Friday, September 30, 2022

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

"The Artist" is by Erin Redfern.

The poem's epigraph is referenced at the end of the poem. 

A non-technical paper about the research which includes some pictures is found in The Conversation.  The scientific paper which Redfern cites is from Science Advances (January 9, 2019) and is fully accessible. It has more photographs and data charts. You can also learn about the authors, methods and the evidentiary claims.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Behavior Change: Agriculture

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

Ed Hessler 

Enterprise, Alabama is a town that honors an agricultural pest, the boll weevil, on a magnificent monument in the center of town, is the feature of a CBS Sunday Morning feature (5m 17s) by correspondent Conor Knighton. 

It is an amazing story about a pest that failed to destroy a town and its economy, a profound behavior change that led to a stronger economy and also how that statue has proliferated throughout the town.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Keeping Particle Physics Laboratories Up and Running

Environmental & Science Education, STEM

Ed Hessler 

It is one thing to be an experimental particle physicist and quite another to keeping the complicated laboratory equipment running. This work is done by accelerator operators which this article about their work are described as "pillars of particle physics." They are responsible for providing beams of high energy particles to all the experiments.

Emily Driehaus, writing for the on-line magazine Symmetry, the on-line magazine about particle physics, notes that particle "Operators don’t learn how to manage "their multiple" responsibilities overnight. They go through a training period that lasts through their first two years on the job." It "involves studying instruction manuals and taking written tests, supplemented by in-person instruction from senior operators." So the learning is both collaborative and "hands-on experience with supervision."

The operators interviewed for the article "say that being an operator is a great gig for those interested in the hands-on elements of particle physics, including those who don't plan to follow the usual path straight through a physics PhD. It is, said one, "the perfect place for non-traditional physics students."

Please read this article for the details of their work is fascinating and is told from the operators point-of-view. There is an illustration, of sorts, at the outset of the path of a particle through the laboratory complex at FermiLab. Below is a photograph of the control room and a video on Fermilab.

Here is a photograph (not current) of the main control room which provides a hint of what keeps the operators busy on a shift.

And in this video (14m 16s), Dr. Don Lincoln provides a primer on Fermilab and how it works.

And here is the Wiki entry on particle or high-energy physics.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The North Pacific Garbage Patch

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Earth Systems, Pollution, Sustainability, Science & Society

Ed Hessler

I suspect that many of us, if asked, about common materials in that great patch of garbage in the northern Pacific (known as the North Pacific Garbage Patch) would say common household plastic items - straws, containers, shoes, those famous duckies, small crates, etc. The patch was discovered in 1997 and has been monitored since. It has grown.

Freda Kreier, reporting on a new study of the patch for the journal Nature writes that the research found that "Fishing gear from just five regions could account for most of the floating plastic debris in the ‘North Pacific garbage patch’, a vast swathe of the North Pacific Ocean.. 

"The  just published research (Scientific Reports) "found that as much as 86% of the large pieces of floating plastic in the garbage patch are items that were abandoned, lost or discarded by fishing vessels. The finding is counterintuitive...." 

The researchers were surprised because as Kreier reports, what was "notably absent from the debris was plastic from nations with lots of plastic pollution in their rivers..." long "thought to be the source of most ocean plastic. Instead, most of the garbage-patch plastic seemed to have been dumped into the ocean directly by passing ships."

This suggests, said Matthias Egger of The Ocean Cleanup  that “'plastic emitted from land tends to accumulate along coastal areas, while plastic lost at sea has a high chance of accumulating in ocean garbage patches'".  The research "indicates that fishing — spearheaded by the five countries and territories identified in the study — is the main source of plastic in the North Pacific garbage patch."

Kreier includes a map of the area as well as a very useful and compact data chart and, of course, a link to the original paper. I include a link to the 11 page PDF of the original which you may want to look at, especially the abstract and the discussion as well as the figures.

Numbers on the map are reported in metric units so for reference: 2000km = ~ 1243 miles; 1.6 sq. km. =  ~ 0.62 sq. mi.; 80,000 tonnes = ~ 88,185 US tons

Monday, September 26, 2022

GR Clears Another Hurdle

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

Ed Hessler

I overlooked the following report from Science News (SN) when it was first published. Symmetry re-published it with the by-line... Another test of a key principle of Einstein's theory of general relativity.

