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Archive → April, 2009

Learning in Stereo

Things like Kyle Finchsigmate’s great series of blog posts on running columns , Org Prep Daily, and chemistry demo posts on Mitch’s blog have got me thinking about the process of learning how to do stuff in the lab, and how technology is changing that process. Back in the day, I would read the instruction book before going to undergraduate labs, but I really learned the nitty gritty details about lab techniques from talking to people (my lab TA’s, my undergraduate mentor, senior grad students, and postdocs). From time to time, I also got tips from a website (Not Voodoo). What fascinates me most about the blogs is the useful discussions that each post engenders.

There are a smattering of universities who are looking to technology to help students learn their way around the lab- they’re producing videos of lab techniques, some available on YouTube and/or for downloading onto an iPod, like a video podcast. Watch videos at MIT, Cal. State U. Long Beach, and Indiana U. South Bend for some examples. Searching Google for “lab demo video” brings this one up.

Does your college or university make use of video podcasts for teaching students proper lab techniques?

Would you use podcasts/ videos to learn lab techniques or brush up on skills, or do you think learning from a real person is better?

Where do blogs fall into the equation? What’s their role?

What do you think is the best way to teach someone how to properly use lab equipment or perform a certain lab technique? Does it depend on the technique in question?

The Climate-Change Café

Yesterday, I went to an ACS-hosted Science Café at the Marian Koshland Science Museum. The theme of the night was Climate Change, a perfect topic to celebrate the day marking the fifth anniversary of the museum’s opening.

Andy Jorgensen, on loan from the University of Toledo for a stint at the National Council for Science & the Environment, presented a quick yet complete 45-minute overview of climate change, which is no small feat! The 40 or 50 audience members ranged from local(ish) high school students in Washington for the National Ocean Sciences Bowl to climate policy enthusiasts to economists, all with various levels of knowledge about climate change.

Jorgensen, clearly enjoying giving his engaging talk, dove into the audience-participation section of the evening, volunteering students from the audience to represent Peru and China. The average person on Earth, according to data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change relayed by Jorgensen, is responsible for 4 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, through use of vehicles, buildings, food choices, manufacturing of consumer products, you name it. The student on the right is holding up four fingers, to represent the population in China, a country whose people each, on average, emit 4 tons of CO2 per year. The student on the left represents Peru, whose populace only accounts for 1 ton of carbon dioxide per person per year.

The U.S.? 20 tons of carbon dioxide per person per year.  That’s the equivalent weight of about four adult African elephants, or 1,225,116,904 elephants, just for the U.S. (Only about 2/5 of that number of African elephants exists in the world, however.)

Can you imagine all those elephants hovering in the air over the U.S.?  That’s a whole heck of a lot of elephants waiting to plummet back down to Earth!

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Talking Priestley

Blatchley as Priestley at the Philly ACS meeting (Carmen Drahl/C&EN) …and at this month’s PHMC-organized gathering (Linda Raber/C&EN)

Retired chemistry teacher Ronald Blatchley has been reenacting Joseph Priestley’s experiments for over 25 years, but soon, he may be out of a home base. Cuts to Pennsylvania’s budget might shutter the historic Joseph Priestley House, where Priestley, an 18th-century scientist who shares part of the credit for discovering oxygen, lived out his final days, and where Blatchley works as an unpaid volunteer doing chemistry demonstrations. We recently covered the announcement in C&EN.

I had great memories of watching Blatchley, dressed as Priestley, make a racket in the expo hall at 2008′s Philly ACS meeting with those very demos. So I checked in with him to get his thoughts on the situation.

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Science-Pop Rocks

Chemistry and Music; star-crossed lovers? Oh no, never! Here at C&ENtral Science, we love science songs about nanotechnology and the bright future that chemistry can bring.

Reciprocating science’s ardor for music, the music world’s Rolling Stone magazine has ranked chemists and other scientists among those who rock the U.S. as “agents of change.”

