Using Pinterest to Teach Science

First, let me say I’m not some “Pinterest Guru” or anything like that. I only recently joined this growing network and have stumbled through trying to figure out what the hell it’s all about. In the short time I’ve been on the site however, I’ve learned that it’s a phenomenal way to share astronomy concepts (within limits – more on this below) while spreading the greatness of science (or any subject really) to others! And this can be applied to virtually any branch of science or subject for that matter. Best of all, it’s fast, free (except for your time), and is an exceptional way to reach students and engage with them in a new way. Read More →

Where Are The Darkest Skies in the World?

Have you ever wondered where the best place in the world is to see the night sky? The International Dark Sky Association has the answer for you. They have designated five places in the world as gold tier international dark sky parks.

In order to qualify for this award, the land must be publically owned, open to the public at least part of the night and meet strict rules in the surrounding area to protect the quality of the night sky from light pollution. While many have tried for this honor, only five in the world have achieved this level of success.

The largest gold tier International Dark Sky Park in the United States is Big Bend National Park in west Texas with 803,000 acres. The park has also been declared as having the darkest skies in the lower 48 states, due to strict light ordinances in the few neighboring communities. Big Bend National Park was not a Dark Sky Park until February, 2012.

Other gold tier dark sky parks in the United States include Cherry Springs in Pennsylvania, Clayton Lake State Park in New Mexico, and National Bridges Natural Monument in Utah. Each of these parks has an active program to help families enjoy the night sky. The only international gold tier dark sky park is Galloway Forest Park located in Scotland.

Now you know where to go for unparalleled star gazing goodness.

Happy universe hunting!

Image Credit: David Hardy

Reference:

http://www.darksky.org/IDSParks

SETI Live to Crowdsource Search for Extraterrestrials

As part of the TED Prize Wish made by renowned astronomer Jill Tarter, the TED Prize today launches SETI Live (setilive.org): a site where – for the first time – the public can view data being collected by radio telescopes and collectively help search for intelligent life on other planets. Read More →

Science Foundation Arizona Launches Arizona STEM Network

Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz), a nonprofit public-private partnership that serves as a catalyst for revitalizing Arizona and strengthening its economic future, joined with partners today to announce the launch of the Arizona STEM Network. The STEM Network is a first-of-its-kind strategic effort to help transform Arizona’s educational system for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

A five-year plan being led by SFAz will leverage effective education practices and teaching advances including the state-adopted, internationally benchmarked Common Core Standards. The Arizona STEM Network is a unified approach that will provide educators, the business community and donors with a centralized infrastructure, tools, resources and the framework needed to measure performance and achieve collective impact in Arizona classrooms. The plan’s driving force is to help Arizona children be successful in school, careers and life.

Since 2008, the Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Foundation has been the leading financial supporter, providing a total of $2.2 million for the establishment of SFAz’s STEM initiative, as well as the collaboration of work leading up to the launch of the new Arizona STEM Network and plan for implementation. Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Foundation today announced a new three-year commitment beginning in 2012, totaling $2.1 million for operational funding that will allow SFAz to roll out its plan for the Arizona STEM Network. The plan focuses on four strategic areas:

  • Integrate STEM learning into Arizona schools and districts
  • Develop and deploy a predictive analytics system to measure impacts
  • Strengthen teacher effectiveness in STEM teaching
  • Create opportunities for the private business sector to meaningfully engage with schools

The development of the Arizona STEM Network began after Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, along with philanthropic and private sector leaders, tapped SFAz to spearhead the initiative in September 2010. Over a 14 month period, SFAz leaders logged more than 10,000 miles throughout Arizona and met with more than 1,500 individuals from the education, business and government sectors in all 15 counties and the Navajo Nation, as well as the Arizona Department of Education and the State Board of Education to determine statewide needs. Using the feedback gathered, SFAz created the Arizona STEM Network plan.