You might want a refresher on the equivalence principle before you read further and here is a lesson (8m 54s ) by theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder who is quoted in the SN report. You know that you have two viewing choices: the blog report which includes a written transcript directly below and her YouTube channel which doesn't have the transcript unless you are a subscriber. 

I'm also including a video (6m 14s) by Paul Anderson, who was an AP physics teacher, Bozeman, Montana and now is an educational consultant and YouTube creator known (Bozeman Science). Anderson was a workshop leader at the annual MnSTA conference in Mankato  (MnCOSE 15, 2015). 

The Anderson video is shorter and included because I thought you might like to learn about the principle  from two perspectives, what an AP physics student is expected to know as well as one pitched at a higher level, say college/interested adult. AP Physics is algebra based while college physics is calculus based.

James Riordan who wrote the SN (9/14/2022) report provides the take home message in the first paragraph. "Gravity doesn't discriminate. An experiment in orbit has confirmed with precision a hundred times greater than previous efforts, that everything falls the same way under the influence of gravity." But please don't stop reading it.

The essay includes background, discussion of the hope by many physicists for a unified theory, known as the theory of everything, a definition (and you may want to compare notes with the explanations above), details of the experiment known as the MICROSCOPE experiment (a satellite), and what's planned next which, in the 2030s is another launch with an even better and more sensitive measuring devices.

Riordan quotes Dr. Hossenfelder on the expectations of theoretical physicists in the current experiment.  “'These tests aren’t just about the equivalence principle. They implicitly look for all other kinds of deviations, new forces and so on' "that aren’t part of general relativity." '“So really it’s a multiple-purpose, high-precision measurement.'”

And what goes up will come down. The experiments were conducted in platinum cylinders, which cost about 2 million Euros (~2 million US, 2022). The satellite impact  is expected in about 25 years in case the dosh attracts you. Where? It will be years before the location will be known and you will have to wait until that date is close.

One of the underlying themes of the Riordan story is about how science works which in this case is really important due to its centrality to a powerful theory in theoretical physics. It includes checking and rechecking measurements, especially as techniques improve, the slant a new line of evidence brings, and the development of even better technical measurements and during the interval until the next launch. In other words, getting the science right.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

The Sylvanshine

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

Ed Hessler 

I'd never heard of sylvanshine but photographer Marco Meniero has and in a recent photograph notes that photographing it had "eluded (him) for years."

The photograph and explanation are found in this Earth Science Picture of the Day. I think that after seeing the picture and reading the explanation you will understand why sylvanshine is such an elusive photographic subject. Many things have to be "picture perfect."

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Developing Personalized Hearts From Stem Cells

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

Ed Hessler

Dr. Doris Taylor is doing research on the engineering of personalized hearts using a patient's own stem cells.

In this 4m 23s video, she discusses the work with CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry,  Art & Environment

Two poems for the season - Poem in Autumn and Autumn Sonnets - by May Sarton, May 3, 1912 - July 16, 1995.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

The Multiverse: A Dissenting View

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

Ed Hessler 

One universe or many?

In this video (linked below) theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder answers questions about what is known as "The Multiverse."  She asks is it science, religion, or pseudoscience? 

Hossenfelder limits her discussion to three main types - as many as nine have been proposed. They are Many Worlds, Eternal Inflation, The String Theory Landscape. Then she goes through some "'standard' objections that physicists (who make claims that they exist) try on" her as well as how we "can deal with them."

Her last sentence is "But don't mistake (stories, articles, videos) about science."

As usual I direct you to her website for the video (17m 01s) and transcript where there is also a link to her YouTube channel minus the transcript (subscription required for bells and whistles).

And don't miss checking the link to her new book "Existential Physics" (Viking)

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

The Peregrine: A Masterpiece

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

Ed Hessler

JA Baker THE PEREGRINE 1967 Harper & Row, inc. Reissued by The New York Review of Books in 2004.

This book is based on 10 years of meticulous observations which were distilled into a single winter season. I'm not going to say much about it except to urge you to read it. It remains my favorite book of nature writing.

In a review (2005?) I can no longer find, Kathleen Jamie wrote "What will date this the author's self-eradication," something I noticed upon first reading. Baker is explicitly absent in the book as are place names. He simply uses the cardinal compass points - the north, etc. - for locations. 
The book is about the falcon and is divided into three parts: Beginnings, Peregrines (November, December, January, February, March, April), and The Hunting Life.

