Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Can and Bottle Top Art

Image result for can art

Environmental & Science Education
Reduce Reuse Recycle
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

I almost winced as I watched Zimbabwe artist Manners Mukuwiri snip an aluminum can which he then turned into art or as he put it, "I make crafts out of cans and bottle tops." Those edges are paper-cut sharp.

Crafts he says. Art I say.

Monday, April 29, 2019

"Listen to Climate Scientists"

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Environmental & Science Education
Climate Change
Edward Hessler

I'm fairly confident that all of you have heard (or heard of) Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist, a phenom, speak about climate change. She is informed, compelling, articulate and serious.

I hope you will listen to her again.

This short talk (~3 minutes) includes personal comments in addition to her typically insightful comments about the importance of climate change to humans...to the global communities of plants and other animals.  It is also an introduction  to the following.

As you know, Thunberg has been both celebrated ("Go girl.") and criticized ("Just an excuse for missing school.") by politicians. Climate scientists are insofar as I know uniform in their response: "Thank you among many others," e.g., Michael Mann, Katherine Kahoe and others.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Levi's The Periodic Table

Image result for primo leviEnvironmental & Science Education
History of Science
Nature of Science
Edward Hessler

As you know 2019 is the International Year of the Periodic Table of the Elements

I recommend a book that is not about the periodic table but uses a number of elements as a way of introducing meditations on the author's life and career. There is not much about chemistry but the book includes ideas about the nature of chemical science as well as its history. The book is Primo Levi's The Periodic Table (PT), a book I think is a masterpiece.

I had a copy for many years but no longer. I hope it is in holdings of a college in Africa (Books for Africa), a result of a major house and office cleaning. I almost kept it but didn't and mostly I'm glad for I'd like others to read it. I also hope it is being read.

Primo Levi took his Ph.D. in chemistry and then practiced chemistry in industry. He is also a survivor of Auschwitz (#174517) and has written about that year of cruelty which is unimaginable from the time he was captured to when the camp collapsed, notably in If This is a Man, but PT includes some references to his time there.

To help you decide whether you want to take time to read it, the book was recently reviewed in Nature by Tim Radford who reviewed it in 1985, ten years after its publication. He thought the book was "gold." Radford still does and believes that it will be relevant and read 100 years from then.

The following quote from Radford's splendid review may give you of how Levi makes use of the elements in his reflections. A for Argon and Zn for Zinc are described.

Levi was born in Turin in 1919. What narrative there is begins with his ancestry, peopled by individuals “noble, inert and rare”, but poor compared with “other illustrious Jewish communities in Italy and Europe”. The story is ‘Argon’, from the Greek for inactive. His memories of barbe and magne (uncles and aunts in the dialect of his native region, Piedmont) become a reflection on words, in Hebrew and Yiddish too. The links between obdurate matter and precarious survival become more intimate with time, as he graduates, begins a career, finds ways just to stay alive. The realization that zinc samples must be impure to yield to acid triggers an insight into the importance of difference and the new place of the Jewish people in fascist Italy under Benito Mussolini, who ruled from 1922 to 1943.

Here is the Radford review.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

How Much Do You Know About Science?

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Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

From the Pew Research Center, a quiz on science facts and applications.

"Test your knowledge of science facts and applications of scientific principles by taking our 11-question quiz. When you finish, you will be able to compare your scores with the average American and compare responses across demographic groups. Our nationally representative poll of 4,464 randomly selected U.S. adults was conducted on Pew Research Center's American Trends Panel between Jan. 7 and Jan. 21, 2019."

The quiz includes access to the full report.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019


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Environmental & Science Education
Nature of Science
Edward Hessler

If you are a tweeter or a mere "listener" there is a new Twitter feed you might want to check out if you are interested in medical/biomedical reporting.

Four days after starting a new Twitter account and some 11 tweets and 40,000 followers later, James Heathers talked with Shraddha Chakradkar of STAT Morning Round about @justsaysinmicer. Each tweet is labeled at the top IN MICE.

