Archive for the ‘Science Education’ Category
Tired of watching the kids race home from school just to play video games for hours? One-up them and make a significant contribution to science while YOU play games. (Warning: The kids might like these, too!)
EyeWire is a citizen science project aimed at mapping the neural connections of the retina. All you have to do is play a relaxing and absorbing game of coloring online brain images! Get started!
Play this online game to explore how nanovehicles can cooperate with each other and their environment to kill tumors. Best strategies will be considered for validation in vitro or in robotico! Get started!
Players are challenged to compare chunks of genetic code from the common ash tree, Fraxinus excelsior, to search for genes that could encode resistance to the Chalara fungus. Players will also match genetic patterns from the Chalara fungus to learn more about how it spreads.
Classify photos of plant and insect species that scientists took live in the field by playing Happy Match or the adventure game Forgotten Island. Players will solve puzzles and explore diverse locations from icy peaks to fiery volcanoes. Get started!
AgeGuess investigates the differences between perceived age (how old you look to other people) and chronological age (how old you actually are) and their potential power as an aging biomarker.
Want to help send microbes to the International Space Station? Get involved in our research project, Project MERCCURI!
SciStarter has a whole round-up of tree-related projects for you this season. Branch out into citizen science!
Massachusetts is on guard. Only the watchers are not local police or state troopers; they are the students of John R. Briggs Elementary School in Ashburnham, Massachusetts. Led by their teacher, Ms. Katherine Bennett, these young scientists scurry through the low-lying boughs of eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), stopping at each tree to peer underneath the leaves, particularly trees that have been flagged with orange tape bearing an identification code. They’re looking for small white blisters clustering along the pale underside of the hemlock needles, a sure sign of the hemlock woolly adelgid. Turning over the branches, students record findings and observations in data columns and scribble doodles in the margins.
The activity is part of an ongoing partnership between schools in New England and the Harvard Forest to provide an outdoor classroom for young students and extra eyes on the ecology of the region. This project, one of three ongoing projects in Harvard’s Schoolyard Long Term Ecological Research program, focuses on monitoring this invasive arthropod. The hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae) is native to East Asia where it feeds, relatively harmlessly, on hemlock trees.
In the United States, free from the natural constrains of predators, Adelges tsugae can infest an entire tree and drain it of life by sapping away vital nutrients and sugars from the hemlock leaves. The branches cease to grow as vigorously once infested and eventually shrivel and die, killing the tree after five to ten years, depending on conditions. The adelgid was first reported in the United States in 1951. Since then, the little arthropod has crawled, hitch-hiked, blown, and tossed its way over 18 states across the East Coast, ranging as far south and west as Tennessee and northern Alabama to the southern tip of Maine.
It’s now in every county of Massachusetts, where kids in participating schools like John R. Briggs are able to study it and other invasive plants and animals. Bennett teaches it as a culmination of a forest ecology unit covering the basic biological topics like plant anatomy and physiology, and photosynthesis. Ms. Bennett says it integrates very well with “next gen science standards including learning about what scientists do…and taking data, like real scientists, doing the same kinds of studies and experiments that real scientists do.” And engaging in the motions of “real scientists” is exciting for students and stimulates learning and imaginative discussions, where they’re able to talk about pressing issues such as climate change or invasive species.
Besides training a new generation of scientists, the citizen science influence ripples away from the schoolyard. Parents report being pressed into ecological service by their children and carried into their backyards or forests to tear up garlic mustard or Japanese knotweed or look for signs of the hemlock adelgid. For the project, the students may be looking at ten branches on ten hemlock trees, and they detail new branch growth, egg sac density, and presence/absence of the hemlock woolly adelgid.
The data the children collect are sent to Harvard Forest to be analyzed and archived by Dr. David Orwig, an ecologist at Harvard. “[These data] are valuable,” Dr. Orwig says. “As there are still not good data at the branch level from year to year.” If the participating schools stick with the project for many years, the data can be used to investigate how the adelgid has impacted hemlocks in different regions and why. These are questions that are still unanswered and may provide some of the keys to damming the flood of invasion.
