A Look Into Maps, Coordinates, and Grids
By Daniel H. Vestal, AmeriCorps Museum Investigate Lab Educator
Even though this class had been delayed a few times because of ice and snow this class was on point! Eleven students, plus education staff, volunteers and an AmeriCorps member all gathered at the predetermined coordinates…The Natural World Investigate Lab on February 19, 2014 at 10a.m.
These young explorers practiced the basics of reading maps, grids, coordinates, longitude and latitude with a brief history of the science. Participants even built an Ottoman/Quadrant sun compass combo for their take home activity. Using this combined navigational tool, students will be able to find North and their latitude. So they’ll never be lost!
These student explorers also participated in an activity where they used laminated paper clocks to determine their longitude on a map. Once the coordinates were marked and positions verified, the dots were connected, and to their surprise it spelled out “WOW”!
The animated instructors were enthusiastic and able to capture each individual’s attention with the assistance of a PowerPoint presentation, humor, and fun hands on activities.
If I were a future visitor, I know where I’d navigate to… the Natural World Investigate Lab!
I recently had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Dr. Patrick Treuthardt, assistant director of the Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Laboratory in the Nature Research Center. This was part of a lecture series that the Museum offers its volunteers so they can learn about research and have a direct opportunity to interact with our scientists on staff. I soon found out that Dr. Treuthardt is a self-identified galaxy geek. He begins the lecture by projecting a beautiful color-infused image of a galaxy far, far away. It is so stellar and radiant, that I am thinking there is no way that something like that exists. Yeah, I have seen pictures of galaxies, but they all blend together like watercolor paintings of oceans. He explains further that we (on Earth) are part of the Milky Way. This is the part of the lecture where I start to salivate, like a Pavlovian dog thinking about chocolate; which is where my mind tends to wander, but then he shows an image of the Milky Way and explains nonchalantly… a galaxy is a massive, gravitationally bound system consisting of stars, stellar remnants, an interstellar medium of gas and dust, and dark matter. I am speechless – of all the things to be what an amazing thing to be. A galaxy sounds so alluring and dark and brooding, like an Ernest Hemingway hero. I always thought that a galaxy is just a galaxy and they are all the same, but I was so very wrong. They are these diverse specters of the universe that we know something and nothing about at the same time.
My simplified summary:
- Earth is located in the Milky Way galaxy.
- The Milky Way is made of billions of stars, and not just the twinkly kind.
- Because of Earth’s location we can only see a certain part of the galaxy, and the rest can only be imagined.
- You need a recipe of stars, dark matter, dust, and gravity for galaxies to form.
- Dark matter is dark for a reason.
- Black holes really do exist, and no, they are not the giant vacuums of the universe.
When all of the main ingredients are combined, galaxies are formed in the universe, and there are a lot of galaxies.
With the help of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF) scientists were able to observe these galaxies. Hubble observed a tiny patch of sky (one-tenth the diameter of the moon) for one million seconds (11.6 days) and found approximately 10,000 galaxies, of all sizes, shapes, and colors.
In that tiny patch of sky there are thousands of galaxies, and to better understand them, scientists are studying their similarities and differences, beginning with their shapes. Like snowflakes, not all galaxies are the same and like most scientists, astronomers classify them. Galaxies come in all shapes and sizes: from flat spinning discs (pinwheel shaped) to almost-stationary blob-like elliptical galaxies (hoagie shaped).
Most scientist use the Hubble’s Classification Scheme, which separates most galaxies into
- Normal spiral.
- Barred spiral.
- And the galaxies that do not fit into any of these categories are classified irregular (but they don’t know that).
What makes Dr. Treuthardt’s research a bit more difficult is that, unlike live organisms that you can grow or be collected to study, galaxies can’t be caught or grown or cloned. They are these radiant forms located in a universe so dense that they can barely be seen by the human eye. Astronomers rely on telescopes, like the Hubble Space Telescope to give them an accurate image, and of course, lots and lots of math. Luckily, we have supercomputers that can allow astronomers to simulate what they think galaxies might look like, and how they might move and grow.
Of course, this is a bit oversimplified, because there are components to this research that I cannot even begin to wrap my brain around. When the lecture was finished I had a new appreciation for galaxies, a strong urge to eat chocolate, and was left completely baffled by dark matter, a whole other crazy space oddity.
But one message was very clear: by studying galaxies we can get a better understanding of the galaxy in which the Earth is nestled. If I was going to live in a house, I would want to know about the materials it was made from, the land it was built on, how that land may change over time and so on. Like most science, researchers can only infer based on observations, but as technology and space exploration progresses scientists can gather data about galaxies and learn more about how they are formed, morph, and even die. One thing is for sure, I will never think of galaxies the same way again.
Want to see Dr. Treuthardt live? Check out our schedule for Meet the Scientist in the SECU Daily Planet Theater.
For more information about galaxies, here are some “out of this world” websites:
The Visual World Investigate Lab will soon welcome its newest robot. It will join the others there to serve as a curiosity hook, provoking impromptu lessons about science and engineering.