Why he started the account: “Just find any press release on EurekAlert! or Medical Xpress or one of those. And see how long [into the story] it takes you to figure out animal research. And when it directly affects people a lot of the time — in my estimation at least — it’s too damn low.”
On the account going viral: “There’s lots of people yelling ‘in mice’ in their heads — it’s just more than I thought it was.”
The takeaway: “I hope people think it’s funny, and I hope it helps. That’s it.” Heathers is a methodology and data scientist at Northeastern University in Boston.

Chakradkar's complete interview is found here where you will find a link to IN MICE.

A good idea!

Monday, April 22, 2019

Earth Day 2019

Image result for airplaneEnvironmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler


Flying for business or pleasure is taken for granted and we seldom consider its effects. It is not an insignificant contributor to increasing the load of atmospheric carbon dioxide. We can do something about this.

Offsets are one remedy that work. 

By the way, the primary purpose of using carbon offsets is not to keep people from flying although I think can lead to considering important questions about the necessity of a trip, e.g.., would a video/Skype conference work or can two trips be bundled into one, etc. The idea is to reduce harm. Other policy mechanisms are available that would increase the pressure (economic) to fly less, e.g., a high price on carbon.

Recently environmental ethicist Christopher Preston (Philosophy Department, University of Montana) considered four arguments that skeptics raise about whether offsets make a difference.

One. Offsets allow the wealthy to continue their polluting ways while easing their guilt. This is true but the idea is to "shrink the harm."

Two. Offsets don't work. Offsets don't account for all of the carbon. There are organizations "that are independently certified to provide precisely...assurances" on the efficacy of offsets. 

Three. Offsets contribute to global injustice. "The painful reality of climate change is that the people suffering the greatest burdens are typically those who are least responsible and least economically equipped" to carbon reduction efforts. However, carbon offsets "are on the right side of the moral ledger." They represent an investment, "a transfer of wealth--albeit a small one--from the rich to the poor."

Four. Offsets don't contribute to behavior change and encourage our "wasteful ways." Sure. They are a "yes and no," but "paying for a carbon offset indicates a willingness to put your money where your mouth is." ... "Restored and protected forests , methane capture projects, and solar and wind farms are a statement about a certain kind of future."

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BUT, there is always a but. There are conditions which must be practiced because offsets are "a stop-gap measure."

A. Effort toward reducing our own carbon footprints including persuading "elected officials to pursue a less carbon intensive path."

B. Be skeptical about the efficacy of offsets. Here it is alright to overcompensate: purchase "25 or 50 percent more offsets than the trip demands."

C. Recognize that this is not an individual effort. "Nothing you can do is going to come close to what corporations and governments must accomplish on a far larger scale." (my emphasis)

Preston's essay was published in Ensia which includes links to organizations certified for quality assurance of offset purchases.

Google Doodle celebrates Earth Day 2019, #49.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Predation: Being Successful and Unsuccessful

Image result for desert rattlesnakeEnvironmental & Science Education
Biological Evolution
Edward Hessler

I've run across two of the videos below several times. They show encounters between rattlesnakes, the common sidewinder, and kangaroo rats. The research was done by a team from UC-Riverside, San Diego State University, and UC-Davis. The team includes two PhD candidates. Two papers describing the research have been published but the one I have full access to was published in Functional Ecology (March 27, 2019). 

This link may not be available to you--I don't know the limits of my access through Hamline University. I hope that access extends to you because you can read how the work was done as well as the research design. The good news is that the University of California-Riverside press release is available to one and all. It is by Igbal Pittalwala, and includes links to the four videos from this paper (+ 3 more), more information, and photographs of the research team.

In the introduction to this paper, the authors note that "Many snakes are sit‐and‐wait predators that may be particularly amenable to field observations in this context due to their tractability in radiotracking and field videography ; such species could serve as a model system for understanding factors that affect the dynamics of sit‐and‐wait predator–prey interactions. Rattlesnakes (Crotalus spp.) are classic ambush predators that hunt by remaining nearly motionless in hiding for prolonged periods. Rattlesnakes occasionally consume kangaroo rats (Dipodomys spp.), common desert‐dwelling mammals renowned for their explosive antipredator jumping ability. Interactions between rattlesnakes and kangaroo rats follow the typical pattern of sit‐and‐wait predation: a snake waits in ambush to strike at prey that gets too close, at which point the prey either is struck or initiates a successful evasive manoeuvre." (Literature citations removed.) 

