it includes a brief history of the technology that allows us to do this.

The wolf is named O2L.

And if you want to dig a little deeper, this report from the Minnesota DNR on wolf populations in the state is a start.
Even with these limited data, one day, one wolf, one season, one sex you could, if you wanted, develop a time-activity budget, the time the wolf spent during the day on different activities, e.g., grooming, feeding, moving, inactivity, etc. This would require considerable viewing of the tape and deciding on categories; checking and re-checking. The resulting pattern is what is known as an ethogram

But to develop an ethogram for the general category of wolf is a much different matter and would require an inordinate amount of observational and analytical work. You would want males, females, juveniles, seasonal information, and time. I turn our attention to an ethogram developed for a closely related species, Indian stray or free-ranging dogs which provides an idea of what is involved.

The research is briefly reported on by animal behaviorist Raghavendra Gadagkar in his column, More Fun than Fun which he writes for The Wire (October 13, 2021). It is titled What Do Dogs (and Other Animals) Do All Day and All Night?
"The ethogram," Gadagkar reported" came from the combined observations of all the members of (the) ‘Dog Lab’ for 12 years. ... the latest count for the total number of unique dog behaviours is 177 – and counting. But the time-activity budgets were (developed using) the method of instantaneous scanning (described earlier in the column and developed by Gdagkar). Her data constitutes 5,669 sightings over one year.

To make these sightings, Arunita (a graduate student) walked day and night, in predetermined routes and at randomly chosen spots, in several suburban regions of West Benga..... Whenever she saw a dog, she noted, initially in her pocket notebook and later on her phone, the age, sex and behaviour of the dog as well as the date, time and location of the sighting. The observational design included great attention to sampling methods to avoid bias.

The time budget (ethogram) was developed using the sightings and (I love this) "clever statistical techniques," which I translate as gritty work. Gadagkar spares us those details.

You may be interested in the most common activity category: inactivity. It was commonly thought that the dogs were nocturnal, creatures of the night. Turns out they are equal opporunity users of a day, dividing their activity time about equally between day and night.

In closing, Raghavendra Gadagkar comments on how this research might be used as well as inform us on what science is, i.e., its nature. He writes, " Clearly, a scientific understanding of dogs will tell us much – not only about dogs and how we should adapt to them but also about evolution in general and domestication in particular. Being found everywhere and easy to observe and experiment with, dogs are well-suited for both basic research in ethology and behavioural ecology and to produce knowledge relevant to society, especially in the context of human-animal conflict. And yet, so few scientists in India study dogs. Part of the reason seems to be that we have a very narrow definition of what is respectable science and even of science itself."

Some of these comments find parallels in the study above reported on the day in the life of a wolf. The column closes with a lovely statement "about the passionate young researchers being trained in the dog lab" and I add ditto for the wolf researchers here in Minnesota. "May their tribe flourish!" 

The first part of the essay must be read if you find yourself taken with this kind of research, The author describes his own careful PhD. research on insects in the "wild" of a garden and what what was involved and how he did it, including his effort to keep his own biases from intruding. 

Wiki has an entry about the author in which he and his work is described. He is a scientist of some accomplishment.



Friday, April 22, 2022

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment, Sustainability, Climate Change, Global Change

Ed Hessler

Good morning from the Center for Global Environmental Education (CGEE), Hamline University, Saint Paul, MN on April 22, 2022 - Earth Day - the 12th day and 16th week of the year (30.68%). Sunrise occurs at 6:15 am with sunset at 8:07 pm which means we will have 13h 51m 07s of sunlight.

Foodimentary celebrates National Jelly Bean Day about which you can see photographs, read some facts and food history. I once worked with a wonderful and talented laboratory technician at Cornell University fond of saying to everyone, "Whaddya' mean, jelly bean?!" One historical item has some local significance, the birth of Cadwallader C. Washburn in Livermore, Maine. It was in 1866 that he built a flour mill at St. Anthony Falls, Minnesota. The Washburn-Crosby Co. (forerunner of General Mills) would market Gold Medal flour.  National Day features Earth Day with its usual story full of information.
Google Doodle. Today's Doodle "addresses one of the most pressing topics" for all members of Earth: climate change. The Doodle uses "real-time imagery from Google Earth Timelapse and other sources," to show "the impact of climate change across four different locales around our planet:" Mt. Kilimanjaro (Tanzania), Sermersooq (Greenland), Great Barrier Reef (Australia), and Harz Forests (Elend, Germany). Each of the scenes will remain on the homepage for several hours at a time so tune in throughout the day to view them.
Photograph. I couldn't resist Snowosaurus, taken in Chicago following a recent heavy snowfall. It reminded me of installations of sculptor Andy Goldsworthy many of which use ephemeral materials, including snow/ice.