When I first read it little was known about the author who was born in 1926 and died in 1967 and it was not easy to learn more. He lived his entire life in Chelmsford, Essex, was an office worker, got about on bicycle and foot, used binoculars (10 x 50) and a hand held telescope, had arthritis and did his work when birds of prey in England appeared headed for extinction.
In 2011 HarperCollins published in a single volume The Complete Works of JA Baker (he wrote two books, one a companion to The Peregrine).  The HarperCollins website for the books has some information about Baker.
There is also a biography by Hetty Saunders titled "My House of Sky" (Little Toller Books, 2018). It includes Baker's notebooks, journals and annotated maps with a photo essay and original artwork. I've never read it. Maybe someday.

Here are some quotes from The Peregrine.

--"I have turned away from the musky opulence of the summer woods...Autumn begins my season of hawk hunting, spring ends it, winter glitters between like the arch of Orion."--p.11

--"The hardest thing of all  to see is what is really there."--p.19

--"She drifted idly; remote, inimical. She balanced in the wind, two thousand feet above, while the white cloud passed beyond her and went across the estuary to the south. Slowly her wings curved back. She slipped smoothly through the wind, as though she were moving forward on a wire. This mastery of the roaring wind, this majesty and noble power of flight, made me shout aloud and dance up and down with excitement. Now, I thought, I have seen the best of the peregrine; there will be no need to pursue it farther; I shall never want to search for it again. I was wrong of course. One can never have enough"--p.149 
--Imprisoned by horizons, I envied the hawk his boundless prospect of the sky. Hawks live on the curve of the air. Their globed eyes have never seen the grey flatness of our human vision.--p.170

I've yet to read it this year. No small part of the pleasure of reading it each year is recalling who recommended to to me - a peregrine expert. He also read it once a year. We were having a casual conversation about graduate school and books, when he said, "I bet you've never read this book." He could have added "or heard of it." My copy was published by the University of Idaho Press.

I mentioned that when Baker was making his observations the future of the peregrines in England was dicey and they seemed headed for extinction. Thanks to much work they survived. This article from the newspaper, The Daily Mail (2018) has more information about this and their status today.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

HowThe Brain Develops Language

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Nature of Science, History of Science, Biological Evolution

Ed Hessler

One of the big questions in the scientific study of humans is how the brain develops language.

Here, in this 10m 13s video, experimental psychologist Steven Pinker "shares his expertise on how the brain develops language while shedding light on how children, in particular, acquire language at a young age." 

Pinker is a pretty darn good photographer as well so check out his webpage linked above for them and other items about him.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Climate Challenge For Students: A Competition

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

Ed Hessler

The Innovate to Mitigate is a challenge for students in 8th to 12th grade to submit ideas that will mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gases. (UL added).  It is a project of TERC and is funded by two National Science Foundation (NSF) grants.

Full information - guidelines, general timeline, promising ideas, student submissions and information about the project - is included at the website. There are four prize categories: $3000, $1500, $500...and more.  

h/t: Thanks to MnSTA for posting this. My purpose is to extend the reach of that announcement and to draw attention to it, in case you missed it.


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

Ed Hessler

The dynasty of the Mughal Empire lasted some three centuries, from 1526 to 1858.
Alia Yunis writes that it "ended much as it started: wrapped in a love of poetry, painting --and mangos."  (UL added)

Mangos and the complex history of this period are the subject of an essay about this fruit in Aramco World September / October 2022). The Mughal Empire began with "Babur, a descendant of...Genghis Khan and Central Asian conqueror Amir Timur." Babar had "few kind words...for his new domain" but said that the mango was "the best fruit of Hindustan."
In his autobiography Babar described how to eat this fruit. "One is to squeeze it to a pulp, make a hole in it, and suck out the juice, the other, to peel and eat it like a kardi peach." *

The mango, according to Yunis, is "India's beloved national fruit," with the state of Goa the major grower. The mango tree (Mangifera indica)  is estimated to have "developed in the wild about 4000 ya." Interestingly, Babur's son Humayun and successor Akbar the Great...changed the course of mango history more than anyone else with a contribution that went back to the Moors." 

