Five Summer Science Projects that are so Fun Your Kids Won’t Realize They are Learning

It is summer here in Wisconsin and the kids are out of school. If you are like me, you are looking for things to keep them busy and (bonus!) maybe teach them something. Below is a list of relatively easy, do-at-home science projects that can be fun for the whole family to try.

Parental supervision is recommended/required for these. And if you don’t want to worry about major clean up (or repainting walls and ceilings) you might want to do these outside whenever possible. I might be speaking from personal experience on this point, so trust me.

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Rapid DNA Act of 2017: What is It?

On May 16, 2017, the U.S House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate passed the Rapid DNA Act of 2017 (H.R.510 and S.139, respectively). The bill was sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis) and enjoyed bipartisan support, ending up with seven Republican and five Democratic cosponsors in the Senate, and seventeen Republican and seven Democratic cosponsors in the House. The bill was passed by unanimous consent voice votes in both chambers.

So what is the Rapid DNA Act of 2017 all about?

Simply put, the act will expand the use of rapid DNA technology in law enforcement departments by creating a way for them to use the results they get by connecting them to the FBIs Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). Still curious? Read on and you will learn much more about what the Rapid DNA Act of 2017 does and doesn’t do. Continue reading

Surfing the Light Waves: Shrimp, Coral, Turtles and Other Fluorescent Organisms

A branching torch coral, Euphyllia glabrescens.

Have you ever walked on a beach and noticed that the waves seem to glow as they roll onto shore? Perhaps you have seen fish or jellyfish that glow in the dark, or maybe you’ve chased fireflies in your backyard or on a camping trip. These are all forms of luminescence (the production of light without adding heat), but the manner that these organisms produce their light can be quite different. Continue reading

Restoring Memory in Alzheimer’s Mice with Microbubbles and Ultrasound

Neurons with amyloid plaques.

Neurons with amyloid plaques.

Imagine driving in your car and suddenly not recognizing where you, you don’t remember where you were going and have no idea how to find your way home. What if you looked across the breakfast table at your spouse and no longer recognizing them?  Or maybe you have to brace yourself every time you visit your parent, waiting for the day when they won’t know who you are. This is reality for the estimated 50 million (worldwide) Alzheimer’s suffers and their families.

For a world with an aging population, Alzheimer’s is a growing problem. Recent estimates suggest that 11% of people over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s disease. For people 85 and older, that number increases to 32% (1).

Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating degenerative brain disease. It is the most common cause of dementia, and is characterized by a decline in cognitive skills such as memory, language skills, communication and problem solving abilities. These symptoms make it difficult for people with Alzheimer’s to perform everyday activities. It also is difficult to diagnose, even more difficult to treat, and, as of now, impossible to cure. Continue reading

More Than Just a Belt—The Benefits of Practicing Martial Arts

Two years ago my, then ten-year-old, daughter and I started a journey together. We joined a local dojo (karate school). At the time my daughter was still looking for ‘her’ activity, and after trying both girl scouts and 4H as well as several intramural sports, I reached back into her early childhood when she had enjoyed participating in karate classes as a three and four year old. I was hoping to find an activity that we could share (much as her brother and father share camping and outings with Boy Scouts) that we would both find challenging and enjoyable—and maybe part of me had secretly always wanted to be a ninja.

A number of friends, family and even acquaintances have expressed surprise that this was the activity that my daughter and I settled on, or more specifically, that I was taking up karate as an adult. We tend to associate karate with classes of kids in white gis, or with high-intensity, high-level competitive martial artists, which we typically think of as male. But this is not a “kid only” or “male only” sport. According to the New York City-based research firm, Simmons Market Research, over 18.1 million Americans participated in karate or some other form of martial art at least once, and roughly 9.4 million were adults. The study also found that gender is pretty evenly split between men (52%) and women (48%). Karate is popular globally, with an estimated 50 to 100 million practitioners worldwide (Japan web and World Karate Federation, respectively), and was one of five new sports added to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

karate girl in mirrorMartial Arts Improves Physical and Cognitive Performance in Youth

It is easy to find the reasons why people enroll their children in martial arts training. Participation in karate has been shown to improve physical performance in children and young adults as measured by such things as better coordination, reaction speed time, explosive leg strength and muscle endurance (1, 2). At the same time, children participating in karate also score better than their peers on executive functions, working memory and visual selective attention (1). Karate has also shown promise in helping with behavior issues by improving self-regulation and executive function (3).

