Amazonian Primate (Photo credit: UT Austin – Environmental Science Institute.)
Science is my favorite subject, and this spring in my high school freshman biology class, I’ve been learning about plants, the diversity of animals, evolution, and more.
We learned about the common characteristics that all primates share: fingers and toes with nails, not claws; arms that rotate around a shoulder joint; binocular vision; and a well-developed cerebrum, which is helpful for complex thinking.
We’re now studying the different systems of the human body, including the nervous and skeletal systems. (We have 206 bones in our adult human skeleton!)
Primate evolution and the evolution of senses
When I was a young naturalist (younger than I am now), I had the chance to interview Dr. Chris Kirk before his “Your Eye, My Eye, and the Eye of the Aye-Aye” presentation. Dr. Kirk is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology, and his talk was part of the Hot Science – Cool Talks series, presented by the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute.
There are more awesome anthropological presentations in store with Hot Science – Cool Talks! You can learn more about primate social behavior with Dr. Anthony Di Fiore during his presentation this Friday, April 4, 2014. A Professor of Biological Anthropology and the Chair of the UT Austin Department of Anthropology, Dr. Di Fiore will talk about the monkeys that he’s studying in the Amazonian Ecuador and how their native ecosystem helps to shape their behavior and society.
His presentation starts at 7:00 pm in Welch Hall on the UT Austin campus, but be sure to arrive early, because the pre-lecture fair, full of fun kids activities and learning, starts at 5:45 pm.
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.
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
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
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! 🙂
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.
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
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:
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:
Held my finger on the touchscreen to create the video.
When done, created a tweet with the video.
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 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
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: