Former astronaut Chris Hadfield helps debunk (and confirm!) some common myths about space. Is there any sound in space? Does space smell like burnt steak? Is NASA working on warp speed?
“[H]alf of that greening comes from carbon dioxide itself. In other words, the fact that we’re putting more carbon dioxide into the air means there’s more fuel to grow plants and when a plant has more carbon dioxide in yet doesn’t have to open its pores so much so it doesn’t lose so much water in absorbing the carbon dioxide that it needs to grow and so there’s tons of experiments now showing that plants grow faster if there’s more carbon dioxide in the air; roughly speaking on average for a 200 parts per million increase in carbon dioxide in the air you get a 30% improvement in plant growth. That’s experiments both in the field and in the laboratory. So it’s really quite a remarkable phenomenon here because of the burning of fossil fuels we’re making the planet greener. It’s an astonishing discovery I think. I think it’s rather amazing and of course it’s an incredibly unwelcome discovery for the environmental movement. They don’t want to hear this at all and how is it possible…” – Matt Ridley
Set foot on an alien world, on average three to four billion miles from the warmth of the sun.
On July 14, 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft zipped past Pluto, scanning the dwarf planet in unprecedented detail. Using data from that flyby, The New York Times created a seven-minute virtual reality film. Fly over Pluto’s rugged surface, stand among the icy al-Idrisi Mountains and touch down in frost-rimmed Elliot Crater. The film was produced in collaboration with the Lunar and Planetary Institute and the Universities Space Research Association.
Watch human population grow from 1 CE to present and see projected growth in under six minutes. One dot = 1 million people.
Hardly anybody knows basic science and technology these days. Few of us are going to wade through the National Academy of Sciences report. We depend on intermediaries to tell us what to think, and a lot of them are also scientifically illiterate. Most journalists are generally more interested in controversy than in evidence. Environmental activists are in the business of opposing, and have no interest in solving real-world problems like providing heat and light at a reasonable cost. The people who actually know how things work – engineers and technology types – tend to be uninterested in politics and are poor communicators. Meantime, some of the most deeply anti-science activists (like the artfully named Union of Concerned Scientists) are quoted as if they were neutral actors for the public interest.
Some of my dearest friends harbour irrational fears about nuclear power, agricultural chemicals and anything genetically modified. They consider themselves enlightened, and since enlightened people are against these things, they are too. These beliefs are an expression of identity, just as a belief in creationism is part of the identity of a Southern Baptist.
Fifty years ago, enlightened people campaigned to ban the bomb. Today, they campaign to ban GMOs and modern agriculture. Vivienne Westwood, the famous British fashion designer, hand-delivered an anti-GMO petition to the British government earlier this month. Asked about people who can’t afford expensive organic food, she declared that they should “eat less.” She believes one of the problems with non-organic mass food is that it’s too cheap.
But in most parts of the world, food is not too cheap. And the fear-mongering campaign against genetically modified food by the likes of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth has been a serious setback for global food security, depriving millions of people of more nutritious, affordable and sustainable food sources. “The actions of Greenpeace in forestalling the use of golden rice to address micronutrient deficiencies in children makes them the moral and indeed practical equivalent of the Nigerian mullahs who preached against the polio vaccine,” says Mark Lynas, an environmental activist who reversed his position on GMOs and now campaigns for them. “They were stopping a lifesaving technology solely to flatter their own fanaticism.”
The kind of doomsayers who warn that oil sands and pipelines will wreak environmental devastation are often the same people who warn that modern agriculture will prove catastrophic. These people are not harmless. As Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, observed, “If the naysayers do manage to stop agricultural biotechnology, they might actually precipitate the famines and the crisis of global biodiversity they have been predicting for nearly 40 years.”
Mystery Science provides open-and-go lessons that inspire kids to love science — by making it easy for elementary school teachers to deliver an incredible science lesson without a science background.
Rather than following a textbook approach to science vocabulary, Mystery Science employs hands-on activities to engage students with the wonders of science and expose them to the joy of scientific inquiry at an early age.
The site, created by former Facebook product manager for News Feed Keith Schacht and former LePort Schools science director Doug Peltz, makes it easy for teachers to deliver an incredible science lesson without a science background. With funding from a seed round led by 500 Startups, Mystery Science aspires to bring the unique approach Peltz created to every classroom. Lessons are aligned with Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards and designed to supplement existing curriculum.
“Elementary teachers are in an impossible situation, they’re expected to teach and be experts on every subject. Unfortunately the system too easily forces science to be an afterthought, given that few elementary teachers have a background in science and school funding is so tightly tied to test results in reading and math. Teachers understandably fall back on a textbook approach, which results in students being exposed to science vocabulary but never the mysteries behind the science. So we’re creating a new approach with less prep for teachers and more learning for students,” said Peltz, who taught science in the classroom for seven years before teaming up with Schacht to create the site.
Students in the United States rank 20th out of 34 countries in science, a situation that has not improved in the last five years despite a renewed focused on science and math education (PISA, 2012). “In spite of the national focus on STEM education, there is little focus on elementary science education. But these are the formative years when it’s most important,” said Schacht.
“Mystery Science supports teachers in exposing students to the joy of scientific inquiry at an early age,” Schacht continued, “We want to create that perfect ‘a-ha’ moment for students while helping elementary teachers who often struggle to teach science on top of every other subject.” Online modules include everything educators need, from visuals and videos, to step-by-step activity instructions and click-to-order materials.
While participating in a limited pilot with elementary teachers across the country, Katy Hyatt from Walnut Elementary in Iowa saw a marked difference in her class: “After starting Mystery Science, we had parent-teacher conferences and a parent remarked that whatever I’m doing with science right now, it’s really engaging. This mom’s son was coming home each night and telling her what he learned that day, taking her outside to look at the moon and find the constellations.”
The Mystery Science website is now live at mysteryscience.com. There, teachers can watch a video to learn more, explore a sample lesson, and sign up to participate for the upcoming school year.