Seven silly sea science words

Somewhere along the line people got the idea that science is scary and intimidating. But, like so much of this world … science is much more than what we first think. Science can be silly. Science can be fun. Science can be collecting and analyzing data. But, science is creating questions. And, science is sharing results.

Science can even make you smile. To prove it – here are some silly sounding words that make me laugh every time I say them. I actually had to have my daughter narrate this short film because “caudle peduncle” is just too much sometimes. Hopefully this clip will make you curious to explore new words and realms within science. It’s bound to make you smile at least! By the way, do you have a favorite sounding sea science word?

What's your faorite sea science word?

Seven silly sea science words Music by Colin Miller/Narrated by Winnie Miller

 

One Big Wave, and Millions of Lost Legos

Lego dragons Bigbury

Photos courtesy of Tracey Williams

On Feb. 13, 1997, about 20 miles off the coast of England, a massive wave hit the freighter Tokio Express, toppling 62 giant containers into the rough north Atlantic seas.

Trapped inside one of them: nearly 5 million Legos. Many floated to the surface. Carried by currents, they’re still being found on beaches around the world nearly two decades later. Others remain on the ocean floor. It’s not unusual for fishermen trawling the Atlantic to haul up tiny Legos.

The fact that so many of the pieces were nautical themed – sea dragons, pirate swords, sea grass and scuba gear, among others – has turned the Lego spill into one of the most famous and unusual marine debris incidents in recent maritime history.

In Newquay, a seaside town in England, writer and longtime beachcomber Tracey Williams started a Facebook page a few years ago – Legos Lost at Sea – that tracks the whereabouts of the lost Legos as they wash up onto beaches.

Williams recently spoke to the Beach Chair Scientist blog about her work, and you can hear more of what she has to say below. But she hopes to turn the public fascination, much of it generated from a recent BBC story on the spill, into a teaching moment about the harmful environmental impact of marine debris.

Lego octopus Terena

“Clearly, 5 million pieces of Legos spilling into the ocean isn’t good for the environment,” Williams said in a recent phone interview. After the BBC interviewed her about her site a while back, the publicity resulted in people contacting her with stories about beach-bound Legos around the world.

“It has connected beachcombers all around the world, which is fascinating,” Williams said.

She received one report of a Lego flipper found on an Australian beach. She’s also heard from the family of a woman who had scoured the beaches for Lego dragons as a hobby in her 80s, passing her finds along t0 younger generations.

“Obviously, marine debris is a big problem. But I think many children have been captivated by this whole Lego story … I think it reminds people of their childhood. It’s the whole issue of marine debris. Oceanographers are interested in how far it’s spread.”

Meanwhile, she also hears from fishermen who come across Lego pieces in their nets.

“Half of it sinks and half of it floats,” Williams said, referring to the sorts of Legos that fell off the Tokio Express. “So clearly, while we’re finding certain items washed up on our shores like the spear guns and the flippers, fishermen are actually finding other pieces like window frames and car chassis.”

While the lost Legos have made for fun beach combing and treasure hunts, there are bigger questions beneath the surface. If the contents of just one toppled shipping container can spread around the world for decades, what about far bigger and more dangerous spills that go unnoticed because they don’t happen to have Legos in them?

“There were 62 containers that fell off the Tokio Express back in 1997 and we only know about what  was in three of them,” Williams said.

“What’s in all of the others and when will that all wash ashore?”

You can listen to more of Williams and the story of the lost Legos here:

Saltwater vs. Freshwater: Why droughts are a real problem

Earth’s surface is about 70% water. But, only 1% of that is accessible freshwater (i.e., found in lakes, rivers, streams, and ponds). McGraw Hill pulled together this beautiful infographic illustrating the amount of water on the surface of the Earth that humans can actually use (‘Just a drop in the bucket’, so to speak). Consider this reality when thinking about the serious situations in California this summer with “its third-worst drought in 106 year“.

MCGRAW-SALTWATER-23AUG-2012CS5

http://www.pinterest.com/mcgrawhilled/make-learning-fun-inspiration-for-teachers-student/

 

Ocean 180: A contest to create a compelling 3 minute video on your latest ocean study

cosee_floridaMovie makers … find a marine scientist with a paper published between January 1, 2008 and November 30, 2013. Marine scientists … find a movie maker with some serious skills for interpreting science. Have the dual set of skills? It’s time to get to work.

