Category Archives: Environmental Science Institute

Learn more about the future of hurricanes on the Texas Gulf Coast

You may know about how hurricanes are formed, but do you know why they can be more destructive when they come ashore in the shallow waters of the Texas Gulf Coast? The 1900 Galveston hurricane is an example of what can happen.  It was the worst natural disaster in the United States.

I recently had a chance to talk with Dr. Kerry A. Emanuel between sessions of the American Meteorological Society’s annual meeting in Austin, Texas. In the video above, you will learn more about hurricanes with Dr. Emanuel, as he talks about the role of El Nino and La Nina on hurricanes, hurricane preparedness, and the effect of “superstorms” or more appropriately termed – hybrid storms – like hurricane Sandy.

Dr. Emanuel is one of the world’s leading authorities on hurricanes. He is a professor in the Program in Atmospheres, Oceans, and Climate in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Don’t miss Dr. Emanuel’s talk, “Hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico: The History and Future of the Texas Coast“, tomorrow. (You can also watch a replay of it too.) His presentation is part of the awesome Hot Science – Cool Talks series, presented by the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute.

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under 1900 Galveston hurricane, American Meteorological Society, Dr. Kerry Emanuel, El Nino, Environmental Science Institute, Gulf coast, Gulf of Mexico, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Hurricane, Hurricane preparedness, Hybrid storm, La Nina, Superstorm, Texas, University of Texas, UT Austin

Top five most common cancers

Dr. Mark Clanton talks about the five most common cancers. Lung cancer is at the top of the list for both men and women, but did you also know that although pancreatic cancer is number four, it is difficult to detect early?

Dr. Clanton also talks about how cancers represent cells that don’t die when they’re supposed to and don’t stay in the body where they’re supposed to. He describes how prostate cancer metathesizes and moves around to other parts of the body to look like other cell types.

Here’s a list of the top five most common cancers in the United States from the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health:

  1. Lung cancer
  2. Colon and Rectal cancer
  3. Breast cancer
  4. Pancreatic cancer
  5. Prostate cancer

Interview series with Dr. Clanton

This is the fourth part in my interview series with Dr. Clanton, who is the chief medical officer of the High Plains Division of the American Cancer Society and who was the deputy director of the United States National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health.

Watch other videos in this series:

Dr. Clanton’s talk, “The War on Cancer: 41 Years after Nixon’s Declaration“, was part of the awesome Hot Science – Cool Talks series.

Next Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation is next week!

What will future hurricanes be like for Texas? Don’t miss the next Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation, “Hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico: The History and Future of the Texas Coast” with Dr. Kerry A. Emanuel on Tuesday, January 8, 2013.

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under American Cancer Society, Breast cancer, Cancer, Colon cancer, Dr. Mark Clanton, Environmental Science Institute, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Lung cancer, Metathesize, Pancreatic cancer, Prostate cancer, University of Texas, UT Austin, War on Cancer

Talking about epigenetics with Dr. Mark Clanton

Ever since I saw a NOVA program about epigenetics, I’ve been interested about how our environment can change our DNA.

In my latest video with Dr. Mark Clanton, we learn more about epigenetics and how scientists are trying to understand how our genes can change or be damaged based on the exposures that we have during life, such as what we eat, radiation, smoking, etc.

Dr. Clanton also talks about CH3 methyl groups that you can pick up when eating certain types of food and their affect on DNA methylation and our epigenome.

Interview series with Dr. Clanton

This is the third part in my interview series with Dr. Clanton, who is the chief medical officer of the High Plains Division of the American Cancer Society and who was the deputy director of the United States National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health.

Watch other videos in this interview series:

Dr. Clanton’s talk, “The War on Cancer: 41 Years after Nixon’s Declaration“, was part of the awesome Hot Science – Cool Talks series.

Spring 2013 Hot Science – Cool Talks

Happy new year!

There are some great Hot Science – Cool Talks presentations coming up this spring from the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute:

(1) Hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico: The History and Future of the Texas Coast

Tuesday, January 8, 2013, 7:00 p.m. CT

The Gulf of Mexico has seen some of the most destructive hurricanes on record.  What can residents in the Gulf region expect future storms to be like? Dr. Kerry A. Emanuel will share his groundbreaking research on how climate change can affect hurricane activity and discuss its implications for the Gulf region.

(2) Environmental Justice:  Progress towards Sustainability

Friday, February 22, 2013, 7:00 p.m. CT

Dr. Robert Bullard will present an insightful account of events, individuals, and organizations that have shaped the environmental justice movement over the past two decades. He will also describe a framework for how major advances in environmental justice can and should be achieved.

