Month in STEM: October 2014

October is heading to close, and we’ve got you covered with the latest in STEM news for the month. We’re keeping things a little creepy to celebrate Halloween. From ghostly stars to creepy critters that help solve crimes, here are some of our top picks.

The Animal Kingdom IconAnimal Kingdom

A new report recently came to light about the rapid evolution of a lizard species native to Florida in response to pressure from an invading Cuban species. Scientists have observed and documented this lizard species evolve in the relatively short span of 15 years and 20 generations.

After initial contact with the invasive species, native lizards, called Carolina anoles, began perching higher in trees. From one generation to another, their feet evolved to become better at gripping the thinner, smoother branches found in the higher parts of the trees. Now, their toe pads are larger and there are more sticky scales on their feet.

Researchers believe that the changes are a response to competition for food and living space. It’s also noted that both lizard species have been documented to eat the hatchlings of the other species. Thus, the ability to scale trees at a quicker pace may be the difference between getting to safety and becoming a meal. Read more here.

Under the Sea IconUnder the Sea

New science suggests that if you’re a leatherback sea turtle, staying on the plump size may make it easier to get around the ocean. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Florida Atlantic University (FAU), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have found that long and lean sea turtles are not as efficient swimmers as the ones that are more robust in size. To come to these conclusions, scientists measured the forces that act on a swimming animal and the energy that is expended by the animal to move through the water. After using their measurements and recreating an environment with virtual sea turtles and experimenting with different parameters, they found that rounder sea turtles are able to cover more ground while using up the same amount of energy as their skinnier counterparts. Read more here.

Forensics

We’re getting into the spirit of Halloween with this creepy video. Dead or alive, a body plays host to all sorts of organisms. There are innumerable types of flora that are naturally found on a person’s skin, as well as inside stomachs, noses, mouths and other body parts. But when a dead body begins to decompose, it also becomes a breeding ground for certain types of bugs that act as decomposers to return the body’s nutrients back to the earth. Knowledge of the life cycles of these bugs can help forensic scientists during crime scene investigation. Watch more here.

Medical Innovations IconMedical Innovations

Miniature human stomachs can now be grown in Petri dishes. By bathing stem cells in a concoction of chemicals that boost growth, scientists have managed to create clumps of gastric tissue the size of a pin head. Like normal human stomachs, the lab-grown stomach globs contain cells that are able to make mucus and pump hormones. Scientists are hoping to use the tissue to further study gastric diseases, such as stomach cancer. Read more here.

Robotics IconSpace

NASA’s Hubble Telescope has picked up the faint glow of stars that were ejected from ancient galaxies that were gravitationally wrenched apart several billion years ago. The “ghost lights” from the dead galaxies are no longer bound to any one galaxy. Instead, the stars drift freely between the nearly 500 galaxies in the cluster known as “Pandora’s Cluster”. By observing the light from the stray stars, scientists have gathered enough evidence to believe that as many as six galaxies were torn apart over the course of 6 billion years. Read more here.

Video Games IconTechnology

A team of scientists and engineers at the University of California recently created a new nanoparticle-based material that has the capacity to convert absorb and convert to heat more than 90% of the sunlight that it captures. It is also able to withstand temperatures of more than 700 degrees Celsius, and has the ability to withstand many years of outdoor exposure to air and humidity. In comparison, current solar absorbers have significantly shorter life spans, and are unable to function at higher temperatures. The type of energy that the material is harvesting is called concentrated solar power (CSP). The sun is still an emerging source of power, but it has a great deal of potential within the alternative energy market. CSP currently produces approximately 3.5 gigawatts worth of power at power plants around the globe, or the equivalent to the energy needed to power more than 2 million homes. Read more here.

Okay STEM lovers, what stories did you enjoy? What stories did we miss this month? We want to hear your thoughts!

CSI Day Camp Hits Long Beach, MS

On Thursday, October 16th, our STEM team hit the road and landed at Harper McCaughan Elementary School in Long Beach, MS to end our final Camp-for-a-Day with a bang!

This camp consisted of a fantastic group of 99 6th and 7th grade students from both Harper McCaughan Elementary School and Long Beach Middle School. These students gathered together to learn about the various scientific, technological, and mathematical skills that are utilized by CSI professionals.

After a brief introduction to the program, students were thrown into the throngs of a crime scene: a kidnapping had occurred and students were tasked with solving the mystery! Six middle school teachers helped guide the students through each step of the investigation. Throughout the day, students were given a rare glance into the world of CSI. Students were split up into three teams: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie. The teams were then steered through a series of activities involving paper chromatography, facial recognition, and fingerprint dusting, to narrow down their initial lineup to three suspects.

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Investigators narrowing down their suspects in the lineup.

