Finding the Teachable Moment: Science Literacy

Kindergarten teacher and children looking at bird's nest in librAs we head back into the school year, many of us are thinking about new teachers, new homework assignments, and the best way to motivate our children at home or our students in the classroom.

In a Science360 interview, Laurie Howell (NSF) and Dr. Moria Gunn (host of Tech Nation) talk about science literacy. Dr. Gunn states that she thinks people will learn what they need to know when they need to know it if they are given the tools for learning—that we need to catch a person when he or she is motivated and interested to learn something and make sure that the inquiry is supported.

Some of those tools that will support that inquiry?

  • The ability to recognize when they are not informed enough to make a decision or have an opinion.
  • The ability to think critically and evaluate sources and information.

What do you think? How do we find the teachable moment and reach someone in their moment of interest? And how do we make sure that they have the critical thinking skills to make best use of that motivation.

Here is the interview below.

Quizzing Technology in the Classroom

BTCI summer studentsThe most downloaded paper EVER in the history of the Association for Psychological Science journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest was published in 2013. Titled “Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology, ” it’s a free download and worth the read.

The authors, researchers in the field of psychology, review ten “top learning techniques” for better success in the classroom and the integration of new knowledge into working memory. They evaluated the effectiveness of a wide range of learning techniques that students typically use in the pursuit of better academic performance: Continue reading

Friday Cartoon Fun: Is It Drawn or Is It Real?

I always enjoy Ed Himelblau’s cartoons, but one that makes me chuckle every time I see it is the following:

Copyright Ed Himelblau.

I am sure our readers that enjoy coffee can empathize.

Recently, our Swiss branch had fun with a number of the cartoons from our Cartoon Lab archive and recreated the cartoon in real life:
Real-life recreation of Ed Himelblau's cartoon.
What do you think?

Back to school!

Kindergarten teacher and children looking at bird's nest in librBack to school! We’re experiencing a cold snap this week, and my kids are complaining that it shouldn’t be this cold on the last week of summer! I agree, but I’m so excited that school is back! I’m a full-time working mom, but the stresses of summer are hard. My kids aren’t on schedules, there is always some party/event/BBQ, and trying to fit in a summer vacation. I’m tired just thinking about it! Especially in Wisconsin, where we don’t have the best weather in the winter so we try to soak it all up in the summer.

As we are getting back into routines, I’m working on setting up some ground rules so our school year isn’t as hectic this year as previous years. Summer has been a free for all at our house, so the adjustment might be rough, but my kids do much better on routines. Continue reading

The Intersection of Plague and National Parks

Plague cases in the United States over 42 years. Copyright Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

American national parks have spectacular scenery enjoyed by hikers worldwide. It’s one way people can enjoy some of the preserved wild places in North America. Due to this intersection of humans and wild animals, a bacterium that is endemic to the southwestern United States has infected a few humans after trips to Yosemite National Park, sparking many news headlines about the plague and closure of a few camping sites for chemical treatment to reduce local flea populations. In total, this summer has seen six cases of infection and unfortunately, three deaths from the plague. Continue reading

The Volcano Beneath our Feet

Photo credit: Kelly Grooms

Firehole River, Yellowstone National Park. Photo credit: Kelly Grooms

This summer my family and I vacationed on one of the world’s largest active volcanoes. We weren’t alone. Every year over three million people visit this super volcano.

Yellowstone National Park covers almost 3,500 square miles in the northwest corner of Wyoming (3% of the park is in Montana and 1% in Idaho). The park is famous for its hydrothermal features, including the Old Faithful Geyser and vivid hot springs such as the Grand Prismatic Spring.

The park’s hydrothermal system is the visible expression of the immense Yellowstone volcano; they would not exist without the underlying partially molten magma body that releases tremendous heat. National Park Service website

Photo Credit: Nathan Grooms

Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park. Photo Credit: Nathan Grooms

These features are all visible reminders of the immense volcano that exists beneath the surface.  Recently, a team of seismologists discovered a reservoir of partly molten rock 12–28 miles beneath Yellowstone National Park. This video from Science 360 describes the discovery and why scientists are interested in it. It is important to note that this discovery does not mean that there is new activity or that the volcano under the park is closer to erupting. It does mean that scientist now have a better picture of the underground “plumbing”.

Cell-Free Expression Application: Antibody Screening

TestPermissions2Ricin, derived from caster seeds, inhibits protein synthesis by binding to ribosomes, resulting in cell death. The protein is composed of two polypeptide chains: Ricin Toxin A chain and Ricin Toxin B chain. Ricin inhibits protein synthesis very quickly, and the cell or tissue damage begins within several hours. However, signs of poisoning often are not noted before significant damage has been done, making treatment difficult. Therapeutics that either block the ribosome binding site or compete with the toxin for binding are highly desired. Both antibodies and competitive ligands inhibited binding of the toxin to cell membranes.

A recent publication by Dong et al. (1), described a study to investigate the therapeutic effect of mAb 4C13, a monoclonal antibody against ricin. One of first experiments performed was to determine the general effect the inhibition of protein synthesis induced by ricin using cell-free expression.