The Center for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE) Florida is sponsoring the Ocean 180 Video Challenge contest.  I love this idea, not only because it promotes science communication skills and teamwork, but because the judges who will pick the final three videos are potential future ocean scientists … 6th-8th graders from classrooms all over the globe!

Also, it doesn’t hurt that they entice you with a cash prize (but, you didn’t get into marine science or movie making for the money, did you?). The top three video abstracts will receive cash prizes of $3,000 (1st place), $2,000 (2nd place) and $1,000 (3rd place). All entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. PT on December 1, 2013.

oceans180Which fields of ocean sciences are eligible to participate?
The Ocean 180 encourages scientists from all fields of ocean science to participate in the competition, including (but not limited to) the following:
  • Biological oceanography/marine biology: plankton, benthic organisms, biology and ecology of marine and estuarine invertebrates and vertebrates, ecology, taxonomy, molecular biology.
  • Physical oceanography: currents and waves, air-sea interactions, ocean modeling, near shore and coastal processes, bio-physical coupling.
  • Chemical oceanography/marine chemistry: trace elements, isotopes, nutrient dynamics, organic substances, gases.
  • Geological oceanography/marine geology: geophysics, sedimentology, paleontology, sediment dynamics.
  • Marine pollution: analysis and monitoring of pollutants, fates of contaminants, aquatic toxicology, ecotoxicology.
  • Marine policy: regional, national, and international marine policies, management, regulation, and protection of marine fisheries and resources, conservation and use of marine resources.

Find the complete set of guidelines and more FAQS for submitting a movie and for teachers interested in having their classroom judge at http://ocean180.org/. I cannot wait to check out the winning entry … Good luck, everyone!

10 techniques for science bloggers to discover inspiration

I’ve been blogging for five years and lately what has happened is that I’ve been fortunate to share my successes and challenges with other people. Fresh off the plane from Science Online Oceans (the most unconventional, inspiring, and interactive conference I’ve ever attended – loved every minute!), I noticed a reoccurring challenge that other online science writers and myself often face – finding inspiration. So here are 10 techniques for creating posts. Now this list isn’t anything monumental, but given that I barely posted this summer I thought writing this list might help me get out of the rut (I know … so selfish!). If you have any other ideas that may be useful, please don’t hesitate to comment below.

1. Google Alerts: Knowing the most up to date information will certainly generate some inspiration! Whatever your specialty, make sure to know when it’s mentioned in the news, if a video on the subject is released, or when someone else writes a blog post on it. These alerts go straight to your mailbox daily, weekly, or as they are published … depending on how you set it up. Make sure when you put your specialty into the search query that you surround it in quotes. For instance, I want articles of “horseshoe crabs” to come to my inbox, not articles that might mention “horseshoes” and “crabs”.

2. Your photo albums: Come on, I know you have extensive catalogs of pictures from fieldwork or on trips with the family. All you have to do is place a picture into PowerPoint or inDesign, put a caption or a favorite quote around it, save as a jpeg and you have a short, sweet, and original post. Below is my husband looking out at a lake on our honeymoon in Maine with a John Muir quote attached which I posted on John Muir’s birthday.

Colin in Maine

3. Mentors: Sure you have a mentor and you typically focus on what they do NOW as a goal … but, take time to focus on HOW they got to where they are today. Interviews make great posts. Were there any particular people – in or out of science — who helped and encouraged their interest in science at an early age?

4. Citizen science projects: You may be in a rut because you’ve dissected your methods and discipline to death on your blog. Take time out to participate in a citizen science project or volunteer project that you might enjoy and write about your experience. What do they do that you could incorporate into your own discipline?

5. Other “non-science” related blogs: You might obsess over science blogs to see what others in our cohort are doing these days, but take time out to check out blogs of your other interests as well. For instance, I found the inspiration for the series “What Marine Conservationists Are Into …” from my cousin’s fashion blog. You know you’re into your cars, music, food … how do they do it and how can you do it better?

6. Google search: horseshoecrabsearchYes, it’s THAT simple sometimes. I’ve been known to type in a word and see what phrases populate in the Google search bar. I like to think to myself “populate” is linked somehow to “popular” so this is what people are reading about on this particular subject. For instance, when I type in “horseshoe crab” you see what populates. Along those same lines, Google image searches can provide some interesting inspiration as well.

