Preparing for the Solar Eclipse

On Monday, August 21, 2017, the United States is in for a celestial treat!  The Moon is going to pass between the Sun and the Earth.  For part of the United States along the Path of Totality, the Moon will completely block the Sun for about two minutes and 40 seconds although the Moon will be partially blocking the sun for a much longer period.  Find the time and duration for your city at https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/in/@4548267.

The Path of Totality is approximately 70 miles wide and is going to be a path that includes parts of Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.  Because the Earth rotates about an axis, the exact timing of totality for any given city or location is going to be different.  Lincoln Beach, Oregon will be the first to experience totality at 10:16 am PDT and Charleston, South Carolina will be the last to experience totality at approximately 2:48 pm EDT.

The last total solar eclipse viewable from the contiguous U.S. was in 1979.  Solar eclipses occur on average once every 18 months.  But, because of the shape Moon’s orbit about the Earth, the Moon’s position relative to the Sun and the Earth changes, affecting the specific location and duration of the solar eclipse.  Because they do not occur in the same location, a solar eclipse seems like a rare event, and for specific locations like Dallas, Texas it may be 400 years between total solar eclipses.  (The next scheduled total eclipse viewable from Dallas will be predicted to be April 8, 2024, and the last one was Oct. 23, 1623.)  While conversely, Denver, Colorado had a total eclipse on July 29, 1878, and will see another one on Aug. 12, 2045, which is only 167 years apart.

What will you see?  First, DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY INTO THE SUN, as the Sun’s intensity can damage the eye.  But, there are many other ways to watch the event.  Special viewing glasses are available at viewing events or ordering them online.  These glasses are designed to filter out the harmful rays to allow for safe viewing.   There are indirect ways to view the event as well.  (Here is a link to the NASA Safety webpage https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety)

You can build a solar viewer, which is essentially a pinhole projector. This can be done by using a piece of paper, cardboard or cardstock.  Make a tiny hole with a needle, straight pin, or thumb tack.  The hole should be round and smooth.  With your back towards the Sun, hold the piece of paper with the hole and project the image of the Sun onto another sheet of paper or concert (this is your screen).  The size of the image will be dependent upon the distance between the paper and your screen. (https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/make-pinhole-projector.html)  Caught without a piece of paper?  The leaves of a tree can act as your pinhole view as well as use laced fingers.  Using fingers or leaves, you are likely to get multiple images of the event.  You can build a pinhole camera viewer as well, see https://www.livescience.com/59721-solar-eclipse-viewer-photo-tutorial.html?utm_source=notification. With the viewer, you may be able to film the event with your phone camera.  The key here is to watch the event safely.

Want more details about the eclipse?  You can go to NASA’s eclipse website: https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/eclipse-who-what-where-when-and-how.  It has links to maps and other information about this upcoming event.

NOTE:  A version of this post will appear in the Midweek of the Ponca City News on August 9, 2017.

Engaging with the written word

Have you thought about how you engage with the written word?  Sometimes, it is words combined with pictures on a screen – Instagram, memes, blogs, etc.  Sometimes, it is a personal experience with paper and pen.  Sometimes, it is a tactile experience with a magazine, book or newspaper.  The written word can appear in a glance, or can be deeply pondered.  But, it has become apparent that how we engage with the written word is very different that it used to be.  And, may be highly dependent on how the information is presented.

Blog post graphic book

During the past week, I have encountered numerous stories discussing how reading has changed.  How we as learners, educators, and consumers of the written word interact with the messages and ideas being conveyed.  Our society has changed.  We read mostly in snippets, brief interactions.  And, this is driven by our devices: computers, smart phones, tablets, billboards, ads, etc.  We may or may not actively engage with a more complex reading format: a longer article, or a book.

This change in reading behavior presents a significant challenge to educators, how do we get students engaged with the text to think more deeply about an idea?  How do we get individuals to really comprehend the information being presented? How do we encourage an imagination?  There is obviously no clear answer.

Add to this the fear of the summer time reading slump, i.e. not reading over the summer; and we have to consider how individuals engage with reading.  For parents, there are some resources that are available.  Local summer reading programs at the public library.  Many school systems send home summer reading lists.  And, then there are organizations like Reading is Fundamental or Unite for Literacy. So, access to reading is available.  The trick is to engage in the activity.

Reading is a skill that needs practice.  We also need to engage in different types of reading, because our comprehension skills are different based upon method of interaction with the words.  It is time to encourage some quite time with a physical book in addition to reading an e-book.  We also need to engage in the act of writing, note taking, and pondering.  Perhaps if we do that more ideas and solutions may appear.

Happy New Year – Return to Normal?

Frosty Field

All of us have this definition of normal.  With the holidays completed, there is this sense that we are going to return to normal.  But, what is that?  Really, what we are saying is that we are returning to that ordinary state of routine.  For families with children, this means that we are returning to a school routine.

