Category Archives: Environmental Science Institute

Radiation resistant bacteria at UT Austin’s Hot Science – Cool Talks

Dr. Lydia Contreras and Ben Shrader before her Hot Science - Cool Talks presentation

Dr. Lydia Contreras and Ben Shrader before her Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation

I’m so happy that my high school sophomore year is over, and I did great on my finals!

In my English class, our final was mostly over the last two books that we read: All Quiet on the Western Front and Great Expectations. In my world history class, I enjoyed writing a “changes in continuity over time” essay about Europe. I talked about the Roman empire through the Medieval era to the modern day.

UT Environmental Science Institute

In my last blog post, I shared my pictures from the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute Education and Outreach Dinner at the Google Fiber Space on April 29, 2015.

I’m a big fan of the UT Environmental Science Institute (ESI) because they have an awesome program called Hot Science – Cool Talks, where they bring scientists and researchers to talk about hot (of course) science topics each fall and spring semester. The presentations are geared to kids from kindergarten (which I was in at one time) to high school students, but even adults will find the talks and activities before the presentation both fun and interesting.

Better Living Through Microbes

A candid photo of Deinococcus radiodurans (aka Conan the Bacterium) (Photo credit: Michael Daly, Uniformed Services University)

A candid photo of Deinococcus radiodurans (aka Conan the Bacterium) (Photo credit: Michael Daly, Uniformed Services University)

The last Hot Science Cool talks of the Spring 2015 semester on May 1, 2015, was Better Living Through Microbes by Dr. Lydia Contreras, UT Austin Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering. I previewed her talk in my previous blog post.

Dr. Contreras talked about microbes that could live in toxic environments, and I was fascinated to learn about Deinococcus radiodurans, a bacteria that could survive high doses of radiation.

Scientists discovered this unique bacteria after they irradiated meat for sterilization. The radiation should have killed all the bacteria in the meat, but they discovered that the irradiated meat spoiled after a few days.

Scientists were baffled, and after they investigated, they discovered this new bacteria. In addition to radiation, it can also withstand most cold, dehydration, vacuum, and acid! Because of its hardiness, it also has the nickname, Conan the Bacterium.

How does the bacteria resist radiation?

Dr. Contreras’ is researching the DNA of the bacteria along with its cell composition to understand how it is able to withstand lethal doses of radiation that would kill all other bacteria. These radiation levels are also fatal to humans.

Somehow the bacteria can repair the damage that radiation causes to its DNA. Note however that Deinococcus radiodurans is not immune to radiation. There is a high enough level of radiation that can kill the bacteria.

From her research, we may be able to understand how to protect or repair cells from the harmful effects of radiation. (I learned more about radiation and half-lives in one of the last chapters that we covered in my sophomore high school chemistry class.)

Pictures from the Hot Science – Cool Talks event

One of the many hands activities for kids before the Hot Science event.

One of the many hands activities for kids before the Hot Science event.

One of the benefits of arriving early before the event is that you get to participate in the community science fair. In this activity, kids got a chance to create a DNA model of their own.

Ben Shrader and Mr. Trevor Hance with the science activities before the event

Ben Shrader and Mr. Trevor Hance with the science activities before the event

I was happy to see Mr. Trevor Hance at the event. He is a wonderful science teacher at Laurel Mountain Elementary.

I’m so grateful to Mr. Hance for inviting me to present my experiences with invasive species at the Children and Nature Network Conference. Dr. Jay Banner, UT ESI director, also highlighted how Mr. Hance inspires his students at the UT ESI Education and Outreach Dinner.

Ben Shrader and Mr. Eric Hersh in Welch Hall before the Hot Science event

Ben Shrader and Mr. Eric Hersh in Welch Hall before the Hot Science event

Mr. Eric Hersh is both the UT ESI Research Coordinator and a Geological Sciences lecturer.

Ms. Melinda Chow and Ben Shrader in the audio and film room at the top of the Welch Hall auditorium

Ms. Melinda Chow and Ben Shrader in the audio and film room at the top of the Welch Hall auditorium

This was a treat. Ms. Melinda Chow, UT ESI Outreach Coordinator, gave me a tour of where UT ESI films and streams the Hot Science presentations in a room at the top of the Welch Hall auditorium. Joining the live webcast on your laptop is a great way to be part of the event if you are not able to join in person.

