Monday, January 31, 2022

Feather Extensions

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

Ed Hessler

Val Cunningham (Star Tribune 12.1.2021) reported on a great horned owl who while flying over a school athletic field was caught by a soccer net. He was taken to the University of Minnesota Raptor Center where "cage rest and treatment healed his soft tissue and eye injuries." However, his tail feathers were mangled and some were even broken." These are important feathers and used for braking and steering.

Obviously, he couldn't be released without them but their replacement through molting would take about a year. A procedure known as "imping" in which "damaged feathers are pulled out and replaced from another (almost invarabley) deceased bird" of the same species and from the same location on the bird can be safely and effectively used.

The tools are simple but the procedure requires some well-honed skills. The tools are "bamboo skewers, nail trimmer, ruler and quick-fixing epoxy glue." Cunningham describes the procedure - imping - which Victoria Hall, the executive director of the Raptor Center called "feather extensions."

In about 20 minutes, twelve "torn and bent tail feathers" were "replaced and about a week later the great horned owl "was released near where he was found, to rejoin his territory and possibly even a mate."

I was surprised to learn that "the Raptor center performs about 100 feather implants a year" with most in spring or fall. Jamie Clarke, a vet tech at the center, and said he "imped 16 birds in September, including great horned and barred owls, broad-winged hawks, merlins, a peregrine falcon, Cooper's hawks, a kestrel and a red-tailed hawk." Most had suffered a variety of traumatic injuries--collisons with cars, flying into window glass, fighting.

Here is a YouTube video (11m 45s) showing how it is done.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Water for Birds in Winter

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

Ed Hessler

--"But all of a man’s water, ultimately, belongs to his people—to his tribe. It’s a necessity when you live near the Great Flat. All water’s precious there, and the human body is composed of some seventy percent water by weight. A dead man, surely, no longer requires that water." -- Frank Herbert, Dune

For our winter birds, water is a very important resource. They require it in winter.  Jim Williams Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote "Water is the most important thing you can give birds in winter."  (This link is likely behind a subscription wall.)

And winter birds have features which allow them to save some of the water they ingest, e.g., they remove water vapor they inhale. Ditto for waste. As to eating snow, the energy cost of melting is too high. Williams includes some studies on birds about water loss and getting water from food, e.g., nestlings do not drink until they can fly. Their water is extracted from what they get for breakfast, lunch, dinner. 

Some of our winter birds, e.g., Chickadees can "lower their body temperature at night, by as much as 10 degrees centigrade (1 degree C = 1.8 degrees F.) That is a lot. But Williams note that chickadees "lose 10% of their weight nightly," also a lot.

Williams includes information about heated bird baths and includes a picture of his own which is made of a plastic composite. A good idea.

For birds in winter it is a cold life! There are ways to make it a less thirsty one.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Snowy Owls

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

Ed Hessler

It is the time of the northern year that snowy owls are sometimes reported far south of their northern environment across the U.S. It used to be thought that these deep incursions south were caused by food shortages. Lemmings are a meal of choice although they eat a variety of prey., e.g., sea birds.

It turned out that this idea was backward for snowies; it is often true for other species (see irruptions link below, a behavior that is complex in a variety of birds).  For Snowy Owls, a good food year or two results in the production of many young. The younger birds must find their own space in which to live and this is when we see them in places that surprise as well as enchant us us. Scouting, exploring. Always looking for good places to feed. These birds are also great nomads and accumulate many kilometers during their lives.

Val Cunningham who writes about birds for the Minneapolis Star Tribune (January 19, 2022) took the occasion of a report of three "snowies" seen at the Minneapolis -St.Paul Airport (MSP) to write about these birds. (The article is behind a subscription wall. This newspaper has talented, knowledgeable, and gifted writers on birds. On Wednesdays the first section I read is the one that includes their reporting.) It is a lovely story and he rehearses the food hypothesis and evidence.
Cunningham notes that snowy owls are tall, measuring "about 24 inches (~61 cm) from their heavily feathered feet to the tops of their big round heads," which is mostly a feather ball. He reports on the program started at Logan International Airport, Boston, now 40 years old, capturing and relocating snowy owls at Logan. Norman Smith who started this work said "'In an average winter, I relocate 15 to 20 owls but the big year, 2013, I relocated 121 owls.'" Cunningham continues, They are released "either to coastal salt marshes or to areas north of the airport, both good hunting grounds." 
The Cunningham report includes three magnificent black-snd-white photos--what else this time of year, a black and white world at ground level.

