Stories tagged Scientific Inquiry

Apr
13
2014

Tiktaalik roseae: Field Museum of Natural History
Tiktaalik roseae: Field Museum of Natural HistoryCourtesy Eduard Solà via Wikipedia
If you missed last week's PBS broadcast of Your Inner Fish, the documentary based on paleontologist-anatomist Neil Shubin's book by the same name, you have another chance to catch up on the first of three segments on the web. It's an excellent opening segment of the 3-part series, but is only available (for free!) right here through April 23, 2014.

The series deals with Shubin's search for the connections we all have with our fishy and reptilian ancestors. His discovery of the remarkable transitional fossil named Tiktaalik roseae on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic has added great evidence of our ties with our distant piscean relatives. The flat-headed, 375 million year-old Tiktaalik possessed the exact features - such as both lungs and gills, a wrist and neck - that you'd hope to find in a transitional form between swimming fish and land-walking tetrapods.

The next episode, titled Your Inner Reptile airs Wednesday, April 16th on your local PBS station. It's on here in the Twin Cities at 9pm but check your local listing for times in your area.

In the meantime, watch the first episode, and read about some of the reaction to Shubin's find here, here, and here.

LINKS
University of Chicago Tiktaalik roseae page

Apr
09
2014

Contributed by Haley Harada

We see headlines, newspaper articles, and television specials almost everyday—“Oil Spill in South America”, “Bird Species Endangered”, and “Temperatures At All Time High Due to Global Warming”. Environmental catastrophes and problems are undoubtedly a major world issue. While we are likely aware of some of the various environmental challenges global citizens face, preserving and restoring Earth’s delicate environment often leaves us with more questions than answers. Mahatma Gandhi once advised, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. But progress is impossible if we do not understand or realize what those changes should be.

After participating in an environmental outreach program between ‘Iolani School and Ala Wai Elementary, I’ve begun to see the importance of environmental education. Awareness is the first step towards action. Children especially, should be taught about their surroundings in order to become educated voters, innovative scientists, and productive members of an environmentally conscious society. Teaching children about anything, from the trees in their backyards to the earth’s atmosphere, can broaden their perspectives of organisms and the systems in which they operate. Although the saying is cliché, it is undoubtably true: children are the future. Ultimately, they are the ones who will propagate change and answer our questions.

When we first started introducing ourselves to the students at Ala Wai Elementary, they seemed nervous and a bit confused about the purpose of the outreach project. One concept that we really wanted the students to understand was the connectivity of all living and non-living things, from animals and plants to water and weather. Although in the allotted time period it was impossible to go in depth about each subject, it was most important for the students to see the connection between the concepts. We also brought up ideas that the students were already familiar with and tried to get them to think about each in a new way. As the project continued, the students became more comfortable and seemed to gain at least some environmental insight. It filled me with joy to watch them playing with fish and looking through microscopes at things that they had never seen or paid attention to before.

The most rewarding part of the project was bringing the Ala Wai surroundings, often taken for granted, to life. Showing students that experiments can be interesting and fun might encourage them to seek environmental learning opportunities in the future. My hope is that students realized that there is an endless amount of things to see and learn about in their world. In the process of trying to teach younger students, I myself became more aware of the importance of bringing the outside world into the classroom. Children need to put down their iPads and cell phones once in a while to understand and appreciate the world around them. In the future, they'll be thankful they did.

Haley Harada is a high school senior at 'Iolani School. She wrote this blog post as part of a final project for AP Biology.

Mar
20
2014

NanoDays is a nationwide festival of educational programs about nanoscale science and engineering and its potential impact on the future.

Most events will be taking place between March 29 - April 6, 2014.
NanoDays 2008-2014 map
NanoDays 2008-2014 mapCourtesy NISE Network

NanoDays events are organized by participants in the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Network) and take place at more than 250 science and children's museums, research centers and universities across the country from Puerto Rico to Hawaii. NanoDays engages people of all ages in learning about this emerging field of science, which holds the promise of developing revolutionary materials and technologies.

