Sunday, October 31, 2021

Halloween 2021!

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

Ed Hessler

-- "Riddle me this, riddle me that, who’s afraid of the big black bat?” -- The Riddler, from Batman Forever.

Happy Halloween from NGC 6995.

And Halloween isn't Halloween without a Jack-O'-Lantern!

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Climate Activists in Norway: End Norway's Oil and Gas Production

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

Ed Hessler

--We had learned to extract oil and gas from al kinds of laces. Now we have to learn hoe to leave it in the ground in order to survive, to save civilization. It's that simple.--Steven Cowley, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (The New Yorker October 11, 2021) 

We have a deep dependence on fossil fuels and Norway is deeply implicated in supplying it to Europe. In this BBC science video (6m 30s), BBC's Europe correspondent Nick Beake talks with young climate activists in Norway. 

They are asking European judges to stop their government allowing more drilling for oil and natural gas which they view as a violation of human rights. The prime minister is also interviewed. This energy source has made Norway wealthy. On the other hand, Norway is essentially powered by renewable sources of energy,

Friday, October 29, 2021

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler 

Greetings from the Center for Environmental Education (CGEE), Hamline University, Saint Paul, MN on October 29, 2021 on the 302nd day of 2021 (434880 minutes or 82.74% of the year. Sunrise: 7:47am. Sunset: 6:07pm. 10h 17m 07 of sunlight. The time of long shadows...lengthening shadows. The feel of cool air sliding down slopes in the late afternoon.

It is National Oatmeal Day according to Foodimentary which opens with an image of dried meal in a wooden spoon. Each of the five food facts is illustrated and all of them move. Today's food history items have a 3rd or 4th cousin relationship to food and I'm sure you can think of at least one. It is hard for me to choose a favorite cookies but oatmeal are among those at the top of the list. I like them better than chocolate chip cookies.

Quote.  "Not all research is there for exploitation. If scientists find out about the history of the Lascaux caves, discover the Higgs boson or work out how people lived in Pompeii, that’s just exciting, and people love hearing about it. There is an inherent sympathy for human curiosity in citizens...."--Maria Leptin, incoming head of the European Research Council (ERC) (News Q&A, Nature, 25 October 2021)

Today's poem is by Craig Santos Perez.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Bird Brains at Work

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

Ed Hessler

This video (3m) from Science Magazine (American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS) tells us why bird brains are more brilliant than anyone suspected.

Structure and function.

And, ah, the comments...the comments...the comments.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The Question of a Booster Vaccination

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

Ed Hessler

This post is for information about boosters from a source I respect. It shows,how one physician, in practice, thinks about this problem as he considers the research. Make of it what you will.

The ImagineMD Physician Group (Chicago) has posted "the pros and cons of getting a third booster shot (or second if you got the J&J vaccine) against COVID-19."

To remind you of the format, first is described how the conclusions for each section were arrived at followed by a bottom line. At the end there is an overall conclusion. You may want to read the responses.

The answer to the question on whether one should get a booster vaccination is: "it depends on how likely you are to have a bad outcome if you contact COVID-19 as well as your specific goals in getting vaccinated."

The sections--each contains a review of the research AND the Bottom Line--are:

--Estimates of continuing vaccine effectiveness.

--What does waning effectiveness mean in the real world? 

--Benefits of a third shot.

--Risks of a third shot.

--What third shot should you get?


This entry includes a list of all previous posts (linked). The posts are written by Dr. Alex Lickerman who leads ImagineMD, a direct primary care private practice in Chicago.


Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Asahi Glass Foundation 30th Annual Report on Environmental Problems and Human Survival

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

Ed Hessler

The Asahi Glass Foundation (AGF) has published the results of the 30th annual "Questionnaire on Environmental Problems and the Survival of Humankind."  It is not a scientific poll and the respondents are self-selected.  This year, due to deterioration of mail service likely due to the pandemic AGF also used academic websites and journals to contact people for the first time.

The respondents included environmental experts who work or who have worked for national or local governments, NGOs, NPOs, universities and research institutions, corporations, mass media, and so on, world wide (based on the Asahi Glass Foundation database. 31,806 questionnaires were mailed (30,241 to overseas respondents and 1,565 respondents in Japan). 1,893 were returned with a response rate of 6.0%.

The report includes a breakdown of respondents by region (9 regions) and organization (7 organizational types including not stated (5)). The survey was conducted April to June 2021.