Cunningham's story led me to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology for two maps. The first is the range map for snowy owls. The other is a sightings map from 2017 - 2022. In addition, is this video (3m 38s) on snowy owl invasions (known as population irruptions).
A few years ago on a cold winter night while walking home, I "felt" something directly overhead while taking a short-cut through a parking lot. I looked up and then stopped to look around. There perched atop an old wooden electricity pole was perched a snowy owl, the first one I'd ever seen. And I was alone with it, at night. I was delighted that this was a chance encounter, the bird's choice to fly so close and then to perch not far away to survey the landscape before launching and then flying, stealth-mode to the SE.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment 

Ed Hessler

Good morning from the Center for Global Environmental Education (CGEE), Hamline University, Saint Paul, MN on this 28th day of the year. To date 2,419,200s have passed or 7.67% of the year. Sunrise is at 7:36 am and sunset is at 5:15 pm as the minutes are adding up day-by-day (now 2m+/day).

Foodimentary asks us to celebrate National Blueberry Pancake Day but they seem a good breakfast or supper most anytime. I like the way they stain the batter and darken the crusts here and there.  National Day also notes that it is National Blueberry Pancake Day.  I like both sites. National Day has a fuller story. Foodimentary's today in food history does not mention a single food!

Quote: What is research but a blind date with knowledge? -- Will Harvey, American software developer and entrepreneur

Today's poem is by Louise Gluck.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Sunday Morning Nature: Pronghorns

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

Ed Hessler

Sunday Morning Nature (CBS) gives us a look at pronghorn antelope near Virginia City, Montana. 

The videographer is Brad Markel (2m 30s). Wiki tells us that among its closest living relatives is the giraffe and that it "is the fastest land mammal in the Western Hemisphere." 

Delicate eaters with preferences as you will see.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

JWST Arrival at Station L2

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

As you probably know the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has reached its final destination where it is to explore the cosmos for 20+ years. The location is called L2, the second Lagrange Point.

Alexandra Witze has written a short essay for the British journal Nature about its arrival. It is about 1.5 million kilometres away from Earth. Witze provides another way to  try to think about that distance which is "four times the distance to the Moon." There, at this particular sweet spot in the solar system, "the combined gravitational pull of the Sun and the Earth balance the centripetal force that tugs Webb in the opposite direction."

Why this location in space? It is a unique location for investigation of the universe. Witze writes this place provides "the ability to look at most of the sky unimpeded.  Telescopes that orbit Earth, such as the Hubble Space Telescope, have a lot of their view blocked by the planet for much of the time. Facing away from the Sun, the Webb telescope can keep it, as well as Earth and the Moon, behind it. 'L2 is really nice because it’s got the brightest objects — the Sun, the Earth and the Moon — on the same side as far as the spacecraft is concerned,' says Karen Richon, an engineer who heads Webb’s flight-dynamics team at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. 'You can make a big sunshield and block all three of those all the time.'”

In addition, "it's cold. Earth-orbiting missions go in and out of sunlight on each orbit, experiencing huge temperature swings that cause equipment to expand and contract. Scientific instruments that have to remain cold to function do better at L2, where the temperature is much more stable. Webb’s four scientific instruments operate at temperatures of about –233 °C — or 40 degrees above absolute zero — to spot faint glimmers of heat coming from stars, galaxies and other cosmic objects."

And those LaGrange points?  Witze tells us that they "are named after their identifier mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange who in 1772 discovered them as locations where a small body can orbit in concert with two larger masses. That makes L1 and L2, the closest Lagrange points to Earth, obvious places to exploit for space exploration."

There is more, including a very useful box with a diagram of the sun, moon,  JWST location and all the LaGrange points.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

How The JWST Works

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

Ed Hessler

SmarterEveryDay has produced a video (29:45) on how the James Webb Space Telescope Works  which features one of the scientists who worked on the telescope.

We (me?) got so excited by the successful launch that how JWST works faded into the background of deep space.

