Thursday, August 31, 2023

Black Pepper

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

Ed Hessler

Another puzzle in the spice trade has been solved. It is reported on by Stephen Carmichael of the Mayo Clinic, MN in his regular column, Carmichael's Concise Review, for MicroscopyToday, January 2023.

Ground-up, dried fruits of black pepper (Piper nigrum)  is a commonly used spice -- it is one of my favorites which includes the sound and feel of grinding the fruits. Carmichael begins by wondering about the first people to taste pepper seeds and their experience of it. Once in the mouth, he writes, "a pain receptor that is also stimulated by...capsaicin. Stimulation of that receptor is at the heart of a centuries-old spice trade that is still flourishing today."

The cause of pepper's pungency is due to the chemical piperine "in combination with a blend of naturally occurring organic chemicals." Two questions have long remained about piperine, "its cellular localization and complete biosynthetic pathway." One of these has been solved by a research team at the Leibniz Institute of Plant Biochemistry and the results published in The Plant Journal. 

The research question was whether piperine is produced in one place and then stored in another or whether production and storage occur in the same location.

I was immediately struck by the number of techniques the research encompassed, "including," as Carmichael writes, "but not limited to, purification of the native enzyme, immunolocalization, fluorescence microscopy,and electron microscopy that produced "experimental evidence that...the synthesis and storage of piperine occur in the same location."  However, "there remain several unanswered questions about the biosynthesis and storage of piperine and related compounds."

The technical paper referred to above may be found here. While it is for specialists there are parts you may find helpful, e.g., some of the abstract and introduction and the illustrations in which are included many images providing the case for their finding. One of these, much enlarged, is included in Carmichael's reporting. The paper includes a listing of the contributions made by each author which emphasizes the various skills each brings. 

At the top of one of the pages from the Leibniz Institute of Plant Biochemistry I found this statement on what the Leibniz Association regards as Good Scientific Practice: "The basis for scientific work is the honesty of scientists towards themselves and others. This is the ethical standard and the basis for the rules of good scientific practice. Validating and applying these rules in practice is a key task for the sciences." 
Denoting "in practice" focuses on the people and places where research is done.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

A Lost World

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

Ed Hessler

In a seldom visited valley known as La Mosquitia in the Honduran jungle, a scientific expedition placed motion-sensing cameras to learn more about what species were there. It is the site of a city about which almost nothing is known and referred to simply as The Lost City. The region is also the same area long believed to have been the site of the City of the Monkey God or the White City for which there has never been any evidence.

The research team was both surprised and pleased with the results because this ecosystem is even more pristine than they imagined. Many of the animals were thought to be extinct outside this remote and isolated valley. Some of the animals behaved as though they had never seen humans before.

Douglas Preston who writes for The New Yorker was on the first expedition in which evidence of the ancient city was first discovered. He has just written an essay about some things that have been learned since. It includes a link to a short tape from that first expedition.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Part II of II on COVID-19: Epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm's Experience with Long-Term COVID

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine

Ed Hessler

Minnesotan Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota, was interviewed by Rachel Hutton for the Star Tribune, July 29, 2023, about his experience with long-covid.

I think to say that it is chilling is appropriate.

Hutton tells us how it happened. In March beginning with a celebration of Osterholm's 70th birthday,to which "a few (tested) guests (had been invited) for dinner and attending a small, uncrowded music show (wearing an N-95 mask). And yet, he got his first SARS CoV-2 infection.

Turns out it was a whopper.

Conversation segments are highlighted and for each I include material by Hutton.

--After three years of educating people about Covid, you finally got it. Osterholm "was one of three (guests) infected. There was one time when they were maskless-a short elevator ride."

--When did you develop long COVID symptoms?  "By week three and four the fatigue (settled) in. And I started having memory loss." The latter began to disappear, "but the fatigue persisted." Recovery from this fatigue took much longer. "I've really started to feel as if I'm fully back" during the last 90 days.

--What was it like experiencing an illness that can last for years? COVID's intellectual challenge had been"in terms of what I dealt with in all the anger, and hate, and science. It became a very emotional issue" after the infection. "It...gave me more empathy for those who have had persistent, serious, long COVID." (my emphasis)

--COVID hospitalizations and deaths have diminished. What are your concerns now? He doesn't think we will experience the COVID years of 2020 - 2022) but we now have changing variants. We are "becoming less immune" as "protection from both vaccine and infection wanes." Then he says what perhaps we all know: "it's not done with us yet. ... hope is not a good strategy."

