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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Science, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 1,042
1. EYES ON THE WILD SERIES BY SUZI ESZTERHAS

Cheetah ISBN: 9781847803016 Elephant ISBN:9781847805188 Gorilla ISBN: 9781847802996 Tiger ISBN: 9781847805171 Written and photographed by Suzi Eszterhas Frances Lincoln Children's Books. 2014 Preschool to Grade 2 I received these titles from the publisher. After a long night of hunting in the forests of India, a mother tigress carefully returns to her den. She crawls into this secret place

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2. Biologists that changed the world

Biology Week is an annual celebration of the biological sciences that aims to inspire and engage the public in the wonders of biology. The Society of Biology created this awareness day in 2012 to give everyone the chance to learn and appreciate biology, the science of the 21st century, through varied, nationwide events. Our belief that access to education and research changes lives for the better naturally supports the values behind Biology Week, and we are excited to be involved in it year on year.

Biology, as the study of living organisms, has an incredibly vast scope. We’ve identified some key figures from the last couple of centuries who traverse the range of biology: from physiology to biochemistry, sexology to zoology. You can read their stories by checking out our Biology Week 2014 gallery below. These biologists, in various different ways, have had a significant impact on the way we understand and interact with biology today. Whether they discovered dinosaurs or formed the foundations of genetic engineering, their stories have plenty to inspire, encourage, and inform us.

If you’d like to learn more about these key figures in biology, you can explore the resources available on our Biology Week page, or sign up to our e-alerts to stay one step ahead of the next big thing in biology.

Headline image credit: Marie Stopes in her laboratory, 1904, by Schnitzeljack. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The post Biologists that changed the world appeared first on OUPblog.

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3. “Illegal” movement of populations

What’s on my mind?
Indigenous peoples and their worry about being over run by other populations I guess could sum it up.
I suppose if cougars, wolves, elephants and such learned to shoot guns or band together better they would kick out the human populations who have transgressed on their land but as people go I believe we need to understand the reason for others unlawfully entering areas already overpopulated.
Overpopulation where they come from, economic despair, greed, the making of money into a God and the lust for power over others seem to be good places to start .
Seems to me that as people from a planet with finite resources we need to try to make all places a good place to live so people want to stay where they are. Make everywhere a good place to be.
Sharing with others does not have to mean give away my happiness but it could mean helping you gain yours. I hope I can do that with more than one other and if we all did it for just two other people it would cure the problem in my mind at least.
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4. Buried Sunlight by Molly Bang & Penny Chisholm

Buried Sunlight: how fossil fuels have changed our world Written by Molly Bang & Penny Chisholm; Illustrated by Molly Bang Blue Sky Press. 2014 ISBN: 9780545577854 Grades 3-12 To review this book, I borrowed it from my local public library. Author-illustrator Molly Bang has now written four books about the sun’s life-sustaining role in our world. She began with My Light that explained

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5. Celebrating World Anaesthesia Day 2014

World Anaesthesia Day commemorates the first successful demonstration of ether anaesthesia at the Massachusetts General Hospital on 16 October 1846. This was one of the most significant events in medical history, enabling patients to undergo surgical treatments without the associated pain of an operation. To celebrate this important day, we are highlighting a selection of British Journal of Anaesthesia podcasts so you can learn more about anaesthesia practices today.

Fifth National Audit Project on Accidental Awareness during General Anaesthesia

Accidental awareness during general anaesthesia (AAGA) is a rare but feared complication of anaesthesia. Studying such rare occurrences is technically challenging but following in the tradition of previous national audit projects, the results of the fifth national audit project have now been published receiving attention from both the academic and national press. In this BJA podcast Professor Jaideep Pandit (NAP5 Lead) summarises the results and main findings from another impressive and potentially practice changing national anaesthetic audit. Professor Pandit highlights areas of AAGA risk in anaesthetic practice, discusses some of the factors (both technical and human) that lead to accidental awareness, and describes the review panels findings and recommendations to minimise the chances of AAGA.
October 2014 || Volume 113 – Issue 4 || 36 Minutes

 

Pre-hospital Anaesthesia

Emergency airway management in trauma patients is a complex and somewhat contentious issue, with opinions varying on both the timing and delivery of interventions. London’s Air Ambulance is a service specialising in the care of the severely injured trauma patient at the scene of an accident, and has produced one of the largest data sets focusing on pre-hospital rapid sequence induction. Professor David Lockey, a consultant with London’s Air Ambulance, talks to the BJA about LAA’s approach to advanced airway management, which patients benefit from pre-hospital anaesthesia and the evolution of RSI algorithms. Professor Lockey goes on to discuss induction agents, describes how to achieve a 100% success rate for surgical airways and why too much choice can be a bad thing, as he gives us an insight into the exciting world of pre-hospital emergency care.
August 2014 || Volume 113 – Issue 2 || 35 Minutes

 

Fluid responsiveness: an evolution in our understanding

Fluid therapy is a central tenet of both anaesthetic and intensive care practice, and has been a solid performer in the medical armamentarium for over 150 years. However, mounting evidence from both surgical and medical populations is starting to demonstrate that we may be doing more harm than good by infusing solutions of varying tonicity and pH into the arms of our patients. As anaesthetists we arguably monitor our patient’s response to fluid-based interventions more closely than most, but in emergency departments and on intensive care units this monitoring me be unavailable or misleading. For this podcast Dr Paul Marik, Professor and Division Chief of Pulmonary Critical Care at Eastern Virginia Medical Center delivers a masterclass on the physiology of fluid optimisation, tells us which monitors to believe and importantly under which circumstances, and reviews some of the current literature and thinking on fluid responsiveness.
April 2014 || Volume 112 – Issue 4 || 43 Minutes

 

Post-operative Cognitive Decline

Post-operative cognitive decline (POCD) has been detected in some studies in up to 50% patients undergoing major surgery. With an ageing population and an increasing number of elective surgeries, POCD may represent a major public health problem. However POCD research is complex and difficult to perform, and the current literature may not tell the full story. Dr Rob Sanders from the Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience at UCL talks to us about the methodological limitations of previous studies and the important concept of a cognitive trajectory. In addition, Dr Sanders discusses the risk factors and role of inflammation in causing brain injury, and reveals the possibility that certain patients may in fact undergo post-operative cognitive improvement (POCI).
March 2014 || Volume 112 – Issue 3 || 20 Minutes

 

Needle Phobia – A Psychological Perspective

For anaesthetists, intravenous cannulation is the gateway procedure to an increasingly complex and risky array of manoeuvres, and as such becomes more a reflex arc than a planned motor act. For some patients however, that initial feeling of needle penetrating epidermis, dermis and then vessel wall is a dreaded event, and the cause of more anxiety than the surgery itself. Needle phobia can be a deeply debilitating disease causing patients not to seek help even under the most dire circumstances. Dr Kate Jenkins, a hospital clinical psychologist describes both the psychology and physiology of needle phobia, what we as anaesthetists need to be aware of, and how we can better serve out patients for whom ‘just a small scratch’ may be their biggest fear.
July 2014 || Volume 113 – Issue 1 || 32 Minutes

 

For more information, visit the dedicated BJA World Anaesthesia Day webpage for a selection of free articles.

