I was Ninterviewed!

April 8th, 2011

First, what an honor to be interviewed by THE Ninja.

Second, how fun! I could have hung out and talked for hours. Everyone needs more Ninja in their life.

Check it out:

Thinking About Epigenetics

March 1st, 2011

This morning, I was totally taken by the focus on epigenetics in this month’s issue of The Scientist magazine. It’s a fascinating area of study that looks at mechanisms of inheritance and development that fall outside the usual genetic mechanisms.

For years, researchers investigating inheritance focused solely on DNA and RNA as the blueprints for what makes us who we are. However, over the past 80 years research has amassed suggesting that there is much more to the picture. Namely, expression of genes can be controlled through one process termed imprinting or another called X-chromosome inactivation, and chemical modifications by structures, called histones, that wrap DNA into little bundles, and a process called methylation.

The various modifications to DNA or RNA affect the ways that genes get expressed (like if they get turned on or off, or are expressed more or less), but not the genes themselves. Darwinian natural selection and Mendelian genetics are still major forces acting on the genes themselves (so, don’t go off half cocked crying about Lamarckian ideas overturning over 100 years of evidence for the theory of evolution), but now we have a new tool to add to the toolbox to help us understand the very nuanced processes of adaptation and development.

From an article in The Scientist:

Eric Nestler, a psychiatrist at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, explained that behavioral researchers “are moving to a far broader definition of epigenetics which simply refers to any lasting change in gene expression mediated by an alteration in chromosomal structure.” “

What I find fascinating, is the idea that these modifications can arise during an individuals lifetime. It’s a mechanism that has the potential to explain how experience during someone’s lifetime can 1) effect changes in their behavior and 2) effect changes in the behavior of subsequent generations.

Epigenetics is no longer like genetics, which can look at individuals, but preferentially looks at changes to populations on a generational timescale. Rather, epigenetics diverges from genetics because it can explore changes within and between individuals on multiple timescales: second to second, minute to minute, year to year, or generation to generation.

Again, from The Scientist:

Szyf… speculates that behavioral epigenetics might end up showing that adult learning is simply development, continued. Perhaps, he says, “it’s all development, starting from preconception to death.” “

If the articles from The Scientist aren’t enough for you, we did a review of epigenetic research on TWIS last year, and interviewed one of the leading epigenetic researchers, Dr. Andrew Feinberg, back in 2007. In both cases, the coverage starts in the second half of the program, so you will need to fast forward a little bit to get to the pertinent info.

Climate Change and Coral Reefs

January 31st, 2011

For the past several years, news of the decline of coral species and coral reef ecosystems has increased dramatically. Ostensibly, we are hearing more about corals as a direct result of the work scientists are doing to help us learn more and more about the tight inter-relationship between the Earth’s climate and the oceans.

Last year, I was involved in a project with The Video Project, Plankton Productions, Curriculum Corporation, The Learning Federation, and Specialty Studios to create a video series for students on the subject of climate change and coral reefs. The project was based on a presentation given by Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a globally recognized marine biologist, at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. I worked as the host of the videos, and as Creative Adviser, working closely with the Instructional Design consultant, Nancy Wolfberg, on the writing, editing, and animations.

The primary goal of the project was to create a series of short videos that science teachers could use as supplements to help familiarize students with the basic science of both coral reefs and climate change. Secondarily, but even more importantly, we wanted our videos to instill an understanding of the nature of scientific inquiry that students would take with them from the classroom to the real world. In doing so, we hoped to counteract the very depressing scientific statistics presented across the videos with a feeling of empowerment… we wanted to leave the students with the impression that they are capable and don’t have to wait for adults in order to substantially affect their environments.

Here is a little taste of our introductory video:

I’m proud to say that I think we achieved our goals. The DVD that is currently available through The Video Project is a valuable teaching tool:

“The DVD includes:

Four 8-minute video modules hosted by Dr. Kiki Sanford.
The modules feature Dr. Sanford and excerpts from a presentation by Prof. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg:

  • Introduction to Climate Change and Coral Reefs
  • Coral Bleaching
  • Ocean Acidification
  • The Future of Coral Reefs.

The full 28-minute presentation by Prof. Hoegh-Guldberg.
Details his scientific findings about the impact of climate change on coral reefs, with charts, graphs and other visuals.

A Detailed Teacher’s Guide.
Featuring an innovative group discussion format (Climate Café), templates for team-based
investigations and presentations, a glossary, Science magazine reprints, and a comprehensive
list of other resources and links (on the DVD-ROM section).

Visual Resources for Student Presentations.
Video clips, animations and other resources (on the DVD-ROM section).

All video segments are illustrated with footage from renowned underwater filmmaker David Hannan.”

I think the Teacher’s Guide is brilliant. It takes engagement with the material to a whole new level in and outside of the classroom. Additionally, source materials and all of the animations are available for the students to use in their own research and presentations, giving them the opportunity to put their own spin on what they learn.

So, if you are a science teacher (or home school your kids!), or know someone who might be interested in this teaching resource to supplement their teaching of climate change and coral reefs, please pass this information along!

If you are a teacher or student in Australia or New Zealand, where I believe these videos are available through the Curriculum Corporation, please let me know what you think of the video project. I’d love your feedback.

Also, Specialty Studios and The Video Project will have a booth at the 2011 National Conference of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) in San Francisco. I hope to be able to make an appearance at the event, and be able to talk with teachers in person about our labor of love. However, it’s rather close to the due date of my first child, so I will be sure to keep people apprised of developments.

I hope people enjoy and get much use out of our creation. It took the devotion and hard work of many talented individuals to see it to completion.

Another Nano Check-up!

January 21st, 2011

How are things going? Well, great!

Nano is growing steadily, and according to all markers my pregnancy is progressing without any issues (I won’t say without any hiccups because Nano has those all the time). I’m in the middle of trying to do my usual job of creating science programming while at the same time trying to plan for my maternity leave. The juggling is fun. Really.

I’m also trying to figure out things like what kinds of diapers to buy and where to put the baby’s things, while I try to ignore the fact that I am going to have to go through with labor whether or not I like it. Seriously, I am in denial that this is actually going to happen. Can’t I just have this little guy spring fully formed from my forehead? No? Fine.

We still haven’t decided on a name. There are several contenders, but every time I say them for a while I end up really disliking them. Not good for a name I might potentially be saying several hundred thousand times (at least) over the course of years.

IF you are interested in the progression of things, check out the following videos, which were harvested from TWiT’s Justin.tv feed by gldisater:

Week 33:

Watch live video from gldisater on Justin.tv

Week 34:

Watch live video from gldisater on Justin.tv

Week 35:

Watch live video from gldisater on Justin.tv

5 more weeks to go people…

Has NASA Found Extra-Terrestrial Life?

November 30th, 2010

The answer is most likely no. Yet, the internet is a-buzz with contemplation about the subject of this coming Thursday’s press conference.

Kottke.org has a great breakdown of the team making the announcement, which does give us some clues. In fact, looking at the website of Felisa Wolfe-Simon, the hints are right on the surface:

“As a NASA fellow, she now has the support and time to continue in hot pursuit of all things arsenic-based in collaboration with the ASU NAI team and the U.S. Geological Survey. Her current data are so exciting she can’t discuss them, even here! A few more experiments and she should have all the data she needs to demonstrate her hypothesis may well be verified…stay tuned. But really, in the end, its not just about arsenic. It is about looking at what is and thinking about what might be and, importantly, how to find it. When the dust settles, we will then see how we can and shouldFollow the Elements” to lead us to what we might think of as new and novel “biology”- seemingly alien and yet potentially all around us! Iron, arsenic, copper, bismuth… its a whole periodic table out there. And yes, you too may be “off your trolley ” enough to jump in! But high risk, high gain….and the future of science! These data will speak louder than any speculation… again, stay tuned…”

What we probably have to look forward to is an announcement about data from her Mono Lake research that combined with the research of others on the panel will suggest possibilities for arsenic-based life here on earth and on other planets in the solar system. Felisa has been working on the idea of a “shadow biosphere” for a few years now, and just might have the evidence to support it finally.

So, no, not the finding of life, but evidence that we should be looking at things a different way in order to close in on it. That’s my guess.

Update: Oh, and The Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait, has a great post telling you all to chill out about it already… maybe in a few more words than I’ve used here to paraphrase him.

More Nano!

