Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Science Fairs

Last week I had the pleasure of judging at the Eleanor Roosevelt High School science fair.  The   pleasure was only added to by the breakfast, snacks, and beverages provided by the ERHS PTSA.  Program organized by Jennifer Massagli

The main fun, as always, was talking to the students.  But I'll also make some comments here for students who are thinking about next year's science fair projects.  One part of the fun (for judges) being to talk to the students, I'll advise that students act like they're interested in their projects.  "Here is something I slapped together because the school made me." even if true, is just not the way to your judge's heart.  I also make this comment to graduate students and scientists about their presentations.  Many people don't act interested in their own work.  Trust me, if you aren't interested, we won't be either.

Fun parts of the talk include finding out what prompted the student to do their project and where they might take it in the future.  Also an important part of a professional presentation.  One student I spoke with was looking at the output of solar cells, how they depended on light sources and filters.  This is sufficient reason for the science fair project, and he explored that question ok.  But it became much more interesting to me when I discovered that he was using the solar cells as proxies for plant photosynthesis.  Plants do rely on the sun, as do solar cells, and there are degrees to which you can indeed use solar cells to map out plant responses.

A different line of interest for me is to see what the students think of to investigate, and how.  Many different sorts of things investigation, and many ingenious ideas on how to get the measurements.  Both are good areas to use and show your creativity, which is one of the areas on the official scoresheet.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Invention of Air

It isn't often that I wind up able to talk about a book, science, a scientist, and my genealogy in the same post, but Steven Johnson's The Invention of Air manages that feat.

The book is a pleasure to read.  Johnson's linchpin is Joseph Priestley's life and science.  I'd always thought of him as an English scientist, which turns out to be only partly true.  He finished his life in the USA, corresponding particularly with Thomas Jefferson both in revolutionary and post revolutionary days.  The Jefferson connection (and before that, Franklin) make for some interesting reading and historical insight outside of science as well as inside.

In his writing on Priestley's science, Johnson captures some of my themes about scientists being people, having lives, and those having some influence on what work they do and how they do it.   Also nice to see was that Johnson did not take the oversimple telling of 'good guy / bad guy' for Priestley's advancing the phlogiston theory and holding on to it longer than most.

To back up, as not everybody already knows, Joseph Priestley was one of the major chemists of the 1700s, most known perhaps for 'discovering' oxygen, but also (and Johnson makes a good case that this was the more significant) that plants release oxygen and consume carbon dioxide.  His approach to his research, though, was not the stereotypical one step leading to the next with some ultimate conclusion drawing ever closer.  It was more the 'try many things and see a) what happens or b) what works'.  And he then was active in describing how it is he did his experiments, as often the method itself was the important aspect of the work.

If you know a young scientist, I'll suggest you get this for them as well and not just yourself.

The genealogy I'll put below the fold.  For here, it suffices that I'm not a descendant of Priestley's.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Way Things Break

The Way Things Break is the blog of thingsbreak, who comments here as well.  As you'd expect, content isn't a perfect overlap of mine, which is one reason to suggest it.  The articles I mention below will lean to climate, but take your own look.  Especially, check out the Books of Interest and Open Source Climate Science Education.

Cosmic Rays 1
Reliable sources and ocean acidification
Geoengineering and ocean acidification
(2009) Arctic summer sea ice
Lonnie Thompson viceo
Cosmic rays and climate 2a
Cosmic rays and climate 2b
Reducing greenhouse emissions through household actions
Who is really alarming?
Tropical cyclones and consensus
Climate communication and public health
What was really predicted about ocean circulation?
Media vs. scientific description of climate report   -- See also the comments, especially John Fleck's.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Question Place

Finally back and in some shape to answer questions and perhaps even do something useful with suggestions, so bring 'em on and let's have some fun!