(3) Diagnosing Ourselves: Biotechnology in Your Back Pocket

Thursday, April 4, 2013, 7:00 p.m. CT

What advances are being made to allow people without medical training to readily detect things like viruses? Can such biotechnology help us understand our own unique physiology?  Dr. Andy Ellington will discuss exciting advances in low-cost, personalized diagnostics and the promise of creating virtual clinical trials through social networks to improve healthcare on a global scale.

If you’re not in Austin, Texas, that’s okay. You can also watch a live webcast of the talks from wherever you’re at! 🙂

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under American Cancer Society, Cancer, DNA, DNA methylation, Dr. Mark Clanton, Environmental Science Institute, epigenetics, epigenome, Genes, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Nova, University of Texas, UT Austin, War on Cancer

How Does Lifestyle Affect Your Cancer Risk?

What kind of life choices may reduce your risk for cancer or other illnesses? What are you eating? How much do you exercise? How do you interact with your environment? The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study – 3 (CPS-3) studies the impact of the environment on individuals through their genes.

Dr. Mark Clanton talks about CPS-3, and how the study is accepting participants to help understand how people’s decisions and their environment affects their DNA. The study is expect to last about 20-30 years, starting with an initial visit for measurements, a blood sample for DNA, and follow up questionnaires.

Many people may inherit genes that may make them susceptible to illness, but Dr. Clanton talks about how these genes are not turned on unless they are influenced by something in their environment, including their body weight, exercise, diet, and illnesses over time.

This is the second part in my interview series with Dr. Clanton, who is the chief medical officer of the High Plains Division of the American Cancer Society and who was the deputy director of the United States National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Clanton’s talk, “The War on Cancer: 41 Years after Nixon’s Declaration“, was part of the awesome Hot Science – Cool Talks series, presented by the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute.

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under American Cancer Society, Body weight, Cancer, Cancer Prevention Study, CPS-3, Diet, DNA, Dr. Mark Clanton, Environmental Science Institute, Exercise, Genes, Hot Science - Cool Talks, University of Texas, UT Austin, War on Cancer

How Cancer Begins with Misbehaving DNA

Now that I’m done with my fall semester, and I’ve practiced and completed the test for my next Taekwondo belt, I’m getting caught up with my blog, especially to post my great video interviews with Dr. Mark Clanton for the most recent Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation, “The War on Cancer: 41 Years after Nixon’s Declaration“.

In the first part of my video interview, Dr. Clanton talks about his background as the chief medical officer of the High Plains Division of the American Cancer Society. He was also the deputy director of the United States National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Clanton also talks about how every cancer begins with misbehaving DNA. DNA interacts with our environment and can change after we are born. Watch this video to learn more about DNA’s master architect role and about some of the treatments, such as chemotherapy, for treating fast growing cancer cells.

This is the first video in my interview series with Dr. Clanton. I’ll be posting more videos this week with Dr. Clanton  where we’ll learn about how genes and epigenetics play a significant role in cancer and what we can do about it.

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under American Cancer Society, Cancer, chemotherapy, DNA, Dr. Mark Clanton, epigenetics, Hot Science - Cool Talks, War on Cancer

Invasive Hunter Academy Thrives at UT Austin’s Hot Science – Cool Talks

Commander Ben talks with high school students about invasive species at Hot Science – Cool Talks
Photo credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute

The UT Austin Environmental Science Institute (ESI) has a great Hot Science – Cool Talks series that brings scientists from UT Austin and across the country to talk about their neat science research. Kids of all ages are invited to attend.

Mr. Geoff Hensgen, ESI Outreach Coordinator, invited me to bring my Invasive Hunter Academy to their most recent event with Dr. Jay Famiglietti, “Last Call at the Oasis: Will There be Enough Water for the 21st Century?

I was excited to, but I wanted to add more information for high school students, since I knew they enjoyed coming to the Hot Science presentations. So I researched about some of the water problems caused by invasive species.

Invasive Hunter Academy Grows

I really liked the new info that I added to the Invasive Hunter Academy. I still have the three fun original steps to becoming an invasive hunter:

  • Know your enemy – Match up pictures of native and invasive plants
  • Know your action moves – Practice the three cool taekwondo moves to take down invasive plants
  • Create your action scene – Build a great diorama to take home

For Dr. Famiglietti’s Cool Talks event, I created a new presentation for young adults with some great information about my nemesis, the Giant Reed. I talked about:

Recorded locations of the Giant Reed around Austin
Source: Texas Invasives website

(1) What invasive species are and specifically the problems of the Giant Reed (Arundo donax). I showed how easy it is to find sightings of the Giant Reed and other invasive species that citizen scientists reported around the state by using the Texas Invasives database.