January is also a time when we reassess our school year goals and set some new goals as well.  So, what are your goals for the remainder of winter and into spring?  Have you though about adding some science activities?  January is actually a great time to look at your science curriculum.

The homeschooling catalogs will be coming out soon.  So, it is a great time to start thinking.  But, there are other resources that come out during January.  Here are some good ones to start your creative juices flowing:

Astronomy

Sky and Telescope has come out with their 2015 Observing Calendars and Information.  There are other sites as well – the Sea and Sky has their Celestial Events Calendar  out as well as Stargazing Tonight.

Science Fairs

It is time to think about those science fair projects (if you haven’t already started).  The International Science and Engineering Fair is in May – and students are required to participate in qualifying fairs.  You can find information about affiliated science fairs here. Many local fairs are in February – so if  you haven’t found your dates – it is time to look.

Global Science Events

Every year there are a number of scientific and medical meetings held around the world.  And while, they may not be directed toward you and your family personally, many of these meetings have auxiliary events.  For example, the American Chemical Society which will be meeting in Denver in March and in Boston in August usually supports a science activity for families and school children as part of their meeting.  Thus, looking to see if one of these events is coming to your area may inspire an activity or a lesson plan.  You can find one listing of Science Events here.

Weather and Climate

In addition to astronomy, there is also sky watching as related to weather, clouds, climate, etc.  Winter is a great time to look for the Aurora Borealis – you can find the forecast for viewing here. Of course there are a number of sites that follow weather – there is the NOAA.gov and Weather.com.  These should provide you with lots of activities.

Check out the Calendar

Earth Science Week  – has extended their celebration to the entire year.  National Engineering Week is February 22-28, 2015 and information can be found here.  Earth Day is April 22 and many professional societies have activities planned.  Pi Day is March 14 and this year is special because of the year.  (You might also search STEM activities – UCF is holding a STEM Day on Jan. 30, 2015, and STEM Saturdays are being held at Northern Illinois University. There are a host of other Colleges and Universities that are doing STEM outreach – so checking your local community college, or other higher learning institution may also provide you with inspiration.)

Finally, watch the museum and library calendars you never know what might turn up there.

Drought

Drought.  What immediately comes to mind?  If you live west of the Mississippi River in the United States, water or lack there of is usually the first image that occurs.  This morning’s news indicated that while California is getting some much needed rain, an estimated 6 to 7 inches over the next few days, they need over 47 inches to make up for the extended drought that is currently taking place in that region.

States like Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado are very familiar with drought.  And even though this past year has helped – there are still areas behind in precipitation.  The Oklahoma and Texas still have a number of counties that are listed as being in a severe drought.  Still, it is not the worst it has ever been that distinction, for North America,  is still held by 1934.  (See a Science News Article) {The current United States Drought Map can be found here and current world conditions can be found here.}  Water is a very precious commodity that many take for granted, yet wars have been fought over it.  Boundaries are defined by it.  And, movies plots are based on it – Interstellar, 2014; Leap of Faith, 1992, and The Man who Fell to Earth, 1976.

Because of this natural link to water, which is required for our very survival.  The word drought is a very powerful thing.  There can be droughts of kindness, droughts of thought, and a drought of feeling.  In today’s society, as evidenced by just turning on the television and watching the news; there is a drought of understanding and connection to ones own neighbor, and potentially even to ones self.  We have lost our sense of connection both to others and to our natural world.

It is time to reconnect.  To make the links between where the water from the tap or the milk in the refrigerator comes from.  It is not just a pipe or the local grocery store.  For water there is a grand cycle – rain to ground to ponds, creeks rivers, underground reservoirs, and oceans, then evaporation back to clouds and back to rain.  Yet, for its presence; too much can be a hazard, in the form of snow or excess rain, and too little have a huge impact.  Almost 800 million people (water.org) do not have access to clean water.

During this season, let us begin to reconnect.  Make links.  Show connections between individuals. Show the things that we have in common, rather than our differences.  Look at cycles.  Look for chances to renew bonds.  Look for the good and fulfilling – rather than the barrenness that drought in all its forms brings.

Success vs Failure

Most of us have at least one or to stories about great failures or unrecognized genius. Common names that come to mind are Ford, Macy, Honda, Disney, Gates, Einstein, Goddard, Schultz, and Seuss Giesel. These individuals have become part of the common lore. Success doesn’t always come in a conventional way. These individuals had what at the time were perceived as radical ideas and were told it wouldn’t work or there was no market, or that they were …. You fill in the blank. While these individuals have been inspirations for current generations – who came before? What ideas were presented as success after failures??