Dr. Jay Banner talks about Hot Science - Cool Talks

Dr. Jay Banner talks about Hot Science – Cool Talks

Dr. Banner welcomed the audience and the different schools in attendance.

Dr. Lydia Contreras during her Hot Science - Cool Talks presentation

Dr. Lydia Contreras during her Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation

Dr. Contreras starts her presentation, Better Living Through Microbes.

Watch Hot Science - Cool Talks live or as a webcast replay

Watch Hot Science – Cool Talks live or as a webcast replay

If you missed the event, you can watch the webcast and learn more about Dr. Contreras’ talk and about the fascinating Deinococcus radiodurans bacteria.

Fall 2015 Hot Science – Cool Talks

The UT ESI team was still confirming the speakers for the Fall 2015 semester during the microbes event, but now they’ve announced their upcoming talks on their website:

  • Two Guys on Your Head on Why We Behave Unsustainably with Dr. Art Markman, Dr. Bob Duke, and Rebecca McInroy – August 28, 2015
  • The Future of 3D Printing: The Democratization of Design with Dr. Carolyn Seepersad – October 16, 2015
  • Humanoids of Our Future with Dr. Luis Sentis – December 4, 2015

Hope to see you there!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Eric Hersh, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Jay Banner, Lydia Contreras, Melinda Chow, Uncategorized

UT Environmental Science Institute Education and Outreach Dinner Pictures

Commander Ben getting ready to attend the UT Austin ESI outreach dinner at the Google Fiber space.

Commander Ben getting ready to attend the UT Austin ESI outreach dinner at the Google Fiber space.

I’ve had a busy past few weeks at school, and I have not been able to blog as much as I would have liked. The most interesting thing going on right now is my high school finals. When you have dyslexia, dysgraphic, and dyscalculia, this isn’t always the funnest time, especially with math.

I enjoy science, including learning about concepts in Chemistry this year, but I’ve really enjoyed my world history class. Whether you’re learning about Zoroastrianism or the Age of Enlightenment, it’s always been an fascinating class, and I’ve learned so much this sophomore year.

I feel a lot like I did when my freshman biology class was wrapping up. Biology was a class that I not only learned a lot in, but also enjoyed. Like biology, my world history class is coming to an end and I feel sad about it. I look forward to studying American history next year, but I will also miss my adventures in my G Block World History class.

One of the fun times I had this semester was attending the UT Environmental Science Institute (ESI) Annual Education & Outreach Dinner on April 29, 2015. Last year, the dinner was on the UT Austin campus, and this year our dinner was in downtown Austin.

Ms. Nina Schenck and Ben Shrader at the UT ESI dinner.

Ms. Nina Schenck and Ben Shrader at the UT ESI dinner.

Ms. Nina Schenck is now retiring, but she has been such a wonderful member of UT ESI and has welcomed me to Hot Science – Cool Talks for many years.

Dr. Jay Banner and Ben Shrader at the UT ESI dinner.

Dr. Jay Banner and Ben Shrader at the UT ESI dinner.

Dr. Jay Banner is such a kind and knowledgable professor. He is helping to lead so many young people to have a love of and be good stewards of our environment.

Attendees networking at the UT ESI dinner.

Attendees networking at the UT ESI dinner.

The dinner was well attended with many donor, sponsors, and students.

All-American Buffet at the UT ESI dinner.

All-American Buffet at the UT ESI dinner.

The dinner buffet was a delicious All-American spread of salad, vegetables, macaroni and cheese, and brisket.

Dr. Jay Banner thanked the UT ESI dinner sponsors.

Dr. Jay Banner thanked the UT ESI dinner sponsors.

Dr. Banner thanked the dinner sponsors, including Air and Waste Management Association, enviromedia, American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists, and Google Fiber. Some great folks from environmedia sat at our dinner table.

Dr. Jay Banner talks about scientists who are great role models, like Mr. Trevor Hance.

Dr. Jay Banner talks about scientists who are great role models, like Mr. Trevor Hance.

In his presentation, Dr. Banner talked about the great ways Austin teachers were helping students learn about science, including Mr. Trevor Hance and his students, like Sahil Shah. I was fortunate to be invited to the Children and Nature Network Conference by Mr. Hance and be on the Kids’ panel with Sahil.

Hook 'em Horns!

Hook ’em Horns!

Members of my dinner table show off the Hook ’em horns sign in support of UT Austin.

