Communicating Scientific Discovery To The Masses

Scientists are receiving instruction on how to better communicate their findings with the public.

Today on Vermont Edition, they’ll be talking about communicating science to the general public:

Alan Alda spoke at UVM last week to address a subject about which he is quite passionate: teaching scientists to communicate their findings with the general public. His speech came at a time when the Center for Communicating Science, that bears his name at Stony Brook University, was announcing a working relationship with UVM.

The Center’s Director Elizabeth Bass and UVM Vice President for Research Richard Galbraith discuss the need for this type of instruction, the partnership and what both schools hope to accomplish.


Listen at noon and 7pm.

Alan Alda to visit UVM

UVM will be hosting actor Alan Alda for their Burack Lecture Series for a talk titled “Helping the Public Get Beyond a Blind Date with Science”. The talk will take place on Monday, February 2nd at 4pm at UVM’s Davis Center Livak Ballroom.

Here’s the details:

Alda, actor, director and writer, has had a lifelong interest in science. In addition to his well-known roles in M*A*S*H and West Wing, he hosted PBS’ Scientific American Frontiers from 1993 to 2005. After interviewing hundreds of scientists, he became convinced that many researchers have wonderful stories to tell, but some need help in telling them. Alda played an important role in the creation of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, and has led workshops that use improvisational theater games to help scientists communicate more directly and personally. He was co-chair of the 2009 World Science Festival in New York City, hosted the 2010 documentary miniseries The Human Spark, and has written a play about the life of Marie Curie.

Additional information.

Skywatch: Northern Lights Over Vermont


This past week, word has been building that we could be in for a display of the Northern Lights tonight. The Aurora Borealis is a local phenomenon when solar particles strike Earth’s magnetic field. This past week has seen plenty of solar activity, and it’s been building.

A local twitter feed, Northern Lights Now, which proports to ‘[Provide] customized Northern Lights Alerts for your area!’ has been tracking the sun’s activity over the past week:

Additionally, our photographer friend Brian Drourr has been keeping an eye on the sun’s conditions:

This morning’s weather forecast from Eye on the Sky has also been promising, with the clouds overhead looking like they’ll be clearing up:

Mainly clear and chilly, then increasing clouds west to east after midnight. Areas of river valley fog. Lows in the 40s, some 30s in the cold spots. Winds light and variable.

Their facebook page also notes the following:

Northern lights remain a possibility tonight.
Two solar storms have sent charged particles (which cause the gases in our upper atmosphere to glow, creating the northern lights) toward the Earth, the first having moved through last night, and a second, stronger one moving through tonight.

This is an image from Saskatchewan, likely enhanced a bit to bring out the color.

There are no certainties here – just a better than usual chance to see them. They are slightly favored near or just after midnight, but might be seen at any time through the night.

Northern Lights Now also goes into some of the detail behind their forecasting:

Wednesday afternoon Active Solar Region 2158 (Beta-Delta-Gamma) produced the first X-Class flare since June 10. The solar region was near the center-line of the Sun and produced a large fast-moving CME that is Earth-directed. As a result, SWPC has issued a G3 (Strong, KP = 7) geomagnetic watch. This, with the long duration flare from earlier this week is a one-two punch providing aurora hunters terrific opportunities to see northern lights between 9/12 and 9/14. Here’s the current solar info graphic from SWPC (Click to see larger image):

Complicated, but Active, Forecast

You can see a G2 (moderate, KP=6) watch posted for 9/12 UTC that starts around 7:30PM EST on 9/11 as the first green bar at the bottom. This is from the long duration M4.57 flare and CME on Monday. The predicted peak of that activity should be between 3:00am – 6:00am EST on Friday morning. As always, there is a +/- of about 6 hours of the arrival of CMEs, so watch the KP values.

On 9/13 there is a G1 watch for the due to potential activity at the beginning of the UTC day as there may be remnant activity from the 9/8 CME. The G3 (Strong, KP=7) watch posted for 9/13 is from the CME from Wednesday’s X-Class flare. That is expected to peak around mid-day UTC – which would be 8:00am EST.

So, keep your eyes out for some additional color in the skies overhead tonight: we could be in for a show.

NKAF and VCF Team Up to Bring Family Astronomy Events to Libraries in the NEK

This is cool: the Northeast Kingdom Astronomy Foundation (NKAF) has won a $2,500 grant from the Vermont Community Foundation to create an astronomy program!

Kids, teens, and adults are coming together to learn about and view the skies either at Northern Skies Observatory (NSO) in Peacham or at libraries in the NEK to foster lifelong and intergenerational learning as well as to spark interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) learning for future college majors and career choices.

Read the full article here.

Vermont Prepares For The Invasion Of The Emerald Ash Borer

VPR this morning covered the Emerald Ash Borer and it implications for Vermont’s Ash tree population:

Many of Vermont’s best-loved trees face serious threats from invasive pests that have destroyed millions of trees in some states. One of the most troubling is the emerald ash borer, a deadly forest predator which has no known, effective treatment. The insect hasn’t yet reached Vermont, but the state is getting ready for it.

Listen here.

UVM Wins Grant to Establish Vermont Natural History Museum

This is pretty awesome. UVM announced today that they’ve won a $470,000 grant to establish a Vermont Natural History Museum from the National Science Foundation. According to their release, it’ll allow the university to consolidate three major collections which they currently house: plants in the Pringle Herbarium and invertebrate / vertebrate collections from the Thompson Zoological Collections.