The poll features an Environmental Doomsday Clock divided into four quarters: 12-3, Okay; 3-6, Concerned; 6-9, Worried; and 9-12, Fearful. The time for 2017 was 9:33; 2018 was 9:47; 2019 was 9:46; 2020 was 9:47, and for 2021 was 9:42. This is the first noticeable change in eight years. "looking at the times on the Clock around the world, the Clock receded back 30 minutes in North America and the times are also earlier than last year in most regions. The US rejoining the Paris Agreement in January may have positively affected the times on the Clock around the world." (italics my addition). 

The report contains details of categories to be taken into account by respondents in making their judgements on what time it is. In descending order the three most often selected were Climate Change, Biodiversity, and Society, Economy and Environment, Policies, Measures. Also included is the change in time on the Environmental Doomsday Clock by Generation Over the Last Ten Years (2012 - 2021). The three groups are 60 and over, 40ws50s, and 20s/30s. One finding among five listed: While all age groups had been developing a stronger sense of crisis each year, the Clock was set back in all age groups this year, for the first time in eight years."

In addition to a brief summary of the results of the Environmental Doomsday Clock, summaries are provided for Signs of Improvement and how well the 17 Sustainable Development Goals have been realized.

Starting in 2021 AGF created, as reference material, a table of significant environmental events that occurred about the world in the year immediately preceding he response period of the survey. You may find this table interesting

The report is 54 pages long and most of it is spent on regional details. There is a copy of the questionnaire as distributed to respondents and the results of changes in time on the Environmental Doomsday Clock from 1992 - 2021 for the regions the report considers and then for the entire world.

The report, including a separate link to the Environmental Doosmday Clock, may be seen here. This is the website for the AGF.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Nuclear Fusion: How Close Really?

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

Ed Hessler

Our sun is a fusion engine. So are all of our stars.--Rivka Galchen (The New Yorker, October 8, 2021) 

This started as a single entry, a video on fusion (and subsequent confusion) by a scientist. In the meantime I read an article by a non-scientist that looked more at the engineering side and decided to add it so it is longer than usual. The contrast between the science and the engineering provides a perspective on the nature of science and engineering. It is divided into two parts.


Nuclear fusion power, if based on the media reports, are far more glowing than the results. 

This is the claim made in a new video (12m 49s) on nuclear fusion by Sabine Hossenfelder has a new video (12m 49s) in which she talks about "Nuclear (Con)fusion." She discusses how close we are to seeing it as an effective way to provide energy. 

According to her analysis "the research (appears) more promising than it really is." Hossenfelder focuses on "its most important aspect, how much energy goes into a fusion reactor, and how much comes out," i.e., the energy gain." This is a ratio between energy out over what goes in. In this ratio Q, as it is known, must reach 1 to break even.

To comment you must be a member of her blog. It is also posted on YouTube (you have a choice) for general comments. Eventually, I think, you'll find it useful to review both, i.e., comments from blog readers and comments from a more general audience.

The visual talk and the script go hand-in-hand because Hossenfelder sometimes uses animations and illustrations.


Coincidentally, writer Rivka Galchen has a New Yorker essay (October 8, 2021) on fusion energy--the perspective is largely from the engineering side. So far, as Dr. Hossenfelder noted above,  the promise has never been fulfilled. Galchen put it this way, quoting the White Queen in Through the Looking Glass: The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam to-day."

There have been successes and two boxes can be checked: creating plasmas "hotter than the center of the sun" and creating "Containers that could hold those making 'bottles' out of strong magnetic fields" In addition experimental fusion device have been built in laboratories.

Galchen covers the attempts to contain plasmas, the ups and downs and downs of a fusion researcher's life, the sun as a fusion engine, what fission is, its false messiahs, shysters, and cranks, funding cycles, demonstration plants under construction or planned, and the essay is sprinkled throughout with comments on the nature (and allure) of  engineering.                                                                                                                                                                         Here I focus on more recent, perhaps promising, events, research, development and renewal of interest as well as hope.

But first a brief comment on plasma. It is one of the fundamental states of matter--plasma is the most abundant form of ordinary matter in the universe, a cloud of charged particles, their behavior dominated by electric and magnetic fields, according to the Wiki entry.