--Can you give us a preview of your forthcoming book? "It's about the lessons we should have learned from this pandemic." The scaling back of research, dismantling of our public health system, layoffs, etc.

--What do these kinds of cuts mean? Here is the equation. Add the above to "the lack of trust that exists in the public health system. I think we are less prepared for the future than we were in 2029 and 2020."  (my emphasis) "What if we had the holy grail vaccine that actually had borad protection, durability, and could be administered (worldwide) without a minus-30-degree cold chain?"

--What's a worst-case scenario we might face? SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrom) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome...killed 15 to 35% of the people it infected" BUT "were not as infectious as SARS-CoV-2" which "only killed a half percent of people." Biologically, what could happen is "a coronavirus that is as infectious as SARS-CoV-2 and kills at the same rate as MERS and SARS." (my emphasis).

--What's your advice about the new boosters coming out later this summer and fall? "Please get boosted."

The article is behind a paywall but is titled for those of you who have access "Osterholm learns firsthand what long COVID does." (July 29, 2023 Star Tribune, Rachel Hutton reporting)

I have not found mention of or a link to Hutton's reporting or even tangentially related information on the website found above.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Part I of II on COVID-19: Seasonality?

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Science & Society, Climate Change, Global Change

Ed Hessler

Most of us live as though the COVID-19 pandemic is over.  But, Helen Branswell, a STAT senior staff writer whose beat is infectious diseases, clamps down on that idea. (If there is anything we should know is that COVID-19 has many tricks up its long sleeves.)
"But for many scientists who have been tracking the largest global infectious disease event in the era of molecular biology, there is still a step that the virus that caused it, SARS-CoV-2, hasn’t yet taken. It has not fallen into a predictable seasonal pattern of the type most respiratory pathogens follow."

Branswell continues with interesting comments by communicable disease experts and reasons this is more than an interest of academic scientists. It has to do with logistics such as "health care labor force" and timely rollout of booster shots. In other words, seasonality and predictability make these possible. 

Hypotheses on reasons some viruses "hew to a seasonal pattern" are discussed and Branswell includes a comment  by Nick Grassly, an infectious diseases modeler at the school of public health at Imperial College London 'of a much stronger evidence base on the impact of climate variables (esp. temperature and humidity on pathogen survival and how this translates to an impact on transmission in the population.'"

On the other hand, flu pandemics have been anything but seasonal and Branswell provides dates for outbreaks  starting in 1918. There is a lot going on as viral outbreaks interact -- Covid disrupted flu and RSV. This is called override. and what "remains to be seen" as Branswell observes is "when it will be apparent that SARS-2  has lost its override capabilities, when we'll feel confident aboutt we know when to expect---plus or minus a month or two---Covid's annual onslaught."

I hope you read Branswell's typically splendid reporting. This question is important one that seems to me especially complex with many interacting variables. You will end up better informed.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Dancing Stars

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Art & Environment, Earth & Space Science, Astronomy, Astrophysics

Ed Hessler

This image from Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) first caused me to wonder what I was seeing. The dazzling display of shapes and colors was pleasing. But what in the world were those neon-like images?

They were images of stars "found in the northern sky constellations Bootes, Corona Borealis, Ophiucus, and Coma Berenices" and the colors explained with each squiggle and squirm identified in the surrounding border. Still their strange shapes remained.

Sometimes holding a camera attached to a telescope doesn't require everything to be still -- of the hold-your-breath command.  A twitch can lead to some wonder and some fascinating art. I'm glad Paolo Palma thought "I wonder what would happen if...."
For information about photographer Paolo Palma see here which also includes the location of photo, date/time of photo, equipment and Palma's description in which he tells us about why he chose to call them "Ghirigori".

Saturday, August 26, 2023

From a 1922 Science Textbook: How School Science Has Changed

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Education, Technology

Ed Hessler

The diagram is from The Science of Common Things; a Textbook of General Science, by Samuel F. Tower and Joseph R. Lunt (D. C. Heath,1922), for junior high school/high-school students. Tower is listed as Head Master of South Boston High School and formerly Head of Science High School, Boston. Lunt is listed as Teacher of General Science at English High School and Lecturer on Methods of Teaching General Science.

This is a very small example of how science content has changed from an emphasis on the practical and how things work to currently one I hope will be the polishing and improvements of concepts, science practices, and cross-cutting concepts. It also provides a hint on how instruction has changed.  Then it was a time of direct instruction, memorizing, "canned" experiments  (specific laboratory instructions as well as teacher led demonstrations). 

