Tag Archives: 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

Dr. John Grotzinger Explores Mars Curiosity Rover’s Discoveries

Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

With Hot Science – Cool Talks in full swing this fall, there is a great presentation scheduled for this Friday, October 18 at 7pm. Dr. John Grotizinger, lead scientist for the Mars Curiosity Rover, is coming back to UT Austin to talk all about what the Mars Rover has discovered since landing on the Red Planet. This is going to be a fascinating talk.

And don’t forget there will be lots of great pre-lecture activities starting at 5:45 pm. There will be all sorts of interactive displays and engaging activities. They’re especially geared to kids ages K-12, but the whole family will enjoy them.

In addition to Dr. Grotzinger’s Mars lecture, don’t miss November’s Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation too:

Hot Science – Cool Talks events take place at UT Austin in Welch Hall (Room 2.224). You can get discounted parking in the San Jacinto Garage.

For more information about Hot Science – Cool Talks check out the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute website and watch the many video interviews I had with past presenters, including this one with Dr. Andrew Howell:

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Curiosity Rover, Dr. John Grotzinger, Environmental Science Institute, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Mars, Mars Rover, NASA, University of Texas, UT Austin

Learn about Cellular Engineering and Low Cost Medical Devices with Dr Andrew Ellington

Commander Ben and Dr. Andrew Ellington talk about cellular biology and more fun stuff at UT Austin.

Commander Ben and Dr. Andrew Ellington talk about cellular biology and more fun stuff at Dr. Ellington’s UT Austin lab office.

I had the honor of interviewing Dr. Andrew Ellington to talk about his Diagnosing Ourselves: Take Two Assays and Don’t Call me in the Morning lecture. His presentation is part of the great Hot Science – Cool Talks lecture series that’s hosted by the Environmental Science Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.

Dr. Ellington is a Professor of Biochemistry with the Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology at UT Austin, and his talk focused on his work in developing low-cost, personalized diagnostics and the creation of virtual clinical trials through social networks to improve healthcare on a global scale. His presentation completed the great series of lectures for the Spring 2013 semester, and it was a great one!

Video interview series

I interviewed Dr. Ellington in his office at his laboratory on the UT Austin campus.  His lab was amazing.  It was huge with lots of activity.  When Dr. Ellington and I sat down to talk, he turned the tables on me!  😉 He started asking me the questions!!  I was so nervous, but I did my best to recall my science facts.

It was actually a lot of fun talking with him and Dr. Ellington is an amazing teacher!  But Dr. Ellington likes to think of himself as more of a mentor than a teacher, since he believes that it is the students who, in a way, teach themselves to absorb the information that they are exposed to by a mentor–which is so true.

I hope you’ll enjoy my series of video interviews with Dr. Ellington.  He shares lots of great information about evolutionary techniques to engineer biopolymers and cells.  It is quite an education…like having the privilege of being in one of his classes at UT!

(1) Evolutionary techniques in cellular engineering

Is it as simple as DNA makes RNA makes protein? Dr. Ellington describes cellular and molecular biology, including how the process of evolution helps make beneficial mutations more dominant.

Unfortunately, mistakes can and do occur during cellular replication. Dr. Ellington addresses other bad mutations that can also occur through environmental concerns, such as ionizing radiation, and mutagens, such as cigarettes.

Dr. Ellington also discusses sequenced versus non-sequenced polymers and the possibility of life originating from matrixes, a theory advanced by the Seven Clues to the Origin of Life book.

(2) Letting cellular mutations duke it out

Ever wonder how to use evolutionary techniques to engineer biopolymers? Is it okay to let cellular mutations duke it out? Are 99% of all mutations bad?

Dr. Andrew Ellington talks about how there are more bad mutations than good, but many mutations are neutral, allowing bacteria to drift along until they find a good place, which may help them over time get to be the most awesomeness bacteria ever.

(3) Future of low cost medical diagnostic tests

Dr. Andrew Ellington talks about the types of low cost diagnostic tests that are available now and those that might be available in the future, including new blood sugar monitors with needles so small that users can’t even feel them.

His goal is to make more tests available at lower cost to help them become more widely used and to create fun tests that can help people learn more about themselves.

(4) Is it possible to create a Star Trek Tricorder?

Dr. McCoy had a lot of cool diagnostic devices. Dr. Andrew Ellington explains some of the obstacles to creating a Star Trek-like medical Tricoder with our current technology, and he gives a glimpse of how sensors the size of molecules could be used in the future. You’ll also learn about Dr. Ellington’s favorite computer games.

Event day highlights

How invasive species can spread disease poster session

How invasive species can spread disease poster session

For the prelecture fair, I prepared a poster board explaining how invasive species can spread disease.