In 2009 Dennis Whyte who directs the Plasma Science and Fusion Center at MIT passed a colleague while walking in the hall, an encounter that restored "his interest in fusion.". His colleague was holding "'a bundle of what looked like the spoolings of a cassette tape.'" It was instead "a relatively new material: ribbons of high temperature superconductor  (H.T.S.). Superconductors are materials that offer little to no resistance to the flow of electricity; for this reason, they make ideally efficient electromagnets, and magnets are the key components of tokamaks--fusion devices shaped like doughnuts.

Whyte figures prominently in this story and his interest in fusion energy began in high school.  Galchen reports he knew from fifth grade "he wanted to be a scientist, and in the eleventh grade he wrote a term paper on that wild idea which often appeared in science fiction--near-boundless energy generated by the fusing of two atoms, as happens in stars." Whyte told Galchen "I remember getting that paper back, and my teacher saying, 'Great job, but it's too complicated.'" He also told her that at one point he "almost retired" due primarily to its economics.

H.T.S. "opened up new possibilities...could make a much more effective magnet than had ever existed, resulting in a significantly smaller and cheaper fusion devices. 'Everytime you double a magnetic field, the volume of the plasma required to produce the same amount of power goes down by a factor of sixteen,' Whyte explained." By a factor of commonly means either multiplied or divided by, depending on whether it is expressed as an increase or decrease.

So Whyte asked graduate students in his engineering-design class to use this new material to design "a compact fusion-power plant...enough to power a small city." It was what is called a '"good enough'" machine. Its key feature was that "the use of H.T.S. magnets made it about the size of a conventional power plant--a tenth the size of ITER. ITER is "an enormous fusion device being built in southern France by an international collaboration. ...The schedule is for ITER to demonstrate net fusion energy in 2035, i.e., more energy out than in. 

Whyte has a dual interest in giving such practical problems to students."'I've always wanted to expose my students  not only to the science questions but also to the technology questions."

H.T.S. is fragile material and "it remained to be seen seen if it could even be made into a hardy magnet, and, if it could, how well that magnet would endure bombardment by charged particles. Plus, H.T,S, was not yet commercially  available at sufficient scale and performance. ... 'But those were engineering barriers, not scientific barriers. That class really changed my mind about where we were in fusion."'

Following two classes of graduate students, some of them formed a group to continue working on the problem Whyte presented. Since then it has sputtered and spurted on in various shapes and forms. In 2018, two years after MIT's experimental fusion device was shut down, a "seven-person private fusion company was formed known as Commonwealth Fusion Systems (C.F.S.).  It now (2021) employs about 300 people."

A crucial magnet test occurred in September--three years under development. It reached its performance goal. "Soon after the demonstration," writes Galchen, "Paul Dabbar, the former Under-Secretary for Science and a visiting fellow at Columbia University's Center on Global Energy policy, declared in an op-ed for The Hill that 'the fusion age was upon us.'"

Galchen calls attention remaining to some of the formidable hurdles to even "demonstrating a fusion devices that gives out considerably more energy than it takes to run. ...before fusion will turn on the lights in your kitchen (and I'd add keep them on day in and day out.)." Some of these challenges include whether "these fusion devices (will) sustain plasmas for sufficient periods of time? Will their daunting fuel-cycle issues (recycle its own fuel), and manage their exhaust, and will the stresses of the extreme conditions destroy the devices themselves?" 

According to Galchen "fusion scientists often speak of waiting for a 'Kitty Hawk moment,' though they argue about what would constitute one. Only in retrospect do we view the Wright brothers' Flyer as the essential breakthrough in manned flight. Hot-air balloons had already achieved flight, of a kind; gliders were around, too, although...a catapult or leap" was required for take off. And what is meant by flight anyhow? Of one of the Wright brothers' "flights that lasted less than a A. P. reporter said of that event, 'Fifty-seven seconds, hey? If it had been fifty-seven minutes, then it might have been a news item."

And then she writes, fittingly, "Will there come a time when there is jam today, and the day after, and the day after that?" The big question.


Sunday, October 24, 2021

A Recommended Downgrade: PRELIMINARY

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

Ed Hessler

This is about an announcement from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force: currently it is a draft guidance on the use of a daily aspirin to prevent heart disease.  Your physician/cardiologist is theperson to ask about what to do, especially when it becomes final. Don't rely on newspaper headlines which hint that we should do it now.