I think it’s wonderful that rock ‘n rollers and scientists admire one another. But one wonders… How well do science and synthpoprock get along?

At a Freezepop concert I attended last week, I was excited to find that science is well-received. In fact, one of the songs (apparently a “true” story, as the lead singer won the science fair at her school) is about human cloning (“Science Genius Girl” is the title). It’s one of my new favorites, if only because it mentions Bunsen burners and chemicals (not just “the chemistry between you and me” type of science that so many songs contain).

If you do a search, you will find a lot of fan-made videos, this notable one from a high school film class. It’s well-choreographed and filmed, but I object to the lack of sterile technique that the girl uses while “cloning,” the use of tongs as forceps, and the girl’s disregard for chemical safety (gloves, anyone? She does wear goggles, but her lab coat isn’t buttoned.).

Freezepop’s song “Less Talk More Rokk” is featured in Guitar Hero 2, for those die-hard rockers, but it doesn’t mention chemistry (unless you count the keg of beer).

What’s your favourite pop/rock/etc song about science?

Scientists Rock

I was catching up on reading back-issues of magazines that tend to pile up on my coffee table the other day when I came across something of scientific interest in Rolling Stone

. In their April 2 issue, the gurus at the magazine published yet another “Top 100” list. I use the qualifier “yet another” because the magazine publishes this sort of list—a veritable what’s hot and what’s not of the music and entertainment world—with a frequency that makes my head spin.

This particular list, entitled “The RS 100 Agents of Change,” caught my eye because of the eclectic collection of people it contains.

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Take This Post With A Grain Of Salt

Tuesday’s New York Times contained a column (and accompanying blog post) that questioned the merits of New York City’s efforts to convince restaurant chains and the food industry to halve the amount of salt in their products.

Lowering processed foods’ sodium content is not a new idea, but the idea always runs smack into debates among many parties who each have their own priorities. Cutting salt intake lowers blood pressure on average, which is why government agencies such as the USDA advocate keeping salt intake within a specific range. But that relationship is based on a measure of a population, and what works for an individual person doesn’t always mesh with what’s best for the greater good.

More interesting than rehashing that debate, at least to me, is the concept of “stealth” reduction– that is, gradually lowering the amount of salt in foods so that people won’t notice. I attended a March 30 workshop about developing strategies to reduce sodium intake, which was run by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, where I was surprised to see the extent to which some large food companies are reducing sodium in their products without explicitly telling consumers what is replacing the sodium. Continue reading →

Thank you, Salt Lake City!

Looking through the hundreds of photos I took during the national meeting in Salt Lake City, I couldn’t help but think how fast the week went by. I certainly had fun. Here are some of my favorite moments:

Original music by Ivan Amato/C&EN.

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See you in Washington, D.C.!

Once More Into The Breach

Two weeks ago, C&EN published an ACS Comment by Bryan Balazs, chair of the Society Committee on Education (SOCED), on the society’s recently revised policy statement on teaching evolution in K–12 science classes.

Both the policy statement and Balazs’ essay (March 23, page 48) are well worth your time to read. Balazs addresses the question of why it is important for ACS to issue a policy statement on teaching evolution. In a nutshell, SOCED pointed out, “Portraying nonscientific content as science in curriculum at any education level poses a threat to the future scientific, technological, and economic competitiveness of the nation.”

On the Monday Balazs’ ACS Comment appeared, I was in Salt Lake City at the national meeting. Midway through the Parsons Award Luncheon, I was informed that my good friend Jack Stocker, the venerable ACS Council member from New Orleans, was waiting for me in the hallway.

Jack had some unfinished business to discuss with me about a symposium essay I owed him, and then he launched into what was really on his mind: the decision of the Society for Integrative & Comparative Biology (SICB) to move its 2011 meeting from New Orleans to Salt Lake City because Louisiana had enacted legislation that weakened the teaching of evolution in public school science classes. Jack was in favor of SICB’s decision, and he said, “This is a topic you ought to think about writing an editorial on.”

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