Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Saturday Night Science Party (SNSP): Planning Stages

Over the last few days I've loaded up on coffee and saturated myself with episodes of NPR's Science Friday. I am continually inspired by the array of topics and find myself falling in love with science and scientists all over again. The episode with Barb Stuckey gave instructions on how to determine if you were a hypertaster, and, naturally, I wanted to try. I’ve recruited a few volunteers (willing and unwilling but in the name of science, so, it’s fine). In the next few weeks, you can look forward to my posts in which I turn my taste buds blue and tryout a handful of other experiments to prepare myself to host another SNSP. I also hope to develop a plan to broadcast my next party online. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Lab Report: Saturday Night Science Party

Last night we had a Saturday Night Science Party (SNSP) with my Aunt Susanne, Uncle Matt, my two cousins (Skyler, 10, and Clayton, 13), and their 12-year-old friend. This was inspired by the SNSP that Arikia hosted in May. She and a few other writers shared drinks, wore silly props (think mustache on a stick), and interacted with science fans via twitter. The most brilliant part was that they broadcasted it online! Using this as a starting point, I added a few twists: family members and hands on experiments. I also omitted live tweeting and a live broadcast. The following is a wrap-up of experiments completed, lessons taught and notable moments.

Experiment: Dancing Raisins
Mix water, baking soda and a handful of raisins in a large, clear pitcher. Add vinegar. Be careful or else the mixture will bubble over (like what we had all over our counter top). In short the raisins fall to the bottom and the gas created by the reaction of vinegar (acetic acid, CH3COOH) and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate, NaHCO3) collects in between the grooves of the raisins. When enough gas has collected, the raisins rise to the surface and the bubbles are knocked off, causing them to fall. The process repeats. It's the electric slide for raisins! Boogie, woogie, woogie, little dried fruit. Boogie woogie.

Extra Credit: Osmosis
Once the dancing raisins experiment was completed and the liquid sopped up from the counter top, my cousin, Skyler, was inspired to show us an experiment that she learned from watching Man, Woman, Wild. She filled a small container with water, raisins, and salt. "The raisins will only soak up the water, not the salt water, and you can eat them tomorrow!”

Experiment: Dry Ice Bubbles
Next it was time for everyone to have clean hands—WITH SCIENCE. Filling a large bowl with hot water and a few squirts of hand soap, I used tongs to add a piece of dry ice. Immediately the water rumbled and layers of layers of carbon dioxide-filled bubbles grew on the surface. The kids scooped them up (being mindful not to dip their hands below the surface of the water) and pretended they were magicians and wizards, squashing souls in the palm of their hand. This simple project was “better than Xbox!” according to my cousin’s friend. Now I’d consider that a success!

Experiment: Dry Ice Ice Cream
Heavy cream, milk, sugar, vanilla and DRY ICE. Mix until desired texture. When it was Aunt Sue’s turn to stir, she started quoting MacBeth, and we chatted about why it’s called dry ice (sublimation). Plus, it’s delicious!

Experiment: Squishy Circuits
I was way excited about this one and I won’t ruin it by trying to explain it. Just watch this.

Extra Credit: Metal Safari
When the counter top was full of clay, LEDs, cream and spoons and the raisins had stopped dancing, my uncle accidentally touched a metal spoon to a sliver of dry ice. He jumped at the response as it shrieked back at him. I asked him for a penny and I pressed Abe’s face to the dry ice. Then everybody began grabbing metal spoons and we found ourselves in a dry ice/metal safari.

I hope to soon host another SNSP but there are a few things I’d do differently. Going unplugged enabled me to focus on the tasks at hand but, with a little preparation, I'd like to live tweet next time. Although I’m enjoying putting this lab report together, I think I would have had more interaction or readers if this was happening live with photos or as a live broadcast (or both!). I also think that with such a young crowd, only two or three of these experiments would have been plenty. I was delighted every time I saw a flash of understanding on a child’s face but I may have overloaded them. Finally, it would help for me to have more Scientists in the room. More people to ask challenging questions, another person to offer an explanation. All in all, I’d consider this a scientific success! Keep your ocular orbs open for another SNSP happening on your computer!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

JJJPod: The Naked Scientists

It was clear to me that I was a podcast enthusiast when a musician friend of mine asked me what was listening to. I popped the white buds out of my ears and slouched in my chair. Pure bliss and concentration had just been painted on my face. "Um, I'm listening to a story about bats." My eyes darted to the corner of the room and the words NERD ALERT shouted inside my head. 

