Courtesy wikipedia imageDuring the summer of 2009, I had the opportunity to spend four weeks in the field doing actual scientific investigation. From mid-June until mid-July, I was a participant in the University of Minnesota's archeology summer field school run by Professor Kat Hayes. The mission of the field school was to attempt to confirm the presence of a European footprint in this remote part of what would become a young Minnesota territory.
The site of Little Round Hill is located in Wadena County, Minnesota, part way between the towns of Staples and Wadena. Currently, it is part of a county park system. Located at the confluence of the Crow Wing River and the Partridge River, Little Round Hill is believed to be a historical site from the early French fur trading days.
The story goes something like this. In the mid- 1800's, William Warren wrote an account of Ojibwe life in a growing Minnesota territory. In his work, Warren interviewed an elderly Ojibwe man. This elderly man recounted days spent at a fur trading encampment while he was just a young boy. The encampment centered around the dwelling of a French fur trader and his handful or so of Coureur-des-bois . Staying with this trader were around ten Ojibwe hunters and their families. According to the account, Little Round Hill became the focus of contention between rival bands of Ojibwe and Lakota hunters. By oral recollection, there was an incident of more than 200 Lakota warriors approaching and attacking the outpost. The Frenchmen and Ojibwe held the attackers at bay with guns while barricading themselves into the main encampment. The attackers, with only a few guns and armed mainly with bow and arrow for projectiles, were unable to overcome the defenses and eventually retreated.
The site itself had been recognized for its historical implications for quite some time. For years, local residents have pondered that possible remains may lie buried at the Little Round Hill location. In 1992, Douglas Birk conducted an initial survey of the site. While artifact remains spanning several centuries were recovered in his explorations, they didn’t produce evidence of any of the structures described in the oral account.
The summer of 2009 excavations started out with a whimper. Rain and uncooperative weather hampered our beginning efforts. As the clouds passed, the field crew opened a handful of excavation pits and began searching for artifacts. The results were productive and encouraging. Items of distinct European influence started to appear in most of the test areas including musket balls, cut pieces of finished copper, small trade beads, a couple pieces of worked metal (still of undetermined nature), a few pottery shards and even a small ring (possibly silver).
Additional materials such as a stone arrowhead, lithic debris, and animal bones both broken and charred were recovered. After a month of work and close to a dozen open explorations, much more habitation evidence was revealed. While no sign was uncovered of the fortifications mentioned in the oral account, at least three of the excavation points did expose strong support for likely hearth locations. These may have been centered near the possible dwellings of the occupants.
Alas, the season of excavation is a short one in Minnesota. After a month of work, the crew retreated home with bags of evidence in hand. During the 2009-2010 academic year, the materials are being analyzed and cataloged at the University of Minnesota. A full report on the findings is expected this coming spring. While the preliminary data does not show conclusive evidence of the mentioned encampment, enough material was recovered to warrant further investigation. Plans are to return to the site next summer to resume excavations and expand exploration of the area. I, for one, can not wait and hope to have my hand in the dirt once again come summer 2010.
A new exhibit featuring artwork by geologists, other earth scientists, and geoscience students is being presented this month at the Two Wall Gallery on Vashon Island, Washington.
Courtesy Linda Hope Ponting“Geo sapiens, Geology and Art” could be the first-ever show of its kind, and will feature artwork from entrants from such places as the US, Canada, Great Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, and Okinawa. Artwork includes sculpture, painting, photography and fabric art.
Courtesy Greg WesselCurator Greg Wessel, who co-owns the gallery - and is also a working geologist - put out a call for submissions to geo-science websites and magazines.
Courtesy Mark Ryan"There is a lot of potential to generate works of art that exhibit the wonder and beauty of nature,” Wessel said. “Most geologists take a lot of photos, for example. But in addition, I'm looking for connections both in the brains of the geologists and in their conscious application of geologic themes to the creation of artworks."
Courtesy Bill LapradeWessel received nearly twice as many entries than his small gallery can hold but he promised to show as many pieces as possible. And I’m happy to report that a photograph by yours truly is included in the exhibit.
“Geo sapiens, Geology and Art” opens tomorrow and runs though November. Vashon Island is located in Puget Sound about 8 miles from Seattle.
And, let’s face it, who hasn’t had the urge now and then? At the “Quantum to Cosmos” physics conference in Waterloo, Canada, seven physicists were asked, "What keeps you awake at night?" (Apparently, they meant “what issue in science” as opposed to love, money, or lack thereof.) The panel came up with some pretty heavy questions:
Why are the fundamental laws of nature the way that they are? There doesn’t seem to be any reason why they couldn’t be some other way. Are there, perhaps, other universes with other rules?
How does the Observer Effect work? This is a little deep for me, but apparently at the sub-atomic level, simply observing a particle over here can effect another particle thousands of miles away. How does nature do that?