Over time as more emphasis was paid to how humans learn, instruction has changed to more active learning with an emphasis on investigations that are more open-ended but with aims in mind. What do you think of the kinds of questions asked, i.e., are they closed or open, thus used as questions to ask his/her own and to invite further inquiry? Here is a long paper from the Journal of Science Education with a table on science content topics and time periods and near the bottom of the methods section (just below Figure 5) the various changes in research topics which I'm using as a surrogate for content change in textbooks.

The Science History Institute lists the topics found in the book: air, food, water, weather, fire, heating, lighting and electricity within homes, clothing and microscopic organisms. The text included scientific projects and experiments, a list of equipment needed for teaching using this text, diagrams and illustrations including printed photographic reproductions of students conducting experiments and lab equipment setups for change.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment 

"Mullein" is by David Baker.

The poem is from his newest book of poems, Whale Fall. The poem may be read in a sample at Amazon, the last poem of two you can read from the "Look Inside." 

Be sure to read the Amazon description of the book next to the image of the cover and also scroll down to read the short editorial reviews. 

Click to read a biography of David Baker.

And about the great mullein, Verbascum thapsus, the Wiki entry covers the territory well. The poem though is about more than the plant.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

The Amazing Pastachio

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Agriculture, Society, Culture, Nature, Sustainability, History, Science & Society

Ed Hessler

Lee Lawrence continues her Innovation & Ingenuity series for the July / August issue of  Aramco World with a story about pistachio nuts whose existnece is owed some very early innovation and ingenuity..

The illustrated story is based on work at the Archaeobotany Research Group, Max Planck Institute.

Some basics about pistachios (Pistachia vera

--They are not tree nuts but fruit seeds.

--The only tree nut with male and female trees. 

--Are wind pollinated with male and female flowers "sometimes (blooming) out of sync."

 --Do not breed true to type, i.e., share the same characteristics as their parents so they first appeared randomly.

--The early farmers and orchardists clearly cherished them because they learned to use artificial pollination to ensure pollination of parental types. This occurred in Mesopotamia as early as the"ninth-century BCE".

--Tree maturation takes 15 to 20 years with variable yearly yields of  "about 9 to 20 kilograms of nuts. By comparison almond trees yield 23 to 30 kilos, and a walnut gives up to 30 to 160." 

Lee Lawrence includes an overview of grafting pistachio trees and a description of how archeobotanists are filling in the details of this remarkable innovation. including its early economics.

As she closes her essay Ms. Lawrence  writes "Who can resist a good nut whose shell splits into a smile when ripe?"  It does look like a smile something I never noticed.
It may be read here.  It has a great title part of which she incorporates into her last sentence.

Re archeobotany and archaebotany. The former is the spelling in Ms. Lawrence's essay; the latter is the way it is spelled in English at the Max Planck Institute. Both are correct. So I kept both.
And Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) has a feature on the Pistachio Nebula, never noted until recently when an amateur astronomer found it. Includes a short explanation as well. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Comet Nishimura

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Earth & Space Science, Solar System, Cosmology

Ed Hessler

--Watch the skies. Everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies.-- Reporter Ned "Scotty" Scott, played by Douglas Spencer, in the film The Thing from Another World, 1951. 

This is an introduction by Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) to Comet Nishimura, a new discovery.

It may become visible to the unaided eye (or not) but those viewing conditions are unique to this comet's orbit, at least they seem so to me. The future of its nucleus is the source of speculation because it will pass so close to the sun - inside the orbit of Mercury. It is possible that it will break up. 

The epigraph, although ripped from its original screen context, is a way of acknowledging cloud and sky watchers and who report on the events overhead.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

A New Hybrid Poplar

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

Ed Hessler

The "InnovaTree" is a "cottonwood-poplar hybrid that can grow up to eight feet (~2.4 m) per year." It is a result of "20 years of research at the University of Minnesota, Duluth (UMD)."

A fact sheet from the UMN lists several possible uses: a quick shade tree..., privacy screens, wildlife habitat, landscaping, windbreaks, conservation plantings, and firewood. Wild animals and birds will use hybrid poplar as a cover and food source. Commercial uses include wood chips, pulp, lumber products, and phytoremediation."

"University of Minnesota extension educator Jeff Jackson... who has been working on the new tree joined Minnesota Now  (MPR) for a discussion about this new tree." 

See these two Wiki entries for information about the eastern cottonwood and poplar.