Headline image credit: Anaesthesia dreams, by Tc Morgan. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Flickr.

The post Celebrating World Anaesthesia Day 2014 appeared first on OUPblog.

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6. The life of a bubble

They might be short-lived — but between the time a bubble is born (Fig 1 and Fig 2a) and pops (Fig 2d-f), the bubble can interact with surrounding particles and microorganisms. The consequence of this interaction not only influences the performance of bioreactors, but also can disseminate the particles, minerals, and microorganisms throughout the atmosphere. The interaction between microorganism and bubbles has been appreciated in our civilizations for millennia, most notably in fermentation. During some of these metabolic processes, microorganisms create gas bubbles as a byproduct. Indeed the interplay of bubbles and microorganisms is captured in the origin of the word fermentation, which is derived from the Latin word ‘fervere’, or to boil. More recently, the importance of bubbles on the transfer of microorganisms has been appreciated. In the 1940s, scientists linked red tide syndrome to toxins aerosolized by bursting bubbles in the ocean. Other more deadly illnesses, such as Legionnaires’ disease have been linked since.

bubbles
Figure 1: Bubble formation during wave breaking resulting in the white foam made of a myriad of bubbles of various sizes. (Walls, Bird, and Bourouiba, 2014, used with permission)

Bubbles are formed whenever gas is completely surrounded by an immiscible liquid. This encapsulation can occur when gas boils out of a liquid or when gas is injected or entrained from an external source, such as a breaking wave. The liquid molecules are attracted to each other more than they are to the gas molecules, and this difference in attraction leads to a surface tension at the gas-liquid interface. This surface tension minimizes surface area so that bubbles tend to be spherical when they rise and rapidly retract when they pop.

Figure 2: Schematic example of Bubble formation (a), rise (b), surfacing (c), rupture (d), film droplet formation (e), and finally jet droplet formation (f) illustrating the life of bubbles from birth to death. (Bird, 2014, used with permission)
Figure 2: Schematic example of Bubble formation (a), rise (b), surfacing (c), rupture (d), film droplet formation (e), and finally jet droplet formation (f) illustrating the life of bubbles from birth to death. (Bird, 2014, used with permission)

When microorganisms are near a bubble, they can interact in several ways. First, a rising bubble can create a flow that can move, mix, and stress the surrounding cells. Second, some of the gas inside the bubble can dissolve into the surrounding fluid, which can be important for respiration and gas exchange. Microorganisms can likewise influence a bubble by modifying its surface properties. Certain microorganisms secrete surfactant molecules, which like soap move to the liquid-gas interface and can locally lower the surface tension. Microorganisms can also adhere and stick on this interface. Thus, a submerged bubble travelling through the bulk can scavenge surrounding particulates during its journey, and lift them to the surface.

When a bubble reaches a surface (Figure 2c), such as the air-sea interface, it creates a thin, curved film that drains and eventually pops. In Figure 3, a sequence of images shows a bubble before (Fig 3a), during, and after rupture (Fig 3b). The schematic diagrams displayed in Fig 2c-f complement this sequence. Once a hole nucleates in the bubble film (Fig 2d), surface tension causes the film to rapidly retract and centripetal acceleration acts to destabilize the rim so that it forms ligaments and droplets. For the bubble shown, this retraction process occurs over a time of 150 microseconds, where each microsecond is a millionth of a second. The last image of the time series shows film drops launching into the surrounding air. Any particulates that became encapsulated into these film droplets, including all those encountered by the bubble on its journey through the water column, can be transported throughout the atmosphere by air currents.

bubbles three
Figure 3: Photographs, before, during, and after bubble ruptures. The top panel illustrated the formation of small film droplets; the bottom panel illustrates the formation of larger jet drops. (Bird, 2014, used with permission)

Another source of droplets occurs after the bubble has ruptured (Fig 3b). The events occurring after the bubble ruptures is presented in the second time series of photographs. Here the time between photographs is one milliseconds, or 1/1000th of a second. After the film covering the bubble has popped, the resulting cavity rapidly closes to minimize surface area. The liquid filling the cavity overshoots, creating an upward jet that can break up into vertically propelled droplets. These jet drops can also transport any nearby particulates, also including those scavenged by the bubble on its journey to the surface. Although both film and jet drops can vary in size, jet drops tend to be bigger.

Whether it is for the best or the worst, bubbles are ubiquitous in our everyday life. They can expose us to diseases and harmful chemicals, or tickle our palate with fresh scents and yeast aromas, such as those distinctly characterizing a glass of champagne. Bubbles are the messenger that can connect the depth of the waters to the air we breathe and illustrate the inherent interdependence and connectivity that we have with our surrounding environment.

The post The life of a bubble appeared first on OUPblog.

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7. Don’t Even Think About It

Don’t Even Think About It: Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change by George Marshall is pretty darn depressing. Oh he tries to offer hope at the end but it is paltry compared to what comes before. And what is it that comes before? Page after page of psychology and human behavior detailing why this climate change thing is so hard for us to get together and do something about.

The problem is not just one thing, it’s a big prickly ball of things that is going to need to be attacked from all angles at once and not one thing at a time. Where to start? First, there is a disconnect between scientists and the public and the way they talk to us about climate change. They use words that mean something completely different to us. They say, we are almost certain that climate change is happening and that it is caused by humans. What they mean is they are sure but they can’t say that because in science-speak you can never ever be 100% certain about anything. So what we hear is there is room for doubt. If the scientists aren’t certain then they could be wrong. The scientists beat us over the head with statistics and numbers and logic. We say, wow last winter was so cold I wouldn’t mind if it were a few degrees warmer. They give us facts. We want compelling stories to engage our emotions and prompt us to care and they can’t be about drowning polar bears because, sad as it is, a drowning polar bear is too distant for me to really care about it. I need a story about how climate change is going to affect me personally, and not in 30 or 40 years, that’s a long time away, but five years, next year, now.