In a report from STAT, primary care physician John Wong who is a task force member, noted that "'Aspirin use can cause serious harms, and risk increases with age." What you should know is that "the guidance of the Task Force (has been) posted online for public comments" until November 8, after which a final decision will be made.

Dr. Wong made an astute comment about the back and forth nature of preventive medicine...of science.. It will leave some "patients frustrated and wondering why scientists can't make up their minds." To which he responded "'It's a fair question. What's really important to know is that evidence changes over time.'" (my emphasis) 

This is the nature of science.

The essay by A.P.'s Lindsey Tanner may be read here and includes some comments from  Dr. Wong and non-task force physicians other physicians as well as from patients.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Holy Moley!

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

Ed Hessler

I almost forgot but it is National Mole Day, an event "Celebrated annually on October 23 from 6:02 a.m. to 6:02 p.m., Mole Day commemorates Avogadro's Number (6.02 x 1023), which is a basic measuring unit in chemistry."

The link serves as a one stop information center for jokes, history, themes, a gallery of mole projects, chemical quantities activities, an online arcade game, and yes, there is a store. There is a video explanation of the mole, an important unit

2021 Wildlife Photographer of the Year, British Museum of Natural History

Environmental & Science Education, Nature, Wildlife, Biodiversity, Art&Environment

Ed Hessler

Rachel Treisman and Catie Dull have posted a sample of the 2021 Wildlife Photographer of the Year images in an NPR photo story.

"The annual competition is organized by London's Natural History Museum and is recognized as the world's longest-running and most prestigious nature photography competition." This is the 57th in the competition.

If you'd like to see more of the winning images there is a link. There are 19 category winners selected from more than 50,000 entries from 95 countries. There was a 17-and-under competition--Young Photographer of the Year. The winner was a 10-year old, Vidyun R. Hebbar of Bengaluru, India. He was first featured in the competition when he was 8yo.

The 2022 competition will is accepting entries with a close date of December 9, 2021.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

It is October 22, 2021, the 295th day of the year. Somehow those days became 42 weeks and a day (80.82%). Good morning from the Center for Global Environmental Education (CGEE), Hamline University, Saint Paul, MN.

Sunrise is is 7:38am and sunset is at 6:15pm containing 10h 37m 23s of sunlight.

Foodimentary has a gorgeous image--browns, tans, rouge reds-- to introduce National Nut Day and tells us a few facts about nuts and some general food history. Cashews, for example, are in the same family as poison ivy and  poison sumac, and poison oak but the offending chemical, an oil known as urushiol, is in the seed husk.

Quote: an essential requirement for effective research. An investigator may be given a palace to live in, a perfect laboratory to work in, he may be surrounded by all the conveniences money can provide; but if his time is taken from him he will remain sterile. --Walter Cannon

Todays's poem is by May Swenson.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Vaccines: Mix and Match

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

Ed Hessler

In a recent post on STAT (Branswell, October 12 2021), University of Minnesota epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm commenting on booster vaccination as well as whether they should be mixed and matched "said we need to realize that many questions remain to be answered about use of these vaccines. We don't know the optimal dose. We don't know the most effective interval between doses. We don't know how many does were going to need and we con't know whether we would get more durable protection if we mix up the vaccines each person receives." Osterholm, as reported in the article reminded us that "we're in the very early days" and "now that we have effective vaccines, we need to start figuring out how best to use them."  In a direct quote Osterholm noted that "'We have to start adopting a public health mindset for decision making."

It is going to take time to answer these questions which is often the reason why proposed policies get ahead of what is known and what isn't about the vaccines.

In the reporting, Branswell discusses terminology, the use by some countries of mixed vaccine jabs due to inadequate supply, whether all combos are created equal, and the challenges that lie ahead." She also discusses countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, France, and Germany that used mixed vaccine approaches and how this creates border barriers. Some countries, "the United States is among them, do not consider people who received two different brands of vaccines fully vaccinated, even if the person's home country does. This may be one of those unanticipated consequences but as she notes "necessity is the mother of invention," in other words countries had no choice.

And consider the growing possibility of a 5th wave of COVID. The virus has plenty with which to work or as scientists put it "evolutionary space" and plenty of "test tubes," i.e., way too many who remain unvaccinated in the U.S. and worldwide. The virus has been one of surprises and more are likely to come. 

Get jabbed if you aren't, mask up, social distance, jabbed or not. And with respect to so-called "natural immunity" following infection, infection will wane although no one knows how quickly.