Mr. Geoffrey Hensgen, Dr. Jay Banner, Commander Ben, and Dr. Andrew Ellington at Hot Science - Cool Talks

Mr. Geoffrey Hensgen, Dr. Jay Banner, Commander Ben, and Dr. Andrew Ellington at Hot Science – Cool Talks

Thanks Dr. Jay Banner, Director, and Mr. Geoffrey Hensgen, Outreach Coordinator, for the Environmental Science Institute at the University of Texas for the great lectures and chance to talk with great and leading scientists.

Dr. Ellington’s lecture was the last one for the Hot Science – Cool Talks Spring 2013 lecture series, but I know they’ll be back this fall for another great set of science talks and presentations that you’ll won’t want to miss! 🙂

Additional resources

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Andrew Ellington, Biochemistry, Cellular biology, cellular engineering, Cellular evolution, Diagnosing Ourselves, DNA, Environmental Science Institute, Healthcare, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Molecular biology, Mutagen, Mutation, Proteins, RNA, Take Two Assays and Don't Call me in the Morning, University of Texas, UT Austin

Commander Ben Receives 2013 Outstanding Invasive Species Volunteer Award

Commander Ben displays his 2013 Outstanding Terrestrial Invasive Species Volunteer of the Year Award in front of admiring Giant Reed invasive plants.

Commander Ben displays his 2013 Outstanding Terrestrial Invasive Species Volunteer of the Year Award in front of admiring Giant Reeds

I have some wonderful news to share with you!  I recently received the 2013 Outstanding Terrestrial Invasive Species Volunteer of the Year Award from the National Invasive Species Council (NISC).

The NISC was created in 1999 and is co-chaired by the U.S. Secretaries of Interior, Agriculture, and Commerce.  NISC provides coordination of federal invasive species actions and works with other federal and non-federal groups to address invasive species issues at the national level.

I am so honored to receive this award but it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of so many fantastic people:

  • First, I want to thank my Mom and Dad who always support me in everything I do.  They’re the best!
  • I would also like to thank the National Invasive Species Council; Ms. Lori Williams, NISC Executive Director; and the entire National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW) team.  They were just great for inviting me to be a presenter at NISAW in 2012.
  • Next, I want to thank the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center; Dr. Damon Waitt, Wildflower Center’s senior director; and Ms. Jessica Strickland, Wildflower Center’s invasive species program manager.

    They taught me a lot about invasive species and have always been such a great support to me in my efforts to help educate others about invasives.  They have also been very kind to invite me to be a presenter at numerous events at the Wildflower Center, including to the 2011 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference.

    And congratulations to the Wildflower Center, Dr. Waitt, and Ms. Strickland too for receiving the 2013 Outstanding Achievement in Terrestrial Invasive Species Outreach and Education Award from the NISC.
  • Also, I would like to thank the Environmental Science Institute at the University of Texas; Dr. Jay Banner, Director; and Mr. Geoffrey Hensgen, Outreach Coordinator.

    I started attending their Hot Science – Cool Talks lectures when I was only about six years old!  They have been instrumental in developing my love of science, and they have been so supportive of giving me the amazing honor of being able to be part of the Hot Science – Cool Talks community by giving me the opportunity to interview many of the speakers and to also be a presenter at the pre-lecture activities, including bringing my Invasive Hunter Academy to Hot Science – Cool Talks
  • Additionally, I want to give many thanks to Science Under the Stars; Brackenridge Field Laboratory at the University of Texas; and Ms. Laura Dugan, doctoral researcher, who gave me a chance to help out with their research on the invasive Jewel Cichlid.

    My very first Commander Ben video, “Who will fell this titan?, won first prize at the Science Under the Stars 2011 Film Festival. In a way, that’s where my Commander Ben adventures first started!
  • And I could never forget to thank Master Chris Abramson, my Taekwondo instructor, who is such an amazing teacher and mentor.  Everything that I have learned from him has not only helped me battle invasives ;-), but has helped me in life.  He has taught me the five most important tenants of what it means to be a man: Courtesy, Integrity, Self-Control, Perseverance, and Indomitable Spirit!

Many thanks to everyone!