Giant Reed along the Rio Grande River near Big Bend National Park
Credit: Mr. John Goolsby, USDA

(2) The EPA is considering using the Giant Reed for biofuel because it grows fast and doesn’t impact the food industry. That’s great for a biofuel plant, but the Giant Reed can easily escape into the native ecosystem and take over as an invasive species.

Scientists are concerned that the spread of the Giant Reed to could create an economic and environmental disaster, and for that reason it should not be used as a biofuel.

Giant Reed along the Rio Grande River
Photo Credit: Center for Invasive Species Research

(3) Especially for Dr. Famiglietti’s freshwater talk, I added information about how the Giant Reed is a threat to the survival of the Rio Grande River because it:

  • Reduces the available water supply
  • Chokes waterways
  • Inhibits with power generation
  • Interferes with agricultural irrigation
  • Degrades water quality
  • Threatens the of health of native plants and animals by creating a dense monoculture and crowding out native plants

QR Codes Help Presentations Jump to the Web

I added QR codes to make it easier for people to access the websites that I talk about in my poster presentation. I first added QR codes when I brought the academy to the Wildflower Center as part of Nature Nights this summer.

I saw people use their iPhones and Android phones to scan the QR codes to access my website, so I wanted to add more codes for my Hot Science presentation to help bring people to where they could get more information on the web, like to learn more about the Giant Reed.

High School Students Graduate to the Academy

One of the Invasive Hunter Academy tables before the start of Hot Science – Cool Talks at UT Austin

The audience was older than my other academy presentations. There were many students from eighth graders to high school and college students. That was neat!

I enjoy bringing the original academy activities to kids all ages, but now I especially enjoy talking to the older students and teaching them about invasive species. (In these pictures, I still have my hand in a cast from when it got broken during a taekwondo sparring match. :-()

Commander Ben motions to how high (and higher!) the Giant Reed invasive plant can grow
Photo credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute

They found my posters very helpful, because a lot of students were there with their science classes, and they had notebooks that they were writing in for extra credit. I talked with them about the problems with the Giant Reed, and they took copious notes. I hope they all got great grades! 🙂

Invasive Hunter graduate shows off her “I’m an Invasive Hunter” sticker and Wildflower Center brochure
Photo credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute

They really liked my “I’m an invasive hunter'” stickers and went to my website on their phones to watch my videos too. They put the stickers on their shirts and books, and one of the high school freshman put it on his forehead. (Not recommended.)

Battles with Invasive Species Videos

Commander Ben before the start of the Hot Science – Cool Talks prelecture fun with the Native Plant Avengers video playing in the background

Mr. Hensgen is just the best! I want to thank him for inviting me to be part of the prelecture fun and the interview with Dr. Famiglietti. He gave me the best table because it was near the entrance to the auditorium, and he gave me a projector to play my Battles with Invasive Species videos on the wall during the event.

During the event, I played two videos:

One Freshman high school girl came back another time for two reasons: she was interested to learn more about invasive species and she had also left her iPod. 🙂

It was also great to talk again with Dr. Jay Banner, Director of the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute. I saw him being filmed for the Longhorn Network during the event. Thanks, Dr. Banner, for mentioning me during your prelecture slides!

Last Call at the Oasis

Dr. Jay Famiglietti’s Last Call at the Oasis presentation at Hot Science – Cool Talks

I also had a great time chatting with Dr. Famiglietti before his talk. I wished him good luck, but he didn’t need it because he did a great job!

I found one of the reserved chairs in the auditorium. (Thanks Mr. Hensgen!) and I noticed that they were much, much more comfortable than the regular chairs. (They were the same as the other chairs, but since they were reserved, they were extra comfy!)

Dr. Famiglietti talked about the making of his video, Last Call at the Oasis. It was released on DVD on November 8th, so be sure to check it out!

At the end of his talk, he showed a funny video with Jack Black about their drinkable, treated sewage water, porcelain springs.

Learn More about Invasive Species

Ms. Jessica Strickland and Commander Ben mapping invasive species at SXSWEco

My thanks to Ms. Jessica Strickland for all her help teaching me more about invasive species on the Texas Invasives website and at SXSW Eco. (I learned about the EPA considering to use the Giant Reed as biofuel from the Texas Invasives iWire newsletter. If you don’t already receive this monthly email newsletter, be sure to subscribe to iWire today.) I also learned about the Rio Grande River’s problem with the Giant Reed from presentations during the 2011 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference.

I also want to thank Ms. Alice Nance, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Education Manager. She gave me a lot of goodies to pass out during the prelecture fun. I had Wildflower Center brochures with discount coupons and Plant Hero badges and certificates. (Kids had a lot of fun with Plant Heroes too when I brought the Invasive Hunter Academy to Nature Nights at the Wildflower Center this summer.)

