Better living through microbes at Hot Science – Cool Talks

Bacterial morphology diagram (Image credit: Mariana Ruiz with Wikipedia)

Bacterial morphology diagram (Image credit: Mariana Ruiz with Wikipedia)

Microbes have been in the news a lot lately, usually as part of a video or story about the problems they cause, as with the case of Listeria in ice cream.

Listeria is a terrible bacteria that lives in soil and water and can spread to and thrive in food processing plants. Getting rid of Listeria requires cooking and pasteurization, which helps before food is cooked, but not afterwards when it’s packaged. Listeria is hard to eliminate because it grows in cold temperatures.

But not all microbes are bad. Many, in fact most, are actually good.

As part of his TED talk, microbiologist Dr. Jonathan Eisen talks about how microbes play a role in our defense, boost our immune system, protect our auto-immune system, fight off stress, and more. In addition to Dr. Eisen’s video, here are more sites to help you learn about the benefits of microbes:

Better living through microbes

Better living through microbes (Image credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute)

Better living through microbes (Image credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute)

Microbes are all around us, and researchers are studying how microbes live and evolve to see how they can benefit us, such as to improve our health or create new products.

Dr. Lydia Contreras and her research group are studying how microbes live in toxic environments. (Dr. Contreras is an Assistant Professor, Chemical Engineering, at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin).) What they discover could help build new molecules to act as early warning systems for preventing disease.

Learn about the benefits of microbes with Dr. Contreras at the next Hot Science – Cool Talk presentation, Better living through microbes, on Friday, May 1, 2015. The lecture starts at 7:00 pm in the Welch Hall Auditorium on the UT Austin campus. Be sure to get there early because the community science fair with lots of fun activities starts at 5:45 pm.

Chemistry in high school is fun, but I really liked studying biology in high school, and I’m excited about learning more about microbes at this Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation on Friday.

ESI Third Annual Education and Outreach Dinner

 Dr. Jay Banner, Commander Ben, Dr. Chris Kirk, and Dr. Rebecca Lewis at the 2014 UT ESI Education and Outreach Dinner

Dr. Jay Banner, Commander Ben, Dr. Chris Kirk, and Dr. Rebecca Lewis at the 2014 UT ESI Education and Outreach Dinner

UT Austin Environmental Science Institute (ESI) puts together these awesome Hot Science – Cool Talks presentations that combine science, learning, and fun.

If you’re looking for an opportunity to support ESI, their outreach mission, and their program to educate future researchers in environmental science, you can get tickets to ESI’s third annual education outreach dinner, which will be on April 29, 2015, in the Google Fiber Space in downtown Austin.

Spring 2015 – Hot Science – Cool Talks

Here are some of my blog posts covering events for this spring semester. You can also catch up on Hot Science – Cool Talks past events.

The microbes presentation in May is the last one until this fall, so don’t miss it!

Your friend,
Ben

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Kid Talk Panel Video at the 2015 Children and Nature Conference

Sahil Shah, Benjamin Shrader, and Andy Kuhlken take questions from the audience after the Kid Talk presentation at the 2015 Children and Nature Conference

Sahil Shah, Benjamin Shrader, and Andy Kuhlken take questions from the audience after the Kid Talk presentation at the 2015 Children and Nature Conference

It was such an honor to be part of the Kid Talk panel at the Children and Nature Network Conference on April 7, 2015.

I talked about the panel and conference on my earlier blog posts. Here’s a video of our Kid Panel presentations and the questions we fielded from the audience.

Here are more pictures from the conference:

The Kid Talk panel had a great room and scheduled time at the 2015 Children and Nature Conference

The Kid Talk panel had a great room and scheduled time at the 2015 Children and Nature Conference

Sahil Shah, Benjamin Shrader, and Andy Kuhlken preparing for the Kid Talk at the 2015 Children and Nature Conference with Mr. Trevor Hance

Sahil Shah, Benjamin Shrader, and Andy Kuhlken preparing for the Kid Talk at the 2015 Children and Nature Conference with Mr. Trevor Hance

One of my Adventures with Invasive Species slides where I talk about the origin of Commander Ben at the 2015 Children and Nature Conference

One of my Adventures with Invasive Species slides where I talk about the origin of Commander Ben at the 2015 Children and Nature Conference

The Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center had an informative display at the back of the meeting room at the 2015 Children and Nature Conference

The Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center had an informative display at the back of the meeting room at the 2015 Children and Nature Conference

I had a great time with my friends, Andy and Sahil!

