Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Renewable Energy Storage

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

Ed Hessler

Sabine Hossenfelder tackles a topic that is important but one that we pay little attention to: energy storage from renewables.

She writes that she hesitated "to do a video about energy storage because in all honesty it doesn't sound particularly captivating...But I changed my mind when I learned the technical term for a cloudy and windless day. Dunkelflaute. That's a German compound noun: 'dunkel' means 'dark' and 'flaute' means 'lull.'"  And then she interjects a little humor, writing "so basically I made an entire video just to have an excuse to tell you this. But while you're here we might as well talk about the problem with dunkelflaute..." (italics mine).

She discusses the most talked about methods but devotes some time to "a few fun ones" too. 

Again we are reminded that "the difficulty of finding good energy storage technologies drives home just how handy fossil fuels are" and provides some handy comparisons. She also discuss whether storage helps with the carbon footprint. It seems that "it all depends" on how it is used. She closes with three things she learned from doing this video.

As usual, I point you to her blog where you can read and watch or click on the link to her YouTube Channel where you have one option unless you are a subscriber: watch.. It is another long effort, 20 m but worth it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

On Building Sandcastles

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

The basic recipe for a sandcastle seems simple enough - sand, water, air, mixed right of course - so why would a civil and environmental engineer spend time studying them as well as teaching prospective engineers about the "recipe"?

In a short article in The Conversation, geotechnical engineer Joseph Scalia, Colorado State University tells us what he has learned. Scalia uses "sandcastles in the classroom to explain how interactions of soil, water and air make it possible to rebuild landscapes after mining metals critical to the energy transition."

Without over describing his work there is sand and then there is sand. The best sands are not beach sands but those originating in mountains, e.g., river sands. There is a reason for this and perhaps you can think of it..  Compaction also increases the strength of the sculptures.

The key, Scalia writes, is water. The moisture range is quite wide. There is some physics here and he describes the behavior of water in a glass you might have observed or missed. Water is "sticky" -enough so that it exhibits some creep (small) up the sides of the glass.  You can also make some comparisons between the creep in a straw and in a glass. You will recall some terms from science classes (explained) such as cohesiveness and capillarity.

However, one term I'd not heard of, particular to engineering, was "suction stress."  The space between sand grains can be thought of as a tiny straw which allows the formation of tiny bridges. This tension draws grains closer and closer together. Something I'd never thought of is that as salt water dries in sculptures it forms salt crystals, becoming a glue, although one that is brittle and sensitive to destruction by touch.

This lovely, informative article is linked in the right places and is an example of using a common phenomenon to open the door to understanding the complexity of re-constructing a landscape after a disturbance to remove what is underneath the ground.

By the way, Scalia provides a "general rule of thumb for building great sandcastles": one part of water for every eight parts dry sand. That ratio changes under the controlled conditions of the laboratory to "one part water for every one hundred parts dry sand." 

Whether you have been to a beach this summer or are bound for one or just want to think about the science of the ordinary, I hope you will read it.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Dying Of Thirst In Australia

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

Ed Hessler

The planet takes another sock in the eye.

In 2015, about 10% of Australia's vast mangrove forests in the Gulf of Carpentaria, died. The cause(s) were unknown at the time. 

Researchers in Australia have now determined the cause. It is nicely explained in this short BBC video (2m 20s).

Here are some numbers. 40 million trees died. The area was 76 square km (18780 acres) or 7600 ha.

It was the result of a severe El Nino and so is a climate-related loss (my underline). Climate change has been found to be an El Nino intensifier.

The proposed cure/preventative seems a monumental undertaking but mangrove forests as you will learn, are great banks for storing atmospheric carbon and, tragically, upon their death, great sources of atmospheric carbon.

Here is an explanation of El Nino and La Nina from the NOAA.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

People and Elephants Coexisting in Northern Botswana

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

Ed Hessler

People and elephants are sometimes in conflict, especially when population numbers of both are high as in this area of northern Botswana "roughly the size of Yellowstone National Park, (where) 15,000 elephants compete with 15,000 people for access to water, food, and land. 

