Friday, July 31, 2009

Adventures on the High Seas with SEAPLEX

In search of……treasure, glorious plastic rubbish that is scientific treasure. Aaarrgh!

Seriously though, my BBFF (blogging best friend forever), Miriam G is headed out into the great vastness of the Pacific Ocean and leading her crew aboard the SEAPLEX - Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition. Their mission… “Seeking the Science of the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch”.

“From August 2-21, a group of doctoral students and research volunteers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego will embark on an expedition aboard the Scripps research vessel New Horizon to explore the problem of plastic in the North Pacific Gyre. The Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition (SEAPLEX) is the first of its kind and will focus on a suite of critical questions. How much plastic is accumulating, how is it distributed, and how is it affecting ocean life? The researchers hope to provide critical, timely data to policy makers and combine Scripps' long tradition of Pacific exploration with focus on a new and pressing environmental problem.”
[Emphasis mine]
Photo: Scripps Institution of Oceanography research vessel New Horizon off San Diego on May 6, 2009.

Doesn’t this sound like the most exciting research ever? I think so. This type of research is not only interested in whole communities –t he plants, animals, and microbes of the sea – but also the entire ecosystem – marine – and how we humans and our activities influence the marine ecosystem and its communities. Have you ever thought about what happens with all of our plastic trash we discard? What about those plastic bags from the grocery store? There always seems to be bags floating in the air, sailing across the ground…and where does it end? What about plastic containers from water bottles, laundry detergent, juice or other food items? Unlike paper or fiber containers, plastic doesn’t obey the ‘rules of decomposition’. It doesn’t easily break down, so it just sits there – or floats – forever and ever. Okay, not forever, but for a time much longer than we live, and we and discard plastic like running water, so we must begin to think about managing it when we’re done with it.

Photo: NOAA Marine Debris Program

Each day, the crew will post updates and let us all know how the weather is treating them, how the sampling goes, and what they are finding. I love how we are able to follow their progress and get a chance to observe a ‘real-life scientific expedition’ in progress. I’m looking forward to it all.

Join me in following SEAPLEX on its High Seas Adventures!

Visit and subscribe to the Blog:
Follow their every move and discovery at Twitter: @seaplexscience

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dissertation Progress....and other things

As you all know, I've been feverishly working on my dissertation - analyzing data, writing manuscripts, and revising as needed according to my lab mates and committee's suggestions. It's been a hectic summer. Each week, I set the goal of completing the whole she-bang thing. That hasn't happened, but I make progress - very important and fundamental progress to meeting that ultimate goal.

And if you also follow me on Facebook or Twitter, then you know of my daily cycles of frustrations and near-tear episodes of feeling hopeless. These last weeks have been especially trying. All of my friends, relations, and supporters (on-line and offline) have been so great and encouraging...Thank ya'll! And last week I read this really great blog post - Twelve reasons to finish writing your dissertation by Dr. Free Ride - whom I had the pleasure of meeting earlier this year at ScienceOnline09 - and I was feeling like - "Yeah! I can do it. I will do it!"

However, I will not be ill not be able to defend in August like I so desperately wanted. I depart for France in the middle of the month so I'll have to defend when I return - in September. Yeah, I'm going to France, I think I meant to write a post about it but didn't. I am presenting a paper at the 31st International Ethological Conference held in Rennes, France. Ethology is the study of animal behavior in their natural habitats. I was invited to participate in a symposium all about animal personality and behavioral syndromes. I'll be presenting my dissertation at this conference, so that is one of the many reasons why I have been so keen on making sure my results and interpretations are right on. I'll be the only non-professor participating in this conference - heavy hitters - and I'm presenting an opposing view, so I want to make sure I am spot on and ready for the critiques. But I still think I'll be able to pull off a committee meeting before leaving, giving me some much needed preparation for the meeting, assuming I can get them all in the room at the same time. Plus, my remaining dissertation chapters are shaping up. There's been a lot of surgery, deleting parts and analysis, simply because it just doesn't stick to the main point. The good news is that I will have several extra publications.

I'm also still in to win it for the Blog Your Way to Antarctica contest. I'm still in the top 10, but the competition is intense. Positions 2-6 have seen alot of juggling. I need 3000 votes to get into first place. The contest continues until September 30th, so there is time. But my first priority is completing my dissertation and if things go as planned, I'll be defending the dissertation by the time the results of this contest is in. LOL! And though I am trailing in votes I am amazed my the role of social media and it's ability to reach so many different people so quickly. I know thousands of people have heard of this contest and of my efforts simply because of the forwarded emails, Facebook status updates, Friendfeeds, Re-tweets, and blog posts of dozens of people -many of whom I do not even know personally. I am especially grateful for the support from the SITS, BlogHer, and Blogging While Brown blogging communities. Individuals from each of these group have re-tweeted or posted announcements on my behalf and some have even posted full articles for me. Cynthia at A Shimmy in Spirit is even hosting a comment contest to encourage her readers to vote for me, too! By Voting for me and leaving a comment at her blog, you could win a $25 Starbucks card (and more). Click on the image below and learn about the contest. I just love the image, btw - a brown buxom girl with a wintry scene and coffee cup in hand. That is SO me! How does she know me so well and we've never met? Friends in real life, please testify.

