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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

Young Naturalists, Buffalo Grass, and the Milam County Nature Festival

Commander Ben talks about invasive species at Milano Elementary School

Commander Ben talks about invasive species at Milano Elementary School

This spring, I was honored to be invited back to the Milam County Nature Festival by Dr. John Pruett, a Texas Master Naturalist and a wonderful friend. I was happy to bring my Invasive Hunter Academy to the festival to help train more kids to become protectors of our native ecosystem.

A visit to talk with young naturalists at Milano Elementary School

Young naturalists ask questions at Milano Elementary School

Young naturalists ask questions at Milano Elementary School

On Friday, April 11, I talked with students from the Milano Elementary School prior to the nature festival on Saturday. With help from the school’s Apple tech guru, I hooked up my iPad to the school’s projector and readied my Keynote presentation as the kids filled the gymnasium.

Principal Ruth Davenport gave me a wonderful introduction, and I talked to the students about invasive species and how I learned about them, especially in the field. I also showed videos from my Battles with Invasive Species series. At the end of my presentation, the kids had a lot of questions. (A few of them reminded me of the fun questions that kids asked during my invasive species talk last year at the Rockdale Intermediate School.)

Principal Ruth Davenport, Commander Ben, and Dr. John Pruett

Principal Ruth Davenport, Commander Ben, and Dr. John Pruett

Thanks, Principal Davenport and Dr. Pruett, for inviting me to talk to the kids at the Milano Elementary School. I had an enjoyable time and I hope the kids did too.

What are good native grasses for Central Texas?

Buffalo grass: A great native Texas grass (Photo credit: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center)

Buffalo grass: A great native Texas grass (Photo credit: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center)

One of the student’s parents asked me if there were any good native grasses that could replace St. Augustine.

Buffalo grass is an excellent replacement for the water loving St. Augustine, and there are two varieties: 609 or Stampede. Both need full sun, and they don’t require much water. That’s good news, because we’re still in a drought in Texas!

Learn more about native plants:

5th Annual Milam County Nature Festival

Young invasive hunters working on their battle diorama

Young invasive hunters working on their battle diorama

On Saturday, April 12th, I brought my Invasive Hunter Academy to the Milam County Nature Festival at Rockdale Fair Park. I had another great time like last year and saw the crayfish exhibit again too!

Learn how to build a butterfly garden

Learn how to build a butterfly garden

There were many exhibits at the festival where you could learn about nature. As part of this year’s habitat conservation theme, you could learn about building a butterfly garden and another where you could match up birds on an electronic board.

Bill Oliver, his catfish, and Commander Ben

Bill Oliver, his catfish, and Commander Ben

I met “Mr. Habitat” Bill Oliver with his Otter Space Band. They entertained the crowd with their music and gave warm shout outs to people at the festival.

Lions Clubs of Milam County provided eye screening for children

Lions Clubs of Milam County provided eye screening for children

During the festival, Dr. Pruett worked with the Lions Clubs of Milam County to perform free eye screenings, called Spot Vision, for children ranging in ages from 9 months to 5 years. Their eye device would provide a printout that parents could take to eye doctors for more review or action.

Read more about my 2013 visit to the nature festival:

Nature Nights at the Wildflower Center

Speaking of the Wildflower Center, if you didn’t get a chance to attend nature festivals earlier this year and want to learn more about plants and invasive species, join me on Thursday, June 12, at the Wildflower Center.

I’ll be bringing my Invasive Hunter Academy to Nature Nights, and the first night of the free summer long series focuses on plants and play in the new Luci and Ian Family Garden. There will be lots of fun activities for kids of all ages, and kids under 12 will want to stop by the gift shop to receive something special during each event.

I had a great time with the kids at Nature Nights last year, and I hope to see you there next week!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, John Pruett, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Milam County Master Naturalists, Milam County Nature Festival, Milano Elementary School, Nature Nights, Rockdale Fair Park, Uncategorized

Young Recruits Join the Fight Against Invasive Species at the Wildflower Center

Commander Ben fist bumps a new graduate from the Invasive Hunter Academy at the Wildflower Center

Commander Ben fist bumps a new graduate from the Invasive Hunter Academy at the Wildflower Center

This summer, I brought the Invasive Hunter Academy back to Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. It was such a blast. I met lots of kids who had gone through the Academy last year, so they helped me bring a whole new battalion of Invasive Hunters through the Academy this year.

Invasive Hunter Academy at Nature Nights in 2013

Here are some pictures from this year’s Academy at the Wildflower Center.

Invasive Hunter Academy setup before the Nature Nights event

Invasive Hunter Academy setup before the Nature Nights event

With my Academy materials, I also show videos from my Battles with Invasive Species series. The Amazing Invasive Hunter Man was a favorite with this year’s young invasive hunters.