Getting children to and from schools safely is one of the social challenges. Yellowstone National Park is "63 miles (101 km) north to south, and 54 miles (87 km) west to east by air. Yellowstone is 2,219,789 acres (8,983 km2; 3,468 sq mi) in area."

Northern Botswana is home to the largest population of elephants on the planet with "close to 200,000 elephants (which) roam freely through the region's maze of waterways, forests," reeds and grasslands. 

The purpose of the Exoexist Project "is to support the lives and livelihoods of people who share space with elephants while considering the needs of elephants and their habitats." 

At the website you can read about the project, tour a lovely photographic gallery and find information about current and plannedwork as well as a list of donors, national and international partners and collaborators. There is a teaser for one offering in future. I'll let you find that.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Kinetic Sculptures

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

With some background in physics (it is not clear how much but enough), self taught artist David C. Roy has been building kinetic sculptures for some four decades. In this video (10m 44s) he describes them from conception to design to their construction to their testing to their power source, even how they are named and how he got started.

They will amaze you if you've not seen them before and all are of wood construction and in addition they are beautiful. The labor is not only one of love but of getting things exactly right.  Plenty of "oohs" and "ahs" throughout. The music is not a detractor either.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler 

"Ice Men" is by the late James Langenbach (September 17, 1959 - July 29, 2022)

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Green Recycling

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Education

Nature's "Where I Work" feature is about University of Bologna PhD student Gianluca Torta whose research is on "how to recycle metals from industrial and municipal waste--anything from cars to computers."

Torta tells us that he "was the kind of child who liked to explore chemistry, not take motors apart. Now I do both. ... Pure chemistry was too abstract for me; I wanted something I could apply to real life." He has taken on a complex and important challenge.

Rare earth metals (REEs) are mentioned and you've probably heard of them. What they are and why they are important to an industrial economy is explained here.

I think you will like his chemistry themed Tee Shirt. 

This is a short story and as always an interesting read.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

A Spoon in the Sky

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

Ed Hessler 

The image featured below was captured over a part of the Jordan Valley by Israeli wildlife photographer Albert Keshet of a murmuration of starlings in the shape of a spoon with a heap of sugar followed by a nod to Israeli spoon bender, the self-described mystic and psychic, Uri Geller is one of the most stunning I've ever seen.

In a post of the image by the BBC, Keshet said ""At one point Albert Keshety began to ascend to the sky and began the dance of starlings. To my huge surprise, in the space of only about five seconds the starlings formed the shape of the spoon. They held it for a few seconds then the shape changed to a bent spoon - just like the one Uri Geller is famous for!"

The accompanying story describes the phenomenon of murmuration, a link to Geller's museum, and another on a University of Gloucestershire and The Royal Society of Biology project on citizen science murmuration survey, a link to a 2m 58s video of the forming/transforming of the spoon starling murmation as well as another at Brighton Pier, England (1m 06s).

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Meet The Relatives

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biological Evolution

Ed Hessler

This Twitter thread offers an enjoyable "tour of your extended family...From your most distant cousin, the sponge, to your closest living non-human relative, the chimpanzee." 

The author of the thread calls it, appropriately, "a hierarchy of alienness."

h/t and thanks to Anne Marie Conlon, chief editor, audience and engagement, Nature.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Science Hoaxes

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

Ed Hessler

Not so long ago, Sabine Hossenfelder of BackReaction  announced that she is celebrating 500 thousand subscribers. Now that is a large number. 

She chooses to commemorate the occasion with "some examples of science and gobbledygook." Ten of them.

Congratulations on the subscription and thanks for helping us to better understand the natural world and how science works.

As you know, I read the blog version where I can watch it but there is a YouTube link which you may prefer without the text. I simply like both.  So here you go.

An alert. She does use the "f-word" once, item #6.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Hydrogen Energy

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

Ed Hessler

Once in a while there is media mention of hydrogen energy as an alternative to fossil fuels. You may already know what it is as well as its importance but if you don't, BBC's environment analyst Roger Harrabin provides a short primer (2m 32s)

In the long run can be a clean fuel but as Harrabin explains, getting to "clean" faces some challenges. I especially appreciated this discussion as well as the discussion of how these problems are currently being considered.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Banding Burrowing Owls in Manitoba

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

Ed Hessler

Manitoba has a Burrowing Owl Recovery Project. Each year members of the project reach into their burrows to band and take samples from them to check on their physical health.

