This article on Mars is worth picking up the latest New Yorker (if you don’t already subscribe–I cannot survive Ohio without it). The fascinating details of recent missions, and the backdrop of “Is there life?” research for the past thirty years. Here’s a taste:
“There once were two planets, new to the galaxy and inexperienced in life. Like fraternal twins, they were born at the same time, about four and a half billion years ago, and took roughly the same shape. Both were blistered with volcanoes and etched with watercourses; both circled the same yellow dwarf star–close enough to be warmed for life, but not so close as to be blasted to a cinder….
“Like a delinquent sibling, Mars is all we’ve got–the next Earth-like planet may be in the Tau Ceti system, seventy trillion miles away–and its virtues nearly redeem its vices. Mars has sunlight, carbon, water, and nitrogen. Its surface is no more unpleasant than the interior of a volcanic vent, where bacteria thrive….”
A Lousiana 19 year-old explains this–and other important reasons why we need to reform science education.
The Teenaged “Troublemaker” Fighting For Science
NPR: FLORA LICHTMAN, HOST:
This is SCIENCE FRIDAY; I’m Flora Lichtman. OK, it’s time to feel like an underachiever. What were you doing when you were 19? Like me, you probably weren’t, oh, appearing on national talk shows, debating the value of science education or calling up Nobel Prize winners and asking them to sign your petition.
Well lucky for us, some teenagers are busier than others. My next guest is one of them. Zack Kopplin is an undergraduate at Rice University and an activist for the cause of science education. He joins us from KUHF in Houston. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.
ZACHARY KOPPLIN: Thanks for having me on, Flora, it’s great to be here.
LICHTMAN: Thanks for joining us. So you’re at Rice right now. What year are you, and what are you studying?
KOPPLIN: I’m a sophomore history major, actually.
LICHTMAN: And I think I read that you’re taking next year off.
KOPPLIN: Yeah, I’m going to take next year off because I’m ready to start an organization to launch the next phase of our movement for science.
LICHTMAN: Tell me about that.
ZACHARY KOPPLIN: So we’re ready – the big thing now is America has a science problem. We’re cutting science funding. We’ve cut $50 billion from science over the next five years. We have denialist legislation like the Louisiana Science Education Act that I’ve been fighting in Louisiana. Tennessee has a copycat bill, and there’s bills introduced all around the country based on Louisiana’s law.
KOPPLIN: And so there’s these two problems that we need to take on to change how science is done in America. And so we’re taking inspiration from Neil Armstrong’s famous words when he first stepped foot on the moon, and we’re calling for a second giant leap for humankind.
LICHTMAN: How do you intend to make that leap?
KOPPLIN: So we need to reverse the budget sequester that cut $50 billion, and we also, beyond that, we need to start funding a lot more science. I want to see $1 trillion over the next 10 years. And while that sounds like a lot of money, it’s actually – first, there’s a huge return on investment whenever we fund science. So it’s actually, in the (unintelligible) budget deficit, it actually makes sense to spend more money on science because it’ll pay itself off.
KOPPLIN: And then make sure that all across the country, students are learning about evolution, learning about climate change, learning about vaccines, learning about the science they need to know so when they go into the job market, they’ll actually go and do good evidence-based science and help our country.
LICHTMAN: If you have a question for Zack Kopplin, give us a call, 1-800-989-8255, 1-800-989-TALK. So I want to play a clip. It’s a small part of your appearance on “Real Time with Bill Maher.” And the first person we hear talking is economist Stephen Moore, and he’s talking about funding for science. And then you answer him. Here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION PROGRAM, “REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER”)
STEPHEN MOORE: You think things like when the National Science Foundation spends money on snail mating habits, that’s a good use of taxpayer dollars, right?
KOPPLIN: We’ve been over this. You’re not a scientist…. Continued here.
Every few years we get a new call to change science education. The latest attempt is the Next Generation Science Standards, designed through a multi-year study by educators led by the National Academy of sciences. So far the press has emphasized that the new standards require teaching evolution and climate change. But there is far more. Some tidbits:
- Kindergarteners should learn, “What happens if you push or pull an object harder?” They should investigate the question, and “Analyze data to determine if a design solution works as intended to change the speed or direction of an object with a push or a pull.”
- First graders should “Use observations of the sun, moon, and stars to describe patterns that can be predicted.”
- Second graders should “Make observations to construct an evidence-based account
that Earth events can occur quickly or slowly.”
Third graders should “Develop models to describe that organisms have unique and diverse life cycles but all have in common birth, growth, reproduction, and death.”What do you think children should be learning about science?
Scientists claim to use 3D printing to print out water-lipid droplets that resemble living cells. The “cells” were droplets of watery solution in oil, picoliter size (one ten-to-the-twelfth of a liter). They were printed out in arrays determined by software.
The droplets were formed not only in clumps, but in networks and arrays that could fold like a living tissue.
Suppose the watery solution were to contain DNA, along with molecules of RNA polymerase and ribosomes. It’s conceivable that we could print out living materials, as in The Highest Frontier.
Can you imagine having an eye somewhere else in your body– and using it to see? Researchers claim to have made a tadpole do just that. They used a tadpole of the frog Xenopus laevis, a common model system for vertebrate development. They used blind frogs, and inserted a bit of embryonic eye tissue in the tail. The tissue developed into an “ectopic eye” (see eye in the tail above, at right).
In some tadpoles, the eye developed nerves that reached the spinal cord. Other eyes did not. But the tadpoles with the spinal-connected eyes could distinguish red light from blue light, in a stimulus-reward test. That implies that the tadpoles could “see” with their tails, even though the ectopic eyes do not directly connect to the brain, the way eyes normally do.
Think of the possibilities this suggests for science fiction.
“It’s actually relatively rare that the Supreme Court decides something of such monumental importance that your grandchildren will be thinking about them, and this is that kind of case.”
The US Supreme Court hears arguments today on Prop 8. Even now, the lawyers are making their case. The brief by Kristin Perry et al is posted here. The news media are exclaiming that it took “only fifty years” to get here (as if the world began in 1962). Well, perhaps for me it did. 1962 is the first year for which I recall awareness of the calendar turning over to a new year, 1963. It looked too strange. I recall taking a crayon and crossing out the offending 3 to put back the numeral 2. This year, I suppose some adults will be trying to do the same.
Update: According to the NYT, Justice Scalia said: “I suppose we could have a questionnaire at the marriage desk asking, ‘Are you fertile?’”
Scalia then joked about Senator Strom Thurmond, who fathered in his 70s and served in the Senate until age 100. Scalia neglected to mention that Thurmond–the famous segregationist–had also fathered a daughter at age 16 with an African-American mother. He kept the daughter secret all his life. That is the kind of conservative family life that the Prop 8 proponents are trying to protect.
Update: “You can’t beta-test rights.” Jon Stewart, Daily Show