October 20, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided it is acceptable for people to get boosted with a different brand of vaccine than their initial shots, i.e., you can mix and match. Please look at their new guidelines and recommendations. To put it in evolutionary terms SARS-CoV-2 is "a virus that is specifically evolving to escape immunity." 

See this short report from the Journal Nature on COVID reinfections which includes a comment on research published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in August. The study looked at people who got COVID-19 in 2020, some of whom became reinfected in May or June 2021. It found that those who had not had a vaccine were more then twice as likely to get reinfected in that period as those who had both the virus and vaccine." (my emphasis)

Worth a look.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Life Span: Limits

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Health, Medicine, Nature of Science, Soceity, Culture

Ed Hessler

We have become somewhat numbed to what seem like yearly reports on the increase of the human life span.

In a recent report on research at the University of Minnesota, Deane Morrison reports on findings into this issue. Professor Craig Packer, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EBB) in the College of Biological Sciences (CBS) was a member of a large and diverse international team of researchers published a paper with "evidence that nature has placed constraints on how much the underlying rate of aging can be slowed." 

Packer told Morrison that "Essentially all of the extension in lifespan over tha past century has resulted from improved nutrition and publish health." Furthermore, he continued, "Any further increase by slowing the aging process will have to overcome powerful evolutionary constraints."

What the researchers did was analyze a large collection of data from a great variety of nonhuman primates and also nine sets of data on human "populations that had not benefited from modern advances in medicine, public health, and standards of living, taking account mortality rates that are dependent on age and those that are independent of age, such as accidents. Then they turned to computer simulations on the effects of variation to see which would result in differences.

Our rate of aging is set by nature. Packer noted that“continued improvements in nutrition and public health are unlikely to translate into a substantial further reduction in the rate of aging. It remains to be seen if future advances in medicine can address the underlying cellular processes that currently limit maximum human lifespans that have largely been determined by the long, slow process of evolution.

Morrison's reporting may be seen here which includes a link to the scientific publication, all of which may be read, including tables and graphs, on line. All of the investigators and their affiliations are listed as well as governments which participated. There may be some sections of this paper which are of particular interest to you.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Climate Change: A Simple Guide (BBC)

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

Ed Hessler 

The COP26 global climate summit in Glasgow in November is seen as crucial if climate change is to be brought under control, a word that almost seems too strong.  At the summit, about 200 countries are being asked for their plans to cut carbon dioxide emissions. These would be enough that it could lead to major changes to our everyday lives. 

If you'd like a refresher course on climate change before the summit, this may be useful, "Our Planet Now" (BBC) has a simple guide to climate change. It includes relevant and accessible graphs, illustrations and links. Below are the major topics.

--What is climate change?

--What is the impact of climate change?

--How will different parts of the world be affected?

--What are governments doing?

--What can individuals do?

Monday, October 18, 2021

The Big Bang Explained

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Cosmology

Ed Hessler

So without a center where did the big bang happen? This is the question that Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder answers in this recent 10m 16s video

In her blog, BackReaction. there is an option of watching it on YouTube. The BackReaction site includes a transcript. She notes that "Some of the explanations may not make sense without the animations in the video." 

The YouTube site also has comments but they are from general viewers and worth looking at. Dr. Hossenfelder also has a subscription service now and Hossenfelder provides information in the  YouTube introduction to the video). Those who join have the full advantages of the subscription service.  However, you can watch this on YouTube if you prefer.

I am not a subscriber and my preference is to watch and read, then go YouTube to read the comments.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Poster Contest

Environmental & Scirtence Education, Poetry, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

The Academy of American Poets, the originator and organizer of National Poetry Month, extends an invitation to students living in the United States, U.S. Territories, or Tribal Nations who are in grades 9 through 12 to enter artwork to be considered for the National Poetry Month Poster in 2022.

Full details here which includes the 2021 poster with information about the winner, Bao Lu (12th grade, Edward R. Murray High School, Brooklyn, New York), eligibility, artwork guidelines, and the 2020 and 2019 winning posters. 

Poster entries are required to include the incorporation of a single line from the poem provided for that year's competition.

Please let students know. 

I hope a student from the upper midwest will give it a go.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Prince William on Repairing This Planet

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

Ed Hessler

Repair this planet, not find the next.-- Prince William

In this BBC video (2m 31s) the Duke of Cambridge suggests that "entrepreneurs should focus their resources on solving problems on Earth rather than engaging in a new space race.