"Oh, that's cool," he replied. NERD ALERT! He should have just said it, pushed me in my face, and ran away repeating the torment all the way down the hall. My shoulders slumped, but he continued, "Bats are so interesting! I didn't realize until this year that they are mammals."

A smile spread across my face as it became apparent that he was a kindred spirit. I began explaining the current plight of bats: White-Nose Syndrome.

This interaction happened years ago, and if I am remembering correctly, I was listening to an episode of The Naked Scientists. This program is out of the University of Cambridge and employs impressive interviews, lovely accents, a user-friendly website, and straight up knowledge.

I won't waste your time using a gross amount of superlatives to highlight the interviews on The Naked Scientists. Instead, I'll direct you to their Interviews page. Seriously, take a look. LOTS GOING ON THERE. There are tons of conversations with experts. I will suggest listening to or reading the interview with Steve Simpson, a Fish Ecologist from Bristol University. I still recall the sound of a coral reef!

I also won't waste your time talking about their lovely accents. Yes, they're lovely. They're from the UK. Sometimes when I've been on a binge of this show, their accent slips out, making me sound 
incorrigibly pretentious. (Just add a British accent to "incorrigibly pretentious." Fun, isn't it?) Additionally, their program Ask the Naked Scientists is recorded from a live South African radio station. I am still learning to interpret each caller. Although I understand a person's accent has nothing to do with their ability to convey science, it makes me feel semi-exotic and I enjoy piecing apart those whose accents are particularly rich. 

Now, addressing their website. It has taken me way too long to write this post because I keep getting distracted on their site. I am inspired by their Kitchen Science tab and am delighted to see book reviews. Their website also has links to their numerous programs. I am most familiar with The Naked Scientists and Ask the Naked Scientists but they have Archeology, Engineering, Astronomy, AND MORE. 

Finally, I love the empire that has become The Naked Scientists because of their straight up knowledge. Aside from their puns about naked science (keeping you abreast, stripping down science, and such), the hosts continually bring fantastic science to the table in a wide array of topics. This podcast is rife with knowledge bombs waiting for you to disarm them, and I consider it a crime to hold you here any longer. 

JJJPod: Discovery's Friday News Feedbag

every episode of discovery's friday news feedbag (let's just use DFNF) is like happy hour with witty people who like science and have a healthy curiosity for life. this show makes science fun and accessible because of it's informality, it's completely unnecessary tangents, and its social media efforts.

i listen to 19 science podcasts (seriously? wtf is wrong with me?) and i can say that of all the hosts of these programs, i want the hosts of DFNF to be my bros (which is doubly weird cos i'm a girl).there are three hosts of this program. will johnson, the host of the hosts, and jorge robot and james williams. both jorge and james report 1 science story every week (which is a big controversy as they used to do 3 but i enjoy it either way)

JSYK i am intentioanlly disregarding traditional grammar spelling and punctuation. it's in celebration of this podcast's informality. unlike most programs the hosts tease each other about slacking on their podcast duties and they frequently forget promises to follow up. without shame, Will brazenly questions one of the reporters if that is all they has to offer. once they began the show without james (i think it was james) and he awkwardly waltzed in after a few minutes of recording. then james proceeded to razz will for his lack of punctuality. oh, and as this was happening, jorge was imperceptibly mumbling in the background probablly sitting 8 feet from the microphone. it's like listening to brothers. or buffoons. i like them both.

i can't help but hang my head in shame and laughter when will can't get through the opening without james or jorge interrupting with some completely unnecessary idea or quesiton. the tangents are ridiculously perfect and frequently make me smile and laugh while i'm on the treadmill. listening to the july 15 episode i LOLed in the car when they rambled about soup and jorge almost screamed about how he was going to get some after the show. me too, jorge. me too.

in regards to its social media efforts, this program does it right. they have a twitter feed, they are active on fb and they have a blog. furthermore, they highlight funny or interesting happenings on these sites AND often make up personas for the listeners. for example one listener said that he always enjoyed the show on his birthday and suddenly they were imagining him sharing a steak dinner with a girlfriend while listening on his bday. they love to hear that their voices have been listened to exotic places. i wish i could say that i have done this but sorry, guys, i live and work in pennsylvania. maybe it counts that i make a vaccine for rotavirus? i ahve yet to listen on the job, though, i have to be completely gowned up from head to toe and would probably get fired if that included my ipod. 

so, i say to the hosts of DFNF Thank you for reporting excellent science stories in such a silly way. you make science informal and accessible. plus, you make me laugh.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

How I Turned Mad

It is obvious to those around me when I am completely enthralled in a book. Aside from the utter disregard for my surroundings, I will end a chapter with haste, slam down the book, and obnoxiously shout about how I know that the killer is that old man or how I'm pissed off about the current state of women's health care globally. If it's really good, I'll smash the book two or three times with my fist while giving it a menacing look. If I'm not satisfied with these reactions of slamming, shouting, and smashing, if I feel like these actions haven't completely expressed my rage, I'll pace. This is how I've turned mad.

Despite my efforts to remain friendly and impartial at my new job, I began reading How the Cows Turned Mad by Maxime Schwartz and my coworkers quickly learned of my quirkiness. This book chronicles the discovery of mad cow disease mainly in Britain and France but also a few ancillary locations. My mad was in full effect after reading the chapter "A Tragedy in the Making" which celebrates science and the possible fix of pituitary dwarfism by injecting afflicted patients with pituitary glands harvested from cadavers. Genius! I was riveted by the triumph and grossness of science. In the final paragraph of the chapter (SPOILER ALERT), they bring to light the simple fact that mad cow disease is transmitted in humans by consuming the brain of a person with the disease. THIS WOULD INCLUDE INJECTIONS OF DEAD PEOPLE. How did I not see this coming? I suddenly felt like I was watching the last three minutes of a thriller movie in which you learn that the killer was not dead. He's lurking out there and reaching for a weapon for one last murder. Distracted by the science, I forgot that these people could get mad cow disease. The killer lives! And, if I'm not mistaken (I haven't completed the book yet) mad cow disease is still on the scene today.

The only negative I have to offer about How the Cows Turned Mad is that it is written like a mystery novel. New theories presented on the disease in each chapter are left dangling. I appreciate that this genre is science thriller and this trait is perfectly acceptable. In a Whodunit?, this is desirable but, for me, not in science writing. I hear, however, that these ideas are fleshed out at the end of the book. I must keep reading!

This book is beautifully written on so many levels. It tackles the complex science of physiology, microbiology, and chemistry to successfully explain them while connecting the theories with the history of the disease. It pieces this information together in such a way that it evokes many emotions (see aforementioned madness) that one might experience while watching a horror flick. If you are in anyway looking to increase your crazy (or to learn some wicked science while enjoying a beautifully written piece of literature), I highly recommend this book.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

JJJPod: 60-Second Science

Although it’s a nice round number, let me petition Scientific American, producers of the 60-Second Science podcast, to change the title to a more accurate number: 79-Second Science. Using a sample of new episodes, n=41, I calculated the mean, x=79.

Despite the deceptive title, this podcast RULES. Released weekdays, it’s hosted by a handful of characters who use quirky sounds and songs to enhance the random selection of science snippets.

As one host might say, thanks for the minute!

JJJPod: Science Magazine Podcast

I've donned my jogging clothes and laced up my shoes. As I step outside, I stretch my arms up to the sky, and turn on my iPod. I rev my legs into a jog and enjoy the intro music of the Science Magazine Podcast, an upbeat riff. I imagine some hipster dude with crazy hair and gigantic headphones jamming on a keyboard and then pointing to the host with a wink, shooting the attention to him. A friendly voice cuts in and the music fades. "Hello and welcome to the science magazine podcast for June 3rd, 2011. I'm Robert Frederick." He launches into the line up science news stories for the week and I can't help reciprocate his excitement. My legs find a tempo as a young woman explains that the podcast is supported by AAAS, the science society!

The intro music finally fades and the first story begins. I've found my stride. There are about 3 or 4 stories, each lasting roughly 10 minutes and cover an array of topics. They delve into each interview, diving below the surface but not far enough as to get lost (or confuse their listeners). I nod in agreement, chuckle at the jokes, and form questions of my own as I listen--keep in mind I'm running and listening.

Finally, Frederick says, "Now, David Grim, Science's online news editor, is here with a wrap-up of some of the latest science news from our online daily news science site, ScienceNOW." When I hear this, I know the program (and my jog) is almost over. I kick it into high gear for the last 15 minutes, wiping sweat off my brow.

This program is my favorite jogging podcast because it just the right length (35 to 50 minutes), the reporting is professional (supported by AAAS), and the topics are diverse yet not too complex. I enjoy solid science stories while experiencing oxygen deprivation from a reputable organization. Outstanding!

Special note: I am sad to say that this episode featured in this post, June 3rd, is Frederick's last with this program. When I complied a list of reasons why I like this show, he was on top. He has such a kind voice and it makes me feel like I'm going for a jog with an old friend who knows a lot about science. I hope he can be replaced with someone just as nice!