So as much as I would love to go to Antarctica, I'm more excited about sharing what I do - science and nature appreciation with a wider online audience. I hope all of these new eyes will stop by Urban Science Adventures! (c) and stay.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Urban Wildlife Watch: Marine Mammals

Living in the middle of the United States, I often forget that major coastal cities experience a variety of urban wildlife that seems exotic to me. I am especially thinking of marine life such as dolphins, whales, sharks, sea turtles, seals, crabs, sea birds, and the like. I image it must be a very beautiful site to see these creatures while enjoying a day at the beach or strolling along the boardwalk.

photo credit: The website -the Biz Levity files

However, I am also reminded that anywhere people and thriving natural ecosystems meet, human-animal conflicts are also likely to occur. Observing urban wildlife can be wonderful, but some animals we only ever really notice them after they have died. I think of how commonly I come across dead opossums and raccoons as opposed to living ones. **Warning, previous link includes a real pictures of road kill.** Roadkill can be disgusting, but for hard to observe animals it's the best way for scientists and naturalists to prove an animal lives in a certain area. It also presents us with a chance to study the animal, learn more about it's anatomy and physiology, eating habits, and what diseases, parasites, and microbes it is vulneable to and successful against. We can use this information to create policy and make recommendations to government and non-government agencies. Plus, it presents the general public a chance to see an animal close-up. Recently, a fin whale was discovered dead beneath the bow of a cruise ship preparing to dock in Vancouver, Canada. Ship Docks With Dead Fin Whale on Bow. (Check it out the link includes a short video from an observer at the scene.)

photo credit: The Greenlight Show blog - an Environmental Radio show aimed at young audiences in Melbourne, Australia

Though many of us may not think of whales are urban wildlife, they indeed can be (There's college text book about them). Think about all of the urban areas along the northern coasts of the east and west sides of the North American continent. Sightings of whales and orkas were recorded there for a few hundred years. And think about the fishing and whaling towns in the same areas. However, this is the largest case of roadkill imagineable, but if you checked out the National Geographic special on the Blue Whale, it discussed this very problem. Much bigger ships - like cargo ships and cruise ships - are travelling along routes in the sea that intersect with the traditional swimming routes of these fantastic creatures, including threatened species like the fin whale.

At the very least, I hope we gain some important insight into the biology of the species and continue a dialogue about how we humans might successfully coexist with our beautiful wild cousins - both marine and terrestrial.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Year of Science - July commemorates Astronomy

image credit: NASA

Year of Science (YoS) is a special international outreach program of the scientific community to engage the general public is discussions and hands-on activities. Each month a different scientific topic is highlighted and local YoS partners conduct programs and interacts with the public. It’s great! This month-long outreach program is an intersection of the Year of Science and The International Year of Astronomy 2009 and together both Celebrate Astronomy throughout the month of July.

As explained on the Year of Science website, Astronomy is the oldest field of science, dating back to early man watching the night sky, developing calendars, navigating ocean routes, and the recent travel into space. And this has been a landmark week in Astronomy and Planetary Sciences.

July 20, 2009 is the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon. NPR had Dr. Bernard Harris on Tell Me More to discuss his space walk in 1995. He also discussed his outreach program – The Harris Foundation Summer Science Camp.
It is a summer academic program for middle-school students to engage in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). There are science camp programs all over the U.S. and as I just learned in my town of St. Louis. Click here for a list of participating campuses and look into having a youngster you know participate in the future. How did I miss this? I’m all about the outreach. If you all need to expand your summer camp faculty in the future, then call me.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009 there are a solar eclipse, best seen in Asia. The accounts of the event sounded beautiful. See the image provided by NASA below. Read more about it here.

Today, July 23, 2009, I heard a story on NPR about an amateur astronomer in Australia who discovered an impact spot of a comet on Jupiter. Anthony Wesley was doing his routine sky watching and made a discovery that rivals that of professional scientists and space science programs like NASA.

Citizen Science rocks!

Me at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Illinois.

Hey, BlogHer conference attendees check this cool science museum out.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Tackling Dissertation Data

This is my life right now. I've printed a ream of paper (no kidding, almost 500 sheets of paper) in the last week with clear end in site. I still have two more dissertation chapters to analyze and write.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Wildlife among us

A lady beetle on a locust tree.