"He was speaking to the BBC’s Newscast podcast, before the first ceremony for his new Earthshot Prize this weekend. Five innovative ideas will each be awarded £1m (U. S. $ 1370415.00) to help the planet."

The previous link announces the 15 finalists from which five recipients will be chosen. Each project is briefly described. There is also a short video with Prince William and comments about the nature of the award.

Friday, October 15, 2021

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 October 15, 2021. It is the 288th day-78.90% - of 2021 which started 414,720 minutes ago.  Sunrise is at 7:27am and sunset is at 6:28pm giving us 11h 01m 36s of sunlight.

It is National Red Wine day and Foodimentary has facts and figures as well food history related events. I didn't know that one bottle of wine contains the juice of about 3 pounds  (~1.36 kg) of grapes.

Quote: You can't change the laws of physics, but an engineering problem--that can be solved.--Linda Dunn (in "Green Dream" by Rivka Galchen, The New Yorker October 8, 2021)

Today's poem is by Linda Pastan.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Winging It

Environmental & Science Education, STEM

Ed Hessler

The falling of seeds from trees is often enchanting, especially when those seeds are winged, helicopter seeds; technically fruit and known as samara. Here are eleven examples. The physics of descent has been studied, e.g., here. And samaras have also been widely used in science education, e.g., here. A Connecticut Performance Assessment was designed for high school physics classes to study maple seeds followed by the design of a study to explain their spinning patterns based on the evidence collected.

Samaras have also been the inspiration for designs from nature. One of the most recent was just reported in the journal Nature by Shamini Bundell. 

The featured video shows "tiny electronic devices that float through the air. These 'circuit chips with wings' fall slowly and can carry a whole host of electronic components such as sensors and wireless communication antennae. They can be manufactured in large numbers and dropped from a height to allow high-resolution data collection over a large area." Furthermore the "seeds" are really small and are biodegradable.

The featured investigator is John Rogers, Northwestern University.

There is a link to the film (4m 24s) and to the original paper (behind a membership wall but the abstract and authors/institutions can be read). I have one quibble with the presentation. Rogers says "We think we've beaten biology." Evolutionary biology is a tinkerer rather than a designer of optimal solutions. Evolution deals in good enough solutions and what works for the problem at hand with only one goal: survival of the species. Clearly the various solutions for samaras have worked very well for tree reproduction. Here, for example, is a fossil samara, 48 myo.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Training Computers to "Think" About Medicine

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

Ed Hessler

It takes time and conscious instruction to learn to think as well as a partnership between teacher and learner. This is true in artificial intelligence as well although the relationship between the teacher(s) and the student are much, much different. Here the emphasis is on endless rounds of training and re-training--the acquisition of specific skills. Education refers to the acquisition of broad knowledge and skills as well as learning how to learn after one's eduction . Hyacinth Empinado introduces us to a training film. 

In this STAT video (4m 15s), "Hari Trivedi...department of radiology and imaging services at Emory University...explains step-by-step why it takes a village of researchers, doctors, and students across multiple institutions to select, clean, and double-check data that's going to be fed into AI programs."

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Wetland Restoration: Britain

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

Ed Hessler

This video (6m 17s) and article are part of BBC Future's Bright Sparks: Sustainability series, "which sets out to find the young minds who are finding new and innovative way of tackling environmental problems. They are the next generation of engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs who are taking controls of their own future by seeking solutions to climate change, pollution, biodiversity loss and over-consumption." 

Two childhood friends, Harvey Tweats and Tom Whitehurst, both 17, established "a conservation centre in their parents' back gardens in Staffordshire in an attempt to restore wildlife that once thrived in nearby wetlands." One of the species is the European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis), once common in the UK and now found elsewhere in Europe. The two have "one of the largest captive groups of European pond turtles  in the UK."

The turtles went extinct about 4000 ya, "but with climate change, it's going to get warm enough so these [turtles] could be brought back again to Britain," according to Tweats. In addition, the pair "nurture species that are often taken for granted, such as the common toad

Tom Whitehurst notes "these projects take a while ... but it's definitely something we have time for because we're still young."

Their website is Celtic Reptile & Amphibian.