James Weaver and Ben Shrader at the UT ESI dinner.

James Weaver and Ben Shrader at the UT ESI dinner.

One of the UT Austin students featured at the dinner was James Weaver who was studying the endangered species of Fishhook Cactus in West Texas. We had a lot of common interests in protecting our native species against threats to their environment and against invasive species.

Ms. Melinda Chow and Ben Shrader at the UT ESI dinner.

Ms. Melinda Chow and Ben Shrader at the UT ESI dinner.

I had a great time at the event with Ms. Melinda Chow, UT ESI Outreach Coordinator.

Ms. Milli Christner and Ben Shrader at the UT ESI dinner.

Ms. Milli Christner and Ben Shrader at the UT ESI dinner.

At the end of dinner, I gave a thumbs up with Ms. Milli Christner, UT ESI Assistant Director for Development.

I really enjoyed this event. Many people who have supported UT ESI had a chance to get together, network, learn about the latest accomplishments, and have a great time.

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Environmental Science Institute, Jay Banner

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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Filed under Environmental Science Institute, Hot Science - Cool Talks

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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Filed under Environmental Science Institute, Hot Science - Cool Talks

A New Age of Enlightenment with Hot Science – Cool Talks

Sébastien Leclerc I, Louis XIV Visiting the Royal Academy of Sciences, 1671 (Source: Wikipedia - The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1962)

Sébastien Leclerc I, Louis XIV Visiting the Royal Academy of Sciences, 1671
(Source: Wikipedia – The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1962)

We are studying the enlightenment in my high school world history class. There was an explosion of scientific knowledge and advancements in art and literature during this time period, which was also known as the Age of Reason. This change in Western civilization promoted individualism and thought and reached its peak in Europe in the mid-1700s.

Some of the great scientists during this time period include Nicholas Copernicus who came up with the heliocentric theory of the solar system with the Earth and the planets revolving around the sun.

Sir Francis Bacon (Image credit: Wikipedia, public domain)

Sir Francis Bacon (Image credit: Wikipedia, public domain)

One of my favorite scientists of the enlightenment is Francis Bacon. He encouraged scientists not to rely on ancient thinkers, but to use experimentation and then draw conclusions. This approach helped to develop the scientific method, which is basically to have a hypothesis, test your hypothesis, get your results, and see if others can copy your experiment and get the same result.

These scientists allowed us to advance past intuition and into reason. An example of intuition is that since frogs live in the mud, they must be made of mud. Also, since rotten meat has maggots, the maggots must be born out of meat. But with the scientific method, we were able to use experimentation to learn that flies lay eggs on rotten meat, and that the maggots just don’t come into existence.

We’re doing a fun activity in class soon. It’s called a salon. Not the beauty one, but one where intellectuals get together and discuss the topics of the day. It originated in France, and the exchange of scientific ideas helped to propel this Age of Reason.

Sadly, intellectual salons are not as common today, but there is something better – Hot Science, Cool Talks, and my friends, we have an opportunity to join a modern day scientific salon on Friday, February 20, 2015, at the University of Texas at Austin.

Power Trip: The Story of Energy

Power Trip: The Story of Energy (Image credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute)

Power Trip: The Story of Energy (Image credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute)

Dr. Michael Webber will talk about the role of energy in our lives and society, spanning hundreds of years. (Including the enlightenment too?) He’ll bust a few myths on the way and give fun facts on future technologies and solutions.

This Hot Science – Cool Talks event is a part of UT Energy Week and includes a community science fair before the event.

Wouldn’t it be fantastic to talk with the great scientists of our time? Well, you can with Dr. Michael Weber, Dr. Jay Banner, and many illuminating UT Austin researchers and scientists during Hot Science – Cool Talks events. And this month’s presentation about energy is a great way to turn on a new age of enlightenment!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Environmental Science Institute, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Michael Webber

Can Invasive Species Hide from Drones?

The Giant Reed can run, but it can't hide from drones (Photo credit: InView Unmanned Aircraft by Fasicle Wikipedia)

The Giant Reed can run, but it can’t hide from drones (Photo credit: InView Unmanned Aircraft by Fasicle Wikipedia)

Many researchers are using drones to help find and identify invasive species in those hard to reach places. Here are just a few recent articles about where they are using drones to hunt invasive species:

Learn more about drones with Hot Science – Cool Talks

You can learn more about drones this Friday, November 21, 2014, with the latest Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation, Drones: Myths, Facts, Hacks, and The Future, by Dr. Todd Humphreys, Assistant Professor of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics with the University of Texas at Austin.