When you look at the literature, though, it is clear that the benefits of martial arts such as karate are not limited to children and teens. Continue reading

Plumage Revealed: A 99 Million Year Old Feathered Coelurosaur Tail Trapped in Amber

Touching a Dinosaur—Almost

Imagine holding a 99 million year old feathered dinosaur tail in the palm of your hand. The only thing keeping you from actually touching its feathers? A few centimeters of petrified resin. This was reality for the group of scientists who published their findings about this discovery in the December issue of Current Biology (1).

It all began roughly ninety-nine million years ago when a young coelurosaur met an untimely death. Continue reading

The Birth of a Disease? A New Anthrax-Like Disease Found in Sub-Saharan Africa

It usually starts with one; one dead animal, one sick individual, one case that a doctor thinks is unusual. These are all ways that a new disease makes its presence known. In the case of Bacillus cereus biovar anthracis, it started with a dead chimpanzee (1).  

The wild western chimpanzee was found dead in Côte d’Ivoire in 2001. An investigation led by scientists from the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin identified the pathogenic cause of death to be an atypical B. cereus isolate that caused an anthrax-like disease. Continue reading

Moving Out of the Cell: Advantages of Cell-Free Protein Expression

Cell-free protein expression is a simplified and accelerated avenue for the transcription and/or translation of a specific protein in a quasi cell environment. An alternative to slower, more cumbersome cell-based methods, cell-free protein expression methods are simple and fast and can overcome toxicity and solubility issues sometimes experienced in the traditional E. coli expression systems.

Cell-free protein expression offers significant time savings over cell-based expression methods.

Cell-free protein expression offers significant time savings over cell-based expression methods.

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Easy Automated Genomic DNA Isolation for GMO Testing: From Vision to Reality

29980616-July25-PureFood---Kelly-600x300The European Union (EU) has a zero tolerance policy for products containing any material from non-authorized genetically modified (GM) crops. Seed entering EU markets may not contain even trace amounts of non-authorized genetically modified material. In 2012, as the global use of GM crops increased, seed testing loads in the EU continued to build. Isolating genomic DNA (gDNA) using traditional manual methods was becoming impractical in the face of increasing amounts of material that required testing. There was a growing need for an automated method to isolate gDNA from seed samples. Working to address this need, a group of scientists from the Bavarian Health and Food Safety Authority collaborated with scientists from Promega Corporation to evaluate the Maxwell® 16 Instrument and the associated chemistry as possible a solution for the testing labs. Continue reading

Looking Back: Seeing the Science of My Childhood

Gene silencingScience is all around us— in everything we touch, smell, taste and see. It is in the flowers in our gardens, the molecules of pollen and oils that give those flowers scent, the crystals of sodium chloride that gives our food flavor and the way light is bent and changed to give our world color. There is science in the way we look like our great-great grandmother, and science in the way we are so different from each other. As the granddaughter of a forester and a botanist and the daughter of a science teacher, there has been science in my life for as long as I can remember. Recently my parents moved to a retirement home, and as I spent time helping them downsize, I took pictures of some of the ‘science’ that surrounded my as I grew up.

To start, there is “old brassy”, the first microscope I ever used. This microscope, and it’s slightly more modern cousin held places of honor on shelves in my father’s den.microscopes

Held in wooden boxes next to the microscopes were test tubes containing all sorts of mysterious things, including samples gathered by my grandfather while he was a forester in Louisiana. Continue reading