Field Trip Explainers

Reflections on life at Exploratorium

Tag: links

Language, Gender, Directions and Explainer Training

by Ann Bartkowski

Lianna and I wanted to share this article with you that was published in the NY Times over the summer. It’s so relevant! (to what we have been talking about today and yesterday in trainings)

There is a section about nouns with genders in different languages that came up during our philosophy discussion yesterday about gender. There is also a part about people who use directions (such as north, south, east, west) instead of saying “left hand, right leg, in front of me, behind you”, etc. Robert and I were talking about this part of the article during our North-Finding activities outside today.

NY Times Article on Language

Happy Reading! If you’re super interested, it’s part of a real book by Guy Deutscher called “Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages” that was published this summer. Book Club, perhaps?


More Smashing

by Ann Bartkowski

Since I was home sick from work last week, I spent an inordinate amount of time watching TV (aka The Discovery Channel).  I got super excited every time they played this commercial for their new show, Time Warp, which reminds me of Smashbat.  My favorite part is when the green balloon explodes on the dude’s face.  What do you think? I mean, it’s no Gladiators, but I want to watch it.

DNA: Size Does Matter. But is it Science or Art?

by Ann Bartkowski

Last week Karen came in to teach us about DNA and size.  Since DNA is so very itty-bitty, we were having a hard time understanding the magnitude of it and other tiny things we talk about daily but can’t see.  It was really cool imagining the sizes of bacteria, viruses, DNA, and cells relative to each other in terms of objects whose sizes we have a feeling for…such as cabinets and tables and explOratoriums and hypothetical unibrows.    


Then I randomly found this website, which starts with the same idea as our DNA Cheek Cell Extraction Demo but takes it to a whole new level: 

You send your cheek cells in the mail to their company.  They extract your DNA from your cells, then use PCR to amplify unique sections of DNA in your genome.  This DNA is loaded into a gel and a current is run through the gel to separate the DNA based on size.  UV dye is added to the whole thing to make your DNA strands visible, a photograph is taken, and voila!…a giant canvas print with the color scheme of your choice is ready to hang on your wall! 

I think the image looks kind of like a cityscape, and if it didn’t start at $400, I would like one…albeit, I am a bit creeped out by the way their website encourages you to contact them if you think you might be into decorating with DNA from a dead person or pet (they will just need to obtain some mitochondrial DNA from your dead friend’s hair). 

Maker Faire!

by Luigi Anzivino

Maker Faire, once again, was really awesome. Above is a slideshow of the craziness that was the Exploratorium booth. Unfortunately, I have no photos of anything else that happened, because I pretty much stuck to the Explo space all the time. I know there was selective cupcake riding, some guy made a vacuum tube theremin, and swap-o-rama-rama enabled the birth of the pill-ho, but that’s about it.

A humongous thanks to all the Explainers that made it possible, easy, and fun: thanks to Ryan, Sarah, Aiona, Amisha, Antoine, Katie, and Nicole. Thanks also to special guest star Christina, who came out of explainer “retirement” for this ride. You guys are friggin’ awesome.

More photos on the PIE website: click here!

And, photos of things being smashed by SmashBat are here!

Happy (Almost) Birthday Sputnik!

by ryan

Frankie O in 1957Fifty years ago on October 4th, the Russians launched Sputnik, the first human-made satellite, into space. There were a lot of great articles about the anniversary in the NY Times science section this morning, but I was especially interested in this one article that talked about how science education was affected by the events. The article talks about how in the wake of learning about the soviet advancement, science teachers started to really think about how to involve their students in chemistry, biology and physics in order to stimulate interest in scientific careers. The article goes on to tell about how science education has fallen back into some of the old routine and that even though Bush says he wants to make America competitive in the sciences, the No Child Left Behind emphasis on testing really can get away from hands on activities and experimentation.

In the article, Dr. Shirley Malcolm says that “students should be given the chance to do real research — to experience framing a question, deciding what kind of evidence is relevant and figuring out how to collect it. ‘I’m not saying there’s not drudgery in science,’ she said, ‘but when you get to the point where all the data are sitting in front of you and you start seeing patterns and nature begins to speak — that’s a kick.'”

Here’s a link to the article.

Get off my back man...I'm a scientist!