Here is the interview with Cathy Wurzer. Ellen Finn is an MPR associate producer. The audio interview includes a transcript.


Monday, August 21, 2023

Moggies Meowing

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

Ed Hessler

Moggies meow and we often act as though we know what those meows mean and/or talk to them about what they want.

John Dankosky's segment on Science Friday, July 28, 2023 introduces the following podcast with questions that intrigue scientists and non-scientists. "Cats have formed bonds with humans for thousands of years. But what exactly is going on in our furry friends’ brains? What are they trying to tell us with their meows? And why did humans start keeping cats as pets anyway?" 

So to answer these questions (and more), Dankosky talked with Jonathan Losos, professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri about his new book, The Cat's Meow: How Cats Evolved from the Savanna to Your Sofa.
This line from the first chapter of the book summarizes one finding on what research about cats, all of them, household to their wild relatives, has revealed: "in many ways, a cat's a cat." (From Look Inside, Amazon link above.). A nice hint of what's ahead.

The podcast - 12 m 3 s - includes a transcript. For me this makes it the best of two worlds: listen and read, here at the same time, if you like.
Jonathan Losos has an entry in The Conversation for August 3, 2023, "Cats first finagled their way into human hearts and homes thousands of years ago - here's how." based, I assume on the book. It is worth reading and even has a few photographs. He closes with what is well known among cat owners or servants. Although cats are very trainable – they’re very food motivated – cats usually train us more than we train them. As the old saw goes, “Dogs have owners, cats have staff.” (italics mine)

The link above is long so here is a shorter one. It works in case the other fails.


Sunday, August 20, 2023

Nature and Children: A New Book to Be Read Aloud

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Early Childhood, Children, Wildlife

Ed Hessler

It was very good to discover a new picture book for young children about a child and nature without it overtly teaching a lesson about the environment - a book about the natural world and a child. It is a book where a child can play with the imagination, wonder and to notice nature as Emile does in this story. Beautifully written and illustrated.
Hear It Read
Emile and the Field (Make Me A  World, Random House) is by Kevin Young and illustrated by Chioma Ebinoma. This  is the only read aloud and view of it which I've found on the web (3 m 56 s). The reader has a pleasant pace, allowing time to listen to the words and look at the illustrations.
Book Details

Here are the details from Amazon where you can look inside. Please do that. The images are larger and at the end is a note about first field trip experiences. Christopher Myers writes "It took me years to see what those nice people were awkwardly trying to show me." 
About The Publisher

Make Me A World/Random House (Myers is its creative director) has a web page that tells about the organization, lists books published and forthcoming and where you can sign up for several newsletters.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Oyster Farming: Carbon Absorber or Emitter?

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

Ed Hessler

"Can Oyster Farming Help Save the Planet?" is the question that tops one of my favorite columns, " Where I Work" for August 14, 2023 (Nature). It is written by Linda Nordling who tells us about the work of ecologist Elena Tamburini, University of Ferrara, Italy.

Nordling tells us that "(Tamburini studies) the environmental effects of oyster, clam and mussel farming" and includes a photo of her "standing in ... , a shallow lagoon in Italy, south of Venice. (She makes) the 120-kilometre (~75 miles) round trip here from the University of Ferrara every week during sampling months — April to the end of July and November to December — to study the growing oysters."

Tamburini hopes to find evidence that supports a hypothesis: "oyster farming absorbs more carbon than it emits."

Here is the link, shortened.


Friday, August 18, 2023

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Bandicoot Reintroduction, Australia

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Wildlife, Sustainability, Global Change

Ed Hessler

I loved learning more about Australia's bandicoots in this story by Abigail Tucker in Smithsonian July -  August 2023. Such curious looking little creatures, maligned during colonial times because of their appearance. Bush Heritage Australia and the Wiki entry add much to their story.

It is a story of recovery, one with the inevitable "ifs" "maybes," about being nearly wiped out by invasive species and habitat loss. One of them "the western barred bandicoot...had persisted for some 26 million years in the harsh outback." ... By the 1940s," writes Tucker, "the western barred bandicoot whose original range stretched across much of the continent. ... (is now restricted to) two predator - free islands in Shark Bay.  They don't have a set breeding season with "births triggered by rainfall in the bone-dry desert," writes Tucker. 

Tucker describes "a new effort to seed a mainland bandicoot revival using Shark Bay bandicoots. .... Wild Deserts has "imported  20 bandicoots to a preserved on the edge of Strezelecki Desert, in the remote interior of New South Wales."