I had a great time with my friends, Andy and Sahil!


Earlier conference blog posts

Update: Additional web articles about the conference:

Thank you Mr. Hance, Mrs. Kuhlken, Ms. Addie Broussard with the Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center, and all the conference organizers for inviting me to be part of this outstanding event. I look forward to talking more with the many wonderful naturalists and nature leaders that I met during the event.

Your friend,
Ben

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Superstition in Science – UT Austin Hot Science Cool Talk

Contrary to popular belief, Zeus did not carry lighting bolts in his right hand. (Image credits: Zeus from Project Gutenberg and Lighting from Smial wikipedia)

Contrary to popular belief, Zeus did not carry lighting bolts in his right hand. (Image credits: Zeus from Project Gutenberg and Lighting from Smial wikipedia)

We really have to thank the ancient Greeks for giving us a lot, including democracy, philosophy, art, and architecture. Science? Well, yes and no. Some of their science was born out of superstition.

They believed in a plethora of gods that had magical powers over them and the environment. Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon were the big three Greek gods who the ancients thought held sway over the land, and indeed their very lives.

But we now know (hopefully) that many of the powers they would have attributed to Zeus were just electricity from thunderstorms.

Since the days of old, our knowledge of science has expanded past superstition. Instead of rolling dice, we use the scientific method to provide an objective and standardized approach to conducting experiments and learning.

Update: A fan of the Greek mythology book series with Percy Jackson? Check out Rick Riordan Talks About Mark of Athena and His New Norse Demigod Series.

Why Do We Believe in the Unbelievable?

Why Do We Believe in the Unbelievable? (Image credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute)

Why Do We Believe in the Unbelievable? (Image credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute)

This Friday’s Hot Science – Cool Talk presentation, Why Do We Believe in the Unbelievable?: The Science of Supernatural Belief, by Dr. Bruce Hood, Professor, Experimental Psychology at the University of Bristol, United Kingdom, explores why many people believe in supernatural phenomena.

This intriguing lecture starts on Friday, April 10, 2015, at 5:45 pm with a community science fair. Those are lots of fun. The main program begins at 7:00 pm in the Welch Hall Auditorium on the UT Austin campus.

Spring 2015 – Hot Science – Cool Talks

UT Austin Environmental Science Institute (ESI) puts together these awesome presentations that combine science, learning, and fun. Here’s a list of the events for this spring semester. You can also catch up on Hot Science – Cool Talks past events.

Your friend,
Ben

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Video Previews for the Kid Talk Panel at the Children and Nature Conference 2015

Commander Ben checking into the Children and Nature Network Conference 2015

Commander Ben checking into the Children and Nature Network Conference 2015

Wow! What an exciting evening yesterday at the Children and Nature Conference 2015. I talked with so many great naturalists and nature enthusiasts during the reception at the Hyatt Lost Pines last night.

Here’s a video preview of my Adventures with Invasive Species presentation and fellow speakers Andy Kuhlken and Sahil Shah for our Kid Talk panel today, April, 7, 2015.

Here’s a video interview with my fellow presenters, Andy Kuhlken and Sahil Shah. Andy will be talking about “Minecraft and Biophilic Design”, and Sahil Shah will be talking about “Who Is a Scientist? A Fifth Grader Finds a Voice Through iNaturalist”.

I’m thrilled to be speaking on a panel with them! Join us today at the conference!