Quote. Nature is relentless and unchangeable, and it is indifferent as to whether its hidden reasons and actions are understandable to man or not. - Galileo Galilei 

Today's poem is by Ted Kooser.
h/t WEIT for the photograph of Snowosaurus.


Thursday, April 21, 2022

"It Is Our Duty To Keep Our Environment Clea"n

Environmental & Science Education, Sustainability, Pollution

Ed Hessler

"Spider-Man...Spider-Man, does whatever a...street cleaner can. 

A BBC video (2m 52s) features Nigerian environmentalist Jonathan Olakunle dressed as "Marvel Comics superhero Spider-Man to help clean up some of his city's Osogbo streets and enlist others to keep them clean and also to spread the message and action.

And here is a newspaper feature about him published in The Cable.

What a superhero!-- informed, passionate, doing what he can to be a good citizen and neighbor. He packs a powerful message, too.

Mufti = traditional clothing seen while he is cleaning at his home.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Our Early Years

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Anthropology, Nature of Science, History of Science, Biological Evolution, Climate Change, Global Change

Ed Hessler

There is now evidence that climate change played a role in the evolution of humans according to a post  in NatureBriefing for April 13, 2022. It is based on "a record-breaking simulation (see below) that temperature and other planetary conditions influenced early human migration -- and possibly contributed to the emergence of the modern-day human species around 300,000 years ago."

Freda Kreier wrote a short story about it in Nature with a more modest subtitle, one I prefer. "model suggests that a shift in weather patterns in southern Africa might have contributed to the rise of Homo sapiens" (that's us). The article has a link to the research paper in Nature, available to read, including a PDF. It is technical but you may be interested in parts of this paper.

Among the items included in Kreier's reporting are the following. The idea is not new. You may recall the debate about "walking on two feet, to adapt to life on the savanna." However, the evidence is not strong at all.

The computer climate model - took a supercomputer six months for the reconstruction of the influence of "temperature and rainfall might have shaped" available resources "to humans over the past few million years." The model's focus is on the earth's orbit during this time." Earth is subject to "the push and pull of other planets "changing both the planet's tilt, and the shape of its orbit. These occur in well known cycles of 40,000 and 100,000 years and the planet's orbit changes from "having a more circular orbit -- which brings more sunlight and longer summers -- to having a more elliptical orbit, which reduces sunlight and can lead to periods of glacial formation."

You can imagine the amount of data generated in a "simulation that incorporated these astronomical changes, and combined their results with thousands of fossils ... to work out where and when six species of humans...could have lived." Kreier quotes the lead researcher, Axel Timmerman on what they found. "'The global collection of skulls and stools is not randomly distributed in time. It follows a pattern."

You'd be also right in thinking that not everyone agrees. Kreier notes that Tyler Faith's response to the research was "'To make the case that a particular climate event led to a speciation event is really hard.'" Kreier continues that this is due "in part because of gaps in the fossil and genetic record."

Kreier closes this fascinating bit of reporting by writing "Most researchers that spoke to Nature say that more evidence will be needed to prove that astronomical cycles influenced the trajectory of human ancestry. 'If solving the mystery of climate change and human evolution could be dealt with in one paper, it would have been done 40 years ago,' Faith says.

"Which is why Timmermann and his colleagues are planning to run even larger models, including ones that integrate genetic data."

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Is Nuclear Power Green?

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

Ed Hessler 

I'd been hoping that theoretical physicist and freelance popular science writer, Sabine Hossenfelder would comment on nuclear power. 

She has and covers considerable energy territory, especially renewables. Her real question is whether nuclear power is green. I appreciate how she initiates her remarks especially on how she has organized her comments.