To read more about NanoDays visit:
http://www.whatisnano.org/nanodays

To see a full list of organizations hosting 2014 events visit:
http://www.nisenet.org/nanodays/participants-2014

2014 Events in Saint Paul and Minneapolis, MN: http://www.smm.org/nanodays

To learn more about nanotechnology, science, and engineering, visit:
www.whatisnano.org

To see other nano stories on Science Buzz tagged #nano visit:
http://www.sciencebuzz.org/buzz_tags/nano

Mar
18
2014

BICEP2 Telescope and B-mode signal
BICEP2 Telescope and B-mode signalCourtesy BICEP2 Collaboration, NSF, Steffen Richter (Harvard)
Einstein predicted their existence nearly a hundred years ago as part of his theory of general relativity, then in the 1980s theorists honed them into inflation theory, and now astronomers working at a radio telescope near the South Pole have proof of their existence.

John Kovac of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and his collaborators (including co-leader Clem Pryke, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Minnesota) have reported detecting gravity waves from the very beginnings of the known universe. These space-time ripples are remnants from the very earliest moments of the Big Bang - when it was just a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second old!

The elusive waves were detected by a telescope located at the South Pole at the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station using 250 dime-sized detectors to scan the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the weak radiation remnant of the Big Bang found throughout the known universe. For two years, from January 2010 to December, the experiment known as BICEP2 (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization2), searched for distortions in the CMB.

Einstein general theory of relativity predicted that gravitational waves accelerated by the Big Bang would have produced ruffles across the fabric of space-time. Inflation theory predicted that the very first of these waves, composed of hypothetical quantum particles that carry gravity (gravitons), would have been stretched in the very earliest moments of the Big Bang from imperceptible sized wavelengths into ones large enough to be detectable in the CMB. The cosmic microwave background radiation becomes polarized by scattering off electrons in space, and subtle changes in that polarization pattern, twists the fabric of the CMB into swirls called B-mode polarization.

If these primitive distortions in the CMB fabric stand up to future scrutiny (and preliminary reports indicate they will) then not only will they constitute the first direct evidence of Einstein's predicted gravity waves but they'll also strongly confirm the inflationary theory first developed by physicist Alan Guth in the early 1980s.

"Detecting this signal is one of the most important goals in cosmology today," Dr. Kovac said in a statement. He also said the chance it was a fluke was only one in 3.5 million, ranking it as a "5-sigma level of certainty", which, in the vernacular of discovery, is statistically about as good as you can get.

"It is absolutely mind-boggling that we've actually found it," said Clement Pryke.

Dr. Kovac personally delivered news of the discovery to a number of colleagues, including Dr. Alan Guth, now a professor at M.I.T, who said he was bowled over by the news and hadn't expected confirmation of his theory during his lifetime.

Chao-Lin Juo, a member of Dr. Kovac's BICEP2 team, and one of the experiment's developers, recorded his visit to the house of Dr. Andrei Linde as he surprised him with the discovery. Back in 1983, Linde described a variety of inflation theory called chaotic theory.

The discovery is considered "huge" in astrophysics and cosmology circles, and could lead to solving other cosmological riddles such as dark matter and dark energy. It could very well be a contender for the Nobel Prize.

Theoretical physicist, Lawrence Krause, wrote this for the New Yorker:

"If the discovery announced this morning holds up, it will allow us to peer back to the very beginning of time—a million billion billion billion billion billion times closer to the Big Bang than any previous direct observation—and will allow us to explore the fundamental forces of nature on a scale ten thousand billion times smaller than can be probed at the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest particle accelerator. Moreover, it will allow us to test some of the most ambitious theoretical speculations about the origin of our observed universe that have ever been made by humans—speculations that may first appear to verge on metaphysics. It might seem like an esoteric finding, so far removed from everyday life as to be of almost no interest. But, if confirmed, it will have increased our empirical window on the origins of the universe by a margin comparable to the amount it has grown in all of the rest of human history. Where this may lead, no one knows, but it should be cause for great excitement.“

Marc Kamionkowski, professor of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University, agrees.
""It’s not every day that you wake up and find out something completely new about the early universe," he said. "To me this is as Nobel Prize–worthy as it gets.”

SOURCES
Wired magazine
New York Times
New Scientist
Scientific American

Mar
17
2014

Science education for the masses: World Science U offers online courses in physic-related topics.
Science education for the masses: World Science U offers online courses in physic-related topics.Courtesy Kyle McDonald
World Science U is a new platform for teaching science to the masses. Brian Greene, professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University, has launched a new online website open to anyone. All you have to do is register and start learning. Participants can get questions answered, enroll in short or long (8-10 weeks) courses covering everything from basic physics to quantum entanglement to black holes and parallel universes.

Professor Greene has written several books on physics and cosmology such as The Fabric of the Cosmos and The Elegant Universe and will be involved in teaching the initial topics.