What is the nature of matter, anyway? Especially the “dark matter” which is theorized to exist in outer space, messing up all our gravity calculations.
On a related note, will string theory ever be proven? String theory is the latest theory for how matter and energy interact at the sub-sub-sub-atomic level. And while it is very elegant and seems right on paper, no one has any idea how to conduct an experiment to prove or disprove it.
How do complex systems arise out of simple, basic particles and forces? You know, complex systems. Like life, the universe, and everything.
How did the universe begin, anyway? Physics can only take us back to a few fractions of a second after the Big Bang, a moment at which the universe was very small, very hot, and very dense. Before that, the laws of physics break down. No one knows how to describe the Bang itself, or how / why it happened.
Which brings us to, what are the limits of science? Science is based on observation and experiment. But, at some point, you run into ideas that can’t be tested. In theory, it’s entirely possible that there are other universes. But we’re stuck in this one—how would we ever know?
If anyone has answers to any of these questions, please send them to Canada ASAP. It sounds like there’s a bunch of scientists up there who could use a good night’s sleep.
The Minnesota State Fair is in full swing this week, and lest you think it's just a band of hucksters pandering to a bunch of yokels, you couldn't be more wrong. Science is evident all over the fair, no matter where you look. I didn't capture everything but in my short amble around the fairgrounds I came across all sorts of examples of science and science in action, as the photographs illustrate. Of course, it's just a small sample of what's out there. The fair runs through Labor Day so there's still time to get there and discover for yourself all the fun science that can be found at the Great Minnesota Get Together.
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Getting the Facts
Today we are all experiencing a global food crisis. Food prices are inflating, families are food poor. Some of the deaths due to hunger or hunger related causes can be avoided. Many children are malnourished but The most damaging micronutrient deficiencies in the world are the consequence of low dietary intake of vitamin A. In the world, the largest dietary eaten is rice, over 80 percent of the world's population depends on rice as their staple food. Although rice tastes awesome with chicken and with everything else, many people around the world do not get enough β-carotene (provitamin A, the form before vitamin A is converted) to help produce Vitamin A in what they are eating or able to afford to eat. Vitamin A is necessary, without Vitamin A our eyes would be unable to function properly. According to the World Health Organization, 250,000 to 500,000 children to go blind every year due to the lack of Vitamin A deficiency (VAD). Every year it has has claims the lives of 350 000 or more, people who are VAD become blind and 60% of those who become blind will die. 400 million rice-consumers may lead to fatal health problems, some are impaired vision; impaired epithelial integrity, exposing the affected individuals to infections; reduced immune response; impaired haemopoiesis (and hence reduced capacity to transport oxygen in the blood) and skeletal growth; and measles infection.
The science behind
Golden rice is a genetically modified (GM), it is made through genetic manipulation. The gene responsible for the yellow color like the daffodils is inserted into the rice genome, and causes rice to produce large quantities of β-carotene.
The purpose of golden rice was made to to produce B-carotene, In the location where people eat the most, the endosperm. β-Carotene is composed of two retinyl groups ( the animal form of Vitamin A, which is different from the plants who are able to perform photosynthesis for their Vitamin A), and is broken down in the the mucous membrane of the small intestine by B-carotene to retinal, a form of vitamin A. Carotene can be stored in the liver and body fat and converted to retinal when it is needed, thus making it a form of vitamin A for mammals like us.
for more details on the science behind golden rice you can check out this website:
But Why Is This Not Happening?
But behind this great discovery and invention people are bound to have their own reason's why they would like it or not. Many have responded with Golden Rice with rage and the desire for those to stop making the golden rice. Many of whom wish for those who do have VAD to receive naturally grown food instead of humans modifying. Those who feel this way feels that other's deserve to eat real food instead of man made. How do you feel towards genetically modified food? Is it still food or something else? With this conspiracy going on the Golden Rice is being stored in a building in Europe because of those who angered about the Golden Rice. Not only do people feel that way other's also said that it will effect the economy worldwide, if golden rice keeps going around the world for free people will stop buying rice and the rice industry would fall apart and the two largest rice exporters ( Thailand and Vietnam ) economy would fall apart and possibly even worse.
My view on this is that Genetically modified food is still food and is made for the better. If we waited for naturally grown food to grow I think it will take way to long for it to be ready for animals and humans to eat, in the world the food consumption is rising and more people demanding food. For example, in 1985 the average Chinese
consumer ate about 20 kg (44 lb) of meat a year, and now consumes over 50 kg (110 lb). Genetically modified food can help feed those who need it. And I understand that there are many people in Europe who do not support GM food, but don't you think we should send food those people who are dying from hunger and save them as soon as possible?
Courtesy Mark RyanThe recent closing of the University of Wyoming’s S.H. Knight Geological Museum due to budget constraints resulted in an uproar of protest from paleontologists, geologists, others in the scientific community, and the public. On June 30, 2009, the museum closed its doors and the job of the museum’s director, paleontologist Brent Breithaupt, was terminated along with that of a part-time employee. Sure, times are tough all over. But we’re talking about a museum with an annual operating expense of only $80,000. In today’s world of massive bailout mania this amounts to less than nano-diddly-squat.
As the protests heated up, an online petition was created (garnering over 2600 signatures), bloggers gnashed their teeth, and the disgruntled public sent a barrage of emails to university higher-ups, and letters to the editors of local newspapers. A non-profit group known as Friends of the SH Knight Museum was also set up to gather donations to reopen the museum.
It appeared many people thought the university president, Tom Buchanan, and the UW board of trustees could have come up with a better solution than closing the museum doors.
Well, suddenly they did.
No doubt feeling the pressure from the public outcry, the mucky-mucks at UW have now reversed their decision and announced on July 18th that the museum would be reopened (but only part-time) starting August 24, 2009 with private funding from the UW Foundation.
BUT (and as you can see it’s a big but) - instead of reinstating Dr. Breithaupt or hiring another qualified director/curator to run the museum, the university plans instead to have a security guard oversee operations. Yes, you read it correctly - a security guard!! With all due respect to security guards (we have plenty of great ones here at SMM), this is a huge mistake on the university’s part. It makes no sense. What’s the point of having a scientific institution if there’s no qualified scientist running it?
This stunt will do nothing but diminish science everywhere. If an academic institution such as UW (the only 4-year public university in Wyoming by the way) considers a security guard qualified enough to explain the intricacies of evolution, plate tectonics, dinosaur cladistics, and the Permian Extinction to visiting youngsters, then what’s the point of attending such a university to become a degreed scientist? You might as well get a job at the local mall and save on the tuition.
This proposed move makes as much sense as replacing a university president with an unqualified janitor. No one would seriously consider doing that.
But in this case maybe that’s not such a bad idea.
Courtesy Mark RyanThere have been recent reports of sightings of some sort of sea monster on Lake Harriet in Minneapolis. I don't live far from the lake so I thought I'd go see if I could spot the so-called "Lake Creature" or at least debunk the sightings. Rumors of mythical creatures are common in the area, like I've heard there's an elf living in a tree trunk on the south end of the same lake. I've seen where he supposedly lives but I've never seen the elf himself. So when I went to investigate, I wasn't expecting to see anything other than a large piece of driftwood or a massive floating blob of something like they saw in Alaska this week. But I got to tell you, this lake creature thing is for real. I saw him with my own eyes on the east side of the lake. The sight of it was so startling, I was afraid to stop my car to take a photo so I just snapped one as I sped by. Let's hope this thing hasn't already destroyed the bandshell.
NOVA - MUSICAL MINDS at 8PM ET/PT (please check local listings)
Can the power of music make the brain come alive? Throughout his career Dr. Oliver Sacks, neurologist and acclaimed author, whose book Awakenings was made into a Oscar-nominated feature film starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, has encountered myriad patients who are struggling to cope with debilitating medical conditions. While their ailments vary, many have one thing in common: an appreciation for the therapeutic effects of music. NOVA follows four individuals—two of whom are Sacks’s case studies—and even peers into Sacks’s own brain, to investigate music’s strange, surprising, and still unexplained power over the brain.
NOVA scienceNOW hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson at 9PM ET/PT (please check local listings)
The fast-paced science magazine series NOVA scienceNOW returns on
June 30 on PBS with a new, 10-week season full of fresh new perspectives, fascinating
scientists, cutting-edge innovations, and provocative stories from the frontlines of science,
technology, and medicine. Hosted by renowned author and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse
Tyson, the series also introduces a brand-new correspondent this season, Ziya Tong (former
host and producer of Wired Science).
Courtesy JGordonJK. The war has already been fought, Bigfoot totally won, you missed it, and remarkably little blood was spilled. Go figure.
A professor of the history of science at Kean University in New Jersey is arguing that Bigfoot, in fact, killed the werewolf. Not for really real, but in the collective mind of our society. However, Bigfoot had a secret weapon: Charles Darwin. (I’m assuming it was a silver-tipped Charles Darwin, at least.)
See, everybody has to be afraid of something, pretty much. And for a long time we were all, “I have to be afraid of something, huh? Well… I’m already sort of afraid of wolves, so why don’t we throw in this unnatural wolf/man mix thingy. I’ll be afraid of that.” And because we were too dumb to know about stuff like flesh eating disease and giant crocodiles and cancer, we were pretty satisfied being afraid of werewolves.
