Month: September 2009

Encouraging Science with our Children

So much science education happens in informal ways–outside of the classroom. These experiences can be so valuable and sometimes even more influential than the classic approaches taken for so long by the public school system of the American culture.

Successful informal educational opportunities can start right at home between parents and their children at the earliest ages. From simple questions to make a child think about what is happening around us to getting directly involved with exciting citizen science projects in our community, there are so many opportunities that can be presented to a young mind that can leave a lasting impression.

A growing focus on the importance of informal education is emerging, and citizen scientists can be on the forefront of this valuable movement. The National Academies Press has published materials on the issue, and is helping to create new studies and information on how informal educational approaches might be more thoroughly developed.

In their latest newsletter (subscribe), NAC featured an interesting survey of readers who had experiences as a child of a lasting memory of an informal educational experience. The following are some of their favorite responses…

“‘My dad waking us all up at 2 a.m. on a freezing winter night to come out and see the Northern Lights; I was 4 years old and never forgot.’

‘Studying pond water samples with a friend’s microscope, drawing my observations, then going to the library to find the names of the microbes (amoeba, diatoms, etc.) during the summer between 3rd and 4th grade.’

‘Making an electromagnet out of a piece of wire, a nail, and a battery.’

‘The original Mr. Wizard television program set my future path toward science. Each episode presented scientific concepts through interesting and understandable demonstrations that, for the most part, the young viewer was encouraged to try at home. This was really exciting TV!’

‘The first time I learned to mix baking soda and vinegar to make carbon dioxide and the resulting foam overflowed on to my parent’s kitchen table.’

‘A lifetime of interest came from my father’s simple question: ‘Why is it so hard to push this boat into the water?’ 40 years later, I am still pursuing wave flows and resistance.’

‘Sitting on the front porch with my father and siblings counting the seconds between the lightning flash and the thunder that followed. We estimated how far away the lightning strike was and learned math as well as science.'”

Each of these special memories should be an inspiration for parents and how we can contribute to positive informal science education every day. If you and your children have experienced meaningful informal science education moments–no matter how small–please tell us about it by posting a comment here on DPR AmSci Journal.

Learn more about The National Academies Press [ VISIT ] and the National Academy of Sciences [ VISIT ]

The New Make: Science Room for At Home Amateur Research

The ultimate do-it-yourself and hack-your-way-to-happiness magazine, MAKE, recently launched a new section to their Make:Online website just for supporting the at home citizen scientist.

Having just subscribed to the online version of the magazine, I am excited to see the additional resources that Make is developing to actually support the education of amateur scientists with this guide for entering into the world of science at home. The focus at this time is on at home chemistry projects, and will help you take your old children’s chemistry set experience to the next level in your garage (or basement, or laundry room).

Even if you are not particularly interested in doing chemistry at home–and bringing in the possibility of causing glass beakers go “Bang!”–the online resource will still provide a valuable educational experience to help you think about the process of setting up an at home lab–for any project–and what all should be considered in the process.

If you have setup your own at home lab, or are planning on venturing into this exciting opportunity of at home science labs, then tell us about your experiences here on DPR AmSci Journal!

Make: Science Room [ VISIT ]

Conscious Learning in the Unconscious

Sitting at the bed side of a loved one who has slipped into a coma and simply reading a story, talking about the day, or just holding hands most likely feels like a pointless and endless effort for the recovery of the vegetative patient. There can only be the glimmer of hope that maybe they can sense your presence, but there is no definitive way to know for sure if your interactions are falling on a deaf brain.

We all can make personal judgments that we are conscious right here and right now. But, making this sort of judgment for another individual when their interactions with the world are limited or apparently absent is not only challenging, but also ethically dangerous as your decision can mean life or death. But now, a new, low-cost study on the interactions of patients who are considered to be in a “minimally conscious state” (MCS) is showing a very exciting result that basic learning seems to take place in some individuals.

The type of learning is simple–the sort of classic conditioning demonstrated by Pavlov’s dog who salivated at the sound of a bell. Here, a tone is sounded followed by a light air puff to the eye. This is certainly an annoyance, so a conscious observer would tend to squeeze their eyelid shut to protect the pupil. After a short time of the repeated events, patients who physically responded to the air puff and who were seemingly unconscious demonstrated the same eyelid reaction after only the sounding of the tone.

The open question is to wonder if this sort of basic learning is so fundamental that true human consciousness is not required. So, Pavlov’s dog might be somewhat smart, but still not conscious. Or, if only a minimum level of consciousness is needed for basic learning (as the result of new, functional connections developing in the brain’s neural network), then a simple test of a successful Pavlovian response could be an important benchmark for determining the state of a patient who cannot communicate with the world. The hope would be that if simple learning is still possible, then further recovery and improvement in the brain’s responses could also be anticipated with additional therapies.

It’s certainly not a clear test of consciousness, but the approach is so simple and does not carry the enormous costs of brain imaging technologies. Therefore, essentially any hospital with low-conscious patients can perform this sort of experiment, which can further develop our weak understanding of human consciousness, and to improve the successful predictions required by doctors when dealing with patients on the verge of life or unconscious death.

“Conditional Consciousness: Patients in Vegetative States Can Learn, Predicting Recovery” :: Scientific American :: September 20, 2009 :: [ READ ]

Read more about MCS by Dr. Douglas I. Katz from KurzweilAI.net [ READ ]

Students from Around the World Monitor LCROSS for NASA

In a little more than two weeks, NASA will have an expensive hunk of metal slam into the Moon… the resulting plume will be closely observed in hopes to learn more about the possibility of the existence of water ice (read more and learn about how you can participate…). As the LCROSS vessel makes it way toward its impact site, NASA needs assistance with tracking due to its steep orbit; they only have brief and infrequent time frames to monitor the trajectory using their Deep Space Network of radio antennas.

So, who better to ask for more listening help than school kids from around the globe interacting remotely and on-site with the GAVRT program. Located in Apple Valley, California (view map), the antenna is a collaboration between the Lewis Center for Educational Research, NASA, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Teachers from around the world, including home schoolers, may sign up for free through the Lewis Center’s website and take part in their LCROSS curriculum. This is a wonderful opportunity for young science students to get hands-on experience in an important scientific field and to support NASA in a valuable way.

And if this program doesn’t directly create excited new young scientists, then it should certainly help drive these students’ personal interest and appreciation for science as they become vital and participating citizens in the future.

“School Kids Track LCROSS” :: Science@NASA :: September 21, 2009 :: [ READ ]

Join the Lewis Learning LCROSS Curriculum [ VISIT ]

MIT Students Take Pictures from Near-space for $150

Take two students from MIT; now, take two students from MIT with only $150 in their pockets and a notion to use a little science to make a little art, and what do you get? … Eight gigabytes of near-space photographs and an experience to share to the rest of the world of citizen scientists!

Oliver Yeh, Justin Lee, and Eric Newton set out to take some amazing pictures, and they didn’t have much cash to get the job done. So, with a lot of ingenuity, a little scrounging around the dorm room, they were able to create a secure — and legal — launch vehicle that contained a used Canon A470 camera and sent it up 17 1/2 miles to take some excellent images capturing the curvature of the Earth. With a lot of luck, and little help from an GPS-enabled pre-paid cell phone for tracking, they found their vehicle (a Styrofoam container with a couple of hand warmers inside!) only 20 miles away from the launch site.

The group plans to post a detailed instruction guide on how they accomplished the launch, and will be providing the information free of charge. We will be sure to link to the instructions from DPR, and maybe we’ll be seeing in the near future more balloons flying high from citizen scientists around the world.

“The $150 Space Camera: MIT Students Beat NASA On Beer-Money Budget” :: Wired Magazine :: September 15, 2009 :: [ READ ]

Project Icarus [ VISIT :: FLIGHT PICTURES ]

Step-by-step instructions coming soon!

Update 9.21.2009…

Time-lapse Images from Project Icarus

NASA Needs Amateur Astronomers to Observe Moon Crash

Last year, we featured on DPR AmSci NASA’s LCROSS Mission to the moon (read), which is an important study to see if water ice exists on the moon. A successful find would amount to a critical discovery that will lead the way for sending humans back to the big rock in the sky.

An exciting feature of this mission is that NASA is soliciting the assistance for amateur astronomers to watch the crash — and the resulting plume of moon dust — from their backyards, and report their photographs and observations directly to NASA.

The time is nearing for the event, which is scheduled for October 9, and NASA just announced the planned crash location on the moon: Cabeus-A (read more…) This crater site is visible from Earth, but is mostly shroud in shadow, which means that intense solar radiation has less of a chance to vaporize any remaining water ice crystals.

If you are interested in learning more about participating in the observation, consider hosting an “Impact Night Event” for you and your amateur astronomer friends. NASA has set up an Impact Kit web site to guide your setup and observations to help you make history with this amazing opportunity for citizen scientists to do real research!

If you are planning to participate, please post a comment to let us know here at DPR and tell us about your experience!

“Moon Crash to Put All Eyes on Cabeus A” :: National Geographic – Breaking Orbit Blog :: September 11, 2009 :: [ READ ]

[ NASA’s LCROSS Mission ]

Last updated April 5, 2020