A growing battalion of invasive hunters are learning the secrets of the Invasive Hunter Academy

A growing battalion of invasive hunters are learning the secrets of the Invasive Hunter Academy

A crowd of young invasive hunters are learning about invasive plants. That’s Tea Time with English Ivy showing on the monitor.

Young invasive species hunters practice their action moves with Commander Ben

Young invasive species hunters practice their action moves with Commander Ben

Part of becoming an invasive hunter is learning the action moves to take down invasive species. Here I’m kiaping with a young invasive hunter with one of our taekwondo moves.

A kiap is an energy yell to get you psychologically ready for battle. It helps motivate you and frighten your enemies. (We felt the invasives quaking in their rhizomes when we kiaped!)

Julie Graham, Commander Ben, and Alice Jansen at the "Roots to Shoots" Nature Nights event

Julie Graham, Commander Ben, and Alice Jansen at the “From Roots to Shoots” Nature Nights event

My thanks to Julie Graham, Education coordinator, and Alice Jansen, Education manager, with the Wildflower Center for inviting me to be part of the fun Nature Nights event!

Young invasive hunters having fun creating their battles with invasive species action diorama at the Wildflower Center

Young invasive hunters having fun creating their battles with invasive species action diorama at the Wildflower Center

This makes it all worthwhile. Seeing the kids have fun and learn about invasive species and how to protect our native ecosystem.

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Alice Jansen, Amazing Invasive Hunter Man, Battles with Invasive Species, From Roots to Shoots, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Ms. Julie Graham, Nature Nights, Taekwondo, Uncategorized, Wildflower Center

Invasive Species Are No Match for Austin Citizen Scientists

Johnson grass is no match to the invasive hunter moves of Austin citizen scientists

Johnson Grass is no match for the invasive hunter moves of Austin citizen scientists

This summer, I trained as a citizen scientist with the City of Austin and the Wildflower Center to learn how to hunt the top 24 invasive plants in Austin, and I also joined other volunteers to map the locations of invasive species around Slaughter Creek.

Here are some pictures from our volunteer expedition:

Some ducks waddled up to join our Austin citizen scientist team

Some ducks waddled up to join our Austin citizen scientist team

We used ropes to divide the area into quadrants to report the invasive species that we found and the City of Austin team leaders recorded the locations on their iPad

We used ropes to divide the area into quadrants to report the invasive species that we found and the City of Austin team leaders recorded the locations on their iPad

A Chinaberry, an invasive plant, apprehensively eyes our mapping of Austin invasive species

A Chinaberry, an invasive plant, apprehensively eyes our mapping of Austin invasive species

We gave a thumbs down to the invasive species, Johnson Grass

We gave a thumbs down to the invasive species, Johnson Grass

We had a great time as Austin citizen scientist volunteers to help identify invasive species

We had a great time as Austin citizen scientist volunteers to help identify invasive species

Help identify and map Austin Invasive Species

If you haven’t had a chance to join with other Austin citizen scientists, August 15, 2013, is the last day to help the City of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department collect data about the invasive species in the parks and lands around Austin.

Your friend,
Ben

P.S. Ms. Jessica Strickland recently moved to California. She was the Invasive Species Program Manager with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. You did a great job helping to educate citizen scientists across Texas about invasive species, and I’ll miss you! Best wishes with your next adventures! 🙂

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Filed under Chinaberry, Citizen Scientist, City of Austin, Jessica Strickland, Johnson Grass, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Slaughter Creek, Uncategorized, Wildflower Center

Young Invasive Species Hunters Train at the Milam County Nature Festival

Future invasive species hunters train with Commander Ben at the Invasive Hunter Academy during the Milam County Nature Festival

Future invasive species hunters train with Commander Ben at the Invasive Hunter Academy during the Milam County Nature Festival

As I was asking folks which booth was their favorite,
the overwhelming majority said Commander Ben with a smile.

Chris Harper, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

I have been so busy finishing up eighth grade that I have not had a chance to share with you yet about a great experience I had last month.

On Saturday, April 13, I brought the Invasive Hunter Academy to the Milam County Nature Festival at the Rockdale Fair Park.  It was a great event with over 500 people in attendance.  I was invited to participate in the festival by Dr. John Pruett and Ms. Joyce Dalley, two wonderful Milam County Master Naturalists I had met last year at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center when I attended invasive species training for citizen scientists and the Invaders of Texas Program.

Ms. Joyce Dalley, Commander Ben, and Dr. John Pruett in the "Green room" before Ben's invasive species presentation at Rockdale Intermediate School

Ms. Joyce Dalley, Commander Ben, and Dr. John Pruett in the “Green room” before Ben’s invasive species presentation at Rockdale Intermediate School

The day before, I was invited to talk about invasive species and dyslexia at the Rockdale Intermediate School by Dr. Pruett, Principal Kathy Pelzel, and Ms. Susan Boyd, ACE Coordinator for the school. I had a great time with the students–future invasive hunters for sure!