The connections, influences, rulers and knowledge, including their wide ranging geography are fascinating. One is the development of an agricultural practice "unknown to the rest of Europe."  It developed "in the 12th century"  with  horticulturalist Abu Zakariya" who, in his "Book of Agriculture... put into writing the science of plant grafting, the process by which two plants are joined...." 

The Jesuit missionaries who were "sent to Goa by the Portuguese...set about grafting the trees" to increase the availability of these fruits which were so new and delicious to them.  By the mid-16th century...Akbar sent for the Jesuits to come "to his court in Agra to pass along their skills in mango tree grafting. Akbar then commissioned the 100,000-tree Lakhi Bagh orchards...where grafting" led to hundreds of mango varieties.This led to their geographic spread with the Mughals "spread the grafting of mangos across South Asia (and) Portuguese and Arab traders (spreading) mango sees to Yemen, Egypt, East Africa and the tropics of the Americas."

The result according to Yunis has been the development of "more than 1000 mango varieties, 106 of which are found in Goa. The mango season in Goa is short--late March to early June. Global production is growing and global trade and the industrialization of mango production is making it possible for more and more people to enjoy them. Yunis cites one estimate "that by 2030 global production will reach 84 million metric tons (94 million US tons), half of which will come from India." Two other nations are currently major exporters: Thailand and Indonesia.

There is a favorite variety in India, "the Alphonso (also nicknamed Hapoo) and  it originated in Goa. 

Mangos can have some side effects, one of which Yunis mentions, for it showed up "in Mughal-era medical records that speak of the heat the fruit ignites when consumed to excess. ... Ayurvedic medicine widely practiced in the region (Goa)" considers the mango "as a food which heats the body, not one that cools it." For two contemporary discussions see here and here

In closing Yunis writes "while there may be limits to the number of mangos a person can eat, there seems to be none to the stories and myths about them. Some may be overheated, but only some have been shared here, in keeping with sensible moderation."

Yunis' essay is lavishly illustrated and extraordinarily well told. The complex history she distilled was done with "sensible moderation."

The complete essay may be read here.
* I was not able to find a good reference for Kardi peaches. Maybe you can.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Feline Study Seeking Research Participants

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Science & Society, Nature of Science 

Ed Hessler

Corin Parsons, Department of Geography at the University of British Columbia is seeking study participants in his Ph.D. research on human-cat relationships in the home.

 You may read about the study, conditions of consent, the researcher and contact information at his web page which has pictures of some great moggies. 

The title of the study is Cats, Gender, and Domestic Space.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Where I Work

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, History of Science, Nature of Science, Earth & Space Science, Geology, Paleontology, Science and Society

Ed Hessler

This "Where I Work" (Nature) feature includes a frightening wrinkle, the first I've seen it mentioned in this series. 

Abdulrahman Bamerni, University of Duhok, Iraq writes "For me, this is more than just research: it’s also a way to defy the Islamist terrorist group ISIS, whose members tried to kill me. I’m proud to be here doing this; the pursuit of knowledge is my way of resisting ISIS’s extremism."

Bamerni's journey to his PhD included an assassination attempt from ISIS. 

Bamerni is interested in how the "dinosaurs' extinction played out" in Iraq. In 2020, he found the first cross section of rock in Iraq that meet the requirements of the change-over-time study of life changes in which he is interested.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Poetry Friday

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment, Maths, Science & Society

Ed Hessler

Today's poem is by Diana Rosen

I've seen her described as "an esssayist, poet, and flash writer in online and print journals." She is a prolific writer, tea a specialty,

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Jumping Spiders: Sweet Dreams?

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

Ed Hessler

I'm always pleased when I find a jumping spider in my house or anyone's house (although when in someone else's home I don't announce it). Cute, seeming to study you as much as you attempt to  study them - they are not still for very long - with their "my-what-big-eyes-you have. 

Now it has been reported that they might share a feature with us, Rem sleepNPR's Kai McNamee reports on the findings where she defines Rem sleep as "REM sleep, also known as paradoxical sleep, is the phase of our sleep cycle where our brains show an increase in activity but our bodies remain immobilized — our eyes dart quickly, and we can experience really visual dreams."

So do these tiny rascals dream, too?  It is not known with the kind of certainty based on evidence that is the stuff of science but this is sure to come, one way or the other.. And so far, that sleep in jumping spiders is refreshingly described with the caution of scientists: "something like rapid eye movement,"  "might even dream at night."

There is a short film taken by lead researcher, Dr. Daniela Roessler which shows some of the phases of their sleep. In addition, the paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) which includes several short videos - is linked in McNamee's essay. The link to Daniela Roessler has a photo right at the top of a jumping spider as well as a description of her research, etc.
You might enjoy this educational study video (8m 28s) of the most common jumping spider in Australia, the Green Jumping spider. He is an enthusiast.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Glorious Fungi

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

Ed Hessler

A few days ago I had a lovely coincidence of two posts on fungi. So here they are in the order in which I read them.

First there was this series of photographs of mushrooms on Dr. Jerry Coyne's website. Why Evolution is True which included two of Tinderconk fungus, one on the tree and the other after it was pounded into  faux leather. You have to scroll down to see them and I urge you to look at all of the photographs which were diverse and wonderful. The photographs are accompanied by commentary, too. 

Second was this Where I Work essay from Nature Briefing/Nature.

Fermentation scientist Chuchu Huang works for Mycorena, a Swedish biotechnology company that grows fungus. The mycelia of certain yeasts -- multicellular rather than single cells which can grow into large structures --- and  are used in the manufacture of products such as vegan leather, animal feed, and meat substitutes. One food product is already available in Swedish shops.

And here is a YouTube Video (8m 05s) from 2021 inside a lab working on the faux leather-making process.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Learning A Language

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

Ed Hessler

When is the best time to learn a language? 

What immediately popped-up to me was that we all "know" the answer: when you are young, the younger the better. Case closed.

Not so fast says Harvard's cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker. In this "life of the mind" video (9m 34s), Pinker discusses what cognitive science has revealed about a co-called critical period in life that accelerates language growth and learning. 

At the end Pinker discusses the limitations of the data.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Migration Celebration 2022

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

Ed Hessler 

You may not be migrating but the birds are.

You can participate in the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology's annual Migration Celebration 2022, It is "a festival of free online events September 12-22, plus a day of in-person events (if you are in the neighborhood) at (their) headquarters on September 17.

Here are the details. The webinars are free, but please register to secure your place by clicking the links in the listed events. There is one virtual storytime with "Ruby's Birds" by Mya Thompson and illustrated by Claudia Davila.

 You are likely to see some new birds and certainly will learn some new thins.

All about this event here.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Dinosaur Sounds

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Geology, Paleontology, Biodiversity, Behavior

Ed Hessler

Many of us would like to know what dinosaurs really sounded like.

Noam Hassenfeld, reporting for VOX (August 24, 2022) describes recent attempts based in science rather than our imagination.

Most of us want some of them to roar, of course.

Why we would like to know is curiosity about the world, of course but there are scientific reasons which result from such curiosity, too. Animal vocalizations provide clues to their behavior as well as their environment. 

Hassenfeld includes vocalizations from the film Jurassic Park of what film makers thought they might sound like. He turns our attention to a couple of possibilities but spends most of his time on one, the vocalizations of a current living member of the dinosaur family, the alligator. In other words to the evolutionary tree - crocodilians - although they are not the most closely related.

You can listen to alligator territorial vocalizations and may be surprised as I was. Paleontologist Julia Clarke pushed this vocalization another step...downward. She pitched "an alligator sound down extremely far in order to simulate what a T. rex - the iconic dinosaur -may have sounded like" and this sound sequence is included. I include two links for Dr. Clarke, here and here. I think you will understand why I chose two once you check them.

The article is thorough in its coverage of what is known and unknown and the discussions Hassenfeld had with paleontologists is lively and informative. Please do yourself a favor and read the full article.

Also included in the article is a link to "Unexplainable, Vox's science podcast (39m 32s) about unanswered questions" on dinosaur sounds with paleontologist Michael Habib
It is well known that birds are even closer relatives on the evolutionary tree so why not use them as a first consideration? The problem is with a soft tissue, so often the case in paleontology. The first appearance of the syrinx," the structure birds use for their vocalizations while showing overlap in time with dinosaurs is not known. The lack of soft tissue material or evidence for it is a formidable problem in simulating their vocalizations.

Suppose though that dinosaurs had a syrinx. The sonic possibilities are included in another sound sequence. The article includes another link to an episode of Unexplainable in which "Vox sound designer Cristian Ayala tried his hand at creating some scientifically plausible dinosaur sounds based on these conversations."