Monday, January 24, 2022

"Songs of Disappearance - Australian Bird Calls"

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

Ed Hessler

The animated video (3m 31s), Songs of Disappearance - Australian Bird Calls was made by the Bowerbird Collective (Australia).

The calls are of 53 endangered species. There is a list of the cast at the end but it is not on screen long enough to be read.

NPR doesn't miss this kind of reporting and the report by Megan Lim and Patrick Jarenwattananon fills in some details (but not the list) and includes two lovely photographs and a link to the video. They note that in December, "it briefly perched at No. 3 on the country's top 50 albums chart - ahead of Taylor Swift." 

Not all of the songs are what we think of as bird songs. Sean Dooley (Birdlife Australia) has this to say about the Christmas Island frigatebird (Fregata andrewsi): "...the male, it has a flap of skin under its chin that it inflates like a giant red balloon. And so when it's doing these  courtship sounds, it looks incredible as well as sounds bizarre."

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Black Holes with Janna Levin

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Cosmology, Astrophysics

Ed Hessler

The first book I read by theoretical physicist Janna Levin (Columbia University) was "How the Universe Got its Spots: Diary of a Finite Time in a Finite Space." It is a diary and letters to her mother in which she describes her work.  I've looked for other books by her since. She has turned out to be an engaging and wide ranging author.

A recent and widely acclaimed book for us mere mortals with an interest in the universe is titled Black Hole Survival Guide (Knopf 2020) which I've not read. In 2021 she gave a lecture on black holes, "perhaps the most intriguing inhabitants of the universe, black holes provide the terrain on which the laws of nature are explored. "

In this Science and Cocktails video (45m 51s) she covers that ground in audio and video. Levin is one of physics reliable guides. I don't know enough physics to come close to understanding what physicists of this caliber do but recommend the video. She is a good speaker, too, and as a result of watching I'll view black holes quite differently and with some new understanding, one of which was a large one for me.

And about Science and Cocktails - it is "an initiative that brings science and entertainment closer togehter by creating a series of public lectures intertwined with music/art performances and smoky dry-ice chilled cocktails in your hand" - see here

Rather than direct you to her Columbia University website, her site provides a much more about hre interests in the arts and science It is informative and fun to scroll through it, stopping here and there.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

The Octopus

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

Ed Hessler

This old video about the octopus, is from "True Facts," another film by that indefatigable explorer of the natural world,  ZeFrank. It is well documented, characteristic of his work, and you may be interested in pursuing some of the links.

And even if you know everything about this critter, the octopus is hard to tire of. They are amazing animals. This is short both for ZeFrank - the early years? - and the octopus; just 6m 13s.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

It is January 21, 2022. Good morning from the Center for Global Environmental Education (CGEE) on day 21 of the new year. This time adds up to 505 hours which means 5.75% of 2022 is gone.

Sunrise is at 7:43 am and sunset is at 5:05 pm which gives us 9h 22m 09s of sunlight. Light is returning and is noticeable.Meteorologist Paul Huttner of MPRNews writes that since the winter solstice on December 21, the increase in daylight is 32 minutes. If you'd like to know more about the return of light, 5News  (Fayetteville, AR) broadcast a story about light's return. It includes a chart showing a map of light's return--light zones--as winter grows older across the U. S.  Of course, there are details about Arkansas.  

Foodimentary notes that it is New England Clam Chowder Day and National Day calls attention to National Granola Bar Day and a few others--one of which is not so casually practiced during the pandemic--including squirrel appreciation day. I never knew the likely origin of the term "chowder."

Quote: "It is a pity that the best part of life comes at the beginning, and the worst part at the end." -- Mark Twain. F. Scott Fitzgerald attributed this quote that led him to write his short story, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

Today's poem is by Barbara Hamby.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Personal Ornaments

Environmental &  Science Education, STEM, Archeology, Culture, Society

Ed Hessler

A short  report in the British journal Nature by Tosin Thompson is about one of the oldest ornate jewelry pieces found in Eurasia. It is a pendant made from a woolly mammoth tusk with two drilled holes "with at least 50 smaller puncture marks that create a looping curve." It was "found in the Stajnia Cave, a natural rock shelter in southern Poland. Based on radiocarbon dating it is between 41,730 and 41,340 years old.

In addition to the pendant a tool for making holes made of horse bone was also found. "The spiked end of the ... awl is worn indicating extensive use." The awl is "around 42,000 years old."

