#We bought a zoo

Well I don’t know if its quite a zoo yet but with two dogs, two cats, two kids, and now FOUR chickens its starting to feel like one.

 

We got the six month old Rhode Island Reds from a friend who had a few too many. They should start laying nice brown eggs any week now, but until then they are just an tool of study inspiration to  everyone in the house. They have immediately focused both of my children into acting as naturalists, studying the every move and characteristics of these four chickens. We can all tell each apart by their personality and individual physical traits. It is pretty cool that something like an ordinary  brown chicken can inspire a kid to sit and watch and study details and take notice of the little things. You could say the chickens are making them be scientists.

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#What’s wrong with this picture?

I’m not going to teach or preach but just ask you to tell  me what you think is causing I took these pictures of cherry blossoms opening up on trees in Rochester NY on December 3rd. I’m pretty sure they aren’t supposed to. I’m not too concerned for the health of the tree at this point since the flowers are more about future trees than the health of these. I am a little worried about what all of the polinators that feed off of these flowers will find when spring actually shows up and they all wake up hungry; but what makes me more nervous is that this seems like yet another canary in a coal mine for a larger problem than the bee food shortage of 2016.

I’m not going to teach or preach but just ask you to think and tell me in the comments section what you think is causing these cherry blossoms to open up in on trees in Rochester NY on December 3rd. Should we worry???

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#Turkey Triptophan=Tired?

Well I was just guilty of passing this rumor along last week but it turns out that its just that…a rumor; triptophan which is an essential amino acid found in turkey does NOT cause drowsiness. According to the NY Times, SnopesNPR, LiveScience, Wired and Texas A&M University it just isn’t true. It turns out there is just as much triptophan in other meats and even more in nuts. So next time you are talking turkey with someone about thanksgiving sleepytime you can be the wise guy (or gal) who says  “actually the sleepiness isn’t caused by triptophan, its just you’re body getting tired from trying to process all that food you just ate.

Food Chemistry is pretty cool stuff!

#Whats up with the weather?

Lets start with a poem:

Whether the weather be hot

Or whether the weather be cold

We’ll weather the weather together

Whatever the weather may hold.

Ok that’s not the original poem its my version the original goes:

Whether the weather be fine
Or whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold
Or whether the weather be hot,
We’ll weather the weather
Whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not.

-Anonymous

 

Either way what’s up with this weather? Is it global warming? Is it El Niño? Is it an ice age? Is the Sun getting ready to blast us with cosmic gamma rays that melt our planet? (Its probably not the last couple)

It is getting a bit warmer out there than it should be and that’s, in short, global warming. Add to that the awesomely strong El Niño thats going on right now and you can expect some interesting weather. Any time I try to talk about weather and climate stuff people shut down; they don’t view it as a valid science that has any proven track record and I can understand the perception. Weather and climate studies are using measurements of a large scale dynamic fluid system in order to attempt to explain and predict future phenomena in small scale location and time frame. That’s not easy! and while it is totally sound science it has a lot of probability involved. When we learn about weather in school it gets presented like a Rube Goldberg chain of events that starts (for our weather) on the West Coast of the US and progresses across the country on a conveyor belt to bring us an expected result a few days later. The problem is that weather is more like a bunch of Rube Goldberg devices all criss crossing each other and with multiple possible outcomes to each one. If you don’t want to try to visualize the enormous mess of marble mazes and mouse traps with candles and string and breaking eggs that I’m imagining now, you could try this little demo at home to illustrate my point. Take a large cooking pot and fill it with water. Also grab a regular “I’m gonna eat some soup with this” tablespoon. Take both outside and find a spot that is ok to get wet. Start by setting the spoon on the ground in this nice safe splash zone. Take your large pot of water hold it really close to the spoon and try to fill up the spoon with water without spilling any or missing the spoon. You might be semi successful if you are really careful and started close enough.

 

 

Spoiler Alert! DO NOT READ until after you do the demo!

This would be like a hour by hour local forecast. The further away from the spoon you move the pot the harder it is to fill the spoon without spilling or missing altogether. Why? What’s up with that? Shouldn’t we be able to figure out how to pour a little water from a pot into a spoon? I mean that seems pretty simple when you think about it but the reality is that fluids just aren’t that easy to predict especially when they are interacting with other fluids like the air you were pouring the water through. That’s a fluid too and it acts on the water that you were pouring to mess with it even more so it doesn’t just pour where you aim it. If you ran back inside and got another large pot and tried pouring from the one pot into the other I bet you could do it pretty well, and without many misses or overflows.

Climate is the average of lots of weather; its the big pot of weather that we get over the long term, and it turns out that even though understanding, measuring, and making predictions of how fluids move and interact is pretty tricky to do on the small scale, it gets much easier to understand when you look at large scale averages. Its a great reminder of how messy science is and how it will not always give you the answer or result you were hoping for but if you persist and gather enough data eventually you should get a reasonable understanding of how things work.