The article made me think about the nature of science. There are many ways to think it. Theoretical physicist Sean Carroll posted a new one recently (Facebook), a sequence I like: "The language of all science is: 1 We have ideas. 2. They could be right. 3. Or they could be wrong. 4. But sometimes we fall in love with them anyway. 5. How do we guard against that?

I'm sure you have some ideas.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

How Do Astronomers Determine The Age Of Stars?

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

An instructional video from Science News tells how astronomers measure the age of a star. At the opening, science writer Lisa Grossman describes the problem faced by astronomers by remarking "stars don't exactly come with a birth certificate."

The video describes three strategies - Hertzspring-Russell Diagrams, rotation rates and asteroseismology - in a 6m 13s video.

In an accompanying column, Lisa Grossman and Helen Thompson have written an article which describes the "one variable scientists haven't quite cracked yet...time." The authors continue with this jarring comment by astronomer David Soderblom (Space Telescope Science Institute). "The sun is the only star we know the age of. Everything else is bootstrapped up from there."

Grossman and Thompson discuss the three methods and close by writing a teasing bit about the importance of this question of the star ages.

"Aside from curiosity about the stars in our own back yard, star ages have implications, beyond our own solar system, from planet formation to galaxy evolution--and even the search for extraterrestrial life.

"One of these days -- it'll probably be a while -- somebody's going to claim they see signs of life on a planet around another star. The first question people will ask is, 'How old is that star?'' Soderblom says. "That's going to be a tough question to answer."


Friday, September 9, 2022

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

"Little Red" is by Sarah Wimbush. 

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Red Orioles

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

Ed Hessler
Two titles, one heading at the top of the first page of a regular column and especially the other heading at the top of the second page of the column about birds by Val Cunningham (StarTribune 8-27-2022),* made me think thought of Eric Carle's book for children, "The Artist Who Painted A Blue Horse." ** This link is to a video where Mrs. F. reads the book and turns the pages. It includes the original painting of a blue horse and a description of the painting by Expressionist Franz Marc.

A reader had sent Val Cunningham some photographs, taken this spring in Pennsylvania, of a red oriole. Cunningham notes that "orioles with unusually red plumage began to be reported in 1993 in Rhode Island and New York state". Humans are implicated (again!).

Cunningham explains "that the color change was likely due to a pigment in the berries of nonnative Asian bush honeysuckles" once promoted by nurseries in the name of habitat improvement have became successful spreaders. They are now described as an invasive species.

Cunningham notes other birds variously affected: "cedar waxwings, white-throated sparrows, yellow-breasted chats, various warblers and northern flickers."  Orioles are not affected physiologically. But the color could have a severe penalty if it becomes widespread through breeding behavior.

Females make their choices based on the "brightness" of the males. It indicates a physically fit, healthy male. A less fit bird could be hidden by the color. Of course it has a scientific term: erythrism.

One unanswered question is whether the color is temporary and lost "after spring time molt."  However, even then, the berries are abundant in the fall and perhaps this will perpetuate the cycle.
* Behind a  subscription paywall. I hope you have access to the full article which includes two males perched together. One in normal colored plumage; the other in red colored plumage.

**The first one read "Diet can produce off-color orioles" and the second one, "Orioles of a different color."

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Using APOD in Classrooms

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Astronomy, Cosmology, Teaching & Learning

Ed Hessler 

NASA once collected some statements from teachers, elementary to graduate school, on how they use Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) in their teaching.

The entries make for interesting reading and provide a glimpse into how teachers turn a photograph into a learning experience. Teaching and learning are complex activities and these examples will likely make you think about these two activities. They are likely to leave you with questions, too as well as give you ideas on how photographic resources can best be used. 

Here is the entry.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Quiet Cars Should Be Heard

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Sustainability, Climate Change, Sustainable Transportation, biological Evolution

Ed Hessler

Have you ever been startled while walking/bicycling by an electric vehicle as it rounds a corner or pulls away from a parking space or backs from a driveway or when you are crossing a parking lot? I have although it has been a very infrequent event. It is startling in its own way.

I thought it was me, not paying attention, but learned in John Seabrook's The New Yorker essay (August 8, 2022), "On Alert," that while that might be part of it, electric cars may be too quiet for our own collective good. And this is especially true for the blind or visually impaired.