"A lot of people have asked me to do a video about nuclear power. But that turned out to be really difficult. You won’t be surprised to hear that opinions about nuclear power are extremely polarized and every source seems to have an agenda to push. Will nuclear power help us save the environment and ourselves, or is it too dangerous and too expensive? Do thorium reactors or the small modular ones change the outlook? Is nuclear power green? That’s what we’ll talk about today.

"I want to do this video a little differently so you know where I’m coming from. I’ll first tell you what I thought about nuclear power before I began working on this video. Then we’ll look at the numbers, and in the end, I’ll tell you if I’ve changed my mind." (emphasis mine)

As usual it may be viewed and read on her blog, BackReaction and also on YouTube (22m 46s). This is long, I know but hey the territory deserves and requires it. I always find the transcripts illuminating although I can read them more quickly than listening to them  but I find the transcripts are immensely useful.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Two For Earth Week 2022

Earth & Space Science, STEM, Nature, Wildlife, Biodiversity

Ed Hessler

1) For Earth Day, 2020, Ze Frank of True Facts presented a short video (5m 38s) for PBS (!) entitled If The Earth Gave Earth Day awards. It has some saucy bits but this is ZeFrank. You are on your own.

Of course, scan the comments for some viewer reactions (1217 of 526,082 views).

I don't know whether Ze Frank and PBS have other events planned. I certainly keep hoping.

2) I recently discovered HERE: Poems for the Planet (Copper Canyon Press), edited by Elizabeth Coleman. This diverse collection is by poets from many nations and cultural traditions is divided into 5 sections.

--Where You'd Want to Come From: Poems for the Planet (about the beauty of earth)

--The Gentle Light That Vanishes: Our Endangered World (the first of two sections are about the "mutilated world," a phrase from the title of a poem by Adam Zagjewski)

--As If They'd Never Been: Poems for the Animals

-- The Ocean Within Them: Voices of Young People (written when the poets were between 6 and 18 years old)

--Like You Are New to the World: From Inspiration to Action (poems to energize)

At the end of the collection is an activist's guide written by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Here is a poem from the section The Ocean Within Them by Mary Anne Clarke. Composer Sarah Rimkus scored it and here her composition is presented by the Nazareth College Chamber Choir (the organization which commissioned it).  Cornell has ornithological information about the poem's subject, the Arctic Tern.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Star Formation

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Cosmology

Ed Hessler 

If you would like to know where stars form, Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) discusses the process in the Eagle Nebula, a spectacular body of interstellar clouds. It is 7,000 light years out. Here is the Wiki entry on nebulas.

The Hubble Space Telescope made visible an area known as the Pillars of Creation an area of active star formation, features that might remind you of geologic features known as stalagmites. There is the usual explanation and the links are really worth taking time to visit. This is not the first APOD entry of the Eagle Nebula.

You can see the APOD image here.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Biography of the Star Earendel

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Cosmology, Universe, Astrophysics, History of Science, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler (CfA

Edges--habitat, ecosystem, geographic, planetary, solar system are fascinating and complex places where boundaries are not so clear as those drawn with pen and pencil. One of the most puzzling to non-scientists is the so-called edge of the universe. It is still puzzling to scientists but differently.  Everything in our personal experience, well, almost, has edges so the universe must have one so our logic goes. So what is it like there and, of course, what is beyond this edge? Again, personal experience tells us that there is always something beyond an edge. 

Here is a brief answer to this cosmic question from Harvard's Center for  Astrophysics (CfA), Theoretical astro-physicist Ethan Siegel calls attention to an edge but it is different from what we expect. See his post on this question on his blog "Starts With a Bang." And here I'll stop since I'm already way beyond my paygrade, a way of saying my understanding or its possibility.

Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) in one of its posts provides insight without ever mentioning such a question by focusing on data about the star Earendel which "may be the farthest star yet discovered." The labeled photo and explanation are top-of-the line and what a story it is, one of curiosity. science, technology, engineering, computing, and evidence based on current data.


Friday, April 15, 2022

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

Good morning from the Center for Environmental Education at Hamline University, Saint, Paul, MN on April 15, day 96 (13 weeks 5 days, 26.30%) of 2022. Sunrise is at 6:27 am and sunset is at 7:58 pm giving this part of the world 13h 30m 25s of daylight. It is chilly, temperature well below average.
We've experience a curious weather pattern, starting usually mid-week which is now four weeks old with a mix of several varieties of precipitation accompanied by cooler temperatures lasting for several days. The difference this week is the weather maker, described by Sven Sundgaard, MPR on April 14 as"an intense spring storm with tornadoes and a blizzard all within the Upper Midwest."

Today National Day notes that it is National Tax Day  while Foodimentary draws our attention to National Glazed Ham Day with a lovely photograph, some facts (e.g., Hormel, Austin, MN sold the first canned ham in 1926) and food history (e.g., New York State was the first state to fund a study of insects harmful to plants in 1854.).

Quote. Our new Constitution is now established, everything seems to promise it will be durable; but, in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes. --Benjamin Franklin (letter to French scientist Jean-Baptiste Le Roy, November 1789

Today's poem is by Bin Ramke.


Thursday, April 14, 2022

Kitchen Physics

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Cosmology, Astrophysics

Ed Hessler 

Turns out your toaster can teach you some basics about the universe especially if you have a guide..

In this BBC Ideas video (3m 09s) the elements of a toaster glow orange but not blue and what this tells us about our endlessly fascinating universe.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The Origin of "Theories" (Hypotheses)


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

Ed Hessler

Many science educators work very hard at trying to get students to restrict the casual everyday use of the term theory - a substitute for a hypothesis to real scientific theories, those that have been tested and for which there is evidence. Scientists are seldom so vexed and violate this all the time.

A case in point is this article in Symmetry by Sarah Charley titled "Where Do Theories Come From?"  Here, e.g., theoretian Dorota Grabowska talking about how she does this. Note she uses the correct term about the early stage of the game when one is coming up with ideas to study, conduct an experiment likely to reveal useful evidence or explain something. It is one I found interesting and one not often thought of outside the sciences: the need to know and read the academic literature.

"If someone is serious about developing a new hypothesis, Grabowska recommends they hit the books. “'There is such a massive base of knowledge that it can be hard for someone who hasn't been soaking in the academic physics world to judge the validity of their idea,” Grabowska says. 'It’s difficult to come up with a new idea if you don’t know what has already been conceived, tested and discarded. It has nothing to do with innate talent.'” 

Theorist Sophie Renner concurs, starting "her workday by going online and checking, a continually updated online repository of research papers. 'I’ll skim the titles and abstracts and see if there’s anything I want to read more deeply.'”  But, as Charley notes Renner’s work is not yet complete. Once she has a solid idea, Renner thinks about the best way to articulate it. 'I can only really understand it once I can put it into words.' She condenses the meandering journey into a clear and concise narrative. This can be miles from where she originally started, as often even the question itself has evolved.'You have to understand what questions have been asked and answered before, and where there are gaps to be filled in.'

"During this part of the process, Renner shifts her focus to other theorists and how they might interpret her work. 'I might understand it like this, but is this the best way to present it to my reader. And if I’m going to make this point, what plots and data do I need to make it as clear as it can be? This is the process—to get to the point where it seems easy.' She collaborates with other theorists to work out the details and draft a scientific paper. Then she submits their work to, where even more theorists (and experimentalists) will come across it, perhaps as they peruse the site while having their morning coffee. And the process will start anew."If you are interested in how these kinds of ideas originate at least among theoretical/experimental physicists, read it in full. 
It's fun, downright fascinating to learn more about the early stages of an idea to one that eventually coalesces into an hypothesis..something useful in research.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Theoretical Physicist Sabine Hossenfelder: Short Interview

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, History of Science, Nature of Science, Cosmology

Ed Hessler

Over at 3 Quarks Daily, S. Abbas Raza posted an interview with theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder. The video is 17m 35s.

Hossenfelder gave a  public lecture at the University of Minnesota in October 2019 which I was unable to attend. She had recently published a book that created a stir among many theoretical physicists, titled Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray, released in June 2018 (Basic Books).

Almost at the outset of this interview she again clarifies what she meant but in addition she talks briefly about her current research, philosophy and science about which she knows a great deal but unlike many scientists thinks that philosophy can play an important role (not, of course, as a research guide or the last word but on how science is done, communication with general audiences and makes some fascinating comparisons between blogging and visual presentations - she does both, noting the advantages of each and their limitations and shares her views on so-called theories of everything (TOE).

I'm grateful to S. Abbas Raza for calling attention to this video which I doubt I would have ever found.