The researchers don't know the "purpose and meaning of the dots...but they could represent a counting system, lunar observations or a way of scoring kills." 

Thompson writes that "The pendant itself couldn’t have been much older than its decoration — mammoth tusks were not often preserved in the region because of the local ecological conditions. (Additionally,) "an old mammoth tusk would have been unworkable for shaping the Stajnia ornament and carving the punctate motif,' says Sahra Talamo, a chemist at the University of Bologna in Italy, who led the study."  There is a very short discussion about the date and whether it is the oldest piece of ornate jewelry in Eurasia.

The research was published in Nature's open access on-line journal Nature Reports. While detailed, the report includes maps, photographs of the awl and pendant, a virtually reconstructed pendant and photomicrographs, the identifiable punctuations, and a photograph of the cave opening. It may be downloaded as a PDF.


Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Syntropic Agriculture: Brazil

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Agriculture, Society, Wildlife

Ed Hessler

The work of "a Swiss biologist who emigrated to Brazil" is featured in this BBC video (2m 55s)  "is pioneering a new way of agriculture in Brazil's semi-arid regions." It "increases, rather than decreases, biodiversity and wildlife."

For details about syntropic agriculture see here.

The reporting is by Joao Fellet, BBC Brasil and the video is by Felix Lima, a video journalist.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Westminster Town Forum: Climate Science Presentation by Dr. Katherine Hayhoe

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Climate Change, Sustainability, Earth & Space Systems, Earth Systems, Nature. Science & Society

Ed Hessler

On January 31, 2022, climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe, Chief Scientist for The Nature Conservancy, will be speaking at the Westminister Town Hall Forum at 12:00 noon. The Forum will be broadcast on  the Forum's website as well as archived for viewing later..  Questions for Dr. Hayhoe should be sent  ahead of time.

Complete information about this forum  and how to participate is available on the website for this event.

Forums will NOT be live broadcast on MPR this fall but the entire fall season will be presented on MPR as a special week of programs, November 29 - December 2, 2022 each day at 11 a.m. 

There is a very brief biography of Katherine  Hayhoe on the website but if you would like more information about her see here. This is her home page and it includes considerable information about her and her career. In addition to her work for The Nature Conservancy she holds an Endowed Chair in Public Policy and Public Law in the Department of Political Science at Texas Tech University.

Monday, January 17, 2022

"Sabine Learns English" *

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Literacy

Ed Hessler

"It never occurred to me that one day people might want to hear me speak in a foreign language," writes theoretical physicist, Sabine Hossenfelder. "Meanwhile," she continues, I've "subscribed to like a dozen English pronunciation channels and spend a lot of time with the online dictionary replaying words, so much so that at this point I think my channel should really be called 'Sabine learns English."  

In her video (12m 26s), "What's the difference between American English and British English?", Hossenfelder talks about these differences. Near the end she includes this tidbit, an urban legend I'd never heard, that made me smile. "Did you know," she asks, "that German almost became the official language in the United States? You did? Well that’s an urban legend, it never happened. The USA doesn’t even have an official language; it’s just that English is the most widely spoken one"

There is a full transcript and it includes a not-to-be missed song by the singing climate scientist, Tim Palmer. He with U S. astrophysicist Brian Keating read some sentences, in "Brit" and American, respectively to illustrate some of Hossenfelder's points. It can be watched on YouTube, as well.

*Title from Dr. Hossenfelder's Story


Sunday, January 16, 2022

A Year of Sunrises

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

Ed Hessler

That the Sun doesn't always rise (or set) in the same direction is well known but many of us do not pay attention to the details, month--by--month as the year passes by.

In this Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) post, a full year of monthly sunrises is featured. The camera is always facing due east--the cardinal compass point that is at 90 degrees. Taken from the city of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. 

The images are lovely, too.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Full Moons of 2021 in a Single Image

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

Ed Hessler 

It took a year to produce the images of every full moon of 2021 and they are displayed on Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD). There is an explanation as usual. There was considerable attention paid to "sameness" here: same camera, same lens, same pixel scale, same place  Kolkata, India, planet Earth.

The moon names are from the Algonquin tribes who lived on an extensive swath of land from eastern Canada to north of Minnesota.

