Friday, January 23, 2015

This Week's Sci-Light!

Everyday we use our brains without really thinking about how.  When you walk, talk, dance to music, take that selfie :)  your brain is processing data, sending signals, and encoding memories.  As our bodies age, brain functioning can be reduced.  Scientists want to know how and why.
(Photo/Zlokovic Lab/Keck Medicine of USC)

An article, Scans Detect Aging Brain Issues Linked to Dementia, author Alison Trinidad describes research at the USC Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute.  Dr. Berislav Zlokovic and colleagues at Zilkha have a been working to understand the brain by using high resolution imaging of the living human brain.  Specifically, researchers were examining the permeabilityor the blood-brain barrier, a cellular layer that regulates entry of blood and pathogens into the brain, to understand if damage to this barrier may be part of the cause for diseases such as Alzheimers.  The article describes more about the significance of the barrier and it's potential link to dementia like Alzheimers and outlines the challenge of these findings.

As scientists begin to unlock the secret places of the mind, remember you can be part of the journey!  So make your education a priority, remain an active learner, and be Sci-Curious!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

This Week's Sci-Light!

As I close out the year and enjoy some great food, long-time friends, and family gatherings, I wanted to share one last post with you.  Surprisingly, it is an interdisciplinary look at a holiday classic--peppermint--with a USC twist (no pun intended).

The video below covers peppermint in art, history, neurobiology, botany and more all highlighting different facts, discoveries and applications in the marketplace.  Frequently, on Sci-Curious, I remind you that the world is a very big place, with many perspectives.  The environment provides so much to enjoy and to spark our curiousity.  We only have to engage in the wonder and details of it all to satisfy the child-like thirst for new experiences we can explore.

So as you enter this time of year, try to see it from a new perspective and engage your mind in the questions or details that you notice.  See it today, not through the lens of the past or the future.  Rather notice what it is.  Then follow the nuances that you have never seen before.  This may indeed be the way that professors from the University of Southern California initiated their study of the many facets of peppermint.
USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences

Happy Holidays, Happy New Year and stay Sci-Curious!

Friday, December 5, 2014

This Week's Sci-Light!

Image credit: ESA and the Planck Collaboration
Not many weeks ago, I blogged about a probe that landed on a comet and sent footage to Earth.  While that probe sits in the dark unable to recharge its batteries, we, still benefiting from the sun's rays, consider a larger subject--the universe.  Centuries of humans have stared into space marveling at the stars, the moon or distant planets.

European, US and Canadian scientists looked together into space using Planck (European Space Agency mission) instruments to measure the oldest light in our universe.   What they discovered was unexpected--the universe is older than they thought by 100 million years at 13.8 billion year old.

One of the US scientists participating in the project, Charles Lawrence from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory said, "As that ancient light travels to us, matter acts like an obstacle course getting in its way and changing the patterns slightly. "

A map of a patch of sky showing the temperature and polarization of microwave radiation emitted by dust swirling in the magnetic field of the Milky Way. Credit European Space Agency
Many links, photos, and videos on the project are housed on the NASA site and a new analysis outlined in the New York Times,  New Images Refine View of Infant Universe, by Dennis Overbye gives the vital statistics of the universe at birth--in essence the universe's baby picture. 

Fascinating how pictures of the universe can capture our imagination and fill us with awe like the ancients watching a flaming comet speed across the sky.  Whether your curiosity guides you to study the universe or the depths of the ocean or perhaps the intricacies of cell biology, human problem solving skills guided by inquiry and diverse perspectives are essential.  But not only in the field of science.  We need their application in our daily lives to inform how we see each other--we all matter.   So stay Sci-Curious and be continually surprise by what you'll learn and how you'll grow!
Credit: Walter Miles

Friday, November 21, 2014

This Week's Sci-light!

I've often said to students that scientific knowledging is expanding by looking at smaller and smaller scales while at the same time considering larger, more expansive questions.  Last week's blog about the probe landing on a comet was an example of a larger question being investigated through technology off-planet.  Today, we will focus the opposite direction by considering a biochemical process at the cellular level exploited by cancer.

Assistant Professor, Matthew Pratt, USC (USC/Susan Bell)
Dr. Pratt has received funding for studying the process of glycosylation or the modification of proteins by sugars.  This process is linked to glycolysis--how the body breaks down sugars that provide fuel to the cell.

What we know:  Cancer cells have found a way to live under extreme oxidative stress, they can slow down glycosylation, and they can turn off the cellular "self-destruct" switch to extend their life. 

What Dr. Pratt hopes to discover:  How to interrupt this process through biochemical mechanisms and potentially block their success.

Today's blog not only shows the fine scales of scientific investigation, but it also illustrates the process by which new knowledge is generated.  If you'd like to be a part of new knowledge generation, consider participating in a hands-on science course or lab research.  Being a student of science is not simply learning what we already know, but finding ways to participate in the discovery process.

Where should you explore such opportunities?  Try the Institute for Broadening Participation's web site.  Select your appropriate educational cohort and then search by topic, institution or browse by geographic region.  Many of these programs are offered free of charge and provide financial support for you to participate.

Whether studying processes close to home or across the expanse of the universe, 
remember to stay Sci-Curious!

Friday, November 14, 2014

This Week's Sci-Light!

Some radio data suggests the probe 
may be about 1km from the intended landing site
The European Space Agency (Esa) launched the Rosetta satellite in 2004 hoping to learn more about the origins of our Solar System by landing a probe on a comet.  Ten years, 4 billion miles later their probe, Philae, landed on the icy comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

I was on my way to work when the signal from the probe finally reached the scientists at the agency and saw their faces beam as the relief and ecstasy of success flooded their bodies.  A well earned moment in all of their struggles. 