In the study, the authors used T3 Coupled Reticulocyte Lysate Systems from Promega. Both ricin and mAb were diluted with saline. Aliquots of ricin (80 ng/ml) were mixed with an equal volume mAbs (1.6μg/ml) or saline alone and incubated at 4 °C for 1.5 h. A total volume of 4μl of sample was added into the reaction system (i.e, T3 Coupled Reticulocyte and plasmid DNA containing the lucifersase gene downstream of T3 RNA phage promoter). After incubation at 30 °C for 1.5 h, the products were cooled at −20 °C for 10 min. A total of 5μl of each reactive product containing synthesized luciferase was mixed with 50μl luciferase assay reagent pre-equilibrated to room temperature, and the fluorescence absorbance was measured immediately with the micro-ELISA Reader.

Positive results obtained from this preliminary experiment, led to more thorough experiments to determine the dosage effect using in vivo models (i.e., cell lines and mice) to characterize the cytotoxicity and binding activity of mAb 4C13. The mAB 4C13 was shown to be a effective in the mouse model.

Dong, N. et al. (2015) Monoclonal antibody , mAb 4C13, an effective detoxicant antibody against ricin poisoning. Vaccine 33, 3836–42

Sequencing the Octopus Genome: Invertebrate Intelligence Explained?

In a Letter in Nature magazine last week (August 13, 2015), researchers published surprising findings from a genome analysis of the octopus. As a result, we now know that this invertebrate has more than just behavioral oddities with which to amaze.

In their publication, C. Albertin et al. report the results of genome sequencing of the California two-spot octopus, Octopus bimaculoides. They did not find the predicted whole-genome duplication, but rather an unexpectedly large genome with many rearrangements, and two gene family expansions that were previously thought to exist only in vertebrates.

Califonia two spot octopus. Image by Jeremy S. Taken at Santa Monica Aquarium. Used via Creative Commons license, Wikimedia.

Califonia two spot octopus. Image by Jeremy S. Taken at Santa Monica Aquarium. Used via Creative Commons license, Wikimedia.

The Research
Albertin et al. sequenced the O. bimaculoides genome using a whole-genome shotgun approach, and then annotated it using extensive transcriptome sequences from 12 tissues. They estimate that the genome assembly incorporated 97% of protein-coding sequences, and 83% of the entire 2.7gigabase genome. The remaining sequence was composed largely of repetitive elements. Continue reading

Summer Friday Blog: Wizard World Comic Con in Chicago

wizardworldLet’s put a little fiction in our science this week and take a look at the upcoming Wizard World Comic Con in Chicago. It’s one of the biggest in the U.S., typically drawing an crowd of around 50,000 throughout the weekend. This year the Chicago event takes place August 20th through August 23rd at the Donald E. Stephenson Center in Rosemont, Illinois.

This will be my fourth year attending Wizard World Chicago, and it definitely won’t be my last. It’s more manageable than the famous Comic Con in San Diego, but still big enough to spend the whole weekend wandering aisles and aisles of geeky treasures. There’s no conceivable way to get bored with celebrity autographs, hundreds of booths for browsing, and dozens of panels about pop culture. The people watching’s pretty entertaining, too.

My favorite part of any fan convention is the costumes. Some people spend months making elaborate pieces of armor from foam or painting a perfect replica of Captain America’s shield. Those are the die-hard fans, but most people dress up in some way, even if it’s just a T-Shirt with their favorite super hero printed on it. I love scanning the crowd and catching a glimpse of a character from one of my favorite TV shows. The atmosphere is fun and welcoming for all types of people and all levels of geek. Even entry level.

As comic cons and super heroes become increasingly popular, the guest list for Wizard World Chicago gets longer and more impressive each year. It’s not just for nerds anymore! Some of television and film’s biggest stars make appearances at conventions, and this year Chicago gets Jeremy Renner from Marvel’s The Avengers. You can call him Hawkeye. His autograph line will probably be the longest, people waiting hours for their chance to meet and exchange a few words with him. I’m particularly excited to see Nathan Fillion (Castle, Firefly), Norman Reedus (Walking Dead), Billie Piper (Doctor Who), and Burt Reynolds (no references needed). Meanwhile, upstairs the legendary Bruce Campbell will host his first annual Horror Fest. This year’s show will be star-packed, that’s for sure.


Manipulating Microbiota: A Synthetic Biology Exploration of the Gut

33553646_lMicrobial cells outnumber the cells of our own bodies approximately 10:1, these microbes that live on our skin and along the epithelial linings of our internal tubes make up our microbiota*, and they can have major effects on our health. Most of our microbiota are commensal organisms, living in harmony with our body, but if you suppress our immune system or greatly reduce their populations with large doses of antibiotics, and you will soon see the effects of disrupting our microbiota.

There is much interest in the microbiota that inhabit our bodies. For instance several studies have indicated that intestinal microbes can play a big part in obesity, with changes in the makeup of the microbiota being a major risk factor (1). But many of these organisms are hard to learn about—the ones that inhabit the deep folds of our gut thrive in moist, warm, anaerobic conditions with lots of specialized nutrients, conditions that are very hard to replicate in the laboratory. For that reason, we don’t know much about many of the microbes that are the most abundant within us.

The Human Microbiome Project begun in 2008 by the National Institutes of Health (2) seeks to understand human microbiota and their relationship to human health. To do this, the researchers leading the project took a metagenomic approach—using advanced DNA sequencing technologies to sequence the genomes of human microbiota and get a look at the human microbiome—without culturing the microbes.

But to truly understand their biology, and to perhaps exploit what we learn to enhance human health we need to be able to manipulate these organisms. In particular, biologists who are interested in synthetic biology would like to use these micro-organisms to monitor what is going on in our bodies, particularly our guts. What better monitor for these hard-to-access places than an organism that is already well adapted to live there?  Continue reading