“Arizona must develop a globally competitive educational system and STEM disciplines will lead the way,” said Darcy Renfro, vice president of education and coordinator of the Arizona STEM Network at SFAz. “The Network will link existing STEM assets in Arizona, build on best practices and foster innovative teaching approaches for school districts to help students improve in these areas.”

Gov. Brewer, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Foundation and Helios Education Foundation provided major funding for the development of the Arizona STEM Network plan and were joined by Intel, JPMorgan Chase Foundation and Research Corporation for Science Advancement.

“We believe that the private sector must play an active role in developing the next generation to keep our businesses competitive and our economy vibrant,” said Tracy Bame, president of Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Foundation. “A first-rate education that encompasses the STEM disciplines is a foundational step to provide students with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.

Arizona is one of 12 states in the U.S., with developing or existing STEM Networks, that are leading the charge to implement a proactive approach to STEM teaching which provides interactive coursework in classrooms to prepare students for successful careers in the 21st century. STEM education is an interdisciplinary approach to learning that provides project-based and relevant experiences for students.

“Helios Education Foundation’s investment in the Arizona STEM Network’s plan to transform K-12 education is really an investment in the future of our state,” said the Foundation’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Barbara Ryan. “STEM education is the linchpin that will better prepare our students academically and ultimately increase the number of high school graduates ready to succeed in postsecondary education.”

The Arizona STEM Network will be led and coordinated by SFAz staff with a structured system of information management tools, processes and technical assistance. The Network is in place and will be rolled out in phases, with initial pilot sites to be announced by late 2012. SFAz is currently securing additional long-term operational and program funding from other corporate partners to further support the Arizona STEM Network.

“The vision for a statewide, strategic commitment to STEM education is coming to fruition,” said Gov. Brewer. “The Arizona STEM Network will help build a common agenda for STEM education that will lead our teachers and students forward.”

About Science Foundation Arizona
Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization initiated in 2006 by the Greater Phoenix Leadership Inc., Southern Arizona Leadership Council and the Flagstaff Forty in conjunction with the executive and legislative branches of state government. SFAz serves as a catalyst for high-wage, knowledge-based jobs and economic diversity through administration and strict oversight of research, development and education grants to public education and other non-profit research performing institutions. For more information, visit www.sfaz.org.

Source: Science Foundation Arizona

Unusual Fireballs Caught on NASA Cameras

Most astronomers know that if animals start acting weird in the middle of the night, they need to go outside and look up at that sky. That was the case in the wee hours of Feb. 13, 2012, in Georgia. The cows started mooing unexpectedly and the dogs went to howling. The cause for the disturbance was a fireball in the sky.

Astronomers have long argued that more fireballs occur in February than during any other month. NASA has established the All-sky Fireball Network to study them. Currently, the network has six cameras located in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and New Mexico. The plan is to analyze data collected from these special cameras to determine the frequency and orbital trajectory of those caught on film. Astronomers working with the program have announced that these unusual fireballs have been caught on the cameras.

The unusual fireballs are moving slower than normal. Astronomers have recorded them moving about 15 kilometers per second when they hit the atmosphere. They also appear to slow down faster than normal and have come closer to the Earth than in the past. The cameras have recorded them coming within 31 miles of the Earth which is pretty amazing as well. NASA’s astronomers are currently speculating that they originate in the asteroid belt, but not necessarily from a single location.

If your animals start acting strangely, go outside and look up. They’re likely responding to fireballs flying across the night sky.

Image Credit: NASA

Reference:

http://www.nasa.gov/offices/meo/outreach/all_sky_fireball_network_detail.html

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Cal Poly Receives Goodrich Foundation EPIC Award

Goodrich Foundation has awarded the Engineering Possibilities in College (EPIC) program at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif. $15,000 to help expand its one-week on-campus day camp to additional youngsters interested in engineering careers. Entering its sixth year this spring, EPIC has allowed hundreds of high school students to get a first-hand look at what it would be like to study engineering on the Cal Poly campus.