The World Science U website allows users to post questions, or (if they think they know more than professor Greene) post their own topics and hypotheses.

Signing up is easy so you can get started learning right away. Plus there's no homework or prerequisites and it's free! You can take a quick tour here if you'd like.

I watched one of the short courses that were available right now (The Special Theory of Relativity) and found it fascinating and relatively (pun!) easy to understand. Each module is comprised of a lecture followed by an "office hours" session for questions with Professor Greene (this part confused me) and a discussion period with other students. Versions of the courses with more emphasis on mathematics are also available. The site is in the process of being launched so none of the longer university-level courses were available yet - but should be soon. When they do go live, students will be able to earn World Science U certification upon their successful course completion. Greene will also participate in occasional live discussions on the site.

If you have an interest in physics, I'd say it's well worth your time to enroll in World Science U.

SOURCE
World Science U

Feb
21
2014

Is obesity in this baby's future?: It could depend on the yogurt's fat content.
Is obesity in this baby's future?: It could depend on the yogurt's fat content.Courtesy Clover_1
Last Christmas, my son's girlfriend introduced me to honey-flavored yogurt, a delicious concoction of creamy sweetness. I've never been a fan of yogurt, but I immediately fell in love with this stuff, and try to keep a container of it on-hand in the fridge at all times. I can't seem to get enough of it.

One of the reasons it's so tasty is because it's made with whole milk which makes it high in fat, and therefore will make anyone who ingests it high in fat, too. Right? Maybe not.

Two new studies seem to point to just the opposite. Several middle-aged men who participated in a Swedish study and consumed high-fat dairy products, were tracked over a 12 year period and showed much less propensity of becoming obese when compared to men who followed a low or no high-fat diet in the same study. The research appeared in the journal Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care.

In the second study involving the meta-analysis of 16 empirical studies showed that - despite working under the hypothesis that a diet of high-fat foods leads to higher heart disease risk and contributes to obesity - no evidence supporting the claim was found. Actually, according to the study which appeared in the European Journal of Nutrition, consumption of high-fat dairy products were instead associated with a lower obesity risk.

Non-fat and low-fat yogurts still command a larger portion of the market but on the organic side of the things products with higher saturated fat content is, surprisingly, on the upswing. It's unclear why that is. A previous study involving children also showed that a low-fat diet was more likely to lead to obesity.

"There may be bio-active substances in the milk fat that may be altering our metabolism in a way that helps us utilize the fat and burn it for energy, rather than storing it in our bodies," said Greg Miller, of the National Dairy Council.

Besides the newly associated weight benefits, whole organic milk also contains higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids which help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. It's also speculated that consumption of higher fat content may lead to a greater and faster feeling of being satisfied and full, and lead to a sooner cessation of the urge to eat.

For purely scientific reasons I'll be heading for the refrigerator in a moment to see if that's the case.

SOURCE
NPR story

Jan
24
2014

At the Sheffield site we encountered many different kinds of lithic material that the Oneota used at this site. As we sort through our findings there are multiple different types of lithic material that have been identified. Lithics are stone artifacts and it consists of items such as stone tools or stone flakes. There were fragments of all different colors and luster and density to them. Going through all these different kinds of tools and flakes may lead someone to think: “Where did these rocks come from?”
Prairie Du Chien Chert
Prairie Du Chien ChertCourtesy SMM
Tongue River Silica
Tongue River SilicaCourtesy SMM
Hixton Orthoquartzite
Hixton OrthoquartziteCourtesy SMM

The most common lithic we found at Sheffield was Prairie Du Chien Chert, which makes sense because quarries can be found throughout the southeastern part of Minnesota. Another kind of lithic material we found was Tongue River Silica and this rock can be found on the western side of Minnesota. One stone that was particularly interesting to me though is Hixton Orthoquartzite since it is sparkly. We believed the lithic material made of Hixton came from quarries in west Wisconsin.

These are just three of the many lithic materials we found at Sheffield, these lithic materials are significant because of where they originate from. The Sheffield site is located along the Saint Croix River which acted as a means for transportation. Did the Oneota move from place to place and collected these rocks in their travels?

Lithics are an important part in archaeology and not just because the tools made from them look cool. The material that makes up the stone can have as much information as how the lithic material was made into a stone tool. We are not just looking at rocks, but the more we know about what types of material were being used the more we might know about the people who lived at Sheffield.