The BBC's Sarah Griffiths did the reporting.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Nobel Prizes in Physics

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, History of Science, Nature of Science, Global Climate Change, Models

Ed Hessler

The 2021 Nobel awards in the various science disciplines have been awarded. I want to say a few things about the award in physics.

Three scientists shared the Nobel Prize in Physics award, two of whom,  fit neatly into the category of global climate change and one who seems to many of us, less related or not so clearly related to climate change. However, as Thors Hans Hansson, chair of the physics Nobel committee put it "These are two different prizes, but there is the common theme" with climate and the theory of complex systems. "We can predict what is happening with the climate in the future if we know how to code the chaotic weather."

An article written by Davide Castelvecchi & Nisha Grand in the British journal Nature provides a brief and informed summary of the awards made to two climate modellers--Klaus Hasselmann and Syukuro Manabe--and a theorist--Giorgio Parisi--of complex systems.

Climate scientist Bjorn Stevens of the Max Planck Institute for Meterology provides one of the best one sentence summaries of the fundamental contributions climate modelers made. Manabe showed us how and why increasing CO2 leads to global warming. Hasselmann showed that it is happening." And Manabe's reaction was priceless as well as humble. "But I'm just a climatologist."

Federico Ricci-Tersenghi at University of Rome La Sapienza, a former student noted that Parisi "opened up a way to see and interpret complex that until then had been missed, a theory "useful even for systems that at first sight seem to be completely random, such as the structure of glass."

Castelvecchi & Grand talked with John Wettlaufer, Yale University who said that "Parisi's research looks at underlying disorder and fluctuations and predicts emerging behaviour. The link between his work and that of Manabe and Hasselmann is that fluctuations are key for predictability."

This is how Goran Hansson, secretary-general of the Royal Swedish Academ of Sciences in Stockholm, which awards the prize said the award is saying. "[M]odelling climate is solidly based in physical theory and solid physics. Global warming is resting on solid science. That is the message." (my emphasis)

Please read the Nature essay to fill in details and learn more about the science and the scientists. It is worth the time, is accessible and important.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Globalization's Assault on Traditional Language and Knowledge.

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Culture, Nature, Society, Sustainability

Ed Hessler

The biological and cultural diversity of the island Papua New Guinea is staggering as Deanne Morrison reports in Inquiry: Exploring the Impact of University Research: 9 million people, some 840 languages or 12% of the worlds ~7000 languages, and the "world's most floristically diverse island,  harboring about 5 percent of the world's plant species.

One-third of Papua New Guinea's languages are endangered and according to UMN's George Weblein who has spent most of his career studying the island's plant biodiversity, "the traditional ecological knowledge (contained in the languages) are at even greater risk of extinction than biodiversity." 

In a co-authored study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (linked in Morrison's story) it was found that "our understanding of the drivers and rate of language loss remains incomplete. When we tested key factors causing language attrition among Papua New Guinean students speaking 392 different indigenous languages, we found an unexpectedly rapid decline in their language skills compared to their parents and predicted further acceleration of language loss in the next generation. Language attrition was accompanied by decline in the traditional knowledge of nature among the students, pointing to an uncertain future for languages and biocultural knowledge in the most linguistically diverse place on Earth."

The most striking result says Morrison: "while 91 percent of parents were fluent in an indigenous language, only 58 percent of the students were." It stems, according to Weblein "from social and technological change in a country undergoing rapid globalization. ...  The rise of Tok Pisin, an English-based creole language that is used in 66 percent of homes. English is used in 4 percent."

Morrison discusses how language loss happens, noting that it is due to a web of interactions but some threads stand out. For instance, urbanization brings people together and leads to more marriages between speakers of different indigenous languages.  "Only 16 percent of such 'mixed language' families used indigenous languages at home, compared to 38 percent among those who marry within a language. Of the surveyed students, 37 percent came from mixed-language families. Also, urbanization often interrupts contact between generations that reinforces indigenous language use."

In closing, Morrison quotes Weblein: "At this time of unprecedented change, we need their wisdom (ecological knowledge) more than ever."

Please read the Morrison's reporting for more information and to link to the original paper on which Morrison's piece is based which describes the research design and findings in more detail but also to see one of those photographs-worth-a-thousand-words of students in their school uniforms and adult in traditional dress traditional dress and school uniforms.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Mountain Gorilla Ndakasi Dies At Age 14

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

Ed Hessler 

Ndakasi, a mountain gorilla, housed all her life at a gorilla orphanage at Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo has died at age 14. By the way, Virunga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Park.