Tucker tells us about the design of their reintroduction plan. "The imported bandicoots occupy two fenced 'exclosures,' cleared of invasive rabbits and feral cats." A third fenced area contains the program's Wild Training Zone." There "two other rare marsupials...share terrain with controlled numbers of cats, learning to evade them." The unknown is "whether the (predator-naive) Shark Bay bandicoots will be able to...breakthrough."

And Tucker adds one bit of encouragement. "A recent surge in rainfall has led to a bandicoot joey boom, raising that number to about 100."
Reece Pedler, co-founder of Desert Initiatives has given the wee beasts a "new nickname--a flattering one, ecosystem engineers."

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Are the Laws of Nature Always Constant?

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

Ed Hessler

This short discussion (8m 24s), Are the Laws of Nature Always Constant?, between theoretical physicist Lawrence M. Krauss and Robert Lawrence Kuhn, host of You Tube's Closer to Truth is about one of the deep questions in cosmology.

I think you will appreciate the engagement of the participants in the question whose effect is to engage viewers. It is not a simplified account nor is it made more complicated than it needs to be. It is about the nature of science and there are several examples throughout of how science works, trying ideas, the endless pruning and discarding and polishing, looking for ways to falsify them, thinking of ways to test them experimentally.  

You may be interested in the source of the quote that Krauss mentions. It is by theoretical physicist Richard P. Feynman: The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.

The interview is short enough that it is easy to view again. And maybe again.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Sunscreens and Quantum Mechanics

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

Ed Hessler

You may never have thought about, perhaps even cared about knowing, how sunscreen works at the atomic level. I certainly hadn't thought about it so didn't conceive of atomic level chemistry..

Claire Malone explains and it is not as complicated as you think in her essay for Symmetry Magazine, Applications of Quantum Mechanics at the Beach. "It all comes down to how photons from the sun interact with our skin."

Malone, a wonderful "uncomplicator," explains the details very well, e.g., photons, sunscreen's ingredients and how they work by "absorbing UV radiation like a sponge and then dissipating it safely into the environment. How does this work? It all has to do with electrons and quantum mechanics." She continues by explaining quantum and reviewing basic chemistry. Quantum ideas are a part of the  high school chemistry curriculum and you may remember being introduced to electron orbitals.

If you get stuck on a term, Google and Wiki are of immense help. Google is especially useful in finding discussions on how quantum ideas are used in high school chemistry, both non-AP and AP, including links to syllabuses, curricula and You Tube discussions, many of which include tips for teaching.

To be enjoyed and along the way informed.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Meet the Fossils

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

Ed Hessler

Minute Physics posted a guest video (6m 25s) by Robert Krulwich  & Nate Milton in which we "meet the fossils who died to light up this house." 

A Kentucky home was chosen because Kentucky gets almost all of its energy from coal.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Starfish Embryos Can Create Crystalline Structures

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

There is an area of physics called "active matter," one new to me.

There is a new example which you can learn about in this short video from the journal Nature. It is a "complex system created by simple starfish embryos in a dish of water. For the first time, a multicellular organism has been observed naturally creating a crystalline structure--and with unexpected properties."

The 3m 55s video may be viewed here.

Saturday, August 12, 2023


Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Biological Evolution

Ed Hessler

Another of Athayde Tonhasca Junior's informative photoessays is featured on WEIT's "Readers'Wildlife Photos" (July 8, 2023).

There is little plain about "plain vanilla," except for most of the vanilla products consumed. These are not the real thing--synthetics which are "about 20 times cheaper than natural vanilla." This story is about "the growing value of natural vanilla...promising to small farmers in Madagascar and other developing countries, but there are clouds on the horizon."

A lovely story about what this encompasses: habitat and pollinators, an intricate relationship.

I suspect that "vanilla" might be used less as a summary of something uninspiring or lifeless if we knew the taste of the right stuff.

Posted as usual with thanks to WEIT for the featured column and to Athayde Tonhasca Junior's for the entry. Posted here just in case you missed it or saw it and planned to return to it later but haven't.

Special thanks to owner and operator of WEIT, Professor Emeritus Jerry Coyne, University of Chicago.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environent

Ed Hessler

Like an Ant Carrying Her Bits of Leaf or Sand is by Jane Hirshfield.

It is from her book of poetry Given Sugar, Given Salt, HarperCollins, hardcover2001  and paperback First Perennial edition 2002. 