7. Your audience: Looking through the statistics of your blog and reviewing how your audience is referred to your blog can draw some interesting inspiration. From those clicks you can see which posts are the most popular and you can share more on that topic.

8. Think ahead: Are there any strange holidays or major milestones in your field that are coming up? Is the anniversary of a significant paper published in your field creeping up? Are there any monumental televisions shows about to end their run? Use these events as a way to craft a post that will certainly be shared due to its timely relevance.

9. Magazine covers: This is the opposite of “Think ahead” and can help make something you may have already posted seem fresh and innovative. Use magazines to find crafty titles and then formulate a post around that title. For instance, “Secrets of …”, “6 new ways to …”, “5 myths about …”, “3 easy plans to …”, “How to easily understand …”, “Can you imagine life without …?”, “Top 8 benefits of …”, “5 things you might not know about …”, or “5 reasons … is like …” are all fun ways of drawing people in on a subject. Remember, even if you’ve already shared this information of your blog, repackaging it with new and updated pictures isn’t a no-no.

10. You: Even if you have created an “About me” page on your blog take time to share with your audience a little bit more about where you grew up, how you got into your field (this is probably not your first job), the methods behind your science (you know there is never enough room for that in a published paper), a funny story from your fieldwork, or what inspires you. Not all of that needs to be in one post. Make it a short series. It’s great practice in building a narrative which can help in translating your science to others in-person.

Playing well with others? Dissecting the tension between the scientist-educator community

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge”.
Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955) German-Swiss-U.S. scientist

 “The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he’s one who asks the right questions”.
Claude Levi-Strauss (1908 – 2009) French anthropologist and ethnologist

“Those that can’t do, teach”.

It’s unfortunate, but the last phrase above affected my psyche as a child and young adult. I felt that I should go into science and prove that I could ‘do’. I am glad that I did because I’ve spent a decade doing various levels of field and laboratory work (or more recently overseeing grants of those doing field work and then I get to promote their work). It wasn’t until recently that I’ve began to embrace my desire to teach marine science to the masses. If you’ve been following my blog, Beach Chair Scientist, this can be illustrated – hopefully – in the increased quality of content that I’ve become committed to presenting in the past few months. All the while, I kept coming back to why I didn’t go in this direction in the beginning of my career and remembered that it was because I wanted to be seen as someone who could ‘do’. Boy, is that a regret! I have come to realize that non-formal education and all forms of teaching are ‘doing’ and we should all embrace the significant role of teachers, environmental educators, and science communicators play in our society.

Teachers are often our first connection to the big, expansive, beautiful world. Rejecting teachers, environmental educators, and science communicators because it seems as though they ‘play with kids all day’ or ‘invent games and just make PowerPoint presentations’ is irreverent. We become teachers, environmental educators, and science communicators because there is an inexplicable piece within all of us, not to find the answers or pose a question, but rather see “understanding wash over a child” or adult. Our moment of ‘eureka’ and validation is not when we’ve been published, but is centered on sharing the natural world and illuminating connections that may not have been obvious to others.

It seems as though there is a tension when teachers, environmental educators, and science communicators try to gain access to the science department for new knowledge. I can understand that no one wants to part with their work and have someone treat it as their own. But, I don’t think anyone believes that is the case. The relationship between the scientist and those promoting the data (teachers, environmental educators, and science communicators) should be constantly cultivated and sharing findings should be part of the process. I am glad that there is a new generation of scientists learning to engage the public with the use of social media to share findings and learn from other.

But, dare I say that it seems like pulling teeth when anyone that is trained to deal with the public tries to promote findings and interpret and translate scientific information? There are many wonderful organizations (e.g., COMPASS) dedicated to teaching scientists how to connect their science to the wider world, but connecting with nearby neighbors (i.e., coworkers) is vital and builds upon respect for one another. Teachers, environmental educators, and science communicators should be seen as an extension of the news media. Often we get creative with our translations of scientific findings and the news media will cover the interpretation rather than read an abstract. Teachers, environmental educators, and science communicators are highly trained with working with all different audiences. Furthermore, we’re well versed in techniques to filter, spin, coordinate, and share data appropriately (i.e., infographics or demonstrations in classrooms).

