Archive for the ‘Chemistry’ Category
Today is World Water Monitoring Day! Participate by ordering a test kit and submitting sample data through December of this year. Also, check out the ocean of other water citizen science projects on SciStarter.
Here at SciStarter, we spend a lot of time supporting citizen science, but we also happen to be citizen scientists ourselves. In the spirit of World Water Monitoring Day, I trekked to the Charles River in Boston to grab a water sample. Barring all potential parking and trespassing violations, it was a success! Still, you might wonder, why does this sample matter? Why care about water?
I’m glad you asked. But before I dive deeper (pun intended), here are some facts to consider. An adult human is made of ~60% water. About 70% of Earth is covered by water. We need water for our metabolic processes internally and for our day-to-day tasks externally. Water is there when you shower, brush your teeth, or guzzle down a drink after a run. Water is also essential for the productivity of farms, which, in turn, provide us food. You get the picture: we need water. Likewise, so do other animals and plants, especially those that live in or near aquatic environments.
Consequently, the sample data collected and submitted by millions of people on World Water Monitoring Day not only benefit us human beings. It also helps scientists better understand a multitude of aquatic environments around the globe.
Participating couldn’t be easier. World Water Monitoring Challenge, an education and outreach program, provides kits that you can purchase and use to sample the water in your area. Here are the main concepts behind what you can test and why it’s important to do so.
Turbidity, the measure of relative water clarity. This is important when producing drinking water for human consumption and for many manufacturing uses. Turbid water may be the result of soil erosion, urban runoff, algal blooms, and bottom sediment disturbances caused by boat traffic and bottom-feeding fish. (You can even make your own secchi disk to measure turbidity.)
pH, a measurement of the acidic or basic quality of water. Most aquatic animals are adapted to a specific range of pH level and could die, stop reproducing, or move away if the pH of the water varies beyond their range. Low pH levels can also allow toxic compounds to be exposed to aquatic plants and animals. pH can be affected by atmospheric deposition (acid rain), wastewater discharge, drainage from mines, or the type of rock in the surrounding area.
Dissolved oxygen levels. Natural water with consistently high dissolved oxygen levels is most likely to sustain stable and healthy environments. Changes to aquatic environments can affect the availability of oxygen in the water. High levels of bacteria or large amounts of rotting plants can cause the oxygen saturation to decrease, which affects the ability of plants and animals to survive in and around it.
Water temperature. If temperatures are outside an organism’s normal range, the organism could become stressed or potentially die. Temperature also affects the rate of photosynthesis in aquatic plants as well as their sensitivity to toxic wastes, parasites, and disease. Furthermore, water temperature can affect the amount of oxygen water can hold (cold water holds more oxygen than warm water).
This project is ideal for anyone who lives near a water source, educators who want ideas to teach students about water chemistry, or citizen scientists hoping to contribute to an increasingly important field of research.
It’s the perfect project to illustrate that when it comes to citizen science, you can dive right in.
“How Much Water is There On, In, and Above Earth?” USGS. Web. 9/18/13
“Importance of Turbidity.” Environmental Protection Agency. 9/18/13
“The Water in You.” USGS. Web. 9/18/13
World Water Monitoring Challenge booklet
“World Water Monitoring Day.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Web. 9/18/13
Images: Lily Bui
Lily Bui is the executive editor of SciStarter. She holds dual degrees in International Studies and Spanish from the University of California Irvine. She has worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.; served in AmeriCorps in Montgomery County, Maryland; worked for a New York Times bestselling ghostwriter; and performed across the U.S. as a touring musician. She currently works in public media at WGBH-TV and the Public Radio Exchange (PRX) in Boston, MA. In her spare time, she thinks of cheesy science puns. Follow @dangerbui.
This is one bait you should take.
What possibilities could you think of to use a super strong ‘molecular’ hook? That’s what the inventors of Super-Biotin are asking you. This challenge appears on Marblar, a startup that “crowdsources market applications for emerging and existing technologies” as Mr Daniel Bayley, project organizer and part of the Marblar team describes it.
To understand Super-Biotin, we have to take a few steps back and see how old fashioned biotin works as part of a scientist’s toolkit. Biotin and Streptavidin are two naturally occurring proteins that exhibit an extraordinarily strong affinity for each other. Scientists (including myself!) have been able to use this property of biotin to pick out specific molecules from complex biological mixtures. Sort of like baiting fish in a lake. Only here you get to pick the fish you want in a lake filled with several thousand kinds.
As an example, to selectively pick out molecule X from a mixture, biotin is first linked to a ‘bait’ such as an antibody that binds selectively to X. The biotin linked bait is now thrown in to the ‘lake’ which in this case happens to be a cocktail of many thousand proteins. Once the bait binds to X, streptavidin is used as the ‘hook’ to pull the entire complex (biotin-antibody-X) out of the solution.
While this technique works quite well in a laboratory setting, an enzyme called biotinidase found in bodily fluids can chew up the link between biotin and the bait protein (antibody to X in the example above) rendering the extraction process ineffective in a clinical setting. Working around this problem, the inventors of Super-Biotin at the University of Edinburgh invented a biotinidase-resistant linker which also retained the streptavidin specificity.
To find potential ‘problems to this solution’, the inventors along with the technology transfer arm of the university, Edinburgh Research and Innovation Ltd., presented the idea to Marblar which created the Super-Biotin challenge. The challenge webpage has a wealth of information that makes it easy for anyone to get started on it.
To sweeten the deal, Marblar is offering a cash prize of US$1,000 for the winning idea. But that’s not the main goal, Mr Bayley explains. “The cash prize definitely doesn’t hurt. But it is the chance to see your idea become an actual product in the market that is the key. Our users are more interested in realizing the promise of science than the cash prize” he sasys.