Next Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation

Commander Ben and Dr. Jay Famiglietti at Hot Science - Cool Talks

Commander Ben and Dr. Jay Famiglietti wrap up Hot Science – Cool Talks on a humorous note

Thank you again Dr. Banner, Mr. Hensgen, and Dr. Famiglietti for everything! 🙂 If you missed the event, watch my video interview series with Dr. Famiglietti and check out the webcast replay of Dr Famiglietti’s presentation. (It was ESI’s 80th Hot Science – Cool Talks event!)

I had a fantastic time, and I can’t wait until the next Hot Science – Cool Talks event on November 30, “The War on Cancer: 41 Years after Nixon’s Declaration“, with Dr. Mark Clanton.

Hope to see you there!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Android, Arundo donax, Bastard Cabbage, Battles with Invasive Species, Big Bend National Park, Biofuel, Center for Invasive Species Research, Dr. Jay Famiglietti, Environmental, Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental Science Institute, EPA, ESI, Extra credit, Geoff Hensgen, Giant Reed, High school, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, iPhone, iWire Texas Invasives Newsletter, Jay Banner, Jessica Strickland, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Last Call at the Oasis, Lights. Camera. Help., Monoculture, Ms. Alice Nance, Native ecosystem, Native Plant Avengers, Nature Nights, Plant Heroes, Porcelain springs, QR codes, Rio Grande River, Science class, Tae Kwon Do, Taekwondo, Texas, Texas Invasives, U.S. Botanic Garden, University of Texas, UT Austin, water, water conservation, water hydrology, water supply, Wildflower Center

Last Call at the Oasis: Interview series with Dr. Jay Famiglietti

I had a great opportunity to talk with Dr. Jay Famiglietti about the water concerns that we face across the United States, about his work with the GRACE satellite mission, and about the 2012 film featuring him, Last Call at the Oasis. (It’s coming out tomorrow, November 6, 2012, on DVD and BlueRay!)

Dr. Famiglietti visited UT Austin on October 26, 2012, to give his “Last Call at the Oasis: Will There be Enough Water for the 21st Century?” talk as part of the awesome Hot Science – Cool Talks series, presented by the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute. Dr. Famiglietti is a Professor of Hydrology with the Earth System Sciences Department at the University of California – Irvine.

I published my video interview with Dr. Famiglietti in five parts with cool graphics from NASA and the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Click on the videos below to learn more about our water crisis that we face and ways that we, especially kids, can conserve water.

(1) Why the GRACE satellite mission is so cool

The GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) satellites launched in March 2002. Learn about the valuable data these twin satellites provide along with insight that hydrologic modeling brings with Dr. Famiglietti.

(2) Dramatic Water Depletion in California and the United States

California’s Central Valley and the High Plains Aquifer in the central United States show high rates of water depletion. Dr. Jay Famiglietti talks about these areas of concern and ways that we could improve measuring our water supply.

(3) Quest for More Freshwater

If we found a way to have unlimited fresh water, would there be a population boom?What technological breakthrough do we need to transform sea water to fresh water easily and affordably? Learn about the water, energy, and food nexus with Dr. Famiglietti.

(4) What Can Kids Do to Save Water?

Saving water begins with becoming aware of your water use. Learn about Dr. Famiglietti’s easy tips to help kids save water. You’ll find that saving energy also helps save water too.

(5) Last Call at the Oasis with Dr. Jay Famiglietti

Dr. Famiglietti talks about the declining snowfall on the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the DVD and BlueRay release of his “Last Call at the Oasis” movie. You’ll also be surprised to learn about his favorite water sport.

My injured hand from taekwondo sparring has slowed me down 😦 , but I’m almost done with my post about the great time that I had during the Dr. Famiglietti’s Hot Science – Cool Talks event and the prelecture fun! 🙂

Thanks for the great interview, Dr. Famiglietti, and my wonderful thanks too to Dr. Jay Banner, Director of the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute (ESI); and Mr. Geoff Hensgen, ESI Outreach Coordinator, for the time to talk with Dr. Famiglietti!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under California Central Valley, Desalinization, Dr. Jay Famiglietti, drought, Environmental Science Institute, ESI, freshwater, Geoff Hensgen, GRACE, Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, High Plains Aquifer, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Hydrologic modeling, Jay Banner, Last Call at the Oasis, NASA, Sierra Nevada Mountains, Tae Kwon Do, Taekwondo, Texas Drought, United States Geological Survey, University of Texas, USGS, UT Austin, water, water conservation, water hydrology