A toad along the road -rather, walking path of Forest Park.

Juvenile raccoon stuck in a trash can (at Forest Park). The summer nature camp kids discovered it. It was a real treat for them to see such a 'wild animal' in the city. We quietly tilted the can over and released it when the kids left.

A blurry image of a groundhog (a.k.a. woodchuck) in an open lot at the corner of Manchester and Hanley in St. Louis. I pulled over onto the gravel lot, jumped out the car, zoomed in and caught these images. The drivers on the very busy street thought I was crazy.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Blogging Contests update - I'm in 7th Place!

Wow! Things are shaking up in the Blog Your Way to Antarctica contest! Each day, new people throw their hats in and many of them are terribly interesting folk...and funny, too.

I've been keeping my eye on the competition, especially the fast movers -which include me P. Harris (@twitchhiker), M. Menzuel, and B. Cohen. Though I still have many votes to get to get in the lead, I've been keeping my eyes on my fellow 2nd pack breakers.

That's because positions 1-4 had been relatively static since the contests began (June 23, 2009) - with each of them adding a modest # of votes daily to keep their respective places.

But over the weekend the jockeying intensified. 1st place guy, L. Monterio crossed the 1000 votes barrier making his lead even bigger. M. Theiss moved into 3rd place Saturday knocking A. Thomas to 4th place. And yesterday morning I discovered he's knocked GrrlScientist out of her firm 2nd place position. Oh, He wants it...but not as badly as I do.

Friday afternoon, I was in 13th place. I set a weekend goal of adding 200 votes. I nearly reached it, failing short by only 25 votes. As of right now I am solidly in 7th place and knocking on 6th place. I only need 7 more votes!

All of this can't be done without the gracious support (and votes) from my online community.
So here is my shout list.
  • My Facebook Friends - including family members, college friends, and facebook groups. You can click on the link to "friend me"
  • Twitterville supporters - #bwb #stl Tweeps especially - You can follow me on Twitter as @FeteSociety, where I most tweet about St. Louis social events. (I wear a couple of different blog hats, if you didn't know).
  • Blogging While Brown Conference attendees and supporters.
  • Stress Free Friday - a social networking group in St. Louis
  • Missouri Botanical Garden Young Friends -an extra big hug and kiss go out to Andrea, Lynn, and Benjamin. They've been re-posting announcements like crazy!

Plus, I have an online entourage. (No, not really, I just think it sounds clever); But I have been mentioned by other websites and blogs supporting me.

Thanks, Thanks, Thanks. The contest continues until September 30th so the campaigning must continue. If you're interested in supporting me, please email me. I can provide a widget or an email with more info about the contest and links!

But wait there's more...

The 2009 Black Weblog Awards nominations are still open until Saturday, July 25, 2009. That's eleven more days to submit your nominations for Urban Science Adventures! © as the Best Science/Technology Blog. Click the image below.

My site was nominated for a Black Weblog Award!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Adventures from Summer Camp

Forest Park Summer Youth Program (a.k.a Summer Nature Camp) has come to an end. I wish it were a little longer. Having more money would be great, plus I got some really great experience in informal science education and outreach. It really was a perfect fit for me - urban ecology and inner-city kids.

The first day was a bit rough, though. It was a miserably hot day and the Boys & Girls Club kids weren't really sure what "nature camp" would be like. By the second day, things were better. They were enjoying themselves, playing the games, and digging the raccoon circles. Plus, it helped that all the stuff we promised them that they would see and experience started to happen -- fishing, seeing wild animals, pointing out interesting plants, flowers, and bugs.

In our wrap-up discussion, one of the things we (camp counselors) discussed was how effective we've been in reaching these kids. We think the camp was a hit and the kids really seemed to enjoy it. My heart was all happy when they reached out to hug me as they departed, boys tussling over wanting to sit next to me on the bus, when they say thank you at the end of the trip, when they would point out some great scientific concept, and exclamations of "best field trip, ever".

One of the reasons we think it went over so well was the fact that the kids were younger, 6-10 years of age. In previous years, the program worked with a wider range of ages -kids from 6-14 years old. The older kids often complained, so the Club directors decided to let them skip camp this year.

But what happens with kids once they hit those middle & high school ages? Yes, many become easily bored, so engagement is the key. My previous informal science education experiences have been with teenagers and I've always felt that those ages were consistently neglected in informal science education. So what to do?

We decided if there were money for it, there should be a second Forest Park Summer Youth Program for kids ages 11-14 (Camp II). That way they wouldn't have to co-mingle with the younger kids. This would also let them experience something new if they had attended the summer nature camp in the past. We'd also let them choose to participate. Unlike the younger kids, summer nature camp is obligatory. This would allow for smaller group sizes and more one-on-one interaction with the counselor(s). Finally, Camp II would be more hands-on and investigative, like the F.E.A.R. Factor (Future Ecologists As Researchers) program I and Lyndell Bade founded at the University of Missouri-St Louis, a while back. Teens from local high schools spent the summer exploring urban ecology, wildlife, plants and human-impact questions in local parks, including Forest Park.

