Friday, January 30, 2009

Website of the Week: Engineer Girl!

This week's website is Engineer Girl!, brought to you by the National Academy of Engineering. Learn about different engineering careers and find out what type of classes to take in high school to prepare. You can also read Profiles of Women Engineers and ask them questions about their jobs.

Engineer Girl! is currently sponsoring the 2009 Imagine That! essay contest for girls AND boys ages 8 to 18. You could win $500! Write an essay inspired by one of three images describing the item, how it might be used, and what engineering design might have gone into making the object. Be sure to read the rules carefully, including the Essay Publication Agreement (this is a .pdf file). Entries must be received by March 1, 2009. Good luck!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

When scientists dance

I recently surfed into a fascinating competition sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. For the 2009 AAAS Science Dance Contest, entrants were asked to interpret their scientific PhD thesis topics using interpretive dance. The videos were posted on YouTube and the winners were chosen by a panel of artists and scientists (except for the popular vote, which was based upon the number of YouTube hits). The winners get to work with professional choreographers and will present their dances at the annual AAAS meeting in February 2009.

Of the winning entries, my favorite was Dr. Vince LiCata's entry about hemoglobin. In this video, the four dancers (dressed in blood red) represent the four subunits of a hemoglobin protein. The white balls depict oxygen molecules; the dance shows how the subunits handle oxygen molecules. And the sprinkles of glitter with the photographer snapping pictures remind us of how Dr. LiCata had to cool down the hemoglobin in order to study it.

Unfortunately, WMG disabled the audio to this clip not long after I finished this post. But let's face it, just the idea of a biochemistry professor dancing with his students is pretty fun. Congrats to Dr. LiCata and all of this year's winners!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Contest: Young Scientist Challenge

Today's contest is for my U.S. middle school friends. (If that doesn't describe you, skip ahead to the last paragraph!)

Discovery Education and 3M are sponsoring the 10th Annual Young Scientist Challenge, "designed to encourage the exploration of science and innovation among America's youth and to promote the importance of science communication." The contest runs between January 15 - May 20, 2009.

To enter, kids in grades 5-8 must submit a 1-2 minute video online entry about one of four topic areas chosen by the judges (as per the rules). The entries will be pared down to 51 over the summer, with one semifinalist chosen from each state (and DC). In the fall, ten finalists will fly to New York for a final round of contests and judging. (Last year's final challenges were all about outer space!) Those reaching semi-final status and beyond win cool prizes, with the winner receiving $50,000 in U.S. savings bonds, a trophy, and the title of "America's Top Young Scientist."

For my friends outside of the U.S. (along with those closer to home!), check out Discovery Education's whelmers, ten science experiments to try at home. They also have a great page of Science Homework Help, with videos and interactive games on Earth Science (waterways), Physical Science (chemical changes), and Life Science (backyard habitats).

Friday, January 23, 2009

Website of the Week: National Engineers Week Foundation

The National Engineers Week Foundation is holding Engineers Week from February 15-21, 2009. I received the following E-mail from Jamie Goldman (thanks, Jamie!) about the event. (I added links for easy reference):

The National Engineers Week Foundation, sponsored by the nation’s professional engineering communities, is dedicated to sustaining and growing a dynamic engineering profession. The Foundation’s biggest week of the year is its annual mid-winter slate of programs and events known as Eweek, which encourages and challenges young people to explore potential careers in science, technology, math and engineering.

During the week of February 15-21, 2009, Eweek’s jam packed slate of activities will include:

17th Annual Future City Competition

Future City Competition asks kids to come up with designs employing strategies and techniques used by architects, city planners and engineers. This year, the Future City finals take place in Washington, DC February 16-18, 2009. In preparation for this inspiring and exciting event, teams of middle school students in 40 states are hard at work right now on their creations, which they will then enter into qualifying regional finals around the country in mid-January.

