Monday, May 28, 2018

10 Basic Science Lessons

   
   I get to work with about 80 high school students this summer. That might sound like a nightmare to some people, but I really like young people. I am teaching a science class I created called "Sciencepalooza." I didn't actually come up with that name, but I do develop the course curriculum each summer.

   In the college classes I teach, there are a few basic lessons I always cover for my students during the normal academic year, and I teach many of these same things to my high school students. I wanted to post some of these topics on here, just in case this helps anyone plan a class, or maybe this will start a conversation about what the most important science-related topics are that we should be teaching to our young people.

   Science literacy appears to be at great risk in the United States. Why don't we have more scientists in our highest government offices? We desperately need people in high power positions to support scientific education and research. 


   Here are some basic science topics I hope my students can learn to help stave off the encroaching ignorance:


1. The Scientific Method. I usually go through the steps of the Scientific Method, and then give a super-simple example of how we all actually use the Scientific Method in every-day life. 

2. Famous Scientist Quiz. I just type up a list of twenty or so famous scientists in a matching-style quiz with their major contributions. Of course there are MANY scientists you could put on a quiz like this. Benjamin Franklin is always on my list. So is Carl Sagan, Charles Darwin, Nikola Tesla, Kary Mullis, Albert Einstein, Galileo Galilei, Alexander Fleming, and Wernher von Braun. 

3. Hypothesis v/s Theory. People mess these up all the time. A hypothesis does not have much (or any) evidence to support it yet. A theory has a LOT of evidence to support it, and it is generally accepted as THE TRUTH by the scientific community...at least until someone provides highly convincing evidence that we were wrong. When people say,  "I have a theory...", what they should really say is, "I have a hypothesis." 

4. Bacteria v/s Viruses. This is a big deal. When people get sick, it is usually caused by a virus. (The common cold and the flu are caused by viruses.) Bacterial infections, such as a sinus infection, are usually localized and don't cause symptoms that affect your entire body the way a virus does. (Unless the bacteria have spread throughout the body, which is not good.) Key point here: antibiotics will NEVER work on a virus. If you are sick and it is due to a virus, there's not much a doctor can do for you. Also, some viruses actually stay in our bodies FOR LIFE. An example is the chicken pox virus, which can go dormant for many years in our bodies, and then it can re-erupt later as the painful shingles. This is also a good time to talk about vaccines and how there is NOT a single solid study that indicates there is a link between vaccines and autism. 

5. Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). I have a really graphic PowerPoint with pictures of STD infections that I show my high school students. I talk about the STDs that are caused by bacteria and the ones that are caused by viruses. The viral-based STDs are generally the ones you get stuck with for life. We don't know how to get rid of viruses if you catch one, but we should have an antibiotic that could help you get rid of a bacterial-based STD. I also usually call my local health department to get statistics on what the current local outbreaks are. It seems to really make an impact on my high school students when I say things like, "Russellville has more cases of gonorrhea than any other STD." 

6. How to do conversions, especially metric v/s English units. The United States continues to cling to the old English system of pounds, feet, miles, etc. Learning how to convert English units into metric units is a very important skill. After all, do you remember when one of our NASA Mars orbiters burned up in the Martian atmosphere because someone did not convert English units to metric units? It was akin to setting $125 million dollars aflame. Students love this story. 

7. How to make a basic graph. I usually give the students a small dataset, some blank paper and colored pencils. I teach them about the independent variable (or test variable), and how to identify the dependent variable. I review what the x and y axes are, and how to label them. Then we usually look at examples of some really poorly made graphs so they can learn to identify a meaningful graph. We also look at pie charts and talk about how all the pieces should equal to 100%.  

8. The most common statistic: The t-test. What is a p value? It may be challenging for the students to grasp this concept in one sitting, but we have to try. I know  professors who struggle with basic statistics. Statistics is a basic and critical tool for scientists. The more you understand statistics, the harder it is for anyone to feed you garbage. 

9. How to look up a peer-reviewed science journal. Google Scholar is my favorite search engine for scientific papers. There are others, but this one is a great place to start. 