Jane Hirshfield Answers the Orion Questionnaire.


Thursday, August 10, 2023

Bird Nest Construction Using Sharp, Human-Made Materials

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

Ed Hessler

Two European bird species, Carrion crows (Corvus corone) and Eurasian magpies (Pica pica),  have been observed in The Netherlands, Belgium and Scotland, to have removed sharp metal spikes (aka "hostile architecture" and "evil architecture") off buildings as nesting materials. Could it even be a defensive mechanism as well--anti-bird spikes being used by birds as anti-bird spikes to keep other species from eating their eggs?

In a paper published in Deinsea, an online journal of the Natural History Museum, Rotterdam, the authors note that the use of man-made and sharp materials " is well known." In the abstract to the paper they call attention to the period in which we are now living, the Anthropocene, in which "living biomass is outweighed by anthropogenic mass, alternative nesting materials  are increasingly being adopted by urban birds. With birds...anything may become part of a bird's nest."

The report is thoroughly documented, the methods and results detailed and fascinating reading, and the article is well-illustrated, including examples from the museum nest collection and nests found in the urban outdoors.

The nine page article may be read here. The title is neutral and the authors (5) point to the co-ordination.  The purpose of the museum is described in a memorable phrase at the top of the article.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Solar Wind: Primer

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature of Science, History of Science, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Earth & Space Sciences.

The solar wind is a short perhaps familiar phrase heard from time-to-time, including the media especially when events on the surface of the sun threaten communications satellites and computer driven technologies on the planet. Interestingly solar winds also have a protective function for life on earth.

A few years ago the University of Chicago developed an Explainer Series where one could learn more about breakthroughs developed at the University of Chicago. One is on the solar wind, a very good primer. So if you would like an understandable discussion or a refresher or learn more about the history and nature of science it may be viewed here. It is divided into five sections which include photographs and illustrations: 

--What is the solar wind?
--How was the solar wind discovered?
--How does the solar wind affect us?
--What mysteries remain about the solar wind?
--What is NASA's Parker Probe?

Since the essay was written it is possible that scientists have answered/narrowed one or more of the mysteries the essay mentions. This is easy enough to check using a search engine. I didn't do it.

This was a lovely idea and you may find one or more of the other videos of interest. The link for the entire series is at the top of each video.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Science Misconceptions About The Human Microbiome

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

Ed Hessler

The human microbiome has a widespread popularity among researchers and the general public. Claims are often made of its potential therapeutic solutions to what ails us. This essay is aimed at researchers and scientists but some of this creeps into public discourse and you will recognize some of them.

In a perspectives article by Alan W. Walker and Lesley Hoyles in Nature Microbiology twelve misconceptions are examined with an eye to the science. I will list them and if any jump out at you take a look. The original URL is long so as back-up here it is in shortened form. 

The 5 page paper is in a PDF format and there is information about the author's affiliations and a full citation listing. It also includes an illustration on difficulties of establishing causality from correlation based studies.

--Microbiome research is a new field

--Joshua Lederberg coined the term 'microbiome'

--There are 10^12 bacterial cells per gram of human feces

--The human microbiota weighs 1 kg  (2.2 pounds) to 2 kg 4.4 pounds)

--The microbiota outnumbers human cells 10:1

--The microbiota is inherited from the mother at birth

--Most diseases are characterized by a pathobiome

--The Firmicutes: Bacteroidetes ratio is altered in obesity

--The gut microbiome is functionally redundant

--Sequencing is unbiased

--We need standardized methodologies

--Most of the human biome is unculturable


Monday, August 7, 2023

King of the Fruits

Environmental & Science Education
, STEM, Biodiversity, Biological Evolution, Nature, Agriculture, Science & Society

We take many things for granted about the foods we like. For me, one of them is knowing so little about them: scientifically, historically, and culturally. Favorite foods appear with the seasons although modern agriculture has made many of those boundaries nearly non-existent and we have them year round, often not as good as when in season.. 

I like pineapples. I have never wondered at all about the carvings of them on bedsteads, chairs, bottom stair posts, and lids on silver serving pieces other than enjoying them, thinking sometimes of all the hands that have touched and held them. There is an illustrated discussion on their history and use in this essay about colonial Williamsburg which includes the 37 foot tall (~ 11 meters) garden house roof in Scotland.

If you are interested in learning more I recommend "Pineapple: the King of Fruits," a typically well told visual story about pineapples by the History Guy (15 m 37 s). I found quite a few surprises and perhaps you will, too.