This year’s theme is Creating a Self Sufficient System Within the Home Which Conserves, Recycles and Reuses Existing Water Sources. Recognizing that water will become an increasingly precious resource in the 21st Century, the competition organizers have tasked the middle school competitors with developing designs that focus on water conservation, re-use and self-sufficient water systems.

Students create cities on computers using the SimCity 4 Deluxe software and then build three-dimensional, tabletop models to scale. To ensure a level playing field, models must use recycled materials and can cost no more than $100 to build. Students also write brief abstracts describing their city and must present and defend their designs at the competition before a panel of engineer judges who test the depth of the teams’ knowledge. The grand prize is a week at Space Camp in Alabama.

9th Annual Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day

National Engineers Week Foundation is leading the effort to raise awareness among young women and girls by encouraging them to recognize that a career in math, science and engineering is not only possible but it is also within their power to achieve. Slated for Thursday, February 19th, Girl Day will see women engineers and their male counterparts reach as many as one million girls with workshops, tours, on line discussions and a host of hands on activities at businesses, universities and libraries across the country.

5th Annual Global Marathon By, For and About Women in Engineering

Starting at noon (EDT) Tuesday, March 10 and going until noon (EDT) Wednesday, March 11, Eweek’s Global Marathon is a live, 24 hour worldwide online forum providing information and insight for women on careers in engineering and technology. This continuous program follows the sun around the world as it features webcasts, Internet chats and teleconferences on five continents and connects an international community of women in engineering and technology. The Global Marathon coincides with Women’s History Month (March) and International Women’s Day (March 8, 2009).

New Faces of Engineering

Each year, National Engineers Week Foundation asks its members to nominate colleagues 30 years old and younger who have shown outstanding abilities and leadership. This year’s honorees, some of the best and brightest in the industry, will be announced during Eweek.

I am thrilled to see that Eweek is reaching out to girls and women in such a tangible way. And the National Engineers Week Foundation's website has some other great tidbits, too, including tips to introduce K-12 students to engineering. Check it out!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Contest: Hands-On Explorer Challenge 2009

Do you want to go to Peru? If you are a U.S. resident (excluding Puerto Rico) between the ages of 9 and 14 (as of June 3, 2009), this contest is for you! (If not, skip ahead to the P.S.)

National Geographic Kids is currently running their Hands-On Explorer Challenge for 2009. You need to write an essay of up to 300 words about the interesting things that you have found while exploring your world, take a photograph of your essay topic, and submit both (along with your parent's permission) to the contest. There are some pretty specific requirements for the photograph, so read the contest rules carefully. Exploration and the environment should be key themes for your entry. If you need some inspiration, you can see examples of last year's winning entries that won a trip to Australia!

Fifteen grand prize winners go to Peru with their parent/guardian for twelve days this summer (end of May/early June). If you win, you will learn about the culture of Peru, including tribal medicine, Inca rituals, and Peruvian dances. You also get a new digital camera to record the event, which includes a visit to Machu Picchu, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. All entries must be postmarked by February 5, 2009, so get writing! Good luck!

P.S. For my friends outside of the U.S. (as well as my friends close to home), check out the extensive listing of free National Geographic E-mail Newsletters on everything from photography to living green. There are two newsletters specifically aimed at kids & education: My Wonderful World (for parents & kids to share) and Education Update (for teachers). Enjoy!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Happy Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day!

Photo taken by Dick DeMarsico
Source: Library of Congress

"Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control." -- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Website of the Week: New7Wonders of Nature

This week's website, courtesy of a tip from CricketB, is New7Wonders, where you can vote for the seven new (and natural) wonders of the world. People have nominated 261 natural sites, natural monuments, or landscapes across the globe for the honor of making it to the top seven. The goal of the New7Wonders Campaign is to raise awareness of the incredible beauty and natural diversity found in our world today.