Turns out that history has quite a few examples of success after abject failure or what may have been perceived as failures. And, with these the mix of huge successes seemly out of nowhere. Take for example, the development of electricity and ultimately electromagnetic theory and quantum mechanics. There is a wonderful website that outlines a brief timeline of history. This timeline isn’t just about the observations, discoveries, and inventions as they relate to electricity – but it also conveys the foibles of individuals, the narrow view of the world, egos, money, and ultimately a history of society through the development of something that most don’t even think about anymore.

If you live in the United States – you probably think that electricity was a discovery of Benjamin Franklin. It is not the case, he was just continuing a tradition of scientific inquiry; but he is responsible for the selection of the direction of current (turns out he picked wrong, but we carry on with this assumption to this day). The scientific inquiry started with the Greeks or at least that is Western view. Because of the lack of documentation – who knows what was happening in Eastern Cultures or in Persia?

For those of you interested, the traditional view of electricity shows that Bradley, Gray, du Fray and others made observations of “static” electricity and in 1745, two years before Benjamin Franklin, Leyden Jars were invented. A Leyden Jar is a device that “stores” static electricity, a type of capacitor.

The story continues mixed with heated debates, creation of new languages, the language of science mathematics, and competitions. Laplace, Lagrange, and Gauss are all working toward explaining observed phenomena, but today are better known as mathematicians than scientists. (Of course, during this period they weren’t scientists either, but Natural Philosophers.) And, electricity wasn’t even the really big topic of the time, it was light and optics. The electrical observations were asides, interesting phenomena.

The 1840’s and 50’s appear to have been a hot bed of debate in science. You have Lord Kelvin (William Thompson), Henry, Faraday, Doppler, Helmholtz, and Kirchoff all working to explain various phenomena. New ideas about the nature of light – is it the same or different than sound? And, a couple of very radical ideas emerge – heat is a form of energy, and energy is conserved. These are two key ideas in the understanding of how the universe works. These ideas are so radical that the esteemed publication of the time Annalen der Physik rejects them for publication (Mayer in 1842 and Helmholtz in 1847). Yet, today these ideas are fundamental to physics and chemistry. They are fundamental to the development of much of our everyday life: the power we use to get us from point A to point B, devices we turn on with a flip of a switch, and allow us to travel to the edge of the solar system and land on comets. Yet, the ideas were initially rejected as “too speculative.”

These were the role models for Maxwell (mathematician/physicist), Planck, and Einstein. Which of course are the role models for Fermi, Feynman, Bohr, Rutherford, Oppenheimer, and the list goes on.

The history of electricity – is our history, It shows the development of us as a society. It has its ups and downs. Its disputes. Its family feuds. Its “I’ll prove you wrong”. And, ultimately our acknowledgements of who has the last say (at least for now). The question now is – what is that fundamental concept that has already been presented – that has been discounted by the knowledgeable establishment?

October is…… And, the winner is ……

You could say that October is Science Month!

Next week features the announcements of the Nobel Prizes.  So, look for a number of science related stories and features from various science organizations and businesses.  You can anticipate that the news will be filled with science applications connected to the winners of the Prizes in medicine, chemistry and physics.

Additionally, October generally features announcements for various science competitions.  Check out the Intel, Siemens and other notable companies as they begin to announce their regional and national activities.  (You can also check out Discovery Channel, National Geographic, and Science Channel – for many activities, lesson plans, etc.)  There are sites with monthly themes such as the Siemens Science Day in addition to topic specific sites.

ncw-candy-banner

October features National Chemistry Week (October 19-25, 2014).  This years theme is the Sweet Side of Chemistry – Candy.  There are a number of activities planned around the United States.  These will be hosted by Local Sections of the American Chemical Society, as well as Student Chemistry Clubs.  You can find teacher resources and associated materials at the American Chemical Society NCW website.  Of particular note – related to this NCW topic – was the dedication of the second National Chemical Historic Landmark related to the production of sugar on October 1.  This Landmark recognizes the work of Rachel Holloway Lloyd, a woman chemist.  (The first recognized the work of Norbert Rillieux, whose birth record states “Norbert Rillieux, quadroon libre, natural son of Vincent Rillieux and Constance Vivant. Born March 17, 1806. Baptized in St. Louis Cathedral by Pere Antoine.”  More information about the work and life of Rillieux can be found here.)

October is a great time for slime, glowing science, bubbling punch, and other fun home/class experiments.  Take a few minutes to do a quick search of the American Chemical Society education resources while you are looking at the Sweet Side of Chemistry – to find a bunch of “goolish” fun activities.  (You can also find sites related to Zombies, Bone Chilling Science, Vampires, and even a bit of graveyard science.)

Have fun and don’t forget to stay safe!  (PS if you need safety resources you can always pick up a copy of Staying Safe while Conducting Hands-On Science.)