10. How to check to see if you've found a predatory journal. Scientists are under intense pressure to publish their work, so of course there are plenty of people around who are looking to take advantage of them. You won't ever need to rely on mainstream media to explain science news to you if you know how to look up peer-reviewed journals. You can learn to interpret the papers yourself, but you need to make sure the papers haven't been published by someone using shady criteria.  Librarian Jeffrey Beall created the best resource I know of to make sure you are not referencing a predatory journal. https://beallslist.weebly.com/  

Sunday, May 6, 2018

OMG I GOT JENETTE GOLDSTEIN'S AUTOGRAPH!!!!!

Jenette Goldstein played the infamous role as the badass lady space marine named "Vasquez" in the 1986 Aliens movie. 
   Well guys, dreams DO come true! Earlier last year, I caught an interview clip on YouTube with one of my childhood heroines, Jenette Goldstein. I listened intently to what she was saying since she was the physical incarnation of female ass-kickery in a movie where only Sigourney Weaver could outshine her. Goldstein's character, Vasquez, may be best remembered in Aliens as the buff lady marine doing pull-ups shortly after waking up from hypersleep. (How many women do you know who can crank out pull-ups like that?) Her character was fearless and macho, and she was just exactly the person you wanted on your team when fighting vicious, double-jawed creatures from another planet. 
   During the interview, Jenette mentioned that she had opened a bra store in Los Angeles "for the busty lady." I was more than excited to hear this. Not only could I potentially meet Vasquez herself, but I could probably find some great new bras! As luck would have it, I was flying to L.A. later that year on my way to a meeting in Hawaii. I had a two-hour layover at LAX, and I decided to press my luck at the chance of actually meeting Jenette. As soon as I could get off my plane, I literally ran outside to grab a taxi. A nice Russian man took me to the closest Jenette Bra store. I knew it was probably stupid to risk missing my flight to Hawaii, but I NEVER go to L.A., and my return flight from Hawaii was at night when the bra store would be closed. So it was now or never! The taxi driver agreed to wait for me outside the bra store since I could only stay about five minutes. Sadly, Jenette was not there when I arrived. I had printed out the photo above for her to sign, and I had also brought a pre-addressed and stamped manilla envelope to leave there in case I missed her. 
   So I told the nice girls at the store how big of a fan I was of Jenette's, and I left the photo and envelope behind. When I got home about a week later, I checked my mail eagerly! No photo. I checked the next day, and the next, and the next. After two weeks had gone by, I was starting to feel terrible. I really thought if I had provided a photo and a self-addressed, stamped envelope, I was sure to receive an autographed picture from my hero. 
   The weeks turned into a month, and then another month, and then I gave up completely. Maybe my note to her wasn't friendly enough? Maybe it seemed like I was demanding something from a complete stranger? I wasn't sure, but I was really disappointed. 
   And then today, EIGHT months after I visited the bra store, the manilla envelope I had stamped and addressed was sitting in my mailbox!  I was grinning madly when I opened it. She had not only signed the photo, but she also included two more photos of herself in movie stills. I was so happy! I went out bought a frame immediately and hung the autographed picture on my wall. 
   THANK YOU, Jenette Goldstein!!  Your photo is truly one of my most prized possessions. I also watched Aliens again tonight, for the millionth time, just to pay more attention to your character. You were flawless and believable, and just exactly who I'd want on my team during a fight for my life. The next time I come to L.A., I hope I can spend more time shopping for bras. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Vulcan Female

"Vulcan Female" by AngelDeeDee on DeviantArt

   AngelDeeDee stated in the comments on her DeviantArt site that she had been "requested" to do some photo manipulation on the above image. She added the Vulcan ears. I am not sure who made the original piece, but I would love to give them appropriate credit. 

   I think this image alone is frame-worthy. I might try to make an oil portrait out of it. 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Why it's (probably) okay to keep using the phrase "colonizing Mars" (or, how Liberal Arts majors don't OWN the word "colony!")