Many schools still don’t have the adelgid in their areas, so the children can be the first to discover it. In fact, last year in Ashburnham, Bennett’s class of fifth graders discovered the adelgid in the area. They and Dr. Orwig were able to file a report with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation with their findings. If the students find hemlock woolly adelgid in new areas, like Bennett’s class, then scientists such as Dr. Orwig can use these data as a record of how long trees last.
While these data are useful, perhaps the most rewarding part of the project for scientists such as Orwig and teachers like Bennett is watching the students become more responsible and ecologically literate citizens. “The best,” Dr. Orwig says, “is when you can interact with students in nature to share knowledge with them in a natural setting.” Orwig always visits participating schools each year just for that moment. The students develop a deep and tangible relationship with the natural world around them, which both Orwig and Bennett agree is apparent.
“I’ll never forget this,” Bennett says. “There was one kid that was just a video gamer, and that was it. He said, ‘I never spend any time outside; I always play video games.’ Then he came in in the spring with two little acorns that were sprouting. He was so excited, and he said he wanted to grow them into oak trees.”
If you are a K-12 educator in New England or in an area affected by Hemlock Woolly Adegid, get involved with this project. And you can contact Dr. Orwig or Pamela Snow, the Schoolyard LTER coordinator at Harvard Forest. You can find their contact information below.
Pamela Snow: email@example.com
David Orwig firstname.lastname@example.org
Images: Harvard Forest, Katherine Bennett
Angus R. Chen is a research assistant at Princeton University, where he does geochronology research using uranium and lead isotopes from zircon crystals. Previously, he was a research intern at the Harvard Forest, studying the impacts of climate change on soil. He recently graduated from Oberlin College with a double major in environmental science and creative writing. When he’s not in the lab admiring rocks and then pulverizing them, he writes poetry, fiction, science articles, and makes cool videos.
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.
SciStarter has a whole round-up of tree-related projects for you this season. Branch out into citizen science!
Walking around my neighborhood the other day, I was casually observing the local flora when I was struck by the redness of one particular set of leaves. While the tree pictured is not the exact one I spied upon, look at how vibrant these colors are! I began to wonder why this tree turned red while the others around it stayed orange and yellow. To begin, we must learn about why autumn leaves deviate from their greener shades in the first place.
As you probably already know, the color that most plants have is derived from chlorophyll, the yellow-green pigment found in chloroplasts responsible for allowing photosynthesis to take place. If you’ve forgotten how this process works, Crash Course Biology has a great video for this. While there are multiple forms of chlorophyll, it is generally true that most reflect green light, causing for plants to appear the way they do. (This raises the even better question of why aren’t plants black, but that deserves its own post.)
So, what happens to the chlorophyll as we approach the cooler months? When the temperature drops, deciduous plants slow the production of chlorophyll in preparation for the dormant period they will undergo during the winter. The plants will then be able to conserve energy by halting all photosynthetic processes during the lack of available sunlight. As this happens, orange and yellow carotenoids present in the leaves are exposed. These are pigments that are normally produced in leaves that help to absorb additional energy from the sun that is passed along to the chlorophyll and also to prevent auto-oxidation (basically the wear down of cells due to free radicals) from occurring. In addition to all of this, the plant begins to produce a cell wall between the stem and the leaf called an abscission layer. This will eventually cause for the leaf to be completely separated from the plant, allowing for it to fall to the ground.
Okay. We’ve covered green, orange, and yellow, but what produced the scarlet beauty found above and why doesn’t it occur in all trees? The answer is anthocyanins. If you’ve ever eaten a blueberry, raspberry, pomegranate, or any other fruit that can stain your hands and clothes, you’re probably already familiar with these little molecules. These pigments are similar to the carotenoids mentioned above but serve a different purpose. In cases during the late summer when plants are beginning to slow their photosynthetic processes but there is still plenty of sunlight abound, the leaves can actually be harmed by receiving too much high-intensity light in the region of Photosystem II (photoinhibition). In order to prevent this damage, the plant begins to synthesize anthocyanins to permeate through the leaves’ surfaces. Because of its red color, the pigment absorbs a large amount of the high energy visible and ultraviolet photons striking the plant, basically acting as a “plant sunscreen.” (Check out how you can even build your own anthocyanin-based solar cell!) Additionally, anthocyanins are good indicators of plant stressors including freezing temperatures and low nutrient levels.
Next time you see a particularly red tree, make sure to think about its environment! Does it receive an abundance of light? Has it been particularly cold? Feel free to comment with links to your own pictures of vibrant trees and plants!
Just like leaves, citizen science also happens to grow on trees! Don’t believe us? Check out our tree projects round-up!
Photo: Public Domain Pictures, Wikipedia
This was a guest post by Joe Diaz, a science educator and enthusiast. Follow @RealJoeDiaz. View the original post.
This project is part of our Back to School 2013 round-up of projects. Read more about them!
Breast cancer is the single most common cancer in women worldwide with roughly 1 in 8 women developing the disease each year. Chances are, a friend or family member is coping with this diagnosis right now. Following Angelina Jolie’s announcement earlier this year about her family’s struggle with breast cancer and her treatment choices, advances in biomedical research and personalized medicine increasingly hold the promise of a day when cancer is cured. How do scientists find the clues buried within tumor samples?
Cell Slider, a collaboration between Cancer Research UK and Zooniverse, is the first citizen scientist project whose goal is to speed up cancer research by enlisting citizen scientists to analyze real tumor samples. According to Professor Andrew Handby, a CRUK scientist from the University of Leeds who helped develop Cell Slider, “Computers can only go so far – they can pick up obvious trends but only the human eye can spot subtleties that have, in the past, lead to important serendipitous discoveries… Cell Slider makes our data accessible – it’s not just for scientists and computer geeks – everyone can play their part in curing cancer.”
Ideal for secondary school science classes, Cell Slider is a real-life citizen scientist project that uses the same methods researchers use everyday in the laboratory to identify cancer cells. Students are introduced to some of the common core principles in life sciences, including basic cell types and shapes, while developing analytical and critical thinking skills. You don’t have to be a scientist to participate in this project; simple mouse clicks help researchers around the world find new cancer treatments buried in simple tumor samples.
During a brief tutorial, students are introduced to the three cell types typically seen on the microscope slides (white blood cells, tissue cells, and cancer cells), taught to identify normal and cancer cells based on shape and staining, then asked to analyze real images of breast cancer tumors. A special yellow dye that sticks to oestrogen receptor (ER) helps identify cells with excessive ER and candidates for cancer treatments using hormonal therapies such as tamoxifen. Once the irregularly shaped, yellow-stained, cancer cells are identified you estimate their number and how strongly they are stained through a matching game. Using this data, researchers are beginning to understand the connections between molecules found on cancer cells and the effects of common treatments on the outcome of the disease.
“Eventually, we hope to be able to identify different types of breast, and other, cancers and find out how these different types respond to different treatments,” said Professor Paul Pharoah, a CRUK scientist from Cambridge University who helped develop Cell Slider. “This will enable us to match up women with the right cancer drugs based on their tumor type. We hope that this personalized medicine approach would be a reality in years to come, but this computer program could make it a reality sooner than any of us had imagined possible.”
Since its launch in October 2012, more than 860,000 citizen scientists from around the world have analyzed over 1.7 million images. Could we be just your mouse click away from a cure?
Photo : Cell Slider
Dr Melinda T. Hough is a freelance science advocate and writer. Her previous work has included a Mirzayan Science and Technology Graduate Policy Fellowship at the National Academy of Sciences (2012), co-development of several of the final science policy questions with ScienceDebate.org (2012), consulting on the development of the Seattle Science Festival EXPO day (2012), contributing photographer for JF Derry’s book “Darwin in Scotland” (2010) and outreach projects to numerous to count. Not content to stay stateside, Melinda received a B.S in Microbiology from the University of Washington (2001) before moving to Edinburgh, Scotland where she received a MSc (2002) and PhD (2008) from the University of Edinburgh trying to understand how antibiotics kill bacteria. Naturally curious, it is hard to tear Melinda away from science; but if you can, she might be found exploring, often behind the lens of her Nikon D80, training for two half-marathons, or plotting her next epic adventure.