2013 National Invasive Species Awareness Week

NISAW_logo

Unfortunately, the budget problems in Washington DC and the government sequester, cancelled the formal awards banquet that was part of the 2013 National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW) activities, but here’s what Ms. Lori Faeth, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs at the Department of the Interior, was going to say about my 2013 Outstanding Terrestrial Invasive Species Volunteer Award:

“The winner of the 2013 NISAW Award for Outstanding Terrestrial Invasive Species Volunteer is Ben Shrader, founder of the Invasive Hunter Academy in Texas. Ben has given invasive species presentations at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Texas and at National Invasive Species Awareness Week in Washington, DC. ‘Commander Ben’ has led efforts to engage students in invasive species issues through his Invasive Hunter Academy, using interactive methods to teach about invasive species and their effect on native ecosystems. He has used a wide variety of media to create a public discussion on invasive species and has produced a series of video interviews with scientists to publicize invasive species issues and research. Ben has also focused his efforts on conducting invasive species research, helping in the studying of the effect of the Jeweled Cichlid on native ecosystems at the University of Texas at Austin.”

Thanks Ms. Faeth for your kind words!

What’s next in the fight against invasives?

As always, I will continue my battle against invasive species! If you would like to be part of the fight against invasives, join me and my Invasive Hunter Academy and learn how to become an Invasive Hunter at the following upcoming events:

Hope to see you there!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, 2013 Outstanding Terrestrial Invasive Species Volunteer of the Year Award, Brackenridge Field Lab, Damon Waitt, Department of the Interior, Environmental Science Institute, Geoff Hensgen, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Invasive Species Award, Jay Banner, Jessica Strickland, Jewel Cichlid, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Laura Dugan, Lori Faeth, Lori Williams, National Invasive Species Awareness Week, National Invasive Species Council, NISAW, NISC, Science Under the Stars, Taekwondo, University of Texas, UT Austin, Wildflower Center

Vine and Twitter in Action at UT Austin

Using Vine and Twitter at UT Austin during Explore UT

Using Vine and Twitter at UT Austin during Explore UT

I didn’t think I’d get a chance to attend Explore UT this year, but I was able to visit UT Austin yesterday to listen to a few talks, enjoy a few exhibits, and be part of the event that they call the “biggest open house in Texas!”

I wanted to try out the new Vine iPhone app for creating short six-second videos for posting on my Twitter account, @InvasiveHunter.

Here’s how I used Vine to make short, looping videos with my tweets:

  1. Opened the Vine app on my iPhone.
  2. Aimed my iPhone camera at what I wanted to film.
  3. Held my finger on the touchscreen to create the video.
  4. When done, created a tweet with the video.
  5. Uploaded the video to both Vine and Twitter. (There’s also an option to upload it to Facebook.)

Tips on using Vine

  • Unless someone is filming talking about something, try to film different video segments on the same topic instead of just one continuous video. The different shots are more interesting and will keep people entertained.
  • Make sure to remember to take your finger off your phone when you’re done shooting the video, both off the touchscreen and definitely off your camera lens. (Not that it happened to me. 🙂 )
  • Remember that you can’t edit your video. Make sure that you get what you want when you film. If not, you can always start over.
  • One downside is that if you get a really great shot and a not so good one, and you need to start over, you lose your entire video, but that’s a minor thing.

This app is definitely very easy to use. With all the complicated mobile apps these days, it’s wonderful to have something so simple to use with Twitter.

I liked adding video to my tweets. You can use videos to convey more information than just a tweet or picture. It’s fun to create videos and watch videos from others too!

Here are a few of my tweets and Vine videos from yesterday:

Using Vine and Twitter at the UT Austin Jackson School of Geosciences

Using Vine and Twitter at the UT Austin Jackson School of Geosciences

Using Vine and Twitter at the UT Austin Texas Memorial Museum

Using Vine and Twitter at the UT Austin Texas Memorial Museum

Thanks @UTAustin for replying to one of my tweets during the Explore UT event:

UTAustin replies to InvasiveHunter tweet during Explore UT

UTAustin replies to InvasiveHunter Tweet during Explore UT

Videos from last year’s Explore UT event

Here are the blog posts and YouTube videos that I created from the 2012 Explore UT event:

Special Edition: Hot Science – Cool Talk this week

Don’t miss another fun event at UT Austin on Wednesday, March 6, at the next Hot Science – Cool Talks with Astrophysicist Dr. Jason Kalirai: Telescopes as Time Machines: The Legacy of Hubble & the Future through the James Webb Space Telescope.

It’s a special edition of the fun and educational presentations from the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute. Hope to see you there!

Tweet me your Vine videos

I also hope you have fun using Vine on your iPhone or iPod touch. Tweet me with your Vine videos @InvasiveHunter!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Brackenridge Field Lab, Environmental Science Institute, Explore UT, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Hubble Space Telescope, Insecta Fiesta, iPhone, iPhone, Jackson School of Geosciences, James Webb Space Telescope, Jason Kalirai, Texas Memorial Museum, Tweet, Twitter, University of Texas, UT Austin, Vine

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