   I follow a lot of interesting people on Twitter. People like Elon Musk, Anne Rice, Guillermo del Toro, and Propane Jane. I enjoy these people. I rely on Twitter for blazing-fast news, and I use it as an entertainment resource. Twitter tells me what movies to see, what books to read, and who to vote for. Twitter makes me laugh, and sometimes, Twitter makes me cry. 
   I recently noticed a post on Twitter by "Afro-futurism" author Nnedi Okorafor concerning the use of the phrase "colonizing Mars." She posted a picture of herself with a lady (Danielle Wood) who had apparently given a talk on why we should not use the word "colonizing" with respect to space exploration. I had not heard this argument before, so I asked Nnedi on Twitter, "Can you please explain why this word isn't appropriate?" She typed "Lol" and posted a laughing emoji face along with a well-known Maxine Waters GIF to indicate that I was wasting her time.






   That day, Twitter made me MAD!

   I am nearly finished with my Ph.D. in plant science (I'm all-but-dissertation), and I teach full-time at a university. In one of my most recent research grant applications, I actually used the phrase "colonizing Mars." (That grant was funded, by the way.) I am studying dwarf crops and how their fruits are affected by different LED spectra. My intent is to breed future dwarf crops and help create new plant cultivars that will be useful to Mars, um, colonists.

   Although I was put off by Nnedi's mocking response to my sincere question, I decided to pursue an answer elsewhere.

   I polled all of my undergraduate students in two of the anatomy and physiology classes I teach, and, after describing my Twitter incident, I asked the following two questions: 1) Is it okay to use the word "colony?" and 2) Were you aware of this controversy?
Out of the 84 responses I received, only one student claimed to know that there was an issue with this word. 

   I spoke with Dr. Stanley Lombardo, a Professor of English at Arkansas Tech University who teaches a science fiction and fantasy class (among many others.) "Colonialism is capitalism gone wild," he explained. All European powers wanted "a piece" of Africa because it was rich in natural resources. Dr. Lombardo mentioned that the Belgium and French colonists "were particularly brutal," and the Belgians actually had quotas for cutting the hands off of natives.

   This was really news to me. I've spent the better part of the last decade walking through vineyards and orchards to assess fruit, studying quantitative trait loci, and taking statistics courses.

   A co-worker of mine, chemistry Professor Dr. Charles Mebi, was born in Cameroon, Africa. He speaks three languages because of the influence of both the French and the British colonies that once controlled Cameroon. "[The word] colony implies that someone OWNS it," he told me. "Colonization involves exploitation, of the resources and the people." I asked him if the phrase "Mars colony" was offensive to him. "No," he said. "But if someone goes to Mars and sets up a colony, is anyone else allowed to go there?"

   Another co-worker of mine, Dr. Ivan Still, is a biology Professor from England. He looked moderately disgusted when I asked his opinion of this topic. "Colonization is what people do. It's the history of the entire world," he said. "The history of humanity from the time it began...IN Africa. It is unfortunate that humanity's nature has also been to exploit (and this word has a distinctly negative meaning) whatever may be there, be it animal, vegetable or mineral."

   So, is it okay to use the phrase "colonizing Mars," or not?

   "I would go ahead and use the word colony and colonization because we won't be displacing any natives that we know of," said Dr. Lombardo.

   Adam Eubanks, a police detective/sergeant from Tennessee, said, "In my humble opinion, if they're living on another planet - with the intent to stay - they're colonists."

   One of my students wrote,"My family on my Mom's side is heavily Native American, but they aren't offended by the word 'colony.' It's a word and nothing else."

   Another student responded, "In the beginning of America, the U.S. was built of 13 colonies. We originate from them. People kill other people, but we do not ban the word 'people' because they do bad things. If we banned every word that had bad things related to it, we would have no words to use."

   A third student wrote, "I would think people would discuss the ACTUAL science-related how-to of getting people to other planets before fighting about correct terminology for relocated humans on Mars."

   Yet another student replied, "It's one thing to go to another country and colonize the people who are already there, but there is no one on Mars..."

   In the biology field, where I live and breathe, a "colony" is a technical term. It has a clear meaning, and it is free of political baggage and negative connotations. 

   "Scientists use this word all the time when they talk about a colony of bacteria," said one of my students. 