The results section of the paper begins with some fundamental findings. A total of 32 strikes were recorded from 13 snakes (1–3 per snake, median = 3 observations/snake), 15 of which resulted in bite. Of the 15 bitten kangaroo rats, 8 avoided subjugation (survived without apparent effect of envenomation) and 7 died from envenomation and were consumed by snakes. Of the 17 misses, 6 were inaccurate strikes and 11 were accurate strikes that missed due to the kangaroo rat moving out of the way prior to the snake being able to embed its fangs.

The paper's title is Determinants of Predation Success: How to Survive an Attack from a Rattlesnake. Reaction times indicate that speed is one factor.
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The authors found that "snake attacks spanned < 308 ms (milliseconds) in our study," while "reaction times to rattlesnakes spanned from 40-160ms." You may wonder about the difference. The authors propose a hypothesis. "It is possible that this dramatic difference in reaction times results from snakes using strike movements that minimize sound or air disturbance, resulting in a more delayed reaction when compared to a less 'camouflaged' rapid attack. More empirical work is necessary to address this hypothesis experimentally."
The second paper published in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society (27 March 2019) focuses on the evasion of rattlesnake bites. The abstract to the paper concludes "In general, our findings support the idea that bipedalism, which has evolved independently in several desert rodent lineages might be favoured because it allows for rapid and power vertical leaps that are crucial for avoiding ambush predators, such as vipers and owls."
Igbal Katalawa's press release is found here. As you watch the films you may end up calling the Kangaroo Rats, as others have, "Ninja Rats." They are adept at swiftly kicking rattlesnakes.


Friday, April 19, 2019

Friday Poem

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Environmental & Science Education
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

It is National Poetry Month.

I don't think I've said that yet.

Time's a-wastin', time to say it out loud (Gimmee an "N",...a "P", an "M".... Whaddaya' got? National Poetry Month), time for two poems.

Juan Felipe Herrera (with bio).

Delmore Schwartz. Here is a biography from New Directions.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

A Wee Beastie

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Environmental & Science Education
Biological Evolution
Edward Hessler

Katherine Rundell (London Review of Books) asks us to consider the "golden mole." I'm so glad she did. It is an amazing creature.

I'd never heard of this critter that isn't even a mole. It is related to elephants, this mole "small enough to fit in a child's hand."

This mole is iridescent a feature that "turns up in many insects, some birds, the odd squid: but in only one mammal, the golden mole. Some species are black, some metallic silver or tawny yellow, but under different lights and from different angles, their fur shifts through turquoise, navy, purple, gold. Moles, then, with a tendency towards sky colours."

To learn more and to see photographs see Rundell's perfectly delightful and informed essay here.

That this wee beastie is iridescent--it doesn't make sense to us--is likely an accident or a side-effect of another feature of the golden mole's fur. It is a nice example of how evolution works. If I may coin a phrase, never let the perfect get in the way of what works. The fur works and that it is iridescent is a side effect of the ever tinkering nature of biological evolution.

The New Scientist has a short story on this feature.

h/t Molly

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Notre Dame Cathedral

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Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

The BBC has a very useful story, told in graphics and images, including interactives, about the devastating fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

Notre Dame de Paris was constructed between 1163 and 1345 and is of great architectural and historic importance. It will be a few weeks before the full extent of the damage, including the integrity of the structure, is known. The work of the fire brigade in preserving historic treasures and in combating the fire was something to behold.

Viva la France!

Monday, April 15, 2019

World Art Day

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Environmental & Science Education
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Today is World Art Day.

I couldn't find any art that I liked and thought representative of our diverse planet so here is a video about Strandbeest (beach animals) sculptures designed by Theo Jansen to mark the occasion.

Jansen views these as new forms of life, a new nature, critters able to walk on the wind. His aim is to "put these animals out in herds on the beaches, and they will live their own lives.

Imagine coming over the top of a dune ridge and seeing a beech with a heard of Strandbeest.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Reflections on Nature

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Environmental & Science Education
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

I can't remember when it was that I attended a Chihuly glass exhibition in Minneapolis. It was a long time ago. I had no idea what glass blowing and forming had become. Large flowing and glowing with the world's colors, forms most beautiful, filling my eyes, and making my imagination soar.

Spring at Kew Gardens (UK) has with some new flowers.

Glass sculptor Dale Chihuly prepared 32 separate installations and you may see some of them as well as view a video about them here. Prepare to be dazzled.

For more information about Chihuly, his studio and art see this website.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Friday Poem

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Environmental & Science Education
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Today's poem brought back memories of winter clothes lines and especially stiff walls of frozen sheets. At first the fabrics were board-like but by the time I helped my Mom collect them to be taken to the cellar for another hanging they had become more flexible--foldable with some force.

I liked knocking the ice and frost off while they were hanging on the line. I wish I had thought of the game described in the poem or a similar one. Football was not a big part of my life except for Saturday high school games and neighborhood scrums.

Here is the poem.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Black Hole:M87

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Environmental & Science Education
Nature of Science
Edward Hessler

By now you've likely seem news of the first picture/image of a black hole found in a galaxy known as M87.

The gargantuan size boggles the mind; too large for most of us to conceive since we don't toss them around daily. Think big. Think huge. Think even larger.  Some numbers from the BBC provide perspective: "It measures 40 billion km (~ 24854847689 miles) across--three million times the size of the Earth. ...The black hole is 500 million trillion km away. ... What we see is larger than the size of our entire Solar System. ... It has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the sun."

Here, from the BBC, is a nice image, a discussion on how the research was done, including a map locating the telescopes, a video on one unanswered question, and a description of a black hole.

Black holes are a prediction from Einstein's general theory of relativity. For a discussion of the history of scientists who contributed to our understanding black holes, see this Wiki entry. It is pleasantly complicated.

Here is very nice talk and demonstration on how to understand the image of a black hole. Be sure to read the extended discussion at the bottom of the video if you are interested in more information. I think he was spot on on what the world would see today, April 10, 2019. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

A Red Wing Blackbird Study

Image result for outdoor science classEnvironmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

Education Week recently published an article on an independent review of new middle school science curricula. The aim was to determine whether they "are truly aligned to" the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)." Six textbook series were examined. Four failed, one was viewed as partially aligned and one "got top marks for alignment, coherence, and usability." 

About 40 reviewers, mostly practicing teachers or science specialists, used "an in-house framework to judge each curriculum."

It made me think about what an NGSS classroom might look like...in action. I thought of a video--it is a favorite--in which a class learns about the behavior of red-wing blackbirds (I heard my first RW blackbirds about ten days after reports of their return.). I am especially fond of it because of its attention to animal behavior, an area of science that is easily overlooked in classrooms.

Teachers Alice Severson and Dom Lark are shown leading a class of 6th grade animal behaviorists. They happen to teach close to RW habitat and take advantage of that. The video is about 12 minutes long and features so-called three dimensional learning, a centerpiece of the NGSS.
As noted, "this video offers an overview of the unit. In subsequent videos, you will meet three of their students, and the series wraps up with Dom and Alice as they discuss and demonstrate how the unit influenced their ideas about teaching."

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The three dimensions in the new national science standards are core ideas, practices and crosscutting concepts. The learning involved is referred to as 3D learning.

The NGSS were rolled out in 2013 (Minnesota was involved in their development) and have since been adopted in 19 states and the District of Columbia.

Not familiar with or want to know more about NGSS and 3D learning?

You may know that Minnesota has been involved in revising its science standards and is close to the finish line.  A Framework for K-12 Science Education:  Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas was an important resource for the team developing the revised standards. This document served as the basis for the NGSS. Not familiar with the Minnesota science revision process or want to know more? Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the relevant documents.

This video demonstrates some of the challenges of developing curricula that are aligned with NGSS standards.