Students enjoying a snack and learning about fingerprint patterns.

Our investigators were also treated to an exciting visit from the Keesler Air Force Base criminal investigation unit.

Students were pumped up by presenters from Keesler Air Force Base.

Crime scene suits provided by Keesler Air Force Base were a hot commodity.

Just when students thought they were about to finish up the case, another crime was committed. By utilizing the skills that they had learned throughout the day, the teams were able to determine that the two crimes were related and this helped them uncover the identity of the mysterious perpetrator!

We had such a fun time bringing our CSI Camp-for-a-Day program to another community and we are grateful for the equally enthusiastic participation from students, teachers, and school administrators. We want to give a special thanks to the 21 teachers who attended the teacher workshop the night before the event to learn the curriculum and take part in the camp. We are confident that this curriculum will continue to be shared and taught, and many other students will be able to learn how fun STEM can be for years to come!

Sustainability Highlight: Portland, OR

From conserving our planet’s resources to improving energy efficiency, there are many ways to live a greener lifestyle, and no city does this better than Portland, OR. This week, one of our staff members, Justina, took a trip to beautiful Portland to look into how ol’ Stumptown does sustainability with such ease. She took a closer look at the different types of initiatives that the city has taken to secure their spot on numerous top sustainable cities lists over the years.

Betting on Biking

How does biking help the environment?

Those who choose to bike are preventing the release of unnecessary carbon monoxide car emissions into the air. In addition to helping prevent air pollution, which can impact the respiratory health of the general population, biking has the added benefit of not being a contributing factor to global warming.

With 319 miles of bike ways currently on the ground, and another 50 miles slotted for installment within the next few years, the Rose City proves their dedication to sustainable living by providing easy, safe conditions for bicyclists to ride. Those bike paths certainly aren’t going to waste either. 6% of commuters in Portland choose to ride a bike instead of driving, which approximates to over 17,000 people who choose to bike to work. This percentage is significantly higher than anywhere else in the country. In fact, the national average for those who choose to ride to work is a mere 0.5%. Portland is so bike friendly that it was, in fact, named a “platinum” bike friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists and Bicycling magazine ranked it the #1 bike friendly city.

Traveling with TriMet

How does public transportation help the environment?

Besides alleviating traffic congestion that is often rampant in large cities, public transportation also takes the pressure off from air pollution and green house gas emissions.

TriMet, the public transportation system that includes the light rail system, as well as buses and streetcars, plays a major role in Portland’s green reputation. The extensive light rail systems were built using many recycled materials, and the TriMet places a huge emphasis on conserving fuel and reducing daily emissions. Naturescaping principles were also used in the landscaping in order to select plants that would thrive in an urban environment, and simultaneously use less water, pesticides and fertilizer.

Big Impact with Compact Trash

Solar Trash Compactor

How do trash compactors help the environment?

Solar trash compactors, like the ones found scattered throughout Portland, are completely self-powered, and by using an alternative energy source like the sun, energy efficiency improves drastically. In large cities where trash accumulates at a rapid pace, the compactors help compress the volume of trash to save on costs for garbage collection. Compacting the trash allows for fewer necessary garbage collection trips, which equates to less time that large garbage trucks are on the road, spewing out those green house gases.

Earth-Friendly Electric

How do electric vehicles (EV) help the environment?

From saving money on gas and reducing independence on imported oil, to preventing volatile compounds (VOCs) from being emitted into the atmosphere, we can all agree that EV take advantage of an amazing alternative car fuel source.

For those who choose to opt out of bicycling or public transportation in order to get around town, the Rose City has created incentives to sway people to buy and drive electric cars by providing free access to EV charging stations throughout the city.

If owning an EV isn’t your style, don’t fret! You can still be earth conscious by opting to participate in the various car share programs that are available and popular in Portland, like ZipCar or Car2Go, which ultimately relieves traffic congestion by taking more cars off the road.

Fresh & Local


How does buying local help the environment?

Portland has fantastic food, so it’s no surprise that it’s been lovingly nicknamed “foodie heaven”. Perhaps their restaurants’ impressive overall quality of food has something to do with the fact that a large number of Portland restaurants opt to use local ingredients. Portland is also known for it’s plethora of talented artisans who make and sell their own homemade or handmade products.

Besides supporting the local economy, choosing to buy local products lightens the load on air pollution caused by shipping and transporting products across the country or globe. The U.S. transports and ships $2.2 trillion worth of international goods every year, or the equivalent of 11 billion gallons of fuel and 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. Thus, industrial pollution makes up almost 50% of all pollution in the United States. By picking local products, you’re helping cut down on processing, packaging and transportation waste.

Okay STEM lovers, what did we miss? Any STEM Works fans in Portland? Leave your comment below!