She was rescued by Ranger Andre Bauma, manager pf the orphanage when she was two months old. The decision not to release her into the wild was based the absence of relatives. Without their care , guidance and instruction she would have been unsafe, including from poachers.

You may remember a picture of Ndakasi imitating the rangers, standing tall and fully erect just like them. It may be seen again in the BBC link below. She was well named: someone happy to welcome others.

Mr. Bauma "said that getting to know Ndakasi had 'helped me to understand the connection between humans and great apes and why we should do everything in our power to protect them. I loved her like a child. Her cheerful personality brought a smile to my face every time I interacted with her.'"


Ndakasi's life may be seen in pictures in this BBC report. Here are a few more--some are the same--from Metro, UK. One is of her shortly after her rescue.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

Good morning from the Center for Global Environmental Education, Hamline University. It is October 8, the 281st day of the year (76.99% or 6744 hours have slipped away).

Darkness is beginning to prevail. Today sunrise is at 7:19 am and sunset is at 6:39 pm. Between these times there will be11h 19m 43s of daylight.

It is National Fluffernutter day and I haven't had such a sandwich since I was a kid. Then marshmallow creme was a treat. Foodimentary tells us about it and some of the food history for the day.

Quote. Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”--Steve Jobs, February 24, 1955 - October 5, 2011

Today's poem is by Billy Collins.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

And The Winner Is...!

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

Ed Hessler

You probably know that Otis won the 2021 Fat Bear Contest. He is one of the bears of Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park and Preserve, AK who spend summer summers eating their way to winter's long sleep.

Below are the vote totals and it wasn't close. Otis entered as a sentimental favorite--a bear hard not to love and cheer for.

Otis, Bear #480: 51230 votes

Walker, Bear #151, 44834 votes

The contestant's biographies may be read here--scroll down to learn more about Otis and Walker.

Otis, Bear #480.  Two photos of Otis, early and late in the fishing season were submitted to voters: July 26 2021 and September 15 2021. Otis is one of the oldest bears in the park and in recent years a common question at the start of the fishing season is "Has anyone seen Otis?" He was very late this year and the question was asked with concern.. How sweet it is when he is reported still alive. Otis won the Fat Bear contest in 2014, 2016 and 2017. He fishes at at large disadvantage and below you will notice that he is missing two canine teeth and that his other teeth are badly worn. His fishing strategy is patience, locating a good fishing hole, and no chasing which expends precious energy--let the salmon come to you.

Walker, Bear #151. Two photos of Walker, early and late in the fishing season were submitted to voters: July 4 2021 and September 13, 2021. Walker is a very large adult male, one of the largest on the Brooks River. He was tolerant of others in his early years but is now very assertive and aggressive in his encounters. Among his fishing spots is the lip of Brooks Falls but he fishes in many places and uses a variety of strategies.

Here is the winning photo of the Champ with a fish in his mouth. How he manages to fish successfully as ill-equipped as he is, demonstrates what he has learned over the years, including his persistence.

In this video (3m 3s) meet Otis, Bear #480 and in this video (2m 57s), meet Walker, Bear #151) Here are some FAQs about the Brooks Falls bears.

I hope Otis has another good winter--the before and after photos of both bears give you an idea of the energy expended to keep a bear alive during their long sleep. Otis was particularly thin this past spring. Indeed I hope all the bears have a good winter.

Sweet dreams to them all.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Can Physics Be Too Speculative?

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

Ed Hessler

Theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder reports that she "was asked to write an article addressing the question whether some research in physics has become too speculative. I did as I was asked, and all seemed fine, until someone on the editorial board of the magazine decided that physicists would be too upset about what I wrote."

I was quite surprised that it was rejected by editors of the American Physical Society (APS), no less.  

So she decided to put it up on her blog and includes some of the standard speculative topics: whether research programs have become progressive or degenerative, dark matter, fifth forces, string theory, multiverses and, of course, alien technology.  

This is her closing comment. "Yes, Imagination and creativity are the heart of science. They are also the heart of science fiction. And we shouldn’t conflate science with fiction."

Of course there are responses, fifty when I wrote this so see how others reacted or were upset.  And as usual the talk is accompanied by a transcript, making this very friendly to viewers.

I lifted her title since it is perfect.