Preston begins by noting that "unlike vision, smell, and taste, all of which dim when consciousness shuts down for the night, hearing is a 24/7 operation. For early humans, who were trying to rest outdoors with predators around, this trait was presumably a life-saver." Fortunately, our brains have a "filtering function," and learns to disregard "familiar and regularly patterned sounds." It is novel and and different sounds that stand out and grab our attention.

Preston writes about the different way, cities will sound when electric modes of travel "are legally mandated to replace all internal-combustion-engine (I.C.E.) vehicles." Electric vehicles (E.V.s) are incredibly quiet at low speeds; at higher speeds they create noise from both road surfaces and wind. This has an up side and down side.

Pedestrians will need information about the vehicle traffic surrounding us and in 2010, the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, required that "every E.V. and hybrid manufactured since 2020 and sold in the U.S. must come equipped with a pedestrian-warning system, also known as an acoustic vehicle alerting system (AVAS). which emits noises from external speakers when the care is travelling below eighteen and a half miles per hour. (Similar regulations apply in Europe and Asia)."

Preston covers in detail the efforts "to make naturally quiet vehicles noisier." It is a long process, requiring the collection of data, taking into account the needs of the blind community, setting a minimum noise standard, establishing numerical acoustic rules (6 years and 372pp.) and designing the sounds. This was set in motion with the 2011 "Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act," called "for a 'sound or set of sounds for all vehicles of the same make and model.'"

There is a quote from John Pare, of the National Federation of the Blind (N.F.B.) that provided me a useful perspective on considering this issue. He told Preston that"society has already been trained to know what cars sound like. It's really hard to specify what a car sounds like. How do you put into regulatory legal language that a car should sound like a car?" (My italics)

Preston also describes "the vast new stage for sound designers, both inside and outside" electric vehicles. We want to avoid a "sonic plague" the most notable of one of them are the "back-up beepers unleashed by Ed Person's mid-sixties invention, the Bac-A-Larm...tempered by back-up cameras in new trucks and vans which warn only the driver and not the rest of the street, if someone is behind the vehicle." You can imagine the opposition from the N.F.B. It was "predicated on an imminent colision, rather than preventing such incidents from occurring in the first place." 

The trick is the development of an "alert (that) reaches the people who need to hear it, without annoying those who don't." Preston provides a great description: threading the "sonic needle."

You will learn, I think (I did), that making the world quieter is likely to be a struggle. Preston notes that there are sixty major auto brands world-wide. Consider that each has its own "unique identity" or that each brand comes with a customizable sound system. And then making cars just loud enough so that they can catch one's attention another.

It is a fascinating essay on city soundscapes to come and may be read here.  The on-line version is titled "What Should a Nine-Thousand Pound Car Sound Like."

By the way in reference to internal combustion engines, I'd never heard the phrase "'suck, squeeze, bang, and blow' car talk."  It refers to "the induction of air, its compression inside the piston sleeves, the explosion of the vaporized gasoline, and the expulsion of CO2 exhaust."

Monday, September 5, 2022

A Short Biography of Emmy Noether

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, History of Science, Maths, Mathematics Education

Ed Hessler

Unless you are a theoretical physicist you are unlikely to have heard of Emmy Noether. Her contributions to physics were breathtaking so if you don't know her but once heard of her and forgotten what she did read on.

Dr. Don Lincoln of Fermilab who hosts the YouTube channel Fermilab, takes on this task in a 10m 23s video titled "The Most Significant Genius." That is quite a claim and I think Noether was just that. Arguments about this are at a much higher pay grade than mine. This video is very nicely done.

h/t and thanks to S. Abbas Raza, 3 Quarks Daily.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Where I Work

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Geology, Earth & Space Sciences, Earth Systems, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

NatureBriefing provides a service by directing us to the journal Nature for the short "Where I Work Series," written by a wide range of people who work in science. Additionally, it informs us about the various avenues one can take to become a scientist.

This one focuses on a new application of smartphones  by geographer Gregor Luetzenburg as erosion trackers.  I like this one for its reminder that scientists try to use as many sources of evidence as they can to clarify, challenge and inform their reasoning and conclusions.

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Selected By the journal Nature: Best Science Photos For August

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

Time for a leisurely stroll through Nature's best science shots for August, selected by their photo team.

Each photo includes a short explanation and you dictate the pace of the walk through the gallery to which you can return, anytime. 

What a deal.