The program started in 1976, after 76 breeding pairs were counted. This led to a "breeding and reintroduction program, with owls from Ontario, Saskatchewan and North Dakota." It didn't work and numbers have been variable since. By the way this brief mention of the attempt is a reminder that the reintroduction of a species missing in an ecosystem is not always a sure thing. On surface it appears to be an obvious solution but there are many variables, some elusive, that can make it problematic as a solution.

The causes of the decline in population include habitat fragmentation --when a landscape is divided, commonly by roads --plays a role, but the issue (take a guess) can largely be blamed on habitat loss from agriculture, oil extraction and other development." In addition but related to habitat loss, the number of the owl's construction workers, hole diggers - foxes, badgers, ground squirrels - have declined.

The CBC's Bryce Hoye has an informative report - the video is 6m 13s long - based on his trip to Melita to band burrowing owls with the Manitoba Burrowing Owl Recovery project and its director, Alex Froese. Part of the story includes Froese's recovery work, the burying of "a system of hard plastic pail and corrugated tubing underground, a video in which Alex Froese discusses her commitment to burrowing owls, and a photograph of Zoey Bostick an enthusiastic young birder, age 11, who "won a draw to attend...owl banding day in July."

Thursday, August 18, 2022

The Lisbon Earthquake

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Earth Systems, Science & Society, Nature, History, History of Science, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

The BBC's REEL has a new video titled "The Earthquake That Changed the Course of History" (6m 56s).  One of the neglected areas in our study of history is a discipline known as environmental history--how nature influences human institutions and the various interactions of humans and the natural world. This is an example.

The 1755 earthquake of Lisbon had such a profound effect on the world that we are still feeling its impact today. As well as devastating one of the most important cities of the 18th century, it shook the thinking of the time.

Many believed the earthquake was a punishment from God. Others wondered if science was a better way to the understand the universe and how it works. We now associate these thinkers with the Age of Enlightenment, a period of history that led to the French Revolution and the American War of Independence.

This idea is included In the book "Earthquake Time Bombs" (Cambridge University Press), Robert Yeats (1931 - 2021). Here you may read a summary of that section of the book. It appears to have been written for the general public.

I was surprised to learn  that the King's "right-hand man," the Marquis of Pumbal * was given the task to rebuild a city that was nearly totally destroyed. It is fair to say that the science of seismology began with him. The Marquis took a scientific approach to the task sending out many questionnaires about observations people made before the onset of the destructive earthquake.

Take a look and see what you think about the compass of this claim. It certainly was a contributor to a change in thinking -- from supernatural to naturalism.

* The Wiki entry honestly notes deficiencies in the entry but of the ones I looked at, it was the most satisfying.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Curiosity: A Decade Later

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Solar System, History of Science, Earth & Space Science

Ed Hessler

What has been learned from the Curiosity rover after its first decade on Mars? NPR reporters Ailsa Chang, Kai Mcnamee and Mallory Yu provide some details in an NPR report. Here is some of the reporting.

--According to Curiosity's lead scientist Dr. Ashwin Vasavada, Mars was habitable not for just a short period of time but for many millions of years..Curiosity had the technology to detect signs of current life but the goal of the mission was to determine life's possibilities. ...". "So if life ever did take hold, it probably never got beyond kind of a microbial stage."

--Mars was once more like our planet but that was very early: 3 - 4 billion ya.  Vasavada notes that because "it's a smaller planet than Earth, [so] that allowed it to cool faster. Once it cooled, it lost its ability to generate a magnetic field. Once the magnetic field stopped, the atmosphere was stripped away by radiation in space. And that led to its inability to, at that point, stay warm and have liquid water." Physics at work.

--The Gale Crater landing site was chosen with care and the cavity it formed "filled with sediment deposited in lakes, and formed layers of mud. Again Vasavada. "What this meant is that we could land there, and see if that sediment really was deposited within liquid water environments, like lakes and streams,We could read the early history of Mars by driving up these rock layers, and determining whether any of those periods of Mars' time had these habitable conditions."

