Tag Archives: UT Austin

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

Hot Science and Modern Chemistry in High School

Hooray for Modern Chemistry (and yes, I have a Periodic Table shower curtain)

Hooray for Modern Chemistry (and yes, I have a Periodic Table shower curtain)

I recently started my sophomore year in high school, and my classes have been a lot of fun. As many of you know, I have a great love of biology (and in learning about and battling invasive plant species!), but recently, I found a similar love for chemistry. (I’ll just admit right now that I love science.)

In the first few weeks of my chemistry class, it’s been fascinating learning about the basics of chemistry, including measurements and states of matter.

Volcanoes in Austin, Texas

For our first lab, we mixed acetic acid and sodium bicarbonate and measured the temperature of the mixture. We found that it created an endothermic reaction, which means that the temperature drops as the reaction progresses.

I’ll let you in on a secret. Acetic acid is vinegar, and sodium bicarbonate is baking soda, and this is a common mixture for volcano science fair projects. You just need to add detergent so you can make soap bubbles from the escaping gasses. With a little red food coloring, it looks like lava bubbling!

We’re using a very interesting piece of equipment, the Vernier LabQuest 2. This device is amazing since you can hook up different probes to measure temperature, light, sound, pressure, and even radiation! You can get information on almost everything. It’s a great tool, and one I wish I had at home too.

Modern Chemistry textbook, audiobook, and iBook

Modern Chemistry iBook available from iTunes

Modern Chemistry iBook available from iTunes

We’re using the Modern Chemistry book from Holt, Rinehart and Winston in my class. With my dyslexia, it’s not easy for me to learn from just the printed word. Finding the audio book and iBook for my biology textbook helped me out during my high school freshman year.

I was also able to find the audio version of my current Modern Chemistry book from Learning Ally and a newer version of the Modern Chemistry iBook from iTunes. With Learning Ally, a human reader reads the entire page, including figures. With my iBook version, I can select portions of the text for my Apple MacBook’s or iPad’s electronic voice to read. The iBook version also contains videos, quizzes, and other nice interactive features.

Hot science – Cool Talks – Chemistry

 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

I’ve always loved Hot Science – Cool Talks from the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute (ESI).

Hot Science – Cool Talks are a series of presentations where you can enjoy fun prelecture activities and learn a lot about science during presentations given by distinguished scientists. They’ve become very popular over the years, and I’ve been going to them since I’ve been a little scientist guy.

Thanks to Dr. Jay Banner, UT ESI director, I’ve had the great fortune to interview many of the previous presenting scientists. (Here are some of my video interviews with Dr. Chris Kirk for his Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation, “Your Eye, My Eye, and the Eye of the Aye-Aye”.)

With myself and many other Austin-area sophomores learning about chemistry in science this year, what great fortune that the first Hot Science presentation is on chemistry!

Dr. David Laude will give a presentation on How I Learned to Love Chemistry on Friday, September 12, 2014. The fun prelecture activities start at 5:45 p.m., and Dr. Laude’s presentation starts at 7:00 p.m.

I’m counting on his promise that Dr. Laude will blow stuff up! He’ll make liquid nitrogen ice cream for everyone at the end. See! Science can be fascinating and delicious at the same time.

Fall 2014: Hot Science – Cool Talks presentations

Now you know why it's called Hot Science! (Photo credit: UT ESI)

Now you know why it’s called Hot Science! (Photo credit: UT ESI)

I look forward to seeing you at Hot Science this Friday!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Chemistry, David Laude, Dr. Chris Kirk, Environmental Science Institute, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Modern Chemistry

Fun Activities for Young Texas Naturalists at the Milam County Nature Festival

The 2014 Annual Milam County Nature Festival has fun and free nature activities for kids of all ages

The 2014 Annual Milam County Nature Festival has fun and free nature activities for kids of all ages

It’s spring…yea!…bringing life to nature, including our native plants and…ugh!…invasive species too. Invasive species have both economic and environmental costs. They crowd out our native plants, including our beautiful Texas wildflowers, and compete with our crops. We’ve got to protect our native ecosystem!

Commander Ben and his Invasive Hunter Academy before the start of the 2013 Milam County Nature Festival

Commander Ben and his Invasive Hunter Academy before the start of the 2013 Milam County Nature Festival

Young naturalists, join me and I’ll show you how to become an expert Invasive Hunter with my Invasive Hunter Academy at the 5th Annual Milam County Nature Festival, April 11-12, 2014, at the Rockdale Fair Park in Rockdale, Texas. The event is free with lots of activities for kids of all ages!

Future invasive species hunters train with Commander Ben at the Invasive Hunter Academy during the 2013 Milam County Nature Festival

Future invasive species hunters train with Commander Ben at the Invasive Hunter Academy during the 2013 Milam County Nature Festival

I had a great time training young invasive hunters at last year’s festival. There were a lot of fun events in 2013, including a booth on crayfish. They’re fascinating invertebrates that I’ve always enjoyed and learned more about in my freshman high school biology class this year. (The Texas Crawdads exhibit will be back in 2014 too!)

Habitat conservation

The 2014 Milam County Nature Festival focuses on habitat conservation. In keeping with the festival theme, you’ll enjoy nature songs from “Mr. Habitat” Bill Oliver, the “Environmental Troubadour”, and you’ll find Mr. Doug Phillips with the US Fish and Wildlife service talking about wildlife habitat improvement, including a discussion of prescribed fires and vegetation management. Ms. Linda Ruiz-McCall, with UT Austin, will also be there to talk about water conservation with a ground water simulator that I’m sure will be fun to interact with.

In addition to the speakers, there will be tons of kids activities, including:

  • Angler education – Have fun learning how to cast for fish
  • Archaeology digs – I always enjoyed digging for treasures when I was younger
  • Knapping demonstrations – Making arrowheads is another fun activity
  • Mammal pelts and paws – Learn about Texas animals, see and touch their skulls and pelts, and create animal tracks with molds

And lots more!

Talking with kids about invasive species and dyslexia

Commander Ben talks about invasive species to kids at the Rockdale Intermediate School in 2013

Commander Ben talks about invasive species to kids at the Rockdale Intermediate School in 2013

Last year, I had a fantastic time talking with the kids at the Rockdale Intermediate School about my adventures as Commander Ben, “The Invasive Hunter”, and my experiences with dyslexia. This year, I’m really looking forward to talking with the students at the Milano Elementary School on Friday.

Thanks, Dr. John Pruett, for inviting me back to this year’s festival! I love working with all the master naturalists in the El Camino Real Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists, and I especially enjoy having fun with all the kids.

Hope to see you there!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Doug Phillips, El Camino Real Chapter, Habitat conservation, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, John Pruett, Milam County Master Naturalists, Milam County Nature Festival, Milano Elementary School, Rockdale Fair Park, Rockdale Intermediate School, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Water conservation

Stop Monkeying Around: Primate Social Behavior

Amazonian Primate (Photo credit: UT Austin - Environmental Science Institute.)

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.

Primate social behavior

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.

It’s the last Hot Science event of the spring 2014 semester, so don’t monkey around and miss out on this Cool Talk!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Anthony Di Fiore, Department of Anthropology at The University of Texas at Austin, Dr. Chris Kirk, Environmental Science Institute, ESI, Hot Science - Cool Talks, My Eye Your Eye and the Eye of the Aye-Aye, Primate social behavior

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