November 15th, 2010

We are officially into the third trimester!!! The home stretch…

Week 22:
Watch live video from gldisater on Justin.tv

Week 23:
Watch live video from gldisater on Justin.tv

Week 24:
Watch live video from gldisater on Justin.tv

Week 25:
Watch live video from gldisater on Justin.tv

Nano is A’Comin’

October 15th, 2010

Each week since I informed TWIT viewers that I’m pregnant, I’ve done a check-in on-camera to let people follow along with the pregnancy’s progress.One of my regular audience members, known as gldisater in the chatroom, has created highlights from the broadcast on Justin.tv. It’s really neat to look back and see how much things have changed in just a few short weeks.Here are the broadcast highlights in order from the first to the most recent… enjoy!:

Week 12:

Watch live video from gldisater on Justin.tv

Week 17:

Watch live video from gldisater on Justin.tv

Week 18:

Watch live video from gldisater on Justin.tv

Week 19:

Watch live video from gldisater on Justin.tv

Week 20:

Watch live video from gldisater on Justin.tv

Week 21:

Watch live video from gldisater on Justin.tv

And, that’s all so far, folks! 😀

What is Space?

October 13th, 2010

It’s an interesting question. I’ve been asked for my thoughts on space by a design student, Stephen White.

What does space mean to you? Whether that means time away from education/family/work, or an area away from the world. A place that is your own. How does space make you feel and what emotion does it provoke within you?”

Here’s what I wrote for him:

Space is possibility. It is the imperative to explore and discover. Whether it is outer space or the inner space of atoms or of our brains, it leads to fundamental questions. Those questions are the beginning of a journey of understanding and enlightenment.

Who are we? Where are we? What are we doing here? Why are we here? Where do “I” begin? When did this begin? When does it end?

Space means there is something rather than nothing, and that means everything.

The Green Remix

September 28th, 2010

So, earlier this summer I worked on a show called Green Tech Today with Sarah Lane at the TWiT Network. It was a highly produced, magazine style program that was meant to whet the green whistle of the TWiT audience and also (hopefully) pull in a bit of a new audience for TWiT.

For a variety of reasons, the show was stopped after releasing only two episodes. We shot five episodes that you may eventually see in various stages of dress in other programming since they will never be released as Green Tech Today. Why?

Well, Green Tech Today has been remixed and gotten a facelift. Thankfully, it wasn’t relegated to the dustbin, but given a second chance. No longer is it the Green Tech variety show. Rather, it’s now:

The TWiT Networks Top 25 Green Tech Innovators Series

I will be hosting it along with the world-famous Becky Worley, who is also the executive producer for this fine show.

And, just released yesterday, here is the first of the new incarnation of Green Tech Today:

If you like the show, be sure to subscribe and get your audio or video preference every week while the series lasts! Some up coming highlights include SeaGen’s wave power and Zero Motorcycle’s electric bikes.

Teach Your Children Well

September 27th, 2010

A line from a song by Crosby, Stills, and Nash that speaks volumes to the report that is out this week on the worsening state of science education in America.

Why is it that we can argue about immigration, health care, the Tea Partiers and whether or not President Obama is a citizen, but stand by idly while the public school system deteriorates?

Is that where the voting public really wants this country to go? Is ‘Idiocracy‘ the future of our country?

I hate to even entertain such thoughts. Thankfully, I know many, many hard working people who care deeply about the education of our country’s children, and who will keep working to see that improvements to the educational system are made, with or without such a report.

Is the situation really as dire as the report makes it out to be? Maybe, maybe not.

In a USA Today article discussing responses to the report, there is a quote from one B. Lindsay Lowell of Georgetown:

“It’s easy to understand with the America COMPETES Act up for renewal why advocates would frame the situation this way. But it seems less helpful to frame things in a voice of crisis rather than a more reasoned response. Things aren’t as bad as this report paints them.”

Mr. Lowell issued a study in 2007 that concluded there were more than enough science and engineering graduates for the jobs that were available. So, ok, there are lots of graduates, but are they qualified, Mr. Lowell? That could be part of the problem. Just because people are graduating does not automatically make them able to perform a job.

Also, why are there fewer jobs than graduates? Why isn’t our country exploding with technological industry? Wouldn’t funding R&D through the America COMPETES Act lead to more jobs in that sector?

In this issue, as in all others, it does help to try to see as many sides of the issue as possible. But, the side I keep coming back to is the side with the children who are going to be our future. If the children are not educated well, there is not much hope for the future of this country. Shouldn’t protecting the future be something of a priority?

So, Mr. Lowell, I do think that framing this issue as a crisis is necessary. How else will it get the attention it deserves when there are so many loud mouths clogging up the media?

Since when has a reasoned political debate worked to fire up the public (and thus the politicians) in recent history?

Where is Whitney Houston when we need her most!?! (And, I mean pre-crackhead Whitney who sang with such conviction, I almost believed she believed what she was singing)