--The Curiosity Rover has driven up more than "over 2,000 vertical feet (about 60 meter sticks worth)  on the mountain, and for the most part, every layer we've looked at formed in a wet environment and had conditions that would have been favorable to life."

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Into the Wild: Feral Swine

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

Ed Hessler 

Feral swine. Here in Minnesota. I recently learned that Minnesota is a member of the " Feral Swine Working Group." Minnesota members include three agencies--the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Board of Animal Health and the USDA Wildlife Services. The latter agency would become involved when the Board of Animal Health can't identify the source owners and the DNR requests monitoring and removal. 

Wild pigs are an invasive species, intelligent, highly adaptable to what Minnesota offers, naturally and agriculturally. The damage they can do is considerable. I kept thinking that they are environmental bulldozers...earthmovers...destroyers..

The official designation is known as The Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and their report for 2021 can be read here which provides all the details (14pp). I found it fascinating and reassuring.

I learned all this in a feature article - Hogs Gone Wild by Deputy Editor Keith Goetzman - in the May-June 2022 Minnesota Conservation Volunteer. The article is on-line but if you subscribe or have other access I recommend you read the original. 

I'd not known we had two close calls--one "in 2009 in southwestern Minnesota," where "a 'handful' of potbelly pigs were released on private land, began breeding, and soon grew to more than 50." The second occurred "in 2016, amid the mature aspen forest, grasslands, and wetlands of West Valley Wildlife Management Area in far northwestern Minnesota." Both were eliminated. Goetzmen notes that "potbellies pop up regularly among escaped pigs."

Goetzman concludes with a discussion of why legalizing hunting is not silver bullet, indeed in the end it makes matters worse. He describes the effectiveness of Missouri's trapping program. One trapper captured "72 hogs at one time."

Monday, August 15, 2022

A Taxonomy of College Team Names

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Miscellaneous

Ed Hessler

Tanya L. Rogers is a research ecologist at the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center (Fisheries Ecology Division" who also occasionally (very, it appears) posts on her blog on her home page, "Outside the Quadrat."

In December 2020, she posted on a taxonomic analysis of US college team names. The names could be categorized under mammals, birds, people, other, mythic creatures, plants, with three animal entries, each unique: amphibian, reptile and invertebrate. The other category includes a diverse group, e.g. color, verb, weather, folklore, transportation, founder's name, etc. For information about taxonomy see here.

Rogers noted that "I've been often struck by the unoriginality of most sports team names, and as an ecologist, by the seeming over-representation of teams named after predatory birds and mammals." For no other reason than interest, "I decided one day (this in 2016) I would conduct a full classification and analysis of sports team names." She chose college names because professional sports teams provided too small a sample.

She found that "trophically, 57% of those animals were carnivores, 28% were omnivores, and 15% were herbivores." She also found "that states with teams named after Cardinals are states within the range of the Northern Cardinal. Likewise with Blue Jays. Roadrunners on the other hand...." Two team were "named after non-Arthropod invertebrates" and eleven after plants.

The post includes following the dramatic visualization at the top, further details, maps, lists, category issues and methodology.

Rogers notes that there other taxonomic possibilities. "There is certainly more to explore with regard to taxonomic diversity, for instance, and I am sure a social scientist could find something interesting in here. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there were no teams named after unicellular organisms or members of any but 2 invertebrate phyla, which I think is a lot of untapped potential." And adds two name preferences. "If there ever were a team named the Tardigrades or Sea Nettles, they would totally have my support."

The links at the top of the page provide information about Dr. Rogers, her research and see her art and illustration, and even learn what a quadrat is. Rogers with two others just published a paper which found "that chaos is far more prevalent in ecosystems than researchers thought." The paper is behind a paywall but you can read the abstract and learn author affiliations. The abstract includes a caution with respect to conserving and preserving species, "the use of steady-state approaches to conservation. and management."

The blog post was a great deal of fun to read as well as work to appreciate. 

Thanks, Dr. Rogers.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

A Future City: Fact, Fantasy Or...?

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

Ed Hessler

Saudi Arabia has disclosed designs "for a one-building city that could potentially house nine million people near the Red Sea." It would be 106 miles long (~171 km). It's name is "The Line." And here is a promotional video. All for a "100 - 200 billion dollars with the promise of zero net carbon emissions. A "green" oasis. It is also part of a much larger city-state in Tabuk province.

Is is feasible? Is it a dystopian vision of society? What are the environmental implications?

Architectural Digest has a story with some of the details, including an illustration of how it will operate and its location. 

CNN published a story with a few more pictures and details.

This promotional brochure from the Saudi Arabian government includes many artist's renditions, details on its geography and a video of what Manhattan would look with the vertical urbanism being adopted for The Line.

NPR's Bill Chappell wrote a story which includes this additional information,

  • It will be only 200 meters wide (roughly 220 yards);
  • It will rise 500 meters (~546 yards or 1,640 feet) above sea level — higher than the Empire State Building (1250 feet or 1,454 feet to tip;
  • Residents will be able to run errands with a five-minute walk;
  • There will be no cars or roads;
  • High-speed rail will carry people from end to end in 20 minutes (Perspective: 20 miles in 20minutes at 60 mph or ~37kmph;
  • It will cost hundreds of billions of dollars to build.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

When The First Humans Landed On The Moon

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

Ed Hessler

This very short BBC REEL (2m 46s) relives the excitement of the moon landing - the successful result of the Apollo 11 launch on July 16, 1969.

Here is the NASA overview of the Apollo mission with rich details about the mission and many links. It is so nice to have archival information like this at my fingertips.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Thursday, August 11, 2022


Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medcine

Ed Hessler

Most of have taken an over-the-counter pain killer such as aspirin, advil, tylenol (or paracetamol for Europeans). 

Sabine Hossenfelder on her BackReaction blog discusses how they work, differences between them, what pain is, where it comes from and where research into pain is pointing researchers into its treatment. You may wonder, too, "why (she is ) suddenly talking about pharmacology." After all her expertise is in theoretical physics.

The result of her research and thoughts about these topics is another fascinating video, one longer than usual (20m 57s). You know the drill: video + transcript on her blog; video only on her YouTube channel. And as is usual I link to her website.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Marie Tharp and Continental Drift

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & S0ace Science, Earth Systems, Geology, Nature of Science, History of Science

Ed Hessler

To set the stage for this video (4m 32s) about oceanographer and geologist Helen Tharp these notes from the Royal Institution may be helpful.

"In the early 20th century, Alfred Wegener proposed a revolutionary idea: that the Earth’s continents were once joined together, and had gradually moved apart. The idea contradicted almost everything scientists thought at the time, and it took the detailed work of a brilliant cartographer to prove him right. "Conventional ideas held that the ocean floors were flat, featureless planes. As expeditions started to go around the world collecting ocean depth measurements, Marie Tharp – not allowed to join the expeditions herself – processed the data and began to craft detailed, revealing maps of the hidden ocean depths. "She discovered that the ocean floor was in fact a complex assortment of peaks and troughs. In particular, her profiles revealed stark rift valleys, which supported Wegener’s controversial ideas. Even then, it took a long time to convince the scientific community that her findings were correct. Eventually, however, she was proved right, and Marie Tharp took her rightful place as one of history’s finest cartographers."

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Theranos: A Summary from Australia

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Science & Society

Ed Hessler

I've previously posted on Elizabeth Holmes who while still a teenager - the oldest she could possibly be and still be included in that category, age 19 -claimed that she had invented a one-drop of blood technology that could accurately and reliably describe the state of a person's health. For some diseases this would lead to prevention of the disease.

She was the founder of Theranos and convinced investors, many of them well known, into making significant investments, ultimately becoming a billionaire. She was a skilled fund raiser. a superb con artist comes to mind.  The claimed technology had never worked and no one apparently never asked for proof of concept.

The failure of the company became a legal case and as you know a trial was held and Holmes was found guilty of criminal fraud. Her sentence was twenty years in prison and a hefty fine for each count. I doubt she will serve other than the minimum time but who knows. And her time will be in an institution for white collar crimes. Plush and easy compared to the hard time most prisoners serve. 

Here is a Fortune story about Theranos by Mahnoor Khan (May 4 2022) that includes background and full details on the major players.

CBS 60 Minutes, Australia  * recently did an excellent report on Elizabeth Holmes and the incident, including extensive interviews with two whistleblowers who amazed me by their resilience. They have paid a price. Tara Brown's reporting left me in admiration for her well-honed skills and talents. The segment is 27m 10s in length.

* h/t: Jerry Coyne, Professor Emeritus, University of Chicago, at the WEIT website was the person who alerted me to its availability although it took me a while to find it since I didn't read the column in which it was reported immediately.

Monday, August 8, 2022

The Dessert Made With Fish

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Willife, Nature, Culture, Science & Society

Ed Hessler

“In 1984, President Ronald Reagan designated July as National Ice Cream Month and the third Sunday of the month as National Ice Cream Day.” (See United States Census Bureau)

There is one ice cream not many of us have had, one made with fish. On the last day of National Ice Cream Month CBS Sunday Morning correspondent Jonathan Vigliotti treats us to an ice cream known as Akutaq (the word means "mix them together) -- aka Eskimo Ice cream. Originally, one of its very unique features was that it is made only from "ingredients hunted and gathered." 

Vigliotti went along on one fishing trip and had the pleasure of catching one of the  ingredients - pikefish. He also participated in preparing this part of the dish.

Here is a history with recipes of Akutaq. Vigliotti appears to have had the real original.

This is another example of the myriad ways humans have used nature for food, using what the environment and their ingenuity made possible.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Stars Versus Dust

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

Ed Hessler 

--We are stardust brought to life, then empowered by the universe to figure itself out – and we have only just begun. --Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.

Stellar nurseries are dusty places and in the Carina Nebula in the contest of stars versus dust, the stars are winning. They are evaporating and dispersing the dusty nursery in which they are formed.

You've likely seen this beautiful nebula with its spectacular dust pillars and mountains. They are thinner than they appear and are composed mostly of hydrogen. There is less dust than appears. The clearance of dust from the nursery is likely to be complete "within a few million years" so we've a lot of time to enjoy the view.  

The image is from the Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) with a full explanation of what is going on.  

Another reminder that humans have the remarkable ability to learn and an educational system that allows us to figure out what is going on in that distant place by developing the technology to do that.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Live Oaks in Georgia

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

Ed Hessler

This segment from CBS's Sunday Morning Nature focuses on plants--the live oaks, the evergreen oaks of Jekyll Island Georgia. "Life oak" refers to their remaining green, i.e., "live" throughout the winter, when other oaks are leafless and dormant. Another gift of biological evolution.

Plants have attractions of their own and because they don't move around you have a much opportunity in getting to know them than animals in all kinds of weather, the seasons, days and nights. They will be there when you return.

The videographer is Alex Goetz.

If you are interested in the evolutionary history of oaks in general, not the "live oak," this article in Science Daily describes recent research into oaks from the Morton Arboretum which has a Center for Tree Science.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

Botany is by the late Tony Hoagland and is from hisfinal book of poems, Turn Up the Ocean (Graywolf Press, Minneapolis).

The poem was used with permission of Graywolf Press by the Literary Hub.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Teen STEM Scholars from the 74

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Education

Ed Hessler

Here you can meet and celebrate the many achievements, gifts, talents and work of "16 under 16 year olds." They are the 74's 2022 Class of STEM Achievers.

I think after you read about them, you will agree that these are very "impressive teen thinkers and doers in science, technology, engineering and math..." They range in age from 12 to 16 and their specialty interests range far and wide--biomedicine, agriculture, invention, computer programming, etc. They were chosen from U. S. students going to schools. borders to borders, north to south, east to west..

You can also meet the judges and read the judging criteria.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Gutta percha

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Nature

Ed Hessler 

Perhaps you've have heard of "gutta percha" or been stumped when completing a crossword puzzle. I make an assumption but can't imagine it hasn't been used as a  vertical or horizontal challenge.

I'm reading a book in which gutta percha boots were mentioned. What is it? If it became a part of our vocabulary--perhaps not so much in modern times--there must be a reason but what?

The BBC REEL presented a video (5m 48s) on gutta percha and the title captures it's role. It is a tree which "shrunk the world." The Wiki entry on Gutta percha as you will note is incomplete (citations) but is still reasonable and describes its uses, including its use in early dentistry although I assume less used today, replaced by modern and better synthetics.