“The EPIC program was previously limited to high school students, and is expanding its reach this year include middle school students who may not have previously considered engineering as a field of study or a future career,” said Debra Larson, dean of Cal Poly Engineering. “EPIC will use the Goodrich Foundation grant to create a comprehensive career camp experience designed specifically for middle school students. The young campers will be immersed in hands-on labs and activities intended to spark a lifelong passion in science and engineering. The students’ highly participatory, firsthand experiences will be combined with tours of Cal Poly Engineering and local engineering industries.”

Marc Duvall, president of Goodrich Aerostructures in Chula Vista, Calif., said that the goals of the EPIC program in helping stimulate interest is pursuing engineering careers aligns perfectly with the company’s vision.

“One of our key community focus areas at Goodrich is to encourage the study of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines by young people,” he said. “Studies show that students often find their career interests during the formative middle school years. EPIC is strongly aligned with the Goodrich Foundation’s commitment to start early to connect students with science and engineering.”

Goodrich Foundation is the charitable arm of Goodrich Corporation (NYSE: GR). The Foundation provides support to selected charitable institutions in Goodrich’s United States headquarters and plant communities.

Goodrich Corporation, a Fortune 500 company, is a global supplier of systems and services to aerospace, defense and homeland security markets.  With one of the most strategically diversified portfolios of products in the industry, Goodrich serves a global customer base with significant worldwide manufacturing and service facilities.  For more information visit http://www.goodrich.com.

Goodrich Corporation operates through its divisions and as a parent company for its subsidiaries, one or more of which may be referred to as “Goodrich Corporation” in this press release.

Source: Goodrich Corporation

Tellurium Detected for the First Time in Ancient Stars

Nearly 13.7 billions years ago our universe consisted of three basic elements which included hydrogen, helium, and a little bit of lithium. However, 300 million years ago when the stars first began to emerge, new elements were formed. Now there are around 100 different elements in our universe, including the rare element Tellurium.

Tellurium has been rarely found on Earth, which is why hardly anyone has ever heard of it. It is a superconductive element that was found in ancient stars near the outskirts of the Milky Way galaxy. Common elements such as Iron and Nickle can be created by any ordinary supernova, but Tellurium is in a group of heavy elements that can only be created through specialized supernovas.

During rapid nuclear fusion, heavy elements are formed creating elements such as Tellurium. It is called the r-process, which occurs when atomic nuclei become bombarded by neutrons during a supernova explosion. The result is the creation of heavier elements that are not as common as some of the lighter elements that are much more abundant. This Tellurium discovery was an interesting find for astronomers, and is yet another step towards unraveling the mystery of these special supernovas.

Image Credit: periodictable.com

Reference:

Ian U. Roederer, James E. Lawler, John J. Cowan, Timothy C. Beers, Anna Frebel, Inese I. Ivans, Hendrik Schatz, Jennifer S. Sobeck, & Christopher Sneden (2012). Detection of the Second r-process Peak Element Tellurium in Metal-Poor Stars The Astrophysical Journal Letters, 747 (1) DOI: arXiv:1202.2378

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NASA Glenn Event to Celebrate John Glenn’s Legacy

NASA’s Glenn Research Center will host an event on March 2 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of John Glenn’s orbital flight, the first by an American.

“Celebrating John Glenn’s Legacy: 50 Years of Americans in Orbit” will be held at 1 p.m. EST at Cleveland State University‘s Wolstein Center, 2000 Prospect Ave., in Cleveland. More than 800 complimentary tickets are being distributed to the general public for this event through a lottery by Cleveland State University in partnership with NASA Glenn.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Glenn Director Ramon “Ray” Lugo will provide remarks during the one-hour program, which will include a welcome from Cleveland State University President Dr. Ronald Berkman. Space shuttle mission STS-95 pilot Steve Lindsey will pay tribute from the astronaut corps to Glenn. The program will culminate with a keynote address by the guest of honor Sen. John H. Glenn Jr.