Interestingly enough, Frank Oppenheimer was a High School science teacher in 1957 (the same year Sputnik launched for those of you bad at math like myself).  I found a great speech that he gave to the PTA as a teacher on the explo website. Even though the Exploratorium wasn’t started until a few years later, you can really see how his ideas of exciting curiousity and teaching problem solving carry over to the museum. It’s as if he caught the bug of dynamic science teaching and never let it go. It’s neat to think about how the Exploratorium fits in with the overall science cirriculum of the country. I think that we all would agree that we represent a pretty ideal situation, isolated from many of the challenges in the classroom. But I hope that we can help to inspire people to try new things, show both kids and adults that science doesn’t have to be scary, and land a man on the moon in the next decade.

Artichokes, bees, and mics

by Luigi Anzivino

Artichoke flower
That’s very purple! (Click to enlarge)

A few weeks ago in Napa I saw, for the first time, an artichoke flower! Doesn’t it look absolutely fantastic? I mean, it’s positively wild. And to think that we eat them, and discard the pesky choke that, if left to bloom, will become such a stunning inflorescence. As I was taking photos, I noticed a little bee doing its thing. You know, pollinating. And I remembered that bees are in peril, and with them our whole food supply. I wonder if there has been any progress on that front.

I recently read about a researcher in Montana, Jerry Bromenshenk, who has an ingenious and alternative approach to diagnosing an unhealthy beehive: microphones. Apparently bees have a highly developed sense of smell, and within 30 seconds of sensing a dangerous chemical the whole beehive will change the sound it produces. Therefore, Dr. Bromenshenk is hoping, by threading a spaghetti-sized microphone into the beehive, to detect the warning signs of “colony collapse disorder” early on, and maybe identify its causes. Let’s all hope, because I like my fruits and veggies.

Click image to enlarge.
Originally uploaded on flickr

Rats on the brain

by ryan

At tapas with the explainers at Cha Cha Cha in the Mission after some good old experimental theater, Luigi and I naturally started talking about lab rats. After watching Ratatouille, it seems like a common thing to ask questions of whether rats have human qualities or whether is it disgusting to see a swarm of rodents flow across the floor of the kitchen of a fancy French restaurant.

Remy the Rat

Apparently Luigi worked at UCLA with a girl who named all the rats that they were conducting scientific experiments on. While we explainers pride ourselves on being kind to our four legged friends, we both agreed that that took it a bit too far. But, then last week I saw this article in the NY Times about the personalities of rats and how they are similar to people in a lot of ways. They’re even ticklish which might make one reconsider preconceptions about the animals although the whole study seems kinda gross and makes me wonder why someone has the urge to focus on such a topic.

Paul D. flies a Hydra!

by Luigi Anzivino

Remember that training we did with Paul D. where we made wonderful magical wands that could levitate bits of plastic and twine? Best training ever, in my opinion. Well, now there’s a video up on YouTube showing the whole world how amazing science can be!

I remember Paul saying that the electrostatic force repelling the hydra is stronger than the gravitational pull of the whole earth, and in fact that gravity is considered a “weak” force. If I remember correctly, he mentioned that electricity is 40,000 times stronger than gravity. Anything else anyone remembers?

By the way, the Exploratorium channel on YouTube often posts little interesting snippets of video, which are meant to be a sort of appetizer to get people to watch the more substantial webcasts on the Exploratorium’s website, so check them out!

Virtually Unflappable

by ryan

Congratulations to the 2007 Spelling Bee Champ Evan O’Dorney. This kid is an animal! He spelled “serrefine” correctly as the final word. That’s freaking amazing! And he’s representing for the east bay hella hyphy movement. Check out the article on ESPN. My favorite part of the article is when they call him, “virtually unflappable”. I think that phrase should be used more oten. Like, “Marcus was virtually unflappable on the clipboard when 600 kids all arrived at the same time”
Evan O'Dorney

Future Explainer?

Blogged with Flock

Let the chameleons be!

by Luigi Anzivino

Explainers! This is a call to arms, because the Creation Museum is about to open, so I think it is more important than ever that we as explainers are well educated on evolution, and ready to present its facts and figures if called upon to do so. And I am thinking that the ExploratOrium as an institution might want to come out more vocally in support of it. Takes sides, as it were. Because, according to this New York Times article, the other side has $27 million in backing and claims, among other things, that:

Photo by Scott Kinmartin
  • chameleons change color to “communicate their mood” rather than as an adaptive mechanisms developed through, you know, evolution;
  • dinosaurs and humans peacefully co-existed, and they all ate only plants;
  • fossils were somehow made as a result of the flood (?);
  • and the Grand Canyon was carved within days, which is somehow proved by Mount St. Helen’s eruption.

And that’s more than just silly, it’s dangerous, because once again it’s an attempt to hijack the language of science, and distort it to try and prove a matter of faith. And it’s making me grumpy. You wouldn’t like me when I’m grumpy.