Friday, January 14, 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 January 14, 2022, the 14th day of the year -- January is so easy to make this tally! -- and 3.84% is in the books or 336 hours. Sunrise is at 7:47 am and sunset is at 4:56 pm giving 9h 08m 24s of sunlight. Bleak looking with light snow with a pale gray sky.

Both Foodimentary and National Day note that its is Pastrami Sandwich Day--pictures, facts and food history and tell us how corned beef is turned into pastrami. National Day, in a separate entry, calls attention to a significant historical event, Ratification Day. It ended the American Revolution and its war with Great Britain. The Wiki entry includes this from the official proclamation"

By the United States in Congress assembled, a proclamation : Whereas definitive articles of peace and friendship, between the United States of America and His Britannic Majesty, were concluded and signed at Paris, on the 3rd day of September, 1783 ... we have thought proper by these presents, to notify the premises to all the good citizens of these United States ... Given under the seal of the United States, witness His Excellency Thomas Miflin, our president at Annapolis, this fourteenth day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-four ...

Quote. "Computer: / Tea, / Earl Grey, / Hot." --  Jean Luc Picard, Captain of The Star Ship Enterprise

Today's poem is by Adrienne Su.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Bridges: The Cantilever

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Learning, Science & Society

Ed Hessler

Bridges offer many learning opportunities in science, engineering, technology and the social sciences. One of the bridge designs--the cantilever--is very pleasing to the eye and also makes you wonder how the thing works. Diving boards are an example of a small cantilever.

Here is an explanation with a great picture. And here is a directory of cantilever bridges--with photographs--from around the world as well as information about the bridges, e.g. span.

My real purpose in this post was this historical picture (1887) of engineers demonstrating how a cantilever bridge manages the fight against gravity. There is an explanation below and you will note that this is an international group, with one from Japan who was in the United Kingdom to study. They are a very formidable and professional looking group.

One such bridge has a lovely place name, one fun to roll around in your mouth and form with lips and tongue,  is Scotland's "Firth of Forth" which combines two terms: "the estuary (firth) of of the River Forth."

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Student Biology Contest: Genes in Space.

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Miscellaneou

Ed Hessler

Genes in Space announces its annual  student contest for students in greades 7- 12.. Entries open January 13, 2022.

For full details about the contest see here.

Birds Toes and Feet

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

Ed  Hessler

A recent article in the StarTribune by Jim Williams (12/29/2021) on bird toes and feet made me think about birds as a whole animal, not just parts like beaks, wings and feathers that tend to attract our attention. Their feet and toes are worth considering--taking a hard, sustained look at. But it takes some patience and time to observe those feet in the outdoors. However, some museums often include exhibits with birds, e.g., the Bell Museum and the outdoor store, Cabela's have small mini-museums of wildlife.

And of course there is the children's book by Laurie Ellen Angus, "Paddle Perch Climb: Bird Feed are Neat" which pays attention to feet and toes.The Amazon description sets the challenge: "Become a bird watching detective, discovering clues about where a bird lives, how it moves, and what it eats by looking at feet." And the link to the book notes that the book includes additional "photos and information as well what inspired the" author to write the book.

Or if you prefer to listen and to see the illustrations to the Angus book, this video (6m 09s) features Mrs. Sumter reading the book to her virtual classroom. That's us.

These are some places to start and who knows where this will lead. Williams piques our interest with a few observations about hopping and running as well as a relationship between leg length and whether a bird walks or hops or runs. Some birds may surprise you by doing both and this may lead to observations about what may have initiated the choice. As you watch you are likely to begin to notice other behaviors, too, e.g., head-bobbing as birds walk, e.g., pigeons. Is this true of all the birds you see? Most of all you can begin to ask questions about what you are observing.

As Williams writes in closing, "You can lean a lot about a bird by looking at its feet," a focused re-statement of the more general one made famous by Yogi Berra. "You can observe a lot by just watching."                                                                                                    

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Pie Charts

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Maths, Math Education

Ed Hessler

"I’ve written at length in the past about the failures of pie charts and circular dashboard gauges, so I’ll keep my comments brief about them here. Although the evidence of a pie chart’s dysfunction is hard to ignore when you actually take a moment to inspect it, nothing that I teach is met with such fierce opposition as my low opinion of them." - Stephen Few

The epigraph is from an article published by Stephen Few, Perceptual Edge: the Visual Business Intelligence Newsletter (March/April/May 2010). It serves as a good enough introduction to that essay on circular graphs...pie charts. For the circular displays he includes alternative displays of the same data and provides rich discussions. I found it an interesting read.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Cape Cod Pearls: Oysters

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Nature, Agriculture, Society, Wildlife, Culture

Ed Hessler

Variety it is said is the spice of life, provided by nature in so many ways. What exuberance! The foods we eat is an example.