Musical performances will be provided by the Cleveland Institute of Music, The Singing Angels and a soloist from Cleveland State University’s music program. Doors open at noon and a special pre-program musical performance by the Cleveland Institute of Music will begin at 12:15 p.m., followed by a video tribute to Glenn.

“This is a great opportunity for our community to come together and celebrate the achievements of John Glenn,” Lugo said. “We are delighted to combine the 50th anniversary celebration with the anniversary of the center renaming. The inspiration that John Glenn gives to millions of people along with the pioneering spirit that lives in the hearts of all who work at the center will continue to keep our nation on the path of exploration and discovery.”

On March 1, 1999, the Lewis Research Center was officially renamed the NASA John H. Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field in recognition of Glenn’s contributions to science, space and the state of Ohio. As one of the original seven Mercury astronauts, Glenn trained in 1960 at Lewis in the Multiple Axis Space Test Inertia Facility.

Others attending the tribute event include agency officials, Ohio astronauts, NASA employees and contractors, elected officials, several hundred high school students throughout northeast Ohio, and 100 Twitter followers selected to participate in a day-long Tweetup event that includes tours of NASA Glenn and its visitor center at the Great Lakes Science Center.

Following the program, Glenn, Bolden and Lugo will participate in a news media opportunity and question and answer session with the Tweetup participants. Reporters interested in covering the program and media availability should contact Lori Rachul at 216-433-8806 by noon on Thursday, March 1.

The program and media opportunity will be carried live on NASA Television and streamed online at:

http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

An interactive online feature about the Mercury program and Glenn’s flight is available at:

http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/glenn50

For more information about NASA Glenn, visit:

http://www.grc.nasa.gov

Source: NASA

First-Ever Image of Charge Distribution in a Single Molecule

IBM scientists were able to measure for the first time how charge is distributed within a single molecule. This breakthrough will enable fundamental scientific insights into single-molecule switching and bond formation between atoms and molecules. The ability to image the charge distribution within functional molecular structures holds great promise for future applications such as solar photoconversion, energy storage, or molecular scale computing devices (this has inherent potential within multiple astronomy related areas including potentially astrobiology).

As reported recently in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, scientists Fabian Mohn, Leo Gross, Nikolaj Moll and Gerhard Meyer of IBM Research succeeded in imaging the charge distribution within a single molecule by using a special kind of atomic force microscopy called Kelvin probe force microscopy at low temperatures and in ultrahigh vacuum.

“This work demonstrates an important new capability of being able to directly measure how charge arranges itself within an individual molecule,” states Michael Crommie, Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley. “Understanding this kind of charge distribution is critical for understanding how molecules work in different environments. I expect this technique to have an especially important future impact on the many areas where physics, chemistry, and biology intersect.”

The new technique provides complementary information about the molecule, showing different properties of interest. This is reminiscent of medical imaging techniques such as X-ray, MRI, or ultrasonography, which yield complementary information about a person’s anatomy and health condition.

The discovery could be used to study charge separation and charge transport in so-called charge-transfer complexes. These consist of two or more molecules and hold tremendous promise for applications such as computing, energy storage or photovoltaics.  In particular, the technique could contribute to the design of molecular-sized transistors that enable more energy efficient computing devices ranging from sensors to mobile phones to supercomputers.

“This technique provides another channel of information that will further our understanding of nanoscale physics. It will now be possible to investigate at the single-molecule level how charge is redistributed when individual chemical bonds are formed between atoms and molecules on surfaces,” explains Fabian Mohn of the Physics of Nanoscale Systems group at IBM Research – Zurich. “This is essential as we seek to build atomic and molecular scale devices.”