Looks like were on to a great idea, too bad limited funds always kills these things. So, if you're a Science Education/Urban Education/Science Outreach Benefactor shoot me and Lyndell a note.

Enjoy the pictures from camp.

Headed out on a hike - Powder Valley Nature. We went on A LOT of hikes!
(Photo by Elena Porcelli)

Girls doing science! Stream ecology, looking for macroinvertebrates in the water at Powder Valley Nature Area. (Photo by Olena Zhadko)

Me holding a toad. Toads were by far the most popular wildlife during camp. We saw lots of them, plus they are easy to catch and handle. The kids loved them! (Photo by Elena Porcelli)

Counselors preparing for the day. (Photo by Elena Porcelli)

Eye-spy a wild flower.
(Photo by DNLee)
Kids fishing!
(Photo by DNLee)
Locust tree outside of the Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club infected by some sort of caterpillar. Outside. (Photo by DNLee)

Observing ducks at Forest Park. (Photo by DNLee)

Observing ducks at Forest Park. (Photo by DNLee)

"So long, farewell, auf weidersehen good-bye" - End of camp. (Photo by Elena Porcelli)

Thursday, July 09, 2009

What's right and wrong with science?

Sorry, I missed Wordless Wednesday this week, especially announcing my "comeback". You see, I was in Chicago for the holiday, working on one super-fantastic post - a reflective piece about outdoor education, outreach, and my work experiences with the summer camp - complete with cool pictures, when my hard drive crashed...Yes. It just crashed. Thankfully, my laptop is still under warranty, so I'm getting a new one. I'm also very thankful that my dissertation - data, manuscripts, pdfs, graphs, and all were not lost. Whew! I keep my most current copy on a thumb drive. (And yes, I have backed ALL of that up again and again in new places).

But I did lose all of my nature photos - of urban landscapes, wildlife, insects, trees, plants, flowers, animal signs....everything. So I had nothing to offer. I'm still working on a plan to rescue those things, so look out for next week.

In the meantime, I wanted to spread the word on a great online project initiated by my friends and Year of Science 2009 Colleagues - Science Chicago! They are hosting a discussion about Ethics in Science. They want to know your opinions about what's right and what's wrong in science? Tell them your ideas, questions and opinions about bioethics and they will share them with our panel of scientists at "Bridging the Gap: Bioethics, Medical Humanities and Society" on July 29! This will be a FREE event hosted by Chicago Public Radio's Gabriel Spitzer.
The topic is about Stem Cell Research. Here's a little snippet:

"This week, the Obama administration released its guidelines for the development and use of stem cells for medical research... While the policy does indeed relax some of those rules (set by President Bush), it also highlights the complicated ethical issues involved in stem cell research...

We invite you to join us for a special July 29th evening Science Conversation on this topic: Bridging the Gap: Bioethics, Medical Humanities and Society. This lively presentation features two of Chicago’s leading experts on biological and medical ethics, Mark Siegler, M.D. from The University of Chicago and Laurie Zoloth, Ph.D. from Northwestern University. This event will be moderated by Gabriel Spitzer of Chicago Public Radio, and will focus on some current issues in bioethics.
And…we really want you to join this conversation and tell us in advance what you’d like the experts to discuss."

Check out the full announcement:
Deciding Right From Wrong – Join a Conversation on Bioethics!site and leave a comment. I hope those of you in the Chicagoland area make time to attend.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Wild Flowers

I’ve taken a job as a summer nature camp counselor. I know perfect. We take kids from the Boys & Girls Club on nature hikes in urban parks and suburban nature centers, plus introduce them to outdoor activities like fishing and archery. I’m learning as much as they are…and I have a host of pictures (with the names of things) to prove it. I’ll be posting pictures and accounts of my adventures throughout the summer.
Butterfly milkweed - a prairie wildflower plant. It is found in prairies and sunny grasslands. Caterpillars love this plant, hence the name.

A type of Polygynum grass, I call it Mormon Grass (because the latin name means many wives). It is a shade tolerant grass.
Daisy - a prairie plant wildflower.

Echinacea, also called purple coneflower - a prairie plant wildflower.
Both purple coneflowers and daisies are found in grasslands and fields. They are members of the Asteridea or Star flower arrangement flamily.

America lotus - a water plant. This is the flower of the 'water lily pads'.

These photos were taken of naturally occuring wild flowers growing in local city parks and nature areas in St. Louis, Missouri.

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