Archive for December, 2010

Schooba Materials

I’ve begun to gather the materials for the course.  These came in the other day.  …Might regret this experiment.

What an invention.

Other materials include:

Balloons, String, Rulers, Toothpicks, Tape, Syringes, SCUBA equipment, Ziploc bags, Triple beam balance, Scale balance, Cups, Measuring cup, Salt, Stirrers, Tubs, Seltzer, Raisins, Variety of sodas, Eggs, Lemons, Limes, DarkFin Gloves, Bulb baster, Saran wrap, Bowls, Underwater Frisbee, and more!

Help kids break Stink Bombs productively!!

Meet Rodney and Jesus!

Two more Schoobents added to the list.

Meet Rodney and Jesus

And then help us reach our fundraising goal!

Meet the kids!!

Spots are filling up for our January pilot.  Check out the first Schoobents!  … Yeah, that’s right, we called them Schoobents.

Meet the kids!

And then help us raise the funds we need to make this program a smashing success!

Curriculum printed!

The Schooba curriculum works as an interactive guide, where  a combination of lessons, activities, and demonstrations present standards-based science through scuba diving.

In the pilot curriculum, 5 NYS Intermediate Level (Grades 5-8) Science Core Curriculum Major Understandings are covered:

- LE 1.2d  During respiration, cells use oxygen to release the energy stored in food.  The respiratory system supplies oxygen and removes carbon dioxide (gas exchange)

- PE 2.1b  As altitude increases, air pressure decreases

- PE 3.1d  Gases have neither a determined shape nor a definite volume.  Gases assume the shape and volume of a closed container

- PE 3.1h  Density can be described as the amount of matter that is in a given amount of space.  If two objects have equal volume, but one has more mass, the one with more mass is denser

- PE 3.1i  Buoyancy is determined by comparative densities

Not the best pic in the world, but a general sense of what they look like

Help kids learn science through scuba diving!

The Academy rings the bell!

Last night The Schooba Academy made its first ever appearance at the illustrious Explorer’s Club.  Set amidst the quaint brownstones of the Upper East Side, the EC headquarters is a gathering place for some of the world’s greatest explorers.  Among the club members’ many accomplishments are: first to the North Pole, first to the South Pole, first to the summit of Mt. Everest, first to the deepest point in the ocean, and first to the moon.  Not extraordinary at the club, you might find your Average Joe sharing good cheese and conversation with a swashbuckler of world fame.

Last night, I went to listen to Jarrod Jablonski and Casey McKinlay speak about their adventures exploring some of the largest underwater cave systems in the world.  As tradition, transition from the cocktail hour into the lecture hall is signaled by the ringing of the famous Explorer’s Club bell.  And as fate would have it, last night, that honor fell on moi.  I thought I’d capture my 15 minutes via my camera phone, and I quickly handed it off to the gentleman next to me in tweed … which turned out to be a bad choice.

my memento for the evening

Help The Schooba Academy support a generation of adventurers with camera phone operating capabilities!

I wanna be in Schooba!

Yesterday, I went to Lyons Community School to start recruiting kids for the pilot.  I hosted an info session in one of the classrooms after school and drew a solid crowd of about 25 kids.  Not all interested could make it though, and I got this crumpled up note handed off to me on my way out of the school.

Help make it a reality!!

I told you

I came up with this when I was 8.  Of course, no one listens to me.

DarkFin Gloves

The first $25 I raise over our goal will go towards a pair of these for our kids to play around with while scuba diving!

Life has been redefined!

What a wonderful time to be a scientist.

This article from the NY Times:

Microbe Finds Arsenic Tasty; Redefines Life

 

Felisa Wolfe-Simon takes samples from a sediment core she pulled up from the remote shores of 10 Mile Beach at Mono Lake in California.

By DENNIS OVERBYE

Published: December 2, 2010

Scientists said Thursday that they had trained a bacterium to eat and grow on a diet of arsenic, in place of phosphorus — one of six elements considered essential for life — opening up the possibility that organisms could exist elsewhere in the universe or even here on Earth using biochemical powers we have not yet dared to dream about.

A scanning electron micrograph of the bacteria strain GFAJ-1.

The bacterium, scraped from the bottom of Mono Lake in California and grown for months in a lab mixture containing arsenic, gradually swapped out atoms of phosphorus in its little body for atoms of arsenic.

Scientists said the results, if confirmed, would expand the notion of what life could be and where it could be. “There is basic mystery, when you look at life,” said Dimitar Sasselov, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and director of an institute on the origins of life there, who was not involved in the work. “Nature only uses a restrictive set of molecules and chemical reactions out of many thousands available. This is our first glimmer that maybe there are other options.”

Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a NASA astrobiology fellow at theUnited States Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif., who led the experiment, said, “This is a microbe that has solved the problem of how to live in a different way.”