CBS Sunday Morning's Seth Doane returned home to Massachusetts to highlight oysters, "the pearls of Cape Cod." His father, Paul Doane, "harvests oysters by the bucket--on the muddy flats, by hand with a  clam rake and large screw driver and wire basket-- in the town of Wellfleet. He shares his harvest with friends, an annual tradition, a dozen at a time.

Oyster harvesting requires a license and the baskets are often checked by a warden to see that they are legal size. In addition, the video includes a segment on restoration that is likely to make you think of terrestrial farming.

Here is the 5m 13s video.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Earthquake Lake


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

Ed Hessler

The geological history of Montana's Earthquake Lake located in southern Montana's Custer Gallatin National Forest, is the feature of this Earth Science Picture of the Day (EPOD). There are two photographs and a brief explanation of the powerful earthquake--7.5 on the Richter Scale--that occurred quite recently, August 17, 1959

If you are interested, this documentary (33m 35s) shows the devastation and is based on interviews from witnesses and officials involved. The responses, as is often the case, are interesting so give them a quick browse. In addition, a U. S. Forest Service video (14m 45s) tells the story of this event.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

A Birthday: Google Doodle on Stephen Hawking

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

Ed Hessler

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you and do and succeed at.”--Stephen Hawking.

Google Doodle celebrates what would have been the 80th birthday of English theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking.   He was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig disease--amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)--quite early in his career and later was essentially paralyzed, lost his voice and communicated through a speech generating device.

The My Modern Met Top 50 Images for 2021

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

Ed Hessler

From My Modern Met, the top 50 photographs from around the world for 2021.

About these images the My Modern Met Team writes, "More so than in years past, photographers seem to have focused on the unparalleled majesty of nature and the unwavering human spirit. The images that have stuck with us over the course of the year are varied in color, content, and composition; but they all share a sense of appreciation—appreciation for Earth, for life, for each other."

I think you will agree.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

Good morning from the Center for Global Environmental Education (CGEE), Hamline University, Saiint Paul, MN on the first friday of 2022. It is the 7th day of new year or 168 hours or 1.92%.

There will be 8h 52m 51s of daylight and the sunrises at 7:50 and sets at 4:47pm. It's cold everywhere in Minnesota...the upper midwest.

Foodimentary celebrates National Tempura Day as does National Day which also notes that it is National Bobblehead Day. Here is one of someone most of us know.

Quote: [The conviction of Elizabeth Holmes] "has no effect on any health care entrepreneur unless they want to do what she did. ... Just. Don't. Lie."--Erik Gordon, University of Michigan to STAT's Casey Ross. (January 4, 2022)

Today's poem is by Robert Frost.

And now that we are here and it is 2022, Happy New Year in the new year once again!

Thursday, January 6, 2022

What is a Particle?: Some Answers

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

Ed Hessler

Those of you familiar with the Next Generation Science Standards/A Framework for Science K-12 Science Education know that the writing teams focused not only on practices of science and engineering, but also on crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. The two documents may be examined, read, even printed for free except for the cost to you on-line.

One of the crosscutting concepts is Structure and Function which is defined as "The way in which an object or living thing is shaped and it substructure determine many of its properties and functions." This short entry has little, no nothing to do with schooling except at the advanced research level but I was reminded of this concept when I read a splendid essay by Quanta's science editor/writer Natalie Wolcher posed the following question: Just what are those "particles" in quantum mechanics. No claim is made that I understood all of it!

Much is known about their functional side but little about the "particles," the structures themselves. So she asked a dozen particle physics and found that "they gave remarkably diverse descriptions."