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on the topic. Recently, I posed the question “Is the scientist-educator/communicator relationship one of a) love-hate tension, b) complete mutual respect, c) neither, or d) both a and b?” on Twitter and Facebook. Comments we’re few and far between most leaning towards b and d.

Related posts:

Dear Online Science Writing Community: A reminder for ‘call to actions’ because your perspective is priceless

Dear Online Science Writing Community: A reminder for ‘call to actions’ because your perspective is priceless

Journalists and colleagues are not the only ones reading your blog posts. The internet is home to where our nation’s kids are uncovering the answers to homework. But, they are also using the internet to learn more on what sparked their curiosity whilst investigating the world beyond-the-monitor. As an unanticipated consequence your amazing fact-filled posts, peppered with personal experience, are inspiring a new generation into fields in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM). It does not seem as though this is news to anyone since the response to the contributions of ‘This is What a Scientist Looks Like’ is amazing! More to my point – I ask you – the estimable Online Science Writing Community – to take advantage of the influence you have on the impressionable youths of this wonderful planet while sharing your knowledge online. Like it or not – they’re reading, but the good news is that they’re remembering and sharing what they read.

Sure your research is sent off to decisions makers to be reviewed. What if we also cut out the middle man and used your own voice to affect change? You’ve exposed surprising evidence that things we could do or don’t do day-to-day would vastly improve our lives and give our planet a more sustainable future. I’d be so much more apt to listen to a blogger than someone who was telling me that I had to do something because it’s now a law or a mandate. Even if this is something that you already do from time-to-time – keep doing it because your perspective is priceless. And if you don’t – why not?

Much of the advice that Nancy Baron proposed to scientists interested in sharing their knowledge in her book, A Guide to Making Your Science Matter: Escape from the Ivory Tower, would translate well when communicating to, not only journalists and policy makers, but also teenagers, young adults, and the curious non-STEM professional public. For instance, “start thinking about what the journalist and his or her audience needs from you: clear, concise, conversational answers“, “Stepping outside your comfort zone to reach can have tremendous payoffs“, and “While dealing with backlash is no fun, many scientists agree that the end result is often worthwhile“.

Yes, this might mean you have to come up with a pseudonym because a grant would be pulled if you were contradicting a sponsor. But, often times having an opinion can be harmless.  Take the opportunity to not only feed the public’s thirst for education with with your own personal style, but also make gentle suggestions to mold the young audience into becoming environmentally-responsible citizen. My hidden agenda might not be much of a surprise here, but I am asking you – the Online Science Writing Community – to be an influential part the environmental education (EE) movement.

What is environmental education? To me, environmental education is a holistic approach of science in practicality. But, here are some more comprehensive definitions that encompass the concept.

  • Colorado Association of Environmental Education: Environmental education is a life-long learning process that increases awareness about the environment and its systems while developing critical-thinking skills that enable responsible decision-making.
  • Program, Classroom Earth: Environmental education is the process, activities and experiences—across disciplines—that lead students to have a greater understanding of how the earth’s resources and natural systems work and interact with each other and with human-made systems.
  • Program, Common Circle: Environmental education teaches people about the natural world and how their actions may affect it. This learning may take place in a formal classroom setting or the term may be used more broadly to describe efforts to inform the public about ecosystems and sustainable living.

Given also that the 5 principles of EE are awareness, knowledge, attitudes, skills, and participation (Tbilisi Declaration, 1997), it would seem as though any blogger with a bio that integrates 1) why you are passionate about your STEM field, 2) what led you to that field, and 3) how you’ve made an impact on the field would therefore be the perfect person to continue to share important outcomes to readers for the all-inclusive EE approach. I understand that often research cannot be shared until published, but I can say that I would be much more apt to make personal decisions about my day-to-day life from the responsible people that conducted the research rather from those that regurgitated it.

Thank you to all of the hard working scientists that share your lab and field adventures online. I will continue to be amazed by your dedication and conviction. You have a unique voice and a head full of ideas worth sharing. You have the ability to affect change and I remind you to take advantage of it.

“The ideal scientist thinks like a poet, works like a clerk, and writes like a journalist.” – E.O. Wilson

It’s not what vision is, it’s what vision does.” Peter Senge, The Necessary Revolution