This story is not about Mono Lake or arsenic, she said, but about “cracking open the door and finding that what we think are fixed constants of life are not.”

Dr. Wolfe-Simon and her colleagues publish their findings Friday in Science.

Caleb Scharf, an astrobiologist at Columbia University who was not part of the research, said he was amazed. “It’s like if you or I morphed into fully functioning cyborgs after being thrown into a room of electronic scrap with nothing to eat,” he said.

Gerald Joyce, a chemist and molecular biologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., said the work “shows in principle that you could have a different form of life,” but noted that even these bacteria are affixed to the same tree of life as the rest of us, like the extremophiles that exist in ocean vents.

“It’s a really nice story about adaptability of our life form,” he said. “It gives food for thought about what might be possible in another world.”

The results could have a major impact on space missions to Mars and elsewhere looking for life. The experiments on such missions are designed to ferret out the handful of chemical elements and reactions that have been known to characterize life on Earth. The Viking landers that failed to find life on Mars in 1976, Dr. Wolfe-Simon pointed out, were designed before the discovery of tube worms and other weird life in undersea vents and the dry valleys of Antarctica revolutionized ideas about the evolution of life on Earth.

Dr. Sasselov said, “I would like to know, when designing experiments and instruments to look for life, whether I should be looking for same stuff as here on Earth, or whether there are other options.

“Are we going to look for same molecules we love and know here, or broaden our search?”

Phosphorus is one of six chemical elements that have long been thought to be essential for all Life As We Know It. The others are carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen and sulfur.

While nature has been able to engineer substitutes for some of the other elements that exist in trace amounts for specialized purposes — like iron to carry oxygen — until now there has been no substitute for the basic six elements. Now, scientists say, these results will stimulate a lot of work on what other chemical replacements might be possible. The most fabled, much loved by science fiction authors but not ever established, is the substitution of silicon for carbon.

Phosphorus chains form the backbone of DNA and its chemical bonds, particularly in a molecule known as adenosine triphosphate, the principal means by which biological creatures store energy. “It’s like a little battery that carries chemical energy within cells,” said Dr. Scharf. So important are these “batteries,” Dr. Scharf said, that the temperature at which they break down, about 160 Celsius (320 Fahrenheit), is considered the high-temperature limit for life.

Arsenic sits right beneath phosphorus in the periodic table of the elements and shares many of its chemical properties. Indeed, that chemical closeness is what makes it toxic, Dr. Wolfe-Simon said, allowing it to slip easily into a cell’s machinery where it then gums things up, like bad oil in a car engine.

At a conference at Arizona State about alien life in 2006, however, Dr. Wolfe-Simon suggested that an organism that could cope with arsenic might actually have incorporated arsenic instead of phosphorus into its lifestyle. In a subsequent paper in The International Journal of Astrobiology, she and Ariel Anbar and Paul Davies, both of Arizona State University, predicted the existence of arsenic-loving life forms.

“Then Felisa found them!” said Dr. Davies, who has long championed the idea of searching for “weird life” on Earth as well as in space and is a co-author on the new paper.

Reasoning that such organisms were more likely to be found in environments already rich in arsenic, Dr. Wolfe-Simon and her colleagues scooped up a test tube full of mud from Mono Lake, which is salty, alkaline and already heavy in arsenic, and gradually fed them more and more.

Despite her prediction that such arsenic-eating organisms existed, Dr. Wolfe-Simon said that she held her breath every day that she went to the lab, expecting to hear that the microbes had died, but they did not. “As a biochemist, this stuff doesn’t make sense,” she recalled thinking.

A bacterium known as strain GFAJ-1 of the Halomonadaceae family of Gammaproteobacteria, proved to grow the best of the microbes from the lake, although not without changes from their normal development. The cells grown in the arsenic came out about 60 percent larger than cells grown with phosphorus, but with large, empty internal spaces.

By labeling the arsenic with radioactivity, the researchers were able to conclude that arsenic atoms had taken up position in the microbe’s DNA as well as in other molecules within it. Dr. Joyce, however, said that the experimenters had yet to provide a “smoking gun” that there was arsenic in the backbone of working DNA.

Despite this taste for arsenic, the authors also reported, the GFAJ-1 strain grew considerably better when provided with phosphorus, so in some ways they still prefer a phosphorus diet. Dr. Joyce, from his reading of the paper, concurred, pointing out that there was still some phosphorus in the bacterium even after all its force-feeding with arsenic. He described it as “clinging to every last phosphate molecule, and really living on the edge.”

Dr. Joyce added, “I was feeling sorry for the bugs.”

And now take me to The Schooba Academy’s totally awesome fundraising page where I can help kids get more excited about science!!

Mentutors

I am officially claiming the invention of the term.

Mentors + Tutors = Mentutors!!

It’s got a nice ring to it.

Click here to see The Schooba Academy’s totally awesome fundraising page where you can help kids get mentutored for free!!


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