Your friend,
Ben

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Kid Talk Panel at the Children and Nature Network Conference 2015

Children and Nature Network Conference 2015 (Image credit: Children and Nature Network)

Children and Nature Network Conference 2015 (Image credit: Children and Nature Network)

I’m excited to be part of this week’s Children and Nature Network Conference (C&NN) from April 7-9, 2015, at the Hyatt Lost Pines.

This conference brings together worldwide leaders to learn about what visionaries, policy makers, scientists, naturalists, and technology enthusiasts are doing to promote nature and nature-rich communities for children and families.

There’s no question technology is important to our everyday lives. Since I have dyslexia, I use technology on my iPhone, iPad, and Mac everyday to help me learn in high school, take pictures, research topics, enjoy entertainment, and keep up with current events.

But it’s important not to lose our love of nature. There’s nothing that can replace exploring the animal and plant life in our streams and waterways, walking through the majestic Redwood forests, and seeing our beautiful Texas wildflowers. Kids need technology to help them be successful in their everyday lives, but we don’t want them to lose their love of and appreciation for the natural world.

Adventures with Invasive Species

I’m part of the Kid Talk panel during the first day of the conference. During my “Adventures with Invasive Species” presentation, I’ll talk about how I battled with invasives by bringing together technology and nature through my blog commanderben.com and my YouTube channel. My blog posts and Battles with Invasive Species video series entertain and teach kids of all ages about nature by helping kids learn about and how to stop the spread of invasive species.

As part of my presentation, I’ll also share my experiences in the digital world, as a citizen scientist with the Invaders of Texas Program, which is part of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

I’ll also share my experiences in the physical world about bringing my Invasive Hunter Academy to nature events across Texas and to the US Botanic Garden in Washington DC.

With the Invasive Hunter Academy, kids can learn about invasive species through visual means, actions moves, and physical crafts. With my dyslexia, I have a special fondness for the academy because it helps kids with different learning styles learn in different ways.

Kid Talk panel

As part of the panel, I’m with two innovative kids who will be talking about how they’re bringing together technology and nature:

  • Minecraft and Biophilic Design – Andy Kuhlken will talk about how biophilic design principles can be incorporated into Minecraft. He’ll also show examples of how nature can be involved while playing a computer game. Andy is an eighth grader at the Austin Montessori School.
  • Who Is a Scientist? A Fifth Grader Finds a Voice Through iNaturalist – Sahil Shah will talk about his eight-week ecology-based service learning project, where his interests led him to iNaturalist and how he realized the value of his own voice. Sahil is now a sixth grader at Canyon Vista Middle School.

These are going to be great presentations! Creating biomes in Minecraft is a lot of fun and a great way to learn about ecosystems. iNaturalist let’s you record what you see in nature, meet other naturalists, and learn about the natural world around you.

Keynote speakers

Keynote speakers at the Children and Nature Network Conference 2015 (Image credit: Children and Nature Network)

Keynote speakers at the Children and Nature Network Conference 2015 (Image credit: Children and Nature Network)

There will be a lot of outstanding speakers at the conference, including:

  • Richard Louv, Chairman Emeritus for the Children & Nature Network and author of many books, including the Last Child in the Woods, will talk about “The Case for Nature in a Virtual World”. Mr. Louv coined the term “Nature-Deficit Disorder”!
  • Gil (Guillermo) Penalosa, Founder and Board Chair of 8-80 Cities, will talk about “The Nature-Rich City: Creating Vibrant & Healthy Communities for All”.
  • Laura Turner Seydel, Chairperson of the Captain Planet Foundation, will talk as part of the “Increasing Nature Connections for Children: A Funder’s Perspective” panel. Ms. Seydel is also a co-founder of the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper.
  • Dr. Scott D. Sampson, Vice President of Research & Collections and Chief Curator of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, will talk as part of the “Successful Nature-Connection Projects—’Getting Past the Grown-Ups'” panel. Dr. Sampson is also an author of many books.
  • Melina Gerosa Bellows, Chief Education Officer for the National Geographic Society, will talk about “Raising Tomorrow’s Explorers”. Ms. Bellows is also a best-selling author of children and adult outdoor adventure books.