But then, says New Jersey science historian Brian Regal, then along comes ol’ Charles Darwin (and his silver tongue?), and begins to popularize evolution with On the Origin of Species. People start thinking, “Hey… wolf-man? Why did I ever think that was scary? That’s old, magicky nonsense. No, what makes sense is an ape-man. I’ll be afraid of that now.”
Science gave the supernatural a little boost of legitimacy, in a roundabout way. And at the cost of poor, dear wolf-man.
Or so says Brian Regal. Take it for what it’s worth; he’s an assistant professor, after all. I don’t trust assistant anythings. Especially not dental assistants. Regal will be presenting his theory to the British Society for the History of Science in Leicester, UK in July. He’s going to show how period artwork also reflects this werewolf to Bigfoot transition, which sounds pretty neat. So if you can make it to Leicester and into the British Society for the History of Science sometime in the next month, maybe you should check it out.
Courtesy JGordonI’m more than a little disappointed in the lack of an epic, bloody monster-on-monster battle here, though. So I’ll be drawing one for y’all just now, on the back of some paper I pulled out of my trash.
Courtesy quinn.anyaSilver bells are ringing across Britain as the nation celebrates the discovery of its lil’est genius. Two year old Karina Oakley has scored a 160 on the Stanford-Binet IQ test, administered to her by the professor her mother hired.
An IQ scored of 160 places little Karina on the lower edge of the “exceptionally gifted” intelligence classification. The high IQ society Mensa only requires an IQ score of 132 to enter, so Karina’s evaluation places her solidly in the ranks of such official geniuses as Cutthroat Island star and V8 juice fan, Geena Davis, as well as Playboy Playmate Julie Peterson and General “Stormin’ Norman” Schwarzkopf.
Despite all of the “Raising Your Gifted Child”-type books that are no doubt currently filling the padded horizontal surfaces of the Oakley household, raising this little genius will be difficult work. This is surely why Karina’s mother allowed the story to be printed in the respected British periodical The Daily Telegraph; she’s looking for support. So let’s help out.
What does an IQ of 160 really mean? Beyond “exceptionally gifted” or “Geena Davis-smart,” I mean. Let’s explore. For Karina’s sake.
The Stanford-Binet test administered to Karina had its beginnings more than a hundred years ago, when the French psychologist Alfred Binet and his colleague Theodore Simon were studying mental disabilities in school children. They devised a test of increasingly difficult questions and activities (ranging from touching one’s own nose to explaining abstract concepts) and determined the age at which a typical child could answer or perform them correctly. How well a kid tested would determine his or her “mental age,” or their level of development relative to others. But even a hundred years ago, Binet cautioned that the results of these tests should not be interpreted literally, because there’s a margin of error inherent in such testing, and because intelligence is plastic, or changeable, anyway.
Ten years later, researchers at Stanford University expanded on the Binet-Simon test, removing some items, and adding some new ones. The resulting Stanford-Binet test has been revised several times, and it’s now one of the standard IQ or “intelligence quotient” tests. The “mental age” concept from the original test, however, is still the key idea. It’s basically the same concept as an “intelligence quotient”—both are measurements of an individual’s intelligence (or mental age) compared to a standard or average intelligence.
So an IQ score near 100 is about average. That doesn’t mean that if you have an IQ of 100 you’re just okay, while most people might be smarter than you. Necessarily, most people should fall right around 100. With IQ tests, what you end up knowing is whether you test below, about the same, or above most people.
Now, little 2-year-old Karina has an IQ of 160. Does that mean she’s tossing around quantum mechanical problems, fixing the refrigerator, and deconstructing Proust in her spare time? Probably not. The test is going to be relative to her group; two-year-olds. So most of Karina’s colleagues will have an IQ of about 100, but Karina herself, well, she’s notably more intelligent than most two-year-olds. But, then again, so is my golden retriever.
It seems like administering an IQ test to a tiny kid like that is kind of silly. Their weird child-brains are all growing and developing, and all at different rates (which is normal). So does this just mean that Karina is as smart as a 3-year-old? The dog certainly aspires to that.
Karina will probably continue to be a clever little dude for the rest of her life, but what’s important is that she now has an official test, taken when she had been alive for just two years, to prove it. That test will be like the North Star, guiding her through life, and, like the star, perhaps just out of reach. It will be the trump card in shrill arguments with school councilors. And it will, above all else, make Karina friends, especially if she’s placed in a gifted and talented program early in her education. It’s the first stepping-stone on a glorious path to a nervous breakdown as a 16-year-old college freshman. Cheers, Mr. and Mrs. Oakley.
PS— Really, what it boils down to is that I’m insanely jealous of this little girl.
PPS—A fun little bonus story regarding child geniuses:
My young cousin: The doctor tested me to see how smart I am. He said I’m a genie!
My brother: You mean “genius.”