The presentation starts at 7 pm in Welch Hall, but be sure to arrive early, since fun science activities will start at 5:45 pm!

Dr. Humphreys will talk about how we can use drones in the future and how that may be different from how movies portray drones. He and his team were the first to show how GPS hacking can take over a drone.

The invasive plant Giant Reed (Arundo donax) better be on the lookout!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Drones, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Invasive Species

Periodic Table of Hot Science Selfies

Dr. David Laude's Chemistry Cool Talk at UT Austin

Dr. David Laude’s Chemistry Cool Talk at UT Austin

My friends and I enjoy taking selfies. I enjoy science, and I thought what better way to bring the two together (like an exothermic chemical reaction!) at last month’s Hot Science event about chemistry at UT Austin.

The first Hot Science – Cool Talk of the Fall 2014 semester, How I Learned to Love Chemistry, by Dr. David Laude was packed! There was a huge rainstorm before the event, but that didn’t discourage young and old chemistry enthusiasts from attending in force (F=ma).

I think this is the most people that have ever been to a Hot Science event. If anything, the rain made people more determined to learn, especially with the pre-lecture activities. Everyone came out, including friends that I haven’t seen in years. The entire Welch Hall main auditorium was full with standing room only. What density (D=m/v)!

Many people, including myself, a friend from school, and our chemistry teacher watched the event from the overflow auditorium. (I even arrived early!) Even with the time delay in the video simulcast, Dr. Laude’s talk was enlightening (c=2.9×10^8 m/s).

And now for the chemistry selfies!

Dr. Jay Banner, Director, UT Environmental Science Institute (ESI), is the best!

Dr. Jay Banner, Director, UT Environmental Science Institute (ESI), is the best!

Dr. David Laude, UT Chemistry professor, gave a lively and interactive talk about chemistry. Loves to blow things up!

Dr. David Laude, UT Chemistry professor, gave a lively and interactive talk about chemistry. Loves to blow things up!

Ms. Melinda Chow, coordinates fun events and activities for the UT Environmental Science Institute.

Ms. Melinda Chow, coordinates fun events and activities for the UT Environmental Science Institute.


Mr. Patrick Goertz, my great chemistry teacher!

Mr. Patrick Goertz, my great chemistry teacher!

More chemistry selfies

I am in an electron shell of knowledge with Theodore Gray's The Elements book

I am in an electron shell of knowledge with Theodore Gray’s The Elements book

Theodore Gray’s The Elements book in print and on the iPad is an excellent and fun way to learn about the elements in the periodic table. I’ve used his book to learn more about the elements in my high school chemistry class.

While I’ve enjoyed looking through the printed book, the app is more interactive and offers animations. To help dyslexic readers, I hope that the creators of the app, TouchPress, will publish an update that allows you to highlight portions of the text and use the iOS text-to-speech accessibility feature to have my iPad read the content out loud.

Bismuth, a cicada, and a live oak tree join me for a chemistry and biology mashup selfie

Bismuth, a cicada, and a live oak tree join me for a chemistry and biology mashup selfie

Bismuth (one of the most beautiful element structures), a cicada (at least its exoskeleton), and a live oak tree (Yea, biology!) wanted in on the selfies too.

Extreme weather at SXSW Eco

The next Hot Science presentation whirls in next Monday, October 6, 2014, with a special event at SXSW Eco.  Dr. Kevin Klosel will talk about Extreme Weather and Uncertainty in Forecasting.

During this year’s SXSW Eco event, you’ll learn about the science behind extreme weather, like tornadoes and superstorms, and how meteorologists factor in uncertainty.

Sounds like another super Hot Science is on it’s way, and the forecast for selfies with Dr. Klosel are favorable!

Update: Remember that this special event is free and is at the Austin Convention Center (and not at UT Austin.) The National Weather Service is bringing a tornado machine, and you’ll also be able to create lighting with a Van de Graaff machine and erupt snow to create an avalanche. Sounds like lots of fun!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Chemistry, David Laude, Dr. Kerry Emanuel, Environmental Science Institute, ESI, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Jay Banner, Melinda Chow, SXSW Eco, The Elements, Theodore Gray