Before moving on I want to say a couple of things about definitions. Several years (or longer) I read an Amazon description of one of the basic texts for AP biology. The student reviewer described the book he and his class were using as a "damned dictionary." Rodger Bybee described several definitions of scientific literacy, a literacy that develops over a lifetime. They are illiteracy, nominal (in name only; the term is scientific), functional scientific and technological literacy (able to use the term say on a test or in reading a newspaper), conceptual and procedural literacy (how the concepts relate to the discipline and are used), and multidimensional scientific and techological literacy (understanding the essential structures/features that help complete it, including the relationship to the whole of science and technology and to society.)

Definitions have their use but are not by any means the whole of science: the emphasis is on understanding and this was expressed in the reform preceding NGSS (Project 2061) and the NGSS. Limit the vocabulary; increase human understanding. The aim is a theory supported by evidence which makes predictions that can be tested. This is what the following ideas are driving at--theory, one that is encompassing (although some theoreticians suggest that there is no reason Nature had this in mind). Perhaps one theory is not enough, the so-called theory of everything.

The list is short but includes illustrated which help provide you an idea of what theoretical physicists who work with these particle daily (mostly on chalkboards and paper) are dealing with and thinking about and how they think about this problem.

Wolcher first draws attention to two typical and unsatisfying answers although one is a non-answer 1). "The easy answer quickly shows itself to be unsatisfying. Namely, electrons, photons, quarks and other 'fundamental' particles supposedly lack substructure or physical extent.  2). We say they are ‘fundamental,’ said Xiao-Gang Wen, a theoretical physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 'But that’s just a [way to say] to students, ‘Don’t ask! I don’t know the answer. It’s fundamental; don’t ask anymore.’” 

A particle is--don't let the arcana drive you away. Take a look, perhaps just one you have heard about.You will find references to patterns and their potential usefulness in making observations, frustrations of beginning students, things so small they can't be detected, the use of bits that can be stored--think of bits (0's and 1's) in transistors, and the role of mathematics in all this. None of this is easy but you might want to take a look anyway. The attempt is admirable and one of the best "popular" accounts I've seen.

--a collapsed wave function. 

--a quantum excitation of a field.

--an irreducible  representation of a group.

--I'll put this one as a particle is a many layered thing (particles have so many layers).

--might be vibrating strings.

--deformation of the Qubit ocean.

--what we measure in a detector.

Here is the definition I like best. Netta Englehart, a particle physicist at MIT said to Wolcher, "'We don't know' is the short answer.'" This is not to be taken as a claim that these building blocks of nature are not unknowable but they are not known for the time being.

For information about the magazine, Quanta see here


Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Lurking in the Deep

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

Ed Hessler

This post from ZeFrank has been viewed 1,003,124 times as of December 21, 2021 since it was first put up on November 19, 2021. His True Facts series is one of the best, informative and consistently accurate nature film reporters I know. You may or may not like his sense of humor and if you don't I recommend you keep watching. It is more than worth it.

This video (9m 30s) is titled Lurking in the Deep.  The first response is from one of the videographers on NOAAShip Okeanos Explorer and she welcomes ZeFrank, "unofficially to the team!"

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Untangling a Food Web

Environmental & Science Education, STEM,Water, Watersheds, Biodiversity, Invasive Species

Ed Hessler

Somewhere in our education, grade school to high school to college, we encounter food chains and food webs often captured in lovely, stylized illustrations. Their purpose is to help us understand text descriptions on the passage of food through animal communities from their various plant bases until all are broken down by scavengers - saprophytic chains - and the much simplified constituents,the  inorganic residues are returned to the physical environment.

The study of food webs and food chains is still active and the methods various. In a recent Aquatic Sciences Chronicle (ASC), Issue 3, 2021, one of these, using immunochemistry. It is not a new technique in ecology with one of the investigators, John Berges (UW-Milwaukee) noting that the technique "is really the first time it's been used systematically in fresh waters."

The technique involves creating specific antibodies and the perfect incubators are New Zealand White rabbits. Suspected food of the prey, in this case, of spiny waterfleas, are ground up, homogenized, and a small sample is injected into the rabbit. This is followed by a 6-12-week period of waiting for the antibodies to be produced. Berges notes that after this period "you have a huge array...of antitbodies which now recognize the proteins that are in that ...potential prey item, that you injected into it."

This is followed by a blood draw and the antibody fraction of the blood (known as immunoglobulin, IgG.) to which is added to a  soup of spiny waterfleas. The IgG binds to the predators proteins and is removed. The leftover, now refined  chemicals, will react with prey soups and not the predator.

The research team investigated 12 different suspected prey. Some of these were negative and some positive. However, there were two surprises: 1) evidence that spiny waterfleas were "consuming the larvae of invasive Dreissenid mussels (aka Zebra mussels or quagga mussels). However, this flummoxed the investigators. Why would a large predator 9the spiny waterflea eating such tiny bites at a time. The authors think that "the spiny waterflea ate somethjng that itself first ate the larval Dressenid mussel. 

The second, involved a change in scale.A large zooplankton, a copeopod, Limnoclanus macrurus - to use a technical term, one of the "'big dogs in the lake.'"

Then you check "to determine if any of the markers from the rabbit blood overlap with the predator, the spiny waterflea. First a soup is made of waterfleas. Here, the investigators reasoned that the spiny waterflea was eating the juvenile and larval forms of the "big dog."

This is a great story about some of the complexity of food chains and food webs and make me appreciate the natural world all the more. And nature is a demanding subject of investigation, not always letting go of what is secret and unknown to us.

Advantages of the technique include its low cost and that it can be done in most research labs since it doesn't require highly specialized techniques, methods or expensive instruments.

You may read an abstract of the original paper in Limnology and Oceanography Methods. The oomplete paper is behind a paywall.

Monday, January 3, 2022

Darwin's Abominable Mystery

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Biological Diversity, Nature of Science, History of Science, Nature

Ed Hessler 

In a letter to his closest friend and confidant, botanist and explorer, Joseph Hooker, Charles Darwin wrote about something that had  puzzled him. "The rapid development as far as we can judge of all the higher plants within recent geologic time is an abominable idea." 

William Friedmann wrote a paper in 2009 published in the American Journal of Botany, about the question. What Darwin asked and what he didn't." 

Friedmann noted that "Darwin's abominable mystery is about his abhorrence that evolution could be both rapid and potentially even saltational. Throughout the last years of his life, it just so happens that flowering plants, among all groups of organisms, presented Darwin with the most extreme exception to his strongly held notion natura non facit saltum, nature does not make a leap." Darwin was a gradualist.

 Friedman's paper may be read in full and you are urged to take a look for both pictures and copies of Darwin's letters to Hooker which Friedman comments on but if nothing else read the abstract at the beginning.. Friedman's analysis is comprehensive.

Subsequent investigators thought Darwin had asked a more focused question on the origin of flowering plants per se but about evolution by leaps...(and)  could be used to support a creationist agenda."

So Darwin's question has taken two forms and you might wonder whether the more narrowly focused question--the origin of seed-bearing plants--has been resolved. The AAAS journal Science has a video (June 2020) on this question (3m 30s). In Friedman's paper he observed that "A Google search of the internet for 'abominable mystery' and 'Darwin' will yield hundreds (if not thousands) of results, often in science headlines referring to the mystery as “solved.” 

As usual with a video I recommend take a look at the responses as well.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Nature's Picks: The Best Science Images of 2021

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

These "shots...caught the attention of Nature's news and art teams" for 2021. 

Senior news editor  Emma Stoye is our gallery guide.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Nerdy Christmas Facts: Sabine Hossenfelder

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

Ed Hessler 

On Christmas Day, December 25 in 1642 was born Sir Isaac Newton. Well, his birthdate depends on which calendar you choose to use. At the time of his birth two calendars were in use, the Julian or Old Style (Protestant and Orthodox) and Gregorian or New Style (Roman Catholic). The New Style date is January 4, 1643. 

Sabine Hossenfelder uses the occasion of Newton's birthday to present some nerdy facts (she discusses the calendar issue).

She begins by saying "You have probably noticed that in recent years worshipping Newton on Christmas has become somewhat of a fad on social media (I hadn't but I don't use social media.) People are wishing each other a happy Newtonmas...." 

Here is the video (11m 42s) with the transcript below which you may also watch on YouTube (without the script). "By the way," Hossenfelder asks, "did you know that Xmas isn't an atheist term for Christmas?" She tells us why, a story about alphabets.

The post is a lot of fun, interesting--about that Happy Newtonmas fad, not as new as we think--and the facts are of the kind "that you can put to good use in every appropriate and inapproprate occasion."