Additionally, if you like these sorts of challenges, you can find a lot more to feed your grey cells on Marblar. The aim is to get lots of people thinking about a particular project, encouraging as many ideas as possible. “Just like we did for super-biotin, the technology for each challenge is broken down into an easily digestible form so anyone can understand its capabilities and pitch in with their ideas” says Mr Bayley.
Form more on the avidin-biotin interaction and its applications you can view this YouTube video from the Weizmann Institute of Science.
Photos: Marblar Super Biotin Challenge
Arvind Suresh is a graduate student in Cell Biology and Molecular Physiology at the University of Pittsburgh. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology from PSG College of Technology, India. For his thesis, he has been studying the molecular mechanisms behind uterine contraction during pregnancy. He is also an information addict, gobbling up everything he can find on and off the internet. He enjoys reading, teaching, talking and writing science, and following that interest led him to SciStarter. Outside the lab and the classroom, he can be found behind the viewfinder of his camera. www.suresharvind.com
Idleness never looked more productive. Here’s a citizen science project that quite literally requires zero energy from you in order to participate!
The World Community Grid is a global project that harnesses energy from idle computers to contribute to scientific research. When your computer goes idle, instead of changing to a screensaver featuring swimming fish, slideshows of your favorite animals, or free-floating geometric designs, your computer can request data for a specific project on the World Community Grid server. The Grid uses technology developed by UC Berkeley (BOINC) in order to collect and pool valuable research data. Each computation provides scientists with critical information that accelerates the pace of research.
“Grid computing” technology joins together remote individual computers, creating a large system with massive computational power that surpasses that of many supercomputers. Because the work is split into small pieces, research time is reduced from years to months. Not only is this more time efficient, but it’s also more cost effective.
One of their first projects, Human Proteome Folding, identified the proteins produced by human genes. With this information, scientists discovered how defects in proteins can cause disease, making it easier to find cures. In 2003, with grid computing, in less than three months, scientists identified 44 potential treatments to fight the deadly smallpox disease. Without the grid, the work would have taken more than one year to complete. Current projects include Computing for Sustainable Water, GO Fight Against Malaria, and Discovering Dengue Drugs Together.
Donate your idle computer time to a greater good in scientific research by registering for the World Community Grid and downloading their free and secure software to get started!
From screensavers to saving the world through scientific research. Get started now!
On September 18, 2011, people around the world will be taking a closer look at their local waterways during World Water Monitoring Day. Join in the project and help figure out whether the freshwater near you is clean.
Clean freshwater is an important resource for people. It keeps ecosystems healthy too. The water flowing through a small stream leads into larger rivers and lakes. All that water flows downhill together. It’s all connected in a watershed. Understanding the health of our watersheds is critical to understanding whether people, animals, and plants are getting the clean water they need. Volunteers with the World Water Monitoring Day seek to make measurements of freshwater to identify the health of the world’s watersheds.
Using a test kit, volunteers figure out what’s in their water. They measure the temperature, acidity (pH), clarity (turbidity), and dissolved oxygen (DO) of water and then report the findings online. The test kit costs $13 plus shipping, or you can use your own water monitoring equipment if you’d like. There are kits available at no charge for participants from low and middle-income countries thanks to support of sponsors. Test kit instructions are available in 17 languages.
As summer comes to a close, a young person’s fancy may turn to fretting at the thought of being cooped up in a classroom. But for fans of science and nature—and by that we mean kids who like to watch clouds, hunt mushrooms, prowl around graveyards, and check out what gets squashed on the side of the road—fall need not signal the end of fun.
To keep young minds entertained as well as enlightened, we recommend the following 10 back-to-school projects for student citizen scientists. Teachers and parents, please note: Many of these programs provide materials around which you can build lessons. And there are lots more where these came from. Visit our Project Finder for a full list of citizen science projects for primary and secondary school students.
World Water Monitoring Day: World Water Monitoring Day is an international program that encourages citizen volunteers to monitor their local water bodies. An easy-to-use test kit enables everyone from children to adults to sample local water bodies for basic water quality parameters: temperature, acidity (pH), clarity (turbidity), and dissolved oxygen. Though World Water Monitoring Day is officially celebrated on September 18, the monitoring window is extended to cover the period from March 22 (World Water Day) until December 31. Check out what one of our members said about the project.
School of Ants: Join North Carolina State University researchers in a citizen-scientist driven study of the ants that live in urban areas, particularly around homes and schools. Collection kits are available to anyone interested in participating. Teachers, students, parents, kids, junior-scientists, senior citizens and enthusiasts of all stripes are involved in collecting ants in schoolyards and backyards using a standardized protocol so that project coordinators can make detailed maps of the wildlife that lives just outside their doorsteps.
The Albedo Project: Wherever you are – anywhere in the world – on September 23th, contribute to science by taking a photo of a blank white piece of paper, outside in the sun, between 4:00 and 7:00 pm local time. Your photo will used to to help students measure how much of the sun’s energy is reflected back from the Earth — our planet’s “albedo.” It’s one way scientists can monitor how much energy – and heat – is being absorbed by our planet.
Students’ Cloud Observations On-Line (S’COOL): Report your observations of clouds—their shapes, height, coverage, and related conditions—so that NASA scientists can compare them with data from weather satellites passing over your area. Tutorials and observing guides are available for students. For teachers, the program provides lesson plans, charts, and advice on related educational standards.
Physics Songs: Physics Songs aims to be the world’s premier website devoted to collecting and organizing all songs about physics. It is managed by Walter F. Smith, Professor of Physics at Haverford College. Songs about physics can help students to remember critical concepts and formulas, but perhaps more importantly they communicate the lesson that physics can be fun.