And that brings us to the whole climate change and El Niño issue. I know that my weather forecaster rarely gets it completely right but that doesn’t mean that climate scientists do not have an understanding of how these events occur and what causes them. Those are issues for another day and another discussion though. Today was just about the messiness of science, the idea that we can deal in probabilities and still know things and that maybe if everyone went outside and played with more science we could help the common perception of science change from one of absolute knowledge to one of fluid splishy-splashy messiness.

 

#Tick check time!

Its getting cold out here so put on all your clothes! That’s the advice to follow when it comes to Ticks. According to many sources ticks in general and Deer Ticks (Ixodes scapularis) specifically are hungry and chilly so they are looking for a warm yummy host to latch onto and feed! Deer ticks are the vectors for the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease.

Really there isn’t much to do to keep the little bugs from climbing on, crawling up to your neck or head or wherever and latching on for a feeding. The best prevention you can take is to cover up your body with clothes that you take off when you come in from outside and perform tick checks daily. According to the CDC its still not completely clear how long it takes from when a tick starts to feed until it will transmit the bacterium to its host but its somewhere between 24 and 72 hours.

Click the image for an identification guide from the University of Rhode Island.

Just imagine its not a balloon but a tick with not air but blood moving out of its mouth back into your body. Gross!

Why does it take so long you ask? Why isn’t it like a vampire or werewolf or zombie where one quick bight and you’re a gonner? (aside from the tick being real and those all fiction…)Diffusion is the answer! Such a cool, simple, and UNIVERSAL concept in science; things move from high concentration to low concentration. In this case its diffusion of a fluid under what is called situationally referred to as a pressure gradient force. When a tick feeds the blood moves from the high pressure of your body into the ticks relatively low pressure body, but as the body of the tick begins to swell the elasticity of its exoskeleton begins to exert a pressure on the blood trying to push some of the blood from the tick back into the host. When the tick has fed enough the pressure reaches equilibrium and blood and bacteria can move by diffusion instead of acting under a pressure differential force. Did I really just use physics to explain how bacteria get transmitted? Yup, I did.

Anyway back to the ticks. I called them bugs before but really they aren’t bugs at all. True bugs, or Hemiptera  are a large group of insects that include lady bugs and aphids, ticks on the other hand are arachnids or 8-legged arthropods with a cephalothorax and abdomen, not six legged with head,thorax, and abdomen. So who studies these things and what is this creepy study called? Arachnologists studying arachnology. Spiders generally give me the hebbidy gebidies, but I try to tolerate them because I respect what they are doing for me as pest controllers but ticks? I have no mercy for them! If you have been reading this and asking yourself why is he talking about ticks this week I thought this was supposed to be about the science he did this week? Well we have had to remove and identify 11 ticks from people and pets in my house this week. They all ended up being Deer Ticks but they were also all found within the first day of feeding (on the people they were just crawling and hadn’t started feeding yet). Because it is important to study them and understand how they act as vectors I thank all of the arachnologists out there and for my little part I got to be a junior arachnologist as I identified each tick and measured it to approximate its feeding time so that we knew if it was an infection hazard or not.

One last thing, it isn’t easy removing ticks. If you pinch them in tweezers the head often breaks off and gets stuck in the body which can irritate the skin and lead to an infection, not to mention that squeezing really increases the pressure gradient force on the tick pushing all that nasty infected blood back into your body. I have found a tool that works amazingly well and would advise any pet owner, hiker, or person who lives near grassy areas to buy; its called a tick key. It was really inexpensive and works soooooo much better than anything else I have ever tried. They are not easy to find locally so I bought mine online and it was totally worth the $5.98 plus free shipping if you are a member of a group of numbers that is divisible by only 1 or yourself. You know what I mean…

Stay safe and stay healthy by using some #real science to stay in the know about ticks.

 

 

For more info on ticks and Lyme disease check out:

http://www.tickencounter.org/

http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/

http://arachnology.org/arachnology/orders/acari.html

#Pictures> ∞ words!

Well, the Get Real Science after school program finished this week and the Science STARS really showed that in the end they put all the pieces together to present the science that they engaged in over the past few weeks.

They were some awesome scientists! Check em’ out!

 

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#Pumpkins… What are pumpkins?

This week I became aware that pumpkins are NOT a universal “thing”. As I was making a cup of coffee (I know big surprise and in no way specifying my time line) in the student lounge at Warner I overheard three students having a conversation about pumpkins. They were all international students and each from a different place. They were talking about pumpkins and what they could figure out about them. It was a great conversation to eavesdrop on; first they each talked about what they thought a pumpkin was, then they moved on to showing pictures on their cell phones of what the closest thing to a pumpkin was back home, and sharing what it would be called there. The three students then went on to a discussion on why these pumpkins have such a cultural significance here. After a quick round of each not really knowing why they even mattered they went on to help one of them figure out how to cook one that she had purchased at the farmers market that week. (if it sounds like I was standing around forever listening in I was but not by choice, the Keurig in that lounge was taking FOR…EV…ER.

Anyway…why am I reflecting on this conversation about pumpkins? As a life long citizen of the United States culture completely understand most of the cultural significance and meaning behind pumpkins this time of year, I mean really who doesn’t? Oh thats right people that are not part of that community don’t have this tacit knowledge. In the science everything is like a pumpkin to most people. Its different and strange and why should anyone care about it at all? Those questions can make science uncomfortable and scary. But if you allow learners to interact with each other they can share their background knowledge and construct some sort of meaning that may allow a pumpkin of science knowledge to fit into their existing schema. And if the learner is really lucky they will decide to cook the pumpkin, eat it and enjoy it for some personal reason, as opposed to just learning to accept it as something that those whack-a-doodle scientists seem to think is important. I think its important for us to all let learners go through this process and cook their own pumpkins so that they can give science a personal value and meaning to the weird gourds we try to tell them are the most important things ever.

Now usually I would end up telling you what a pumpkin really is here, and boy am I tempted but I think instead today I will just share my favorite pumpkin recipe so that you can try pumpkin for yourself, that way you’ll really know what it is and why I personally love pumpkins so very much!

 

Pumpkin Crunch

16oz solid pack pumpkin

12oz evaporated milk

3 eggs

1 1/2 cups sugar

1+tsp each: nutmeg, cloves, ginger

1/2 tsp salt

1 pkg yellow cake mix

1 cup chopped pecans

1 cup melted butter

 

Directions:

Preheat an oven to 350 F and grease the bottom only of a 13″x9″ cake pan. Mix pumpkin, milk, eggs, sugar, spices, and salt in a large bowl. Pour mixture into bottom of greased pan. Sprinkle dry cake mix evenly over the top of the pumpkin mixture. Top with chopped pecans evenly. Drizzle the entire 1 cup of melted butter over the top of everything. Bake on center rack at 350 F for 50-55 minutes or until the topping is golden. Remove and allow to cool completely before cutting into squares. Can be served with whipped cream and you should refrigerate the leftovers if there are any.

 

#Thats what pumpkins are!

 

#Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep

Its almost halloween and the seasonal science continues this week with a look at the science behind everybody’s favorite monsters these days: Zombies. The book Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep takes a scientific approach to why zombies might be the way they are. Now before you think I or the authors of the book really think zombies might come scratching at the front door any night soon let me explain. The authors, Bradley Voytek and Timothy Verstynen, take a Neuroscientific approach to explaining the classic behaviors exhibited by zombies in popular culture. They explore many of the typical behaviors and provide plausible causes for said behaviors in the form of various neurological maladies.

In addition to talking about zombies this book is really a wonderful primer for how the brain functions, what the different parts are, and how they work together to support normal function and behavior as well as abnormal conditions.

Another great seasonal science story is I am Legend by Richard Metheson. Now technically this story is about vampires but if you read this book and immediately watch Night of the Living Dead you can figure out where George A. Romero, the father of modern zombies, got his ideas from. I am legend a man ends up being the sole survivor of what turns out to be a viral outbreak that has lead to the transformation of every other human being on earth. One of the best parts of the book is that a guy, just an everyday joe, ventures to the library to learn how to be an imunologist who studies a disease and attempts to find a cure. Can there be a better get real science message than “if you act like a scientist you become a scientist and can change the world!”? (I don’t think so)

So remember everybody whether  you are trying to do your Earth Science homework or save the world from the impending un-dead all you have to do is be a Scientist and DO SOME SCIENCE!

#Sky Sight

This week at my school we had the chance to collaborate with Oregon Artist Daniel Dancer. He travels the world creating giant images that can only be appreciated from the sky. The medium that Dancer works with is people, and he uses that experience to teach collaboration and teamwork. We worked together as a school k-12 and all of the faculty to create an image of a Great Blue Heron.

Dancer also teaches a message of environmental awareness. His message to everyone is that if you want the earth to last for our future generations that we all need to consider the big picture when we make decisions and take actions that could impact others.

Environmental conservation is a very real science that has moved into the front lines of politics today. As soon as our collaborative assemblies would finish students would rush up to me to ask questions about the things that Daniel Dancer had said. Many of them have strong beliefs that they have learned from their parents and families that went against some of the things Dancer was saying. I have not gotten to the point in my curriculum where I teach about environmental issues but students wanted to learn about that now so we had some good discourse about what we know and have learned about the environment and global warming. While I didn’t really tell them anything this week I gave them the opportunity to share their ideas with each other (and me) which has given me a good idea of where I need to start when I do get to that unit later on in the year.

Regardless of student’s personal beliefs I told them all that Mr. Dancer’s message of thinking about the consequences of your actions before you take them is un-arguably a good one, so keep thinking everybody!