This campaign follows up on the highly popular 7/7/07 launch of the Official New 7 Wonders of the World. The new wonders campaign, also sponsored by the New7Wonders Foundation, netted over 100 million votes from across the globe. The new seven Wonders of the World, as chosen by popular vote, include such man-made feats as The Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu and the Taj Mahal. (Interesting sidenote: The Great Pyramid of Giza is the only remaining site from the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.)

Great Pyramid of Giza
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

So, what kind of wonders might represent the best of the natural world? How about the Grand Canyon in the United States, the Great Barrier Reef near Australia, and the Kalahari Desert in Africa?

Grand Canyon National Park
Photo credit: Mark Lellouch, National Park Service

Unfortunately, it appears as though the larger the natural feature -- and the more countries involved -- the harder it is for the natural wonder to get sponsored by an OSC, or Official Supporting Committee, from each country. This seems like a potential flaw in the design of the contest. I can't imagine a list of the seven greats not including the Great Barrier Reef, for example!

So, cast your vote and make your choices known! And if you represent a local, regional, or national government group with responsibility for one of the candidate natural areas, consider becoming an OSC!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

At least one daily serving of science

While pondering my future, I recently asked my older son "Kerm" this question:

"If Mommy wrote a book for other Mommies and Daddies about how to enjoy science with their children, what should Mommy write about? What would kids like?"

I expected Kerm to tell me that his interests, robots and outer space, would make good topics.

Instead, he answered me thoughtfully. "Some of the kids in my class don't like science. When I tell them that science is my favorite subject, they say that they hate science."

"That's really sad," I said.

Kerm nodded. "Science is how you figure stuff out."

I like that definition. For Kerm, science has a place in his life. But I wonder about the other second graders. Has science already become something that they feel separate from? If science isn't encouraged in the home, will kids still connect with the subject?

In Kerm's class, they only teach science twice a week. I've asked around, and this seems to be the norm where we live. This doesn't make sense to me. Science seems as equally important as social studies, mathematics, or reading/writing.

And how can you teach math without science? Science is a wonderful way to apply math. Who wants to measure a piece of paper when you could be measuring how much your plants have grown?

Maybe we should develop an education pyramid, kind of like a food pyramid, to ensure that everyone gets a daily serving of science.

Mama Joules' younger son
contemplating the mysteries of bubbles

Monday, January 12, 2009

Do we really need Thing 1 and Thing 2?

I was leafing through the Winter 2008 issue of Mizzou magazine and ran across an eye-catching feature written by Dale Smith. "Desire to acquire" profiles University of Missouri professor Marsha Richins and her belief that our need for things stems from our hunter-gatherer ancestry. She sees materialism -- this urge to provide for our "nest" and take care of our own -- as basic to human nature.

So how can we slow our rampant greed? The article discusses four "brakes" that Richins has uncovered during her years of research -- peer pressure (the desire not to be as greedy or materialistic as your neighbor), religion (warnings from above that we should not to be too selfish or greedy), raising awareness that true happiness comes from experiences and not things, and learning to value what we have (forming sentimental attachments to older items).

The article was accompanied by these wonderful photographs from freelance photojournalist Peter Menzel's book, Material World, A Global Family Portrait. Menzel had families from across the globe empty out their homes and pose next to their dwellings with all of their possessions.

The photos are quite striking. For example, an American family has a spacious backyard filled with stuff and a sprawling home looming in the background. A family from Japan has their many personal items placed into tidy vertical stacks because their home is small compared with their possessions. In western Africa, a family sits atop one of their two mud homes with an array of cookware and little else. A family living near the Himalayan Mountains had animals, blankets, and a large stack of firewood in addition to their cookware, but little else.

The contrast of the photographs made me stop and think about all of the junk that I am hoarding at my house. Why do I keep it? Do I really need it?

If you could only take five items from your home with you, what would you take?