Now according to the BBC News in an article entitled Battery will limit life of Philae comet lander the agency is concerned about the small number of hours that the probe will receive light from the sun--a mere 1.5 hours out of every 12 hours of the comet's rotation.  Because the batteries will not top off their charge, the primary charge on them will diminish.  A new article, Comet lander:  Future of Philae probe 'uncertain', reports that the probe has drilled into the comet's surface and that scientists fear that the signal may not reach earth due to the batteries shortened life.

Body fluids and poor sanitation in and around homes in Monrovia 
make caring for relatives with Ebola perilous for families.  
Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times
For some, the questions of life's origin or problems concerning a remote probe named Philae are so far removed from life's struggles that they may seem irrelevant.  I read a story today in the New York Times by Norimitsu Onishi, "For a Liberian Family, Ebola Turns Loving Care Into Deadly Risk"  about a family in Liberia destroyed by Ebola, the virus affecting West Africa.  People died in this story which was tragic, but it was the way it happened that was heart breaking.  Without facilities, training, information, medical care, supplies or help, families, the foundational institution of all of humanity, bear the horror. 

Life presents many challenges and circumstances.  Science plays a role in sparking our imaginations and in helping those we love.  As you live and learn, think on this--there is one planet we all call home.  It's the place that Philae sends the signal to help us understand what lies beyond.  

Friday, November 7, 2014

This Week's Sci-Light!

Last week's blog focused on undergraduate opportunities for doing science through programs offered across the country.  This week, I want to shift to another group of students who are looking for ways to engage in learning by doing--high school students.  I'm on a list serve that focuses on Marine Science education and a question was posed about what students could do this coming summer.  It seemed that a blog was a good way to spread the word and to stir up some ideas for this next summer.
Credit:  Boston College

I'll begin by highlighting an NSF (National Science Foundation) and STEM Garden Institute funded project that teaches students about science, business, communication, customer service and energy through the growing and selling of vegetables.  Boston College Professor Mike Barrett got high school students involved in hydrofarming through hydroponics (the process of growing food with nutrient-rich water instead of soil in a green house) and then selling the food at a local farmers market.  Why?  Because when students engage in science as such an action, they are taking part in an emerging market that blends scientific knowledge, business savvy, alternative energy applications, healthy food choices, and local, urban food production and realizing that science is not only relevant but available to them as a career choice.

Banner for LA Maker Space web page
Jumping coasts, I want to shift to citizen science or involving people in scientific questions.  "LA Maker Space is a non-profit, family-friendly, community-driven organization committed to exploring new ideas in a creative, collaborative environment, always exploring the age-old idea of the community coming together to explore, create, invent, and learn."  To be involved, you can organize a workshop, participate in a project, develop a project, donate, or volunteer.  The space facilitates the gathering of a community of people who are curious and actively seeking to share their ideas and expertise with students and adults. 

There are also many projects, camps or activities that students can participate in during the summer.  I'm going to highlight a few, but first I want to mention Pathways to Science, a national clearinghouse of programs for K-8, high school, K-12 teachers, undergraduates, graduate students, post-doctorals/early career scientists, faculty and administration and science centers or partnerships.  While many programs have not yet listed their upcoming summer activities, there past program descriptions can provide potential details.

C-DEBI HS Camp (L. Chilton)
The Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations funded by NSF sponsors a 1 week marine science camp for high school students on Catalina Island, CA (20 miles off the coast of LA) in the summer teaching through hands-on activities.  We pay travel, room and board and for all activities. 

Summer camp Deep Green Wilderness programs are explore different parts of the Salish Sea (coastal waterways between the southwestern tip of Canada and the northwestern tip of the US) on board a sailboat. Scholarships are available.

The Lawrence Hall of Science offers a residential marine biology camp in the summer for high school students, anticipated dates are June 13-18th, 2015. It is held at Bodega Marine Labs (UC Davis).

The Center for STEM Education at Bradley University lists both local and national summer opportunities in medicine, NASA, engineering, and chemistry.
California MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Science Academy) School Programs reach middle and high school students with STEM activities, study skills, college campus visits and more.

Whether you're an educator, parent, sibling or high school student, this blog was meant to spark your imagination.  What are you interested in?  How can you engage yourself, your family, your students in the intersection of science and life?  How can you be, Sci-Curious!?!

Friday, October 24, 2014

This Week's Sci-light!

I'm blogging!  For those of you who read last week's blog, my microchange is working (confused...last weeks blog will clarify!).

Today's post features Science 360, a site showing funded National Science Foundation research that will be sure to engage the Sci-Curious!  The site is packed with information and contagious excitement.  The daily highlights include a video, a news story, a picture of the day, science radio, headlines, and featured articles from journals like Science.

I'm going to pick my personal favorite for today that features a brain in a dish (their words, not mine) as it is an example of how knowledge from one discipline in science is creatively applied in another.  First, skin cells from an individual are taken and chemically coaxed into stem cells that another set of chemicals develop into neurons.  As if this were not imaginative enough, the scientists wanted to "watch" the brain cells fire. 

Can you think of how this was done?  Environmental microbiology is key to this process.  A gene from bacteria that makes a light-sensitive protein is given to the neurons so that when the cells fire, they fluoresce.  Scientists such as Dr. Adam Cohen of Harvard University can film the neurons at up to 100,000 frames a second and distill their patterns and pathways.

If nothing I've said so far has made you curious, allow me to close with some topics from today's home page that may catch your attention:  Can general anesthesia trigger dementia?  Peering through the sun at the Halloween monster sun spot.  Researchers break through nano barrier to engineer the first protein microfiber.  And the picture of the day--Blue footed boobies. 

It seems I've found a great place to remain Sci-Curious!