Gerhard Meyer, a senior IBM scientist who leads the scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) and atomic force microscopy (AFM) research activities at IBM Research – Zurich adds, “The present work marks an important step in our long term effort on controlling and exploring molecular systems at the atomic scale with scanning probe microscopy.”

For his outstanding work in the field, Meyer recently received a European Research Council Advanced Grant. These prestigious grants support “the very best researchers working at the frontiers of knowledge” in Europe.*

Taking a closer look

To measure the charge distribution, IBM scientists used an offspring of AFM called Kelvin probe force microscopy (KPFM).

When a scanning probe tip is placed above a conductive sample, an electric field is generated due to the different electrical potentials of the tip and the sample. With KPFM this potential difference can be measured by applying a voltage such that the electric field is compensated. Therefore, KPFM does not measure the electric charge in the molecule directly, but rather the electric field generated by this charge. The field is stronger above areas of the molecule that are charged, leading to a greater KPFM signal. Furthermore, oppositely charged areas yield a different contrast because the direction of the electric field is reversed. This leads to the light and dark areas in the micrograph (or red and blue areas in colored ones).

Naphthalocyanine, a cross-shaped symmetric organic molecule which was also used in IBM’s single-molecule logic switch**, was found to be an ideal candidate for this study. It features two hydrogen atoms opposing each other in the center of a molecule measuring only two nanometers in size. The hydrogen atoms can be switched controllably between two different configurations by applying a voltage pulse. This so-called tautomerization affects the charge distribution in the molecule, which redistributes itself between opposing legs of the molecules as the hydrogen atoms switch their locations.

Using KPFM, the scientists managed to image the different charge distributions for the two states. To achieve submolecular resolution, a high degree of thermal and mechanical stability and atomic precision of the instrument was required over the course of the experiment, which lasted several days.

Moreover, adding just a single carbon monoxide molecule to the apex of the tip enhanced the resolution greatly. In 2009, the team has already shown that this modification of the tip allowed them to resolve the chemical structures of molecules with AFM. The present experimental findings were corroborated by first-principle density functional theory calculations done by Fabian Mohn together with Nikolaj Moll of the Computational Sciences group at IBM Research – Zurich.

Image Credit: IBM Research

Reference:

Mohn, F., Gross, L., Moll, N., & Meyer, G. (2012). Imaging the charge distribution within a single molecule Nature Nanotechnology DOI: 10.1038/NNANO.2012.20

* cited from the ERC press release, January 24, 2012:http://erc.europa.eu/sites/default/files/press_release/files/press_release_adg2011_results.pdf

** P. Liljeroth, J. Repp, and G. Meyer, “Current-Induced Hydrogen Tautomerization and Conductance Switching of Naphthalocyanine Molecules” , Science 317, p.1203–1206 (2007), DOI: 10.1126/science.1144366

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Let’s Explore Solar System Seismic Activity

Volcanoes: Io (which is slightly larger than the Earth

The U.S. Geological survey estimates that Earth experiences several million earthquakes and around 50 volcanic eruptions every year. But ours is not the only cosmic body that experiences seismic activity: ongoing exploration of the Solar System and the Universe by astronomers and other scientists indicates that volcanic eruptions and quakes (some similar to those on Earth and others vastly different) have been observed on our Moon as well as a growing list of planets, exo-moons, and stars within our galaxy.

The term seismic activity refers to the propagation and movement of elastic waves, called seismic waves, through a planetary body due to perturbations deep beneath its surface or in its upper layers. These waves cause quakes — the shaking and rolling motions that shifts a planet’s upper crust and surface. Quakes can have numerous causes; on Earth, movement of the tectonic plates that make up the planet’s surface, and the molten rock in the mantle beneath it, is the primary cause of earthquakes here at home.

On other bodies within the Solar System including our sun, seismic activity can be caused by other processes as well.  Tidal forces, pressures from cold gases and the roiling of the outer layers of a star can create movements which produce seismic waves, some capable of causing quakes and eruptions many times stronger than those observed on Earth.