More details to come ….
A Mendelian look at genetics
By Daniel H. Vestal, AmeriCorps Museum Investigate Lab Educator
Bob Alderink and Dr. Colin Brammer brought to life the success of a famous monk, Gregor Mendel, and his work that changed the world and how we look at genetics today. With 15 seventh grade students from The Fletcher Academy in Raleigh, NC, the students and chaperones were stirred up and merged into the world of genetics on Friday, January 24, 2014!
Both educators provided insight into the importance of Mendel’s work with ratios, dominant and recessive genes, heterozygous and homozygous genotypes, and genetic differences in peas. This pioneering work was crucial in the development in the science of genetics. These concepts were not only important for plants, but also for humankind!
Why are genetic differences so important? Well, without differences in the world everything would be bland and boring. Differences are what make you unique and important.
Genetics can be a daunting topic to teach 15 young students, but with Bob and Colin’s attention-grabbing and entertaining slideshow presentation, combined with hands-on learning activities such as counting corn kernels and getting up close to corn plants… I’d say that the ratio of fun to challenging was 15 to 1!
The Natural World Investigate Lab offers programs just like this to homeschoolers, private and public schools, and even “tracked out” schools all the time. If you want to participate in future programs, head to the Museum of Natural Sciences’ Programs and Events Calendar on our website and sign up today!
Computer science education week is December 9-15 (http://csedweek.org/). To celebrate and spread the joy of coding the Visual World Investigate Lab will be holding an Hour of Code event on Thursday, December 12th from 6:30-8:00 (I know, this is really an hour and a half. Just more time to do cool stuff.). Our event is one of over 20,000 events taking place in more than 150 countries throughout the week. Anyone can code, so come and be one of the 3,000,000 people participating in these events worldwide. Check here for all the information: http://naturalsciences.org/programs-events/computer-programming-beginners-8.
What will we be doing? We’ll all be learning a little bit of code while making a cool computer game. Each person will get to watch their code come to life as we go through the steps of creating a fully functioning game. In the past we’ve made an asteroid-dodging spaceship game, a Tron game, and a darts game just to name a few. And, as a bonus, the program we use in the lab is free so after we’re done you can keep going outside of the lab.
Why would you want to do it? Well, apart from making a cool game you can use outside of the lab, what you learn will start you on your way to creating the next cool app or program, it may even help you get a job (http://code.org/stats). Also, we all interact with electronic devices daily. So you should know at least a little bit about what makes those programs on your computer/phone/tablet work.
To reiterate: come make a cool game, learn some coding, understand why your devices do what they do, and be part of a worldwide celebration of computer sciences in the Visual World Investigate Lab on Thursday, December 12 6:30-8:00 (go here to learn how to sign up: http://naturalsciences.org/programs-events/computer-programming-beginners-8).
Be the master of your computer.
You just know that any day that ends with your boss’s door decorated in Crime Scene tape is a day that begs further explanation!
Well, let us just say that this is our way of showing our gratitude and support for a boss who encourages us to try new things and use our creativity in our Museum program offerings. But let me go back to the beginning.
It all started with a mock crime scene revealing a poker hand of four Aces, King high, some clear plastic tape marking the cards, and some upset Poker buddies. It ended with over 200 people having moved through the crowds in the Naturalist Center and the three Investigate Labs to perform various forensic laboratory exercises, led by personnel from the NC State’s Crime Laboratory.
From lifting fingerprints, examining shoe prints, matching evidence bits, and hair analysis, to comparing shell casings, analyzing DNA results, and testing blood stains with phenolphthalein, people enthusiastically worked their way through each lab station to perform these activities and obtain answers to the Scavenger Hunt questions listed. There was even a station for parents to get their children fingerprinted.
The 2-hour event was a success and will no doubt lead to future events of this type. This was the second “forensics-type” program we debuted this month — the first one being the “Solve the Mystery” night when visitors had to determine the culprit who was responsible for an entire Prairie Dog town’s demise, as well as what had changed this year to make that possible.
Based on the success of these two events, we will look to possibly repeat these topics as well as add new ones for visitors to engage in. Watch the website and this blog for details about future offerings. In the meantime, here are some photos of last night’s festivities!
Just wanted to invite all of you to stop in our lab to see our latest additions to the lab, our new “Body Parts Display!” No we have not gone “ghoulish” – we are just preparing for the start of our new classes this year, including our three Human Health Mystery classes!!
The classes will have a variety of lab activities as well as an active dissection with students assisting us. In addition these HIGH QUALITY Somso anatomical models will lend a professional approach to our studies of the cardiopulmonary and renal systems. These incredibly accurate models capture the look and textures found in these structures, and will be a valuable aid in our labs.
But also ’tis the season of candy and fun, so we needed to have a little creative Halloween mischief with them.
If you come by the NRC on Halloween evening, you can also play “Pin the Smile” on the skeleton, and OF COURSE we have plastic spider rings for all participants. So come let your hair down, have some fun, and learn about how you too can participate in these upcoming classes, all courtesy of the Biogen Idec Foundation.