Thanks to Mr. Trevor Hance, Outdoor Learning Specialist with Laurel Mountain Elementary; Mrs. Heather Kuhlken, Founder and Director of Austin Families in Nature; Ms. Addie Broussard, Natural science educator with the Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center; and all the conference organizers for inviting me to be part of this fantastic event.

Hope to talk with you more at tomorrow’s conference!

Your friend,
Ben

Update: Watch Video Previews for the Kid Talk Panel at the Children and Nature Conference 2015

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Bastard Cabbage Takes Over Texas Wildflowers

 A tsunami of Yellow Bastard Cabbage flowers threatens to overwhelm Texas wildflowers

A tsunami of Yellow Bastard Cabbage flowers threatens to overwhelm Texas wildflowers

What are those tall plants with yellow flowers in your pictures with Texas Bluebonnets? The invasive species Bastard Cabbage is taking over Texas wildflowers, but there is a way we can fight back. Watch my latest Bastard Cabbage Takes Over Texas Wildflowers YouTube video.

The war rages on. The Texas Bluebonnet, Indian Paintbrush, and other Texas wildflowers are still battling it out with the Bastard Cabbage since I created the Native Plant Avengers YouTube video.

Commander Ben invites you to join the fight against the Bastard Cabbage

Commander Ben invites you to join the fight against the Bastard Cabbage

There are still a lot Bastard Cabbage invasive plants out there, but the good news is that more people know that the tall plant with yellow flowers is not native to Texas, and they can take steps to stop the spread of the invasive Bastard Cabbage and plant more native Texas wildflowers.

Your friend,
Ben

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Get to Know Austin’s Conservation Wildlands

Dr. Kevin Thuesen, Program Manager with the City of Austin’s Water Quality Protection Lands, talked with KXAN about converting the City of Austin’s wildlands back to their native state. In the video, you’ll learn about prescribed burns on the lands and how native people used the native Prickly Ash or toothache tree.

You’ll also learn about their efforts to get rid of invasive plants like King Ranch Bluestem (KR Bluestem). (Sounds like a job for your friendly-neighborhood Amazing Invasive Hunter Man.)

The Austin conservation wildlands include the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP), which includes habitat for the endangered Golden Cheek Warbler, and Water Quality Protection Lands (WQPL) that include lands that help to feed the Barton Springs Aquifer.

Water is so important to Central Texas. The Texas Water Resources Institute describes how protecting our land helps to protect our water. (The Colorado River Alliance also helps to keep the water in Lake Travis clean.)

I’ve had a chance to go on many hikes and volunteer with Austin’s Wildland Conservation Division. Here are a few of the posts on my past adventures on the BCP and WQPL:

Take a hike on Wildland Conservation Division lands

Cripple Crawfish Cave Whirlpool in Onion Creek

Cripple Crawfish Cave Whirlpool in Onion Creek

Spring is the best time to take a guided hike on the water quality lands. Plants are green. Flowers are blooming. Water’s flowing. There’s a lot of life, birds and insects.

Normally, the BCP and WQPL lands are not open to the public to protect the land for endangered species and water quality, but there are many hikes that you can take with experienced guides to enjoy the lands and learn about the diverse plants and animals that inhabit these unique ecosystems.

In the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, April guided hikes include:

  • 4/26 – Finding Austin’s Endangered ones

On the Water Quality Protection Lands, April guided hikes include:

  • 4/10 – Scenic Springs and Hidden Vistas
  • 4/11 – Onion Creek Exploration
  • 4/11 – Sunset at Slaughter Creek
  • 4/24 – Big Views at Little Barton
  • 4/25 – Insect Safari

Sign up for a guided hike with the Wildland Conservation Division.

You can also help to remove the Invasive Star Thistle and volunteer for other activities on Austin Wildland Conservation Lands.

To learn about upcoming events, be sure to join the Wildland Conservation Division email list to get the latest updates from Ms. Amanda Ross, volunteer coordinator with the City of Austin.

I hope you’ll have fun with one of these hikes this spring!

Your friend,
Ben

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