The award will be used to improve specimen storage conditions for each of the collections, reducing the chance of damage from fire, water and pests. It will also enable the university to significantly expand digital imaging efforts currently under way of both the animal and plant collections and of data retrieved from the specimen labels and collection archives.

The museum, a joint project of the Department of Plant Biology and the Department of Biology, will be located in Torrey Hall, where the collections currently reside.

Read the full release here.

Vermont isn’t hurting for scientific museums: the Fairbanks Museum of St. Johnsbury is a fine Natural History museum, although it isn’t state-specific, and the Montshire Museum of Science of Norwich is a great introductory location. It’ll be cool to see what comes of this, and hopefully, it’ll be open to the public.

Settlement Farm Apiary Does the Time Warp Again

Bee inspection. Photo by Brennan.

Bee inspection. Photo by Brennan.

Settlement Farm Apiary’s blog has a swirl of activity bringing us up to date on doings in the home and satellite bee yards last summer. Of particular interest, you can catch a glimpse of what seem to be bees in the process of extruding wax to build honeycomb, and the threat of invading mites.

A T. Rex Named Sue, Coming to the Montshire Museum

This is really exciting: The Tyrannosaurus Rex named Sue is coming to the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich! Well, a replica of it, from May 17th through September 7th, 2014.

Sue was a Tyrannosaurus rex that roamed North America about 67 million years ago, one of the last dinosaur species and one of the largest flesh-eaters ever to have inhabited the Earth. The “tyrant lizard king,” with its extraordinarily powerful jaws and massive serrated steak-knife teeth, still dominates popular perceptions of the Age of Dinosaurs.

Sue the T. rex is named for Sue Hendrickson, who discovered the dinosaur near Faith, South Dakota, during the sum- mer of 1990. Shortly after its discovery, the fossil became the center of an intense ownership dispute. A protracted court battle ensued, and the court ruled that Sue belonged to the rancher on whose land she was discovered. The rancher decided to sell Sue at public auction.

To ensure that Sue would be preserved for future generations of scientists and visitors, The Field Museum in Chicago purchased Sue for $8.4 million at auction in 1997. After spending more than 30,000 hours preparing the more than 250 bones and teeth in Sue’s skeleton, The Field Museum made exact, fully articulated replicas so that people around the world would have the opportunity to view and study Sue.

Previously, only a handful of partial T. rex specimens had been found, none more than 60% complete. At 90% complete and exquisitely preserved, Sue is the most celebrated example of its species, permitting more detailed studies of the biology, growth, and behavior of a T. rex than previously possible.

Museum Closed May 12–14 for “A T. rex Named Sue” installation

The Exhibition brings Sue to Vermont with a “fully articulated cast skeleton of Sue mounted on a stage, with a graphic backdrop, and a reading rail”. The exhibit will also include touchable casts of Sue’s arm bone, tail bone, and rib, interactive activities that let visitors interpret surface features and anomalies of Sue’s bones, interpretive graphics and text that relate the stories of Sue’s history, from discovery to display, and incorporate actual headlines, news articles, and behind-the-scenes photos taken at The Field Museum.

They’ll also have a separate exhibit on Sue’s Skull that’ll move and growl. They’ll also have touchable models of Sue’s teeth, an interactive activity that lets visitors diagnose a pathology in Sue’s jawbone, graphics and text that describe the story of Sue’s skull from discovery to display, the legal dispute over Sue’s bones and how it led to Sue’s purchase at auction and the process of making the casts from the fossilized bones. ​

This looks AWESOME. Full details here.

Vermont Edition: What Climate Change Means To Vermont

Today’s Vermont Edition looks at the recent climate report issued by the White House:

Our region has seen more heavy rains and floods over the last five decades. Now, the new National Climate Assessment, released this week by the White House, warns of more dire weather patterns.

More flooding, more heat, more air pollution and more damage to aging transportation infrastructure are just a few of the bleak predictions about how climate change will affect the Northeast and New England.

Representatives of 350VTCitizens Climate Lobby-Burlington and Sierra Club Vermontprovide their assessment of the report.  And they’ll discuss what can be done in Vermont to positively affect climate change.

Listen today at Noon and at 7pm. Post comments here.


UVM to test West Nile Virus vaccine

UVM Scientists are set to test a vaccine for the West Nile virus which has penetrated the state in the last decade. Here’s the news from WCAX News:

It won’t be long before the mosquitoes start biting again; it’s a given in Vermont. And just like the pests themselves, experts say the West Nile virus that some of them carry is here to stay. West Nile first came to the United States in 1999 and is now the country’s leading vector-borne cause of viral encephalitis. Doctors say more than 3 million have been infected so far.

“It can cause most commonly an encephalitis-type picture in people that do have neurological symptoms,” said Dr. Kristen Pierce of UVM-Fletcher Allen infectious disease.

And it can be fatal. To date, there is no treatment for West Nile virus and there’s no preventive medication either. But researchers at the University of Vermont’s Vaccine Testing Center are working to change that. They’re about to begin a new trial on the first ever West Nile virus vaccine developed by the National Institutes of Health.

Read the article and watch the segment here.