Commander Ben talks about invasive species to over 350 kids at the Rockdale Intermediate School.

Commander Ben talks about invasive species to over 350 kids at the Rockdale Intermediate School

Lots of great kids came to the Milam County Nature Festival events and to participate in the Invasive Hunter Academy, including quite a few adults too!  After five hours of activities, I was exhausted but it was a lot of fun. Here are some pictures of the day:

Commander Ben getting the Invasive Hunter Academy ready for the Milam County Nature Festival

Commander Ben getting the Invasive Hunter Academy ready for the Milam County Nature Festival

Commander Ben's a featured festival presentation at 9:30 a.m. with the Invasive Hunter Academy going on all day.

Commander Ben’s a featured festival presentation at 9:30 a.m. with the Invasive Hunter Academy going on all day

Finding Commander Ben on a map of the Milam County Nature Festival.

Finding Commander Ben on a map of the Milam County Nature Festival

Commander Ben training budding naturalists to hunt invasive species.

Commander Ben training budding naturalists to hunt invasive species

Kids having fun at the Milam County Nature Festival

Kids having fun at the Milam County Nature Festival

El Camino Real - Texas Master Naturalists Chapter display

El Camino Real – Texas Master Naturalists Chapter display

More fun activities at the Milam County Nature Festival.

More fun activities at the Milam County Nature Festival

Near the end of the festival, I took a quick tour around the Rockdale Fair fair grounds to take in all the sights of the other nature festival activities. There were lots of booths, including a great exhibit about butterflies and the plants they like, another about how the coyote is the only relative of the wolf left in Texas, and still another was teaching all about crayfish. I even bought one of the books about crayfish.

I want to send out a special thank you to Dr. Pruett, Ms. Dalley, and all the Milam County Master Naturalists and volunteers for inviting me to be part of their Nature Festival.  Thanks to Mr. Harper and all the young invasive species hunters that I talked with.

I had a great time and know everyone else did too! 🙂

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Chris Harper, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, John Pruett, Joyce Dalley, Lights Camera Help Annual Nonprofit Film Festival, Milam County Master Naturalists, Milam County Nature Festival, Rockdale Fair Park, Uncategorized, US Fish and Wildlife Service

Commander Ben Celebrates Earth Day at St. Edward’s University

Commander Ben joins St Edward's Earth Week celebrations

Commander Ben joins St Edward’s Earth Week celebrations

I’ve had an exciting last few weeks that I look forward to talking with you about, but I first want to catch up on some of the great events that I had a chance to be part of in April.

Last year, I was invited to St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, to give a talk about Commander Ben and the Invasive Hunter Academy as part of St. Edward’s 2012 Earth Day events. I had a great time and was honored to be invited to bring the Invasive Hunter Academy back on Monday, April 22, to St. Edward’s 2013 Earth Day celebrations.

Commander Ben and the Invasive Hunter Academy at St. Edward's University

Commander Ben and the Invasive Hunter Academy at St. Edward’s University

It was a beautiful sunny day and turnout for the event was great. Along with my Invasive Hunter Academy display and poster board about my invasive species nemesis, the Giant Reed (Arundo donax), there were lots of great people there with all sorts of Earth Day activities and information. I enjoyed visiting all the tables and meeting some very interesting folks.

Some of the groups I had a chance to speak with on Earth Day included:

Agana Rainwater at St. Edward's Earth Week celebrations

Agana Rainwater at St. Edward’s Earth Week celebrations

Car2Go at St. Edward's Earth Week celebrations

Car2Go at St. Edward’s Earth Week celebrations

Johnson's Backyard Garden at St. Edward's Earth Week celebrations

Johnson’s Backyard Garden at St. Edward’s Earth Week celebrations

Sustainable Food Center at St. Edward's Earth Week celebrations

Sustainable Food Center at St. Edward’s Earth Week celebrations

I want to thank all the people at St. Edward’s for another great Earth Day celebration, and a special thank you to Mr. Mitch Robinson, Education and Land Management Coordinator for Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve, and Ms. Cristina Bordin, Special Assistant to the President and Sustainability Coordinator for St. Edward’s University, who invited me to be a part of this great event.

Commander Ben and Mitch Robinson at St. Edward's Earth Week celebrations

Commander Ben and Mitch Robinson at St. Edward’s Earth Week celebrations

I’ll have more posts coming up about my other April adventures. Talk with you again soon! 🙂

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Agana rainwater, Arundo donax, Car2Go, Christina Bordin, Earth Day, Giant Reed, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Johnson's Backyard Garden, Mitch Robinson, St Edward's University, Sustainable Food Center, Uncategorized, Wild Basin Preserve, Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve