Sunday, January 29, 2012

Where does your electricity come from?

The plug? Batteries?  Wires?  Power lines?  The light switch?  Yes and No.  These are all parts of our infrastructure for transporting and using energy in ways that are convenient to us.  But this is not how our electricity is generated.  Going around the classroom, we generated a pretty good list of energy sources. The thing that came to mind first for most students was usually solar panels, wind turbines, and hydroelectric dams. Some thought of ethanol and geothermal energy as well. Not many thought of nuclear energy as an important source.  Most students had heard of and knew that various fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) were also used.  However, when we asked students to make pie charts of where our electricity came from, very few expected fossil fuels and nuclear energy to be as important of a source of electricity as they really are.  

Now, when we start thinking about what else we use fossil fuels for, it becomes a bit scary.  Most of the agriculture in the state of Iowa is dependent on fertilizers derived from fossil fuels.  Our transportation system, whether we are talking about trains, planes or automobiles is dependent on fossil fuels. And electric cars?  Where does that electricity come from? Fossil fuels again.  How do we transport our fruits and vegetables from California, Brazil, Florida, etc. to the grocery store? How do we keep our dairy products cool in the store and in our home?  How do we heat our homes?  And does our military use fossil fuels?  You can be certain that tanks, ships, planes, and humvees use their fair share of fossil fuels.  What about plastics?  You have never heard of a plastic mine before, but I am sure you have heard of an oil rig...  Thats right, plastic comes from fossil fuels too!

It is clear that our country and lifestyle is highly dependent on fossil fuels, which are not renewable, and are going to run out sometime in the not to distant future.  This week we will watch a part of President Obama's State of the Union Address, to see what he has to say about our energy problems and have a discussion about it, and start talking about the sorts of things scientists are doing to address these global problems.

Science Fair was a success!

On Thursday evening, students presented their research to teachers, parents, administrators, guests and each other.  It was an exciting event.  We had some great and original projects, asking a diversity of questions. One student measured plant growth of three different species on five different soil types.  I was impressed to see this replicated factorial design!  Another project explored bacterial diversity in from areas around their house, and their pets' saliva.  A third tried to investigate whether larger chicks hatch from larger eggs- while that project didn't quite work out for them, I was excited to see some maternal effects research at the seventh grade level!  They plan to repeat the study to see if they get successful hatching this time.    All the students engaged visitors to their posters and informed them about their projects.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Science Fair this week!

Meredith Middle School is having their Science Fair this Thursday evening, so I am excited to see all the hard work the students have put in to their projects!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Student v. Teacher Basketball Game

 Yesterday was the  Student v. Teacher Basketball game at Meredith Middle School.  The Symbi program was well represented, as Peter Hondred (GK12 Fellow), Tim Weida (GK12 Teacher) and I took to the court, and showed students that scientists have skills outside of the laboratory and field...  We are getting pretty good at SCHOOLING these students both in the classroom and on the court!   Teachers continue their undefeated streak in this annual tradition.

Law of Conservation of Mass

This week we are working on chemistry, and learned about balancing equations and the law of Conservation of Mass.  Matter can't be created nor destroyed, yet how is it that when we burn something, it seems as if we are destroying matter? A few demonstrations and exploring the chemical equations that describe them showed us that we are not creating nor destroying matter, just rearranging atoms.  And this law is important for us to know and realize, as it helps explain some of our biggest environmental problems!

Did you know that when you burn a tank of liquid gasoline, it doesn't just disappear, but gets converted into a lot of gasses (thats what comes out the exhaust pipe).  By burning all sorts of fossil fuels (coal, gasoline, etc.), we are taking carbon that was locked in liquid or solid form deep in the earth, and converting it into gas that is trapped in our atmosphere, which has been causing global climate change.   These practices are having some bad consequences on all sorts of life on our planet, including turtles and on us!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Field work at Turtle Camp part II: Turtle Nesting

  This segment explains a bit about the long-term research Fred and his students have conducted for over 20 years!

Field work at Turtle Camp

My primary field site is "Turtle Camp" along the Mississippi River.  I am at Turtle Camp for about 6 weeks straight from mid-May through early July.  When I am here, I am very busy with multiple projects; 12-16 hour days are not uncommon.  We run long term field research on nesting ecology of Painted Turtles, which is my advisor Fred Janzen's primary research project.  I usually have one or several of my own research projects going on.  We trap multiple turtle species in the river and take all sorts of information and samples from them.  And we also work on a US Fish and Wildlife Sand Prairie to do surveys for nesting turtles and various other reptiles that inhabit the prairie.  If that wasn't enough, we run the Turtle Camp Research and Education in Ecology (TREE) program, where we bring high school and undergraduate students out to do real field research for two of those weeks.  If you are interested in any of these projects, you can read a lot more detail about them on Fred's website, and see some of the associated scientific publications that came from them (click his picture on the side of this blog).  This video shows you a little bit about our work in the Sand Prairie.  On this day I went out with Aaron Reedy and some of the TREE students, and you can see us trying to catch some lizards!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Back in the Classroom!

Winter break is over and I am back in the classroom.  This week I gave the Meredith students a similar talk to the one I gave the students in Chicago in December.  With the Science Fair projects due next week, this serves as an example of how to communicate scientific results, and gives students a good idea of the actual work I do.  Graduate school is, in essence, a big, continuous science fair!  In the picture at right, I am explaining my research to a graduate student from Taiwan who also researched sex ratios in turtles. Conferences and science fairs are great ways to meet other people interested in science.