Also, climate change needs to be placed into a wider context. It has been boxed away as an environmental issue which makes it easy for people to dismiss. Climate change is not an environmental issue. It is about values, politics and lifestyle. It is about food and water and jobs. It’s about safety and security.

We are busy looking around for someone to blame. We want to blame the oil companies and the politicians while we fill up the gas tanks on our SUVs and fly to the Virgin Islands for a mid-winter getaway. We have convinced ourselves that we are doing everything we can, I’ve changed all my lightbulbs to LED, I recycle, I take my own reusable bags to the grocery store, someone else has to do something. When we are all at fault. Us, our parents, our grandparents, our great-grandparents. But to play the blame game will get us nowhere. We will all need to make sacrifices much more drastic than buying an electric car. We’ve gone about “fixing” the problem from the wrong end. Instead of attacking it at the source and limiting coal and oil extraction and use, we go at it from the tail which is like trying to put out a forest fire with a bottle of water.

We are attached to the status quo and will keep doing what we’ve been doing unless given a compelling reason to do something else. And if, or when, things to start to change, everyone needs to be affected just as much as everyone else. Humans are great at detecting inequities and if you are only allowed to drive your one car two days a week but I get to drive mine four, well that’s just not fair.

I could go on and on, this is a substantial little book. In the end Marshall suggests that all the things that keep us from recognizing climate change as a threat can also help up solve the problems climate change will bring us. It will not be simple to change the frames through which we view the problem, but it isn’t completely impossible. He offers numerous ideas of what needs to be done and how we can each contribute to changing the conversation.

Climate change is happening right now. It is going to continue to happen. Things will probably get bad. Really bad. Not tomorrow and probably not next year, but sooner than you think. So what are we going to do about it?


Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews, Science Tagged: climate change

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8. Super Sniffers by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent

Super Sniffers: Dog Detectives on the Job By Dorothy Hinshaw Patent Bloomsbury. 2014 ISBN: 9780802736185 Grades 3-6 To review this book, I borrowed a copy from my local public library. I couldn't resist reviewing another book about dogs who use their incredible sense of smell to help get the job done. Take any dog, any dog, for a walk along a sidewalk or in a park, and you won’t be

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9. Plato and contemporary bioethics

Since its advent in the early 1970s, bioethics has exploded, with practitioners’ thinking expressed not only in still-expanding scholarly venues but also in the gamut of popular media. Not surprisingly, bioethicists’ disputes are often linked with technological advances of relatively recent vintage, including organ transplantation and artificial-reproductive measures like preimplantation genetic diagnosis and prenatal genetic testing. It’s therefore tempting to figure that the only pertinent reflective sources are recent as well, extending back — glancingly at most — to Immanuel Kant’s groundbreaking 18th-century reflections on autonomy. Surely Plato, who perforce could not have tackled such issues, has nothing at all to contribute to current debates.

This view is false — and dangerously so — because it deprives us of avenues and impetuses of reflection that are distinctive and could help us negotiate present quandaries. First, key topics in contemporary bioethics are richly addressed in Greek thought both within Plato’s corpus and through his critical engagement with Hippocratic medicine. This is so regarding the nature of the doctor-patient tie, medical professionalism, and medicine’s societal embedment, whose construction ineluctably concerns us all individually and as citizens irrespective of profession.

Second, the most pressing bioethical topics — whatever their identity — ultimately grip us not on technological grounds but instead for their bearing on human flourishing (in Greek, eudaimonia). Surprisingly, this foundational plane is often not singled out in bioethical discussions, which regularly tend toward circumscription. The fundamental grip obtains either way, but its neglect as a conscious focus harms our prospects for existing in a way that is most thoughtful, accountable, and holistic. Again a look at Plato can help, for his handling of all salient topics shows fruitfully expansive contextualization.

1847-code-of-ethics (1)
AMA Code of Medical Ethics. Public domain via Wikipedia Commons

Regarding the doctor-patient tie, attempts to circumvent Scylla and Charybdis — extremes of paternalism and autonomy, both oppositional modes — are garnering significant bioethical attention. Dismayingly given the stakes, prominent attempts to reconceive the tie fail because they veer into paternalism, allegedly supplanted by autonomy’s growing preeminence in recent decades. If tweaking and reconfiguration of existing templates are insufficient, what sources not yet plumbed might offer fresh reference points for bioethical conversation?

Prima facie, invoking Plato, staunch proponent of top-down autocracy in the Republic, looks misguided. In fact, however, the trajectory of his thought — Republic to Laws via the Statesman — provides a rare look at how this profound ancient philosopher came at once to recognize core human fallibility and to stare firmly at its implications without capitulating to pessimism about human aptitudes generally. Captivated no longer by the extravagant gifts of a few — philosophers of Kallipolis, the Republic’s ideal city — Plato comes to appreciate for the first time the intellectual and ethical aptitudes of ordinary citizens and nonphilosophical professionals.

Human motivation occupies Plato in the Laws, his final dialogue. His unprecedented handling of it there and philosophical trajectory on the topic warrant our consideration. While the Republic shows Plato’s unvarnished confidence in philosophers to rule — indeed, even one would suffice (502b, 540d) — the Laws insists that human nature as such entails that no one could govern without succumbing to arrogance and injustice (713c). Even one with “adequate” theoretical understanding could not properly restrain himself should he come to be in charge: far from reliably promoting communal welfare as his paramount concern, he would be distracted by and cater to his own yearnings (875b). “Adequate” understanding is what we have at best, but only “genuine” apprehension — that of philosophers in the Republic, seen in the Laws as purely wishful — would assure incorruptibility.

The Laws’ collaborative model of the optimal doctor-patient tie in Magnesia, that dialogue’s ideal city, is one striking outcome of Plato’s recognition that even the best among us are fallible in both insight and character. Shared human aptitudes enable reciprocal exchanges of logoi (rational accounts), with patients’ contributing as equal, even superior, partners concerning eudaimonia. This doctor-patient tie is firmly rooted in society at large, which means for Plato that there is close and unveiled continuity between medicine and human existence generally in values’ application. From a contemporary standpoint, the Laws suggests a fresh approach — one that Plato himself arrived at only by pressing past the Republic’s attachment to philosophers’ profound intellectual and values-edge, whose bioethical counterpart is a persistent investment in the same regarding physicians.

If values-spheres aren’t discrete, it’s unsurprising that medicine’s quest to demarcate medical from non-medical values, which extends back to the American Medical Association’s original Code of Medical Ethics (1847), has been combined with an inability to make it stick. In addition, a tension between the medical profession’s healing mission and associated virtues, on the one side, and other goods, particularly remuneration, on the other, is present already in that code. This conflict is now more overt, with rampancy foreseeable in financial incentives’ express provision to intensify or reduce care and to improve doctors’ behavior without concern for whether relevant qualities (e.g., self-restraint, courage) belong to practitioners themselves.

“As Plato rightly reminds us, professional and other endeavors transpire and gain their traction from their socio-political milieu”

Though medicine’s greater pecuniary occupation is far from an isolated event, the human import of it is great. Remuneration’s increasing use to shape doctors’ behavior is harmful not just because it sends the flawed message that health and remuneration are commensurable but for what it reveals more generally about our priorities. Plato’s nuanced account of goods (agatha), which does not orbit tangible items but covers whatever may be spoken of as good, may be helpful here, particularly its addressing of where and why goods are — or aren’t — cross-categorically translatable.

Furthermore, if Plato is right that certain appetites, including that for financial gain, are by nature insatiable — as weakly susceptible to real fulfillment as the odds of filling a sieve or leaky jar are dim (Gorgias 493a-494a) — then even as we hope to make doctors more virtuous via pecuniary incentives, we may actually be promoting vice. Engagement with Plato supports our retreat from calibrated remuneration and greater devotion to sources of inspiration that occupy the same plane of good as the features of doctors we want to promote. If the goods at issue aren’t commensurable, then the core reward for right conduct and attitudes by doctors shouldn’t be monetary but something more in keeping with the tier of good reflected thereby, such as appreciative expressions visible to the community (a Platonic example is seats of honor at athletic games, Laws 881b). Of course, this directional shift shouldn’t be sprung on doctors and medical students in a vacuum. Instead, human values-education (paideia) must be devotedly and thoughtfully instilled in educational curricula from primary school on up. From this vantage point, Plato’s vision of paideia as a lifelong endeavor is worth a fresh look.

As Plato rightly reminds us, professional and other endeavors transpire and gain their traction from their socio-political milieu: we belong first to human communities, with professions’ meaning and broader purposes rooted in that milieu. The guiding values and priorities of this human setting must be transparent and vigorously discussed by professionals and non-professionals alike, whose ability to weigh in is, as the Laws suggests, far more substantive than intra-professional standpoints usually acknowledge. This same line of thought, combined with Plato’s account of universal human fallibility, bears on the matter of medicine’s continued self-policing.

Linda Emanuel claims that “professional associations — whether national, state or county, specialty, licensing, or accrediting — are the natural parties to articulate tangible standards for professional accountability. Almost by definition, there are no other entities that have such ability and extensive responsibility to be the guardians of health care values — for the medical profession and for society” (53-54). Further, accountability “procedures” may include “a moral disposition, with only an internal conscience for monitoring accountability” (54). On grounds above all of our fallibility, which is strongly operative both with and absent malice, the Laws foregrounds reciprocal oversight of all, including high officials, not just from within but across professional and sociopolitical roles; crucially, no one venue is the arbiter in all cases. Whatever the number of intra-medical umbrellas that house the profession’s oversight, transparency operates within circumscribed bounds at most, and medicine remains the source of the very standards to which practitioners — and “good” patients — will be held. Moreover, endorsing moral self-oversight here without undergirding pedagogical and aspirational structures is less likely to be effective than to hold constant or even amplify countervailing motivations.

As can be only briefly suggested here, not only the themes but also their intertwining makes further bioethical consideration of Plato vastly promising. I’m not proposing our endorsement of Plato’s account as such. Rather, some positions themselves, alongside the rich expansiveness and trajectory of his explorations, are two of Plato’s greatest legacies to us — both of which, however, have been largely untapped to date. Not only does reflection on Plato stand to enrich current bioethical debates regarding the doctor-patient tie, medical professionalism, and medicine’s societal embedment, it offers a fresh orientation to pressing debates on other bioethical topics, prominent among them high-stakes discord over the technologically-spurred project of radical human “enhancement.”

Headline image credit: Doctor Office 1. Photo by Subconsci Productions. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr

The post Plato and contemporary bioethics appeared first on OUPblog.

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10. Tristan Hunt Series Brings Ocean Science to Young Fiction Audience

Ellen Prager, PhD, ocean scientist and author, brings ocean science to the young fiction audience with her Tristan Hunt and the Sea guardian series.

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11. Who Was Here? Discovering Wild Animal Tracks

Who Was Here?: Discovering Wild Animal Tracks  by Mia Posada Millbrook Press, 2014 9781647718714 Grades K-3 The reviewer received a copy of the book from the publisher. Young readers will enjoy learning about animals tracks in this engaging science picture books. The writing style alternates between descriptive poems and expository paragraphs as readers try to guess the animals based on the

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12. Gathering Moss

Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer took some time to get through for such a slim book. It’s not that the reading was all that difficult, most of the chapters are the perfect length for reading before bed or during lunch. Nor was is over science-y and dry. It was actually a really interesting book. For instance, did you know there are as many as 22,000 different kinds of mosses and that they inhabit every ecosystem on earth? What took me so long to get through the book were some interruptions with books on deadlines, but also a bit of disappointment.

Like I said, Gathering Moss is really good. But I had read Kimmerer’s second book, Braiding Sweetgrass earlier this year and absolutely loved it for its combination of memoir and plant science. I expected Gathering Moss would be the same. In some ways it is, there are a few personal stories about her daughters and her neighbor and stories about field study for her own research and working with her students, but the focus here is definitely on the mosses. Nearly every chapter is devoted to one particular kind of moss, how and where it grows, how it reproduces, that sort of thing. It took me a little bit to get over my initial disappointment, but once I did and no longer had other bookish distractions, I fell pleasantly into the book.

I always thought moss was pretty neat, but now I will never look at it the same way again. And the thing with moss is, you really do have to look. It is such a tiny plant, it requires that you pay attention and get up close and personal with it, preferably with a magnifying glass or microscope. And when you really look, it does amazing things. Moss can lose up to 98% of its moisture and still survive, reviving when it gets wet again. And if you live in a city, you have probably helped pollinate moss and not even known it.

The moss species Bryum agenteum is most commonly found in sidewalk cracks. When we scuffle over the cracks, moss spores stick to the bottom of our shoes and is deposited in other sidewalk cracks, pollinating other colonies and spreading to uninhabited cracks to begin new ones. Moss is also very sensitive to air pollution so you can tell how clean your city’s air is by how much moss you see on trees.