Dec
10
2013

Sheffield Site
Sheffield SiteCourtesy The Science Museum of Minnesota
Join us on December 14th, from 12-4pm, at the Science Museum of Minnesota, to talk to the KAYSC Heritage Crew and the Archaeology staff in the Archaeology Lab! Get a behind the scenes look at the artifacts from the Sheffield Site, an Oneota Site along the St Croix River! Learn about Minnesota Archaeology, and the research the Archaeology Department has been working on with the Heritage Crew! Dr Ed Fleming will be available to talk to the public about the Sheffield Site and his other projects at the Science Museum of Minnesota!

The other labs on Level 3 will be open as well! Visit the paleontology lab, ethnobotany lab, and biology labs! Visit with the other scientists who work hard to preserve the collections in the museum, and learn about their research too!

Nov
19
2013

New science to old question: New science is helping answer questions on the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
New science to old question: New science is helping answer questions on the assassination of John F. Kennedy.Courtesy Victor Hugo King
Fifty years after the fateful day in Dallas, Texas, people are still working to find definitive answers to the details of the shooting of President John F. Kennedy.

What if the current forensic investigation techniques would have been available then? That's a question the Discovery Channel recently posed in producing the show "JFK: Inside the Target Car." Here's a quick summary of things they learned through their experiments. Click here to get more details about how this all was done.

The Dallas motorcade scene was recreated with modern-day, high tech dummies situated in a car. The dummies were made of materials that have similar properties to human flesh, bone and blood. Sharpshooters then shot the surrogates from the model depository, the grassy knoll, and four other plausible locations that are part of assassination theories.

Two forensic experts, who had no knowledge that the situation was set up to recreate the shooting in Dallas, examined the evidence. Their finding was that shots came from above and behind the pathway of the car, a finding consistent with the location of the Texas Textbook Depository.

Up-to-date science was also applied in making a 3-D animated simulation of the assassination scene based on angles of possible bullet paths, information from the Zapruder home movie of the motorcade, and also wind speeds and directions. Based on blood spatters created through those simulations, the origin of the fatal shots had to be from the textbook depository.

Experts add that while modern science more accurately determine where the shots were fired from, they still cannot determine without doubt if Lee Harvey Oswald was the shooter.

How do you feel about this new application of science to this dark moment of American history? Does it answer your questions on the assassination? Share your thoughts with other Science Buzz readers.

Here's a link to the Discovery Channel's website for the show.

Nov
17
2013

When someone tells you about your nice features you should tell them how fun it is to excavate. I am talking about features in archaeology, of course. A feature is information that contains a cultural importance and cannot be taken to the lab the way it was found.
Shell Midden: A group of shells all located together while we were excavating block 1 of the Sheffield Site.
Shell Midden: A group of shells all located together while we were excavating block 1 of the Sheffield Site.Courtesy SMM

Examples features are hearths and post-molds. These features are located when the soils have certain qualities in them. Since archaeologists must keep digging to learn more from their block, the feature is destroyed as you dig the feature out. Another example is when artifacts are found together or next to other features. You can see this when artifacts are given context to where they are found. A group of shells found together has more cultural value than individual artifacts by themselves in an excavation unit. Just as how a piece of bone have more meaning when it is found in a fire hearth. As I have said before, the further we excavate down into our blocks we destroy the features, so in order for features to be represented, archaeologists record the features they find as they excavate.

To record features that are a part of the soil, archaeologists draw and map out the block that they dig with each layer that they dig out. In doing so they will have somewhat of a 3-D map of where the feature was in their block. At the Sheffield site we normally dig ten centimeters per layer and record what we find on the surface. When we find a feature we start digging in five centimeters layers. We dig in smaller layers so that we can record the shape of the feature more accurately. The behavior of how we dig also changes. Sometimes we dig out certain sections of the feature in order to record how the feature looks from the side.
Fire Hearth Feature: The whitish-grey variations in the wall profile is ash from a past fire hearth. This feature was located at block 1 of the Sheffield Site.
Fire Hearth Feature: The whitish-grey variations in the wall profile is ash from a past fire hearth. This feature was located at block 1 of the Sheffield Site.Courtesy SMM

Archeology is ultimately a destructive science and keeping a good record is key for a good analysis. The features we see as we dig will not physically be there when we go analyze our data in the lab. The more data we record from our features the more chances we have of making a cultural connection with our findings. Features are one of the most important parts of archeology because it gives the artifacts and other data more meaning to why they might be there. Without features archeology would just end up as a display of objects without any cultural significance.