The story begins in a garden as the BBC video notes. "In Singapore, 1842, Dr William Montgomerie was shown a strange latex by his gardener. This material, when placed in hot water, could be moulded to any shape you wanted, and, on cooling, would set solid. You could do this again, and again and it would happily mould to any shape desired. Unlike rubber, it didn’t crumble in salt water and stayed firm on setting."

Tuesday, August 2, 2022


Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Archeology, History of Science, Children

Ed Hessler

Most of our ideas on life during the prehistoric are focused on hunting with the male aspect of society once again dominating our thinking. Did you ever think of spoons - table spoons - as even conceivable in some regions of the world during the prehistoric period?

Of course not everyone in the world uses are standard table flatware--knives, spoons, forks. Who would  have ever thought that spoons might have played an important role in prehistory, especially in driving population growth. 

The lead to the BBC REEL (6m 17s) is about spoons which humans made "from animal bones (approximately 7500 ybp) to feed their babies with additional nourishment, other than breast milk. Mothers, as they always have, played an essential role in the survival and growth of human populations. 

The "discovery has transformed our understanding of human evolution, culture, and very survival as a species." The last few words strike me as over the top but it is written to attract viewers, recorded by hits. Of course, I could be wrong.

In any event this connection with the past will add to my pleasure of daily meals.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Physiological and Genetic Adaptions to Diving In Sea Nomads

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biological Evolution

Ed Hessler

The BBC Reel has a video (5m 33s) about "a semi-nomadic tribe of fishers with extraordinary freediving skills." They are the Sama-Bajau of SE Asia. 

The introduction includes that shop-worn phrase, "research has shown that their anatomy has evolved to help them...." This research, as is all too usual is not given much time in the film and no scientists involved in it are included.

So I looked for the data, evidence, how it has been interpreted, etc. These are numbered below and range from general to technical papers.

One.  Elizabeth  Pennisi in a news comment in Science (April 19, 2018), * reports on research reported in CELL (173 (43), April 19, 2018 by Melissa A. Ilardo et. al., in the paper titled "Physiological and Genetic Adaptations to Diving in Sea Nomads." Here are the key findings from the paper.

--The Bajau, or "Sea Nomads," have engaged in breath-hold diving for thousands of

--Selection has increased Bajau spleen size, providing a (reservoir pf oxygenated red blood cells), i.e., an oxygen reservoir for diving.

--We find evidence of additional diving-related phenotypes under (natural) selection.

--These findings have implications for research on hypoxia research, a pertinent medical issue.

The paper is technical but there may be segments that interest you such as data, charts, graphs. The paper includes a video abstract and a graphical abstract. The discussion includes a statement on what the results suggest overall. (I've removed the references which you can find in the discussion.)

Overall, our results suggest that the Bajau have undergone unique adaptations associated with spleen size and the diving response, adding new examples to the list of remarkable genetic adaptations humans have experienced in recent evolutionary history. Similar to other of the most extreme adaptations human have experienced, such as adaptation to diet associated with pastoralism) or shifts in environmental availability of food resources), these genetic adaptations have emerged as a consequence of new cultural practices, illustrating that human culture and biology have been co-evolving for thousands of years.

Pennisi's discussion includes comments on consequences most mammals experience when "their faces hit cold water"; how the measurements were taken; DNA comparisons; comments by skeptical scientists, including limitations of the research; and possible biomedical applications. Pennisi's comments are preceded by a video on recent human adaptations to living in less-oxygenated environments.

Pennisi notes that "Mark Aldenderfer, an archaeologist at UC Merced who was not involved with the work," said, 'Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this paper is that natural selection continues to work on human populations.'"

Two. And this essay from The Conversation provides a discussion for generalists on the paper in Cell by Ilardo et al.

Three.There is a splendid Science Friday for April 20, 2019 conversation with Dr. Ilardo (17m 34s) in which the research and its meaning is discussed with the lead author. It is worth the listen providing insights on the science.

Dr. Melissa Ilardo is currently employed at Maze Therapeutics. She also is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Utah.

*At the top of Pennisi's column is a video (2m 44s) on human adaptations to living in oxygen deprived conditions.