The planets of our Solar System can be grouped according to their shared features and distance from the Sun.  The inner planets –Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars — orbit close to the Sun and are composed primarily of rock, with a solid outer crust.  Beyond Mars, the “gas giants” Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune consist largely of hydrogen, ammonia and methane gases around a small, solid core.

Because the inner planets, Earth’s closest neighbors in space, share a hard crust and an originally molten core, all show evidence of volcanic activity. Even tiny Mercury, closest to the Sun, reveals features characteristic of past eruptions.  Photographs and probes of Venus, with its hot cloudy atmosphere, and dry cold Mars also show fault lines, volcanic mountains and ancient lava flows indicating a seismically active past, when planetary cores were hotter and more liquid.

Composed largely of gasses, the outer planets lack a surface crust and a volatile molten core — key features necessary for large-scale planetary seismic activity.  However, in January 2011, advances in asteroseismology (the study of seismic activity on stars) delivered a surprise:  seismic waves were detected on Jupiter, whose composition – liquids and gases around a small rocky core – actually resembles that of the sun.

A variety of factors cause quakes on our moon and others in the Solar System, where evidence of past and present seismic activity has been captured in photographs.  Quakes on our own solitary Moon are caused not by movement of tectonic plates or lava, but by the pull of Earth’s gravity and the expansion of the moon’s cold crust when sunlight returns to its surface after the long lunar night, which lasts 14 Earth days.

Jupiter’s large moon Io experiences extensive seismic activity due to internal friction caused by Jupiter’s gravitational pull. Images of Io, Neptune’s moon Triton and Enceladus, a large moon of Saturn, also reveal evidence of massive cryovolcanic eruptions – explosions caused by pressures of cold or frozen gases beneath the moon’s surface.

Since stars consist primarily of gases, seismic waves observed on stars are believed to originate from turbulence in the outer, convective zone rather than the core. Some of these “star quakes” generate enough energy to cause the entire star to vibrate like a bell. Although our Sun is of course a star, helioseismology (from Greek, Helios: sun), a subspecialty of asteroseismology, focuses on the seismic activity detected there. A solar flare can generate sunquakes, some of which produce energy equivalent to earthquakes of magnitude 11 or stronger.

Beyond the orbit of Neptune, the Kuiper Belt is a region of small icy objects thought to be remnants from the formation of the Solar System. Although Kuiper Belt objects are composed largely of ices such as methane and ammonia, some hints of seismic activity can be observed even there. At 783 miles (1260 km) wide — large enough to have its own name — the Kuiper Belt Object Quaour has an observable surface area containing features suggestive of cryovolcanic changes.

Although conditions on our Earth are ripe for frequent quakes and eruptions, ongoing exploration and observation of the Solar System and the universe beyond reveal that, at least as far as seismic activity is concerned, we truly are not alone in the cosmos.

Image Credit: SOHO/NASA

Reference:

Martínez-Oliveros, J., Moradi, H., Besliu-Ionescu, D., Donea, A., Cally, P., & Lindsey, C. (2007). From Gigahertz to Millihertz: A Multiwavelength Study of the Acoustically Active 14 August 2004 M7.4 Solar Flare Solar Physics, 245 (1), 121-139 DOI: 10.1007/s11207-007-9004-8

A. Grigahcène, M.-A. Dupret, S. G. Sousa, M. J. P. F. G. Monteiro, R. Garrido, R. Scuflaire, & M. Gabriel (2011). Towards precise asteroseismology of solar-like stars Astrophysics and Space Science Proceedings series (ASSP) DOI: arXiv:1112.5961
Sibani, P., & Christiansen, S. (2008). Thermal shifts and intermittent linear response of aging systems Physical Review E, 77 (4) DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevE.77.041106

Sibani, P., & Christiansen, S. (2008). Thermal shifts and intermittent linear response of aging systems Physical Review E, 77 (4) DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevE.77.041106

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