Clip art courtesy of

Friday, January 9, 2009

Website of the Week: Earth Science Picture of the Day

Erosion at Dudley Beach
Photo credit: Jonathon Coombes

This week's website is Earth Science Picture of the Day, developed through a partnership with NASA and the Universities Space Research Association. According to the website, EPOD "highlights the diverse processes and phenomena which shape our planet and our lives." Each day's picture comes with a short explanation about an earth science topic (like cloud types, rainbows, and snow crystals), with links to learn more.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

By the light of the moon

Photo credit: Andrew McMillan

My niece is working on a science project examining the effects -- real or imagined -- of the full moon on human behavior. I was poking around on the net, looking for some studies that might help her write up her background section, when I came across some interesting data about animals.

While the jury is still out about people -- it seems many think the moon affects human behavior but statistics don't seem to support this (although there have been some studies that do) -- a full moon has been shown to affect animal behavior.

As recently reported in Discovery Channel news, a new study to be published in the journal Animal Behavior has shown that a Full Moon Energizes Birds, at least in the case of the marine streaked shearwater.

A 2005 paper published in Wildlife Biology also documented an increase in noctural activity during the days surrounding the full moon in another bird, the yellow-throated marten.

And a 1974 study, reported in the journal Oikos, showed that the toad, Bufo americanus, was less active during a full moon.

From an ecological perspective, I think it makes sense that the moon would influence animals in predator/prey interactions, simply by increasing the amount of light available for the hunt. If you were a predatory bird, this would work in your favor and you might be more active. If you were a toad worried about being eaten, you'd stay put during a full moon.

Now, I'm less sure about dogs and cats. Like people, they've adapted to our lives full of artificial light, so the influence of light level from the moon seems like it would be less influential. But does the moon still exert an influence?

Maybe, maybe not.

In 2001, reported on two studies published in the British Medical Journal, one from England that showed a correlation between dog bites and the full moon, and one from Australia that did not (although if you look at the data, there appears to be something exerting an effect each month).

In July 2007, LiveScience® reported that "researchers found the risk of emergency room visits to be 23 percent higher for cats and 28 percent higher for dogs on days surrounding full moons."

Whether the "full moon effect" is real or imagined, the idea of the moon having an influence over animals and people has persisted for ages. Some scientists are sick of the controversy and have even taken a stand on the subject. David E. Campbell of Humboldt State University wrote in 1982, "Research on the relationship between phase of the moon and human behavior indicative of 'lunacy' should not be encouraged," in a short abstract with the subtitle "When enough is enough".

Despite Dr. Campbell's plea, with data this interesting, study results so varied, and fascinating personal stories, I doubt the question will be put to rest any time soon.

So what do you think? Are you wilder during a full moon? Does your dog seem to bark more? Can you think of a way to test your theory?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Contest: LEGO® Holiday Building Challenge

Have you been working on a holiday-themed LEGO® sculpture? If live in the U.S. and you are age six or older, visit the LEGO® Club to learn about their latest contest. You could win a trip for four to the Carribean on Norwegian Cruise Line! Build any size holiday-themed model using only LEGO® pieces, take a color photograph, and then submit your entry form along with a short (50-word) essay describing your design. Winners will be picked from each age group: 6-9 years, 10-14 years, and 15 and older. But you need to hurry! The entry deadline is January 9, 2009. Good luck!

P.S. If you live outside of the U.S., you might want to visit one of these regional LEGO® Play Sites: Great Britian, the Netherlands, Germany, and France.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Website of the Week: Oh, For The Love Of Science

This week's website is Oh, For the Love Of Science, a blog that reminds me of what Mama Joules might look like if I wrote mainly for an adult audience. Allie covers a wide range of science topics here, and you can learn a lot of fun and interesting facts as you read through her posts, such as:

--The intelligent honeybee can count up to four,

--The on-going Census of Marine Life has turned up over 5,000 new marine animals,

--Scientific research has now given us glow-in-the-dark cats and glow-in-the-dark rabbits, and

--The banana might be facing extinction.


[Update: 5/6/09 -- fixed broken links]