   Dr. Charles Gagen, a Professor of Fisheries Science at Arkansas Tech, had a similar response. He teaches an ecology course to undergraduates, and he said, "We use the terms extinction and recolonization in ecology all the time."

   In botany (a class I teach), one of the commonly discussed green algae examples is the fascinating globular Volvox with its very distinctive daughter colonies.



Volvox, a hollow ball of cells with daughter colonies inside


   And finally, one of my favorite responses to this apparent controversy was posted on Twitter by Noah Stephens: "I think we should be emotionally-mature enough to recognize colonizing Mars has nothing to do with colonizing Namibia."




Monday, March 19, 2018

Women In Science

Just a great picture of women doing science!
  
From left to right, Katrina Martens, technician, Rachel Sa, technician, Jessica Abbott, grad student, Kristin Aquilino, grad student, and Natalie Caulk, technician. These ladies were taking seagrass samples out in Bodega Bay of California in 2011.
  
Photo courtesy of Pamela Reynolds and the UC Davis Bodega Marine lab

Friday, March 9, 2018

New Arkansas Wine Trail Maps




Hey Arkansas natives and visitors, come find your wines! 
These maps are free for distribution. 
I serve on the Arkansas Association of Grape Growers' board, and I was asked to make a new wine trail map for the state. I hired a very talented local art student, Aaron Gilkey, to design the maps.       Don't they look great? 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Beautiful Astronaut Art by James Vaughan

James Vaughan Made This

   I belong to a group called "Space Hipsters" on Facebook, and the talented artist James Vaughan frequently posts his work there. I was struck by this devastatingly beautiful astronaut he created.

                              Thank you, Mr. Vaughan. 

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

John Kraus Has The Best Falcon Heavy Pic!

The Falcon Heavy Maiden Launch. February 6, 2018. 
Photo by John Kraus johnkrausphotos.com

Starman Is On His Way To Mars

Starman has a much better view now.
  
Photo courtesy of SpaceX via Twitter

   SpaceX had a PHENOMENAL test flight today with their new Falcon Heavy rocket! CEO Elon Musk said there would only be a 50/50 chance of success, probably to head off any expectations of perfection. Although flight and mission details have not been released or fully completed yet, perfection may have actually been achieved.
   "It was very, very, very impressive," said Richard Hoover, an astrobiologist who has recently retired from NASA. "What he [Elon Musk] did was truly spectacular."
   The two side cores returned to the ground at the Kennedy Space Center and landed in breath-taking synchronized fashion. It was not clear what happened to the central core rocket, which had been scheduled to land on one of SpaceX's floating autonomous barges ("Of Course I Still Love You"), located 300 miles off the coast of Florida. Although visual contact was lost with the core, that does not indicate any type of failure occurred with the landing. 
   And the Falcon Heavy payload, the beautiful midnight cherry Tesla roadster with its passenger "Starman," was shown cruising smoothly into space with a very blue Earth in the background.  


   "We've never seen rockets land like this before," said Hoover. "It [the two side cores] looked like rockets from the 1940s science fiction movies. We've finally got rockets from the 1940s!" Hoover explained that launch scenes in old movies were shown using actual V2 rocket launch footage in reverse, so it would look like a rocket was landing on the Moon. 
   Hoover also commented how significant SpaceX is to the U.S. space program, since they are now very close to providing human launch capability. The U.S. hasn't been able to launch our own astronauts since 2011, when the 30-year-old Space Shuttle program was retired. 
   "You don't sell your old car before you get a new one, and that's exactly what we did," said Hoover. 

  UPDATE Feb 7, 2018: The middle core did not land on the floating barge. It apparently hit the water approximately 100 meters away from the barge at around 300 mph. The booster was heavily damaged.  

TODAY Falcon Heavy Launch TODAY TODAY TODAY!!!!!

    The maiden flight of the Falcon Heavy from Cape Canaveral is TODAY, February 6, 2018, and is currently scheduled to ignite at 2:45 pm, CST. Here is a link to watch the launch live:


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Favorite Quote #20





"I love history with both hands."

                   
       -Robert "Bob" Cowie, retired Deacon
and owner of Cowie Wine Cellars and Vineyards