Moss also helps grow and sustain forests. Moss is like a sponge and it shares its water with tall trees and sprouting tree seeds. Moss also shelters insects and these insects in turn become food for birds and salamanders and toads which then become food right up the food chain. Moss also supports fungal growth in the soil, important for good soil health which is important for other plant life as well.

Mosses are tiny, overlooked powerhouses. Without mosses, this world would look a lot different. Come next spring when the moss brightens the bark of the trees in my garden, I will be stopping to look up close. And I will be getting down on my hands and knees to look at the patches of moss growing beneath the apple trees in my front yard. Over the years as the grass beneath the trees has disappeared I have noticed the patches of moss have increased in size and number. It has always delighted me to see these patches getting bigger but I have never bent down to really look at them. Now I will. It is time to get to know the moss in my garden.


Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Science, Science by Women

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13. What makes you You? A Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize shortlistee

royalsocietyprizebuttonEach year the Royal Society awards a prize to the best book that communicates science to young people with the aim of inspiring young people to read about science. In the run up to the announcement of the winner of The Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize in the middle of November, I’ll be reviewing the books which have made the shortlist, and trying out science experiments and investigating the world with M and J in ways which stem from the books in question.

7277405-MFirst up is What makes you YOU? by Gill Arbuthnott , illustrated by Marc Mones.

Have you ever thought how your genes could get you out of prison?

Or what the consequences might be if a company owned and could make money out of one of your own genes?

How would you know if you were a clone?

Why might knowing something about junk DNA be important if you’re running an exclusive restaurant with slightly dodgy practices?

Answers to these and many other intriguing questions are to be found in this accessible introduction to genetics, pitched at the 9-11 crowd. Arbuthnott does a great job of showing how relevant a knowledge of genetics is, whether in helping us to understand issues in the news (e.g. ‘Cancer gene test ‘would save lives’‘) or understanding why we are partly but not entirely like our parents. What makes you YOU? covers key scientists in the past history of genetics and crucial stages in its development as a science, including the race to discover what DNA looked like, the Human Genome Project, and Dolly the Sheep.

wmyyinside

Arbuthnott portrays the excitement and potential in genetic research very well, leaving young readers feeling that this is far from a dry science; there are many ethical issues which make the discussion of the facts seem more relevant and real to young readers. Whilst on the whole I felt the author did a good job of balancing concerns with opportunities, I was sorry that in the discussion about genetically modified plants no mention was made of businesses ability to control supply to food stock, by creating plants which don’t reproduce, leaving farmers dependent on buying new seed from the business.

A timeline of discoveries, a very helpful list of resources for further study, a glossary and an index all make this a really useful book. Importantly, not only does the book contain interesting and exciting information, it also looks attractive and engaging. Lots of full bleed brightly coloured pages, and the use of cartoony characters make the book immediately approachable and funny – a world away from a dry dull school textbook.

What makes you YOU? provides a clear and enjoyable introduction to understanding DNA and many of the issues surrounding genetic research, perfect not only for learning about this branch of science, but also for generating discussion.

Extracting DNA is what the kids wanted to try after sharing What makes you YOU?. In the interest of scientific exploration we tried two different techniques to see which one we found easier and which gave the best results.

Method 1: Extracting your own DNA

What you’ll need:

dna1

  • A tablespoon
  • Salt
  • A measuring jug
  • Water
  • Washing-up liquid
  • A small bowl
  • A teaspoon
  • A small clean cup
  • A tall and narrow jar (or a test tube)
  • Clingfilm or a stopper/lid
  • A stirrer eg a plastic straw
  • Rubbing alcohol (surgical spirit – in the UK you can buy this easily in a chemists such as Boots)
  • dna4

  • 1. Dissolve 1 tablespoon of salt in 250ml of water to create a salt solution.
  • 2. Dilute the washing-up liquid by mixing 1 tbsp of washing-up liquid with 3 tbsp of water in your small bowl. We’ll call this the soap solution.
  • 3. Swish 1 teaspoon of tap water around in your mouth vigorously for at least 30 seconds. Spit this into the small cup. We’ll call this spit water.
  • 4. Put 1/4 teaspoon of your salt solution into your tall jar/test tube.
  • 5. Pour your spit water from the cub into the tall tar/test tube.
  • 6. Add 1/4 teaspoon of your soap solution to the test tube.
  • 7. Cover the top of your tall jar/test tube either with clingfilm/a stopper/a lid and gently turn the jar almost upside down several times to mix everything together. Avoid making any bubbles.
  • 8. Take the covering off the jar and dribble 1 teaspoon of surgical spirit down the side of the tall jar/test tube. Watch for the surgical spirit forming a layer on top of the spitwater/salt solution/soap solution mix.
  • 9. You should now see a white stringy layer forming between the two layers – this is your DNA (and a few proteins, but mostly it’s your DNA)
  • 10. You can use the stirrer to pull out the white goop to get a closer look at your DNA.
  • dna5.jpg

    We learned this method for extracting DNA from Exploratopia by Pat Murphy, Ellen Macaulay and the staff of the Exploratorium. Unfortunately it’s out of print now, but it is definitely worth tracking down a copy if you are interested in doing experiments at home.

    Method 2: Extracting strawberry DNA

    This second method is detailed in What makes you YOU? and involves strawberries, fresh pineapple, warm water and ice as well as washing-up liquid and salt. It also calls for methylated spirits but we swapped this for surgical spirit, as that’s what we had to hand.

    dna2

    This method is a little more involved than the first method but is a all round sensory experience: There are lots of strong smells (from crushed strawberries and puréed pineapple, as well as the surgical spirit), colours make it visually very appealing (perhaps this is why methylated spirits are called for in the original recipe as the purple of the meths adds another dimension) and there is also lots to feel, from the strange sensation of squishing the strawberries by hand, through to the different temperatures of the warm water in which the DNA-extracting-mix gently cooks followed by the ice water in which it cools down.

    squishingstrawbs

    strawberrydnaprocess

    strawberrydnaresult

    Look! Strawberry DNA!

    strawberrydnagoop

    Both methods were fun to try. We liked the first method because the result was seeing globs of our very own DNA, but the second method was a much more stimulating process, appealing to all the senses. Indeed this DNA extraction recipe alone makes it worthwhile seeking out a copy of What makes you YOU?.

    Whilst extracting DNA we listened to:

  • GENEticS, a rap by Oort Kuiper
  • The DNA song

  • The Galaxy DNA song By Eric Idle and John Du Prez (a re-worked Monty Python song)

  • Other activities which might go well with reading What makes you YOU? include:

  • Checking out this list of children’s books I previously compiled on genetics and DNA – with something for everyone no matter what their age.
  • Listening to an interview with Gill Arbuthnott
  • Watching this animation which helps explain how Mendel’s pea plants helped us understand genetics
  • What do you and your family look for in science books to really hook you in? Do share some examples of science books which you’ve especially enjoyed over the years.

    Disclosure: I received a free review copy of What makes you YOU? from the Royal Society.

    0 Comments on What makes you You? A Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize shortlistee as of 10/8/2014 10:09:00 PM
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    14. Mind Change

    Hi Everyone! I’m at Shiny New Books today. Here’s a taste:

    With Mind Change: How Digital Technologies Are Leaving Their Mark on Our Brains, Susan Greenfield has provided us with an even-keeled examination of the intersection of digital technology and neuroscience. She explores various ways in which digital technology is affecting our brains, identities and culture and the possible consequences. Human brains are naturally plastic, everything we think and do changes them; this is a known and uncontested fact. There is no reason to believe that digital technology will not also change our brains and ultimately, who we are. Isn’t it a good idea to assess the potential risks and benefits of technology before we are so deep in it that it is too late to go back?

    Intrigued? Read the rest here. And be sure to check out the rest of the Autumn issue while you are there!


    Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews, Science, Technology

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    15. The Next Wave by Elizabeth Rusch

    The Next Wave:  the quest to harness the power of the oceans Scientists in the Field Elizabeth Rusch Houghton Mifflin. 2014 ISBN: 9780544099999 Grades 5-12 The publisher sent me this book for reviewing. When I first moved to Maine I lived on an island where I experienced first hand the strength and power of the ocean. From being trapped on the island when the weather was too

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    16. Best Selling Kids Series | October 2014

    The Lets-Read-and-Find-Out Science series is our best selling kids series this month and offers wonderful selections for seasonal science and beyond.

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    17. Pika

    Christine Marie Larsen Illustration of a Pika

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    18. Shark Baby

    Shark Baby
    Author: Ann Downer
    Illustrator: Shennen Bersani
    Publisher: Sylvan Dell
    Genre: Children / Animals
    ISBN: 978-1-60718-6342
    Pages: 32
    Price: $9.95

    Author’s website
    Buy it at Amazon

    Shark baby is snug in his egg case, tied to a strand of kelp, wondering what’s outside. But when a storm hits, the rough ocean waves break the case loose, tearing it slightly. Shark baby can now see where he is and who he is encountering as he drifts about. But now he has a new question – what kind of shark is he?

    Shark Baby introduces children to the life cycle of a shark and shows them a variety of shark species. A discussion guide with questions is also provided for classroom use. This book would be a great resource for science lessons.

    Reviewer: Alice Berger


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    19. Science Literacy Moments #alsc14

    “Pretend the window is a screen,” said poet Susan Blackaby at this morning’s #alsc14 session “The Poetry of Science.” People spend so much time with their eyes glued to their electronic devices that they’re liable to miss what’s going on in their environment. Imagine if people gave as much concentration to nature as they give to their computer screens. How many hawks would they see? What other wonders would they encounter?

    Author Margarita Engle joined today’s panel, discussing how she uses both poetry and her science background to advocate for animal and environment conservation. As a child, Engle said, “No curiosity was too small for concentration.” She made the point that the phrase “the spirit of wonder” is applicable to both science and poetry. Because of this commonality, it’s possible to interest poetry loving kids in science phenomena and give science fans the chance to experiment with language.

    Poet Janet Wong said that it’s easy–and vital–to create science literacy moments in the classroom and at the library. The key is to be bold. “Science and technology are accessible to people if they’re not afraid.” As gatekeepers of information, teachers and librarians should embrace the responsibility to expose kids to all subjects. Linking language and science may be a key way to make science more approachable. It doesn’t even have to be an elaborate lesson: just a few science literacy moments a week will have a lasting impact on children’s lives.

    Check out these great resources:

    Jill’s post about Thursday’s edition of “The Science of Poetry”

    Presenter Sylvia Vardell’s Poetry for Children blog

    Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong’s blog and book, The Poetry Friday Anthology.

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    20. Tap The Magic Tree, by Christie Matheson | Book Review

    Tap The Magic Tree, by Christie Matheson, is a beautiful story about the changing seasons centered on a single tree that children are asked to interact with on the page.

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    21. The Science of Slimy Things

    A few months ago, one of my frequent program-goers made a request: Would I please be able to offer a program that includes slugs, one of his favorite animals? I was inclined to agree to the challenge, even before said child had his mother email me a photo of him with his three pet slugs. How’s a librarian to say “no” to that?

    I gave some thought to how I could meet the “slug” challenge while also closing out a season of many science-themed programs. I decided to return to a favorite concept with school-agers—slime—and explore it from two different perspectives: animal biology and physics. Thus “The Science of Slimy Things” was born.

    A Slug Science information slide, slide and photo by Amy Koester

    A Slug Science information slide, slide and photo by Amy Koester

    The program was divided roughly into two parts, the first considerably less messy than the second. We opened with an exploration of slugs—pictures, how they move, their scientific names, how they differ from snails, and the purpose of their slime. Happily, the non-fiction stacks had plenty of resources to support this exploration.

    Then we got hands-on with slug slime. No, not real slug slime, as I don’t have regular access to the potionmaster’s storecupboard. Instead, I had prepared some gelatinous, fibrous slime (recipe below) the morning of the program and brought it with me to the library. It sat in the staff fridge with a note saying “NOT Jello—Do NOT eat!” until program time. Once we had talked about slugs, I doled out scoops of the orange goo on paper plates for each of the attendees. I provided them with popsicle sticks and index cards to use to explore and manipulate the slime, but many of them opted just to use their hands. I’m sure none of us are surprised.

    Slug slime, photo by Amy Koester

    Slug slime, photo by Amy Koester

    When everyone felt that, having tested its viscous properties, they had had a good play with the slug slime, we scooped it all back up into the plastic container. After a brief stop in the restroom to wash hands, we all trooped outside to the library’s patio for the really messy activity of the program.

    Our second exploration of slime was oobleck, that substance owing its name to Dr. Seuss. I had some sample oobleck to accompany the intro to this type of slime. We discussed how oobleck is a non-Newtonian fluid—that is, it has properties of both a solid and a liquid depending upon the force being exerted upon it. To demonstrate, I set a toy farm animal on top of a pool of water (it sank) and then on top of the pool of oobleck (it sank, albeit more slowly). With a minimal amount of pressure acting against the oobleck, it acts like a liquid. To demonstrate how it acts like a solid, I used a mallet as my tool. First, I slammed the mallet into the pool of water; it splashed magnificently. When I raised the mallet to slam it onto the pool of oobleck, many of the kids leaned backward in expectation of a colossal oobleck splatter. Instead, there was none; the sudden strong force of mallet against oobleck caused the oobleck to act like a solid. Cue the pronouncements of “How cool!”

    After making sure the kids had retained the term “non-Newtonian fluid,” I split everyone into groups to make their own oobleck. It was a messy, experimental process, as kids had to fiddle with the balance of ingredients in their slime (recipe below). Once they all had slime, the patio was a mess of kids scooping up oobleck, rolling it into a ball in their hands, and then letting it drip through their fingers. (I am happy to report that it rained a LOT the day after the oobleck project, which had left the outdoor patio quite covered in dried slime.)

    When kids had had enough of the messy oobleck, I handed out empty prescription containers so that kids could take a bit of slime home with them. Kids bottled it up, then went their merry way to wash hands.

    My program-goer who requested the slug aspect of the program said he was very happy with how the program had turned out—he liked getting to play with slug slime, and the oobleck was a great surprise as well. Talk about enjoying the finer things in life.

    The Recipe for Slug Slime:

    • 7 cups water
    • 10 tsp Metamucil powder

    Pour the water into a stovetop-safe saucepan, then stir in the Metamucil until dissolved. When the mixture is dissolved, turn on the burner to medium-high heat. Heat the mixture for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently, until it reaches your desired consistency. The mixture will be gelatinous and gloopy. Let cool before handling.

    The Recipe for Oobleck:

    • 1 to 2 cups cornstarch
    • 1 cup water

    Pour 1 cup of the cornstarch into a mixing bowl. Slowly add in the water, gently stirring with a spoon or with hands. Keep adding water until the oobleck starts to thicken; you’ll know it’s ready when you tap on it and it hardens. If the oobleck is too runny, add more cornstarch; if too thick, add more water.

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    22. Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animals’ Lives, by Lola Schaefer | Book Review

    This whimsical and educational book combines a love for both animals and numbers, which makes it a great way to get animal lovers excited about math while giving them the opportunity to learn more about the individual animals as well.

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    23. Camps: The New Trend in Summer Reading

    geek girl logo

    This summer at the Fayetteville Free Library in Fayetteville, NY we piloted our first ever week long summer camp during Summer Reading. The Fayetteville Free Library Geek Girl Camp is a camp for girls in grades 3 through 5 introducing them to hands on STEM skills and to female role models. Months of work went into planning this camp fulfilling a need in our greater community.  According to the Girl Scout Research Institute,  “Research shows that girls start losing interest in math and science during middle school. Girls are typically more interested in careers where they can help others (e.g., teaching, child care, working with animals) and make the world a better place. Recent surveys have shown that girls and young women are much less interested than boys and young men in math and science.”[1]

    We had 44 girls attend the FFL Geek Girl Camp from all over the greater Syracuse, NY area. We had over 10 girls on the waiting list and charged $25.00 for the camp to supplement the cost of food, t-shirts and supplies. We also offered four scholarship opportunities for those who might not be able to afford the cost of the camp. In addition to the 44 girls who came to the camp we had 9 speakers from across the country join us in person or via Skype. Speakers included students from Virginia Commonwealth University, Cornell University, Syracuse University and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Other speakers included women who worked for Facebook, the Air Force, a pharmaceutical research facility, and from national organizations, Girls in Tech and Girl Develop IT. Each day we heard from one or more speakers who talked about what they do at their jobs or in school and how important it is to have women working in these fields! They all made sure to relate to the girls in attendance and campers had great questions afterwards.

    14779007462_7419253f00_k

    Throughout the week we had a great array of activities. We rented a cement mixer and made an oobleck pool for kids to run across after learning about density and viscosity, shot off model rockets, chucked books, apples and water balloons with a trebuchet after learning about projectiles, force, gravity and more.  Girls learned about fractals, made mini catapults, 3D printed, used littlebits kits, Snap Circuits and computer programmed with Scratch and much more.

    The camp was a huge success that the parents of those who attended were above and beyond appreciative and wanted to already sign up for next year. We learned from this particular camp that we created something valuable for our community and that we need to transition into this camp model for future Summer Reading programs. We were asked, “When are you having a camp for boys”? We will not only have camp for boys and girls but of different ages as well. Planning FFL Geek Girl Camp did take a lot of time; however the outcome of the camp was far beyond what we expected and worth the time spent planning for the impact it had on our community. Camps offer children an opportunity to learn more and make stronger relationships over a short period of time.  Like camp as a kid it was a place to learn new things and meet new friends and create memories that last a lifetime.

    CaptureThe first day of FFL Geek Girl, the campers were a little shy but after just the second day the girls couldn’t stop talking and working together. We run bimonthly programs where kids come in every other week to work on projects but having children in the library everyday for a week gives you an opportunity to teach kids a skill and not have to worry about rushing or not being able to complete the task, plus you have an opportunity to do projects or lessons that take longer and are more complex. Camps also give us a great opportunity to get to know our patrons. Girls come in and out of the library now looking for their camp counselors to say hi! Cost is also a huge factor in running a camp at a library versus a different venue. We had materials donated to the camp and used many of the resources we already owned including our own staff to run and plan the program. Most science camps can range in price anywhere from $75-$600. We decided that $25 was not only affordable but fit into our budget for the camp as well to make it run successfully.

    CaptureWe think that camps are the future of Summer Reading. It gives us and the community an opportunity to focus on important topics like STEAM and produce content that is beneficial and influential. At the end of the week our campers said they wanted to be inventors, work at Google, become web developers and physicists. If it wasn’t for the atmosphere we created at the library and the week long camp we would have never saw these results and impact on our community.

    Please check out our website for more information about the FFL Geek Girl Camp, our Flickr page and hashtag #geekgirl14 on Twitter and Instagram.

    [1]Modi, K. (2012). “Generation STEM: What girls Say about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math” Girl Scout Research Institute. http://www.girlscouts.org/research/pdf/generation_stem_full_report.pdf

    Capture

    Meredith Levine is the Director of Family Engagement at the Fayetteville Free Library. Meredith is a member of the ALSC School Age Programs and Services Committee. Find out more at www.fflib.org or email Meredith at mlevine@fflib.org

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    24. Science, Literacy and Technology at the Columbus Zoo!

    Last May, we took our 3rd graders to the Columbus Zoo on a field trip. We have a great zoo in Columbus so it s always a great trip. But last year, the educators at the zoo created a new program. Our kids would have the opportunity to observe animals and collect data using iPads.  We were excited about the program and knew that it tied in with our science curriculum.  When we got back to school last spring, we realized that this would be a great fall trip. That the program would be a great kick off for learning around scientific observation, using technology to collect data, life science and more.  So we booked this year's trip in September and our classes went to the zoo on Friday. Not only was it a great day but we learned a lot that I know will carry into our learning thoughout the year.

    The trip was great. The educators at the zoo kicked off our day with a half-hour session for the whole group. We learned about animal observation. We learned about the 4 elephants at the Columbus Zoo. We learned their names, how to tell them apart, a bit about their personalities, etc. Then we learned the codes for each thing an elephant might be doing--moving, socializing, eating, etc.  We learned a bit about why it is important to tell where the elephant is for each observation-which area of the habitat.


    Then, each class had the opportunity to use iPads to track one elephant's behavior for 30 minutes.  The app is set up specifically for these observations and kids got a chance to see what this type of animal observation at the zoo was like.  (The iPads were not working for our class's session so we asked questions and learned lots about the animals, as Kelly answered our questions about the elephants.


    September was a great time for this trip.  It impacted the ways that our students think about science and observation. They understand that scientific observation happens all the time at the zoo right in our city. They know that the observations we take tell a story of the animal.  And they learned that technology is one way to keep track of observations.


    I read 2 books this week that set the stage for our day at the Zoo. One was Elephant by Suzi Eszterhas.  This book tells the story of a baby elephant and how he grows.  Her Eye on the Wild series is a great series for middle grades and this made for a good read aloud.  The other book that we read was Tiger Math:  Learning Graphing From a Baby Tiger and they begged me to read this one each day. This is the story of a baby tiger who refuses to eat.  The book chronicles the first months of the tiger's life and the work the zookeepers did to keep him alive, help him grow and monitor his progress. There are graphs throughout the book that the scientists share to help tell the story of Tiger. I love that the authors of this book talk about the story that graphs tell. Kids loved this and they learned math and scientific observation.  There are several books in this series so I am going to try to get them all for the classroom as kids were fascinated by the ways math and science worked together for animal observations.  I think they'll enjoy them even more now that we've been to the zoo.

    We are lucky to have the Columbus Zoo right here in our city!


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    25. CERN: glorious past, exciting future

    Today, 60 years ago, the visionary convention establishing the European Organization for Nuclear Research – better known with its French acronym, CERN – entered into force, marking the beginning of an extraordinary scientific adventure that has profoundly changed science, technology, and society, and that is still far from over.

    With other pan-European institutions established in the late 1940s and early 1950s — like the Council of Europe and the European Coal and Steel Community — CERN shared the same founding goal: to coordinate the efforts of European countries after the devastating losses and large-scale destruction of World War II. Europe had in particular lost its scientific and intellectual leadership, and many scientists had fled to other countries. Time had come for European researchers to join forces towards creating of a world-leading laboratory for fundamental science.

    Sixty years after its foundation, CERN is today the largest scientific laboratory in the world, with more than 2000 staff members and many more temporary visitors and fellows. It hosts the most powerful particle accelerator ever built. It also hosts exhibitions, lectures, shows, meetings, and debates, providing a forum of discussion where science meets industry and society.

    What has happened in these six decades of scientific research? As a physicist, I should probably first mention the many ground-breaking discoveries in Particle Physics, such as the discovery of some of the most fundamental building block of matter, like the W and Z bosons in 1983; the measurement of the number of neutrino families at LEP in 1989; and of course the recent discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012, which prompted the Nobel Prize in Physics to Peter Higgs and Francois Englert in 2013.

    But looking back at the glorious history of this laboratory, much more comes to mind: the development of technologies that found medical applications such as PET scans; computer science applications such as globally distributed computing, that finds application in many fields ranging from genetic mapping to economic modeling; and the World Wide Web, that was developed at CERN as a network to connect universities and research laboratories.

    CERN Control Center (2).jpg
    “CERN Control Center (2)” by Martin Dougiamas – Flickr: CERN control center. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

    If you’ve ever asked yourself what such a laboratory may look like, especially if you plan to visit it in the future and expect to see building with a distinctive sleek, high-tech look, let me warn you that the first impression may be slightly disappointing. When I first visited CERN, I couldn’t help noticing the old buildings, dusty corridors, and the overall rather grimy look of the section hosting the theory institute. But it was when an elevator brought me down to visit the accelerator that I realized what was actually happening there, as I witnessed the colossal size of the detectors, and the incredible degree of sophistication of the technology used. ATLAS, for instance, is a 25 meters high, 25 meters wide and 45 meters long detector, and it weighs about 7,000 tons!

    The 27-km long Large Hadron Collider is currently shut down for planned upgrades. When new beams of protons will be circulated in it at the end of 2014, it will be at almost twice the energy reached in the previous run. There will be about 2800 bunches of protons in its orbit, each containing several hundred billion protons, separated by – as in a car race, the distance between bunches can be expressed in units of time – 250 billionths of a second. The energy of each proton will be compared to that of a flying mosquito, but concentrated in a single elementary particle. And the energy of an entire bunch of protons will be comparable to that of a medium-sized car launched at highway speed.

    Why these high energies? Einstein’s E=mc2 tells us that energy can be converted to mass, so by colliding two protons with very high energy, we can in principle produce very heavy particles, possibly new particles that we have never before observed. You may wonder why we would expect that such new particles exist. After all we have already successfully created Higgs bosons through very high-energy collisions, what can we expect to find beyond that? Well, that’s where the story becomes exciting.

    Some of the best motivated theories currently under scrutiny in the scientific community – such as Supersymmetry – predict that not only should new particles exist, but they could explain one of the greatest mysteries in Cosmology: the presence of large amounts of unseen matter in the Universe, which seem to dominate the dynamics of all structures in the Universe, including our own Milky Way galaxy — Dark Matter.

    Identifying in our accelerators the substance that permeates the Universe and shapes its structure would represent an important step forward in our quest to understand the Cosmos, and our place in it. CERN, 60 years and still going strong, is rising up to challenge.

    Headline image credit: An example of simulated data modeled for the CMS particle detector on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. Image by Lucas Taylor, CERN. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

    The post CERN: glorious past, exciting future appeared first on OUPblog.

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