Category Archives: Education

Downtown Raleigh’s NRC

In my readings as of late I’ve seen “NRC” more times than I can count. Each time I see the acronym I struggle to remember what each letter stands for. “N” is for nature. No, wait, it’s for nuclear. Or was it national?

Well, lo and behold, the “N” represents all three of those words, and, you guessed it, I am writing another three-part blog to illustrate each NRC.

Let’s start with the NRC popping up in my local news reading. I’m following the construction of the new Nature Research Center in downtown Raleigh. This NRC extends the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences into a two-building, one-globe science haven!

The new Nature Research Center in downtown Raleigh.

Raleigh’s NRC will host interactive research labs, a 24/7 science news stream, and a glass walkway leading to a plethora of research laboratories filled with scientists and graduate students from several of North Carolina’s universities.

The eye-catching centerpiece of the NRC is a gigantic globe. Called the Daily Planet, the science globe will feature enough high definition multimedia to make your technology geek friends jealous.

Within this three-story sphere of science, breaking science news stories will be continually broadcast. Dare I ask: How many segments on your evening news programs focus on science? I’m going to bet my first-born that the answer is an outrageously disgraceful NONE.

Inside the multimedia globe, a Science Immersion Theater offers a 360-degree view of the planet. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will supply images of our planet from space. You, citizen scientist, can inspect NASA and NOAA images to find the devastating effects that population growth and climate change have had on our planet.

This next feature cracks me up. It’s called Meet the Scientist. Have you ever met a scientist? Well, I AM one, and I can tell you that we are not the super duper communicators that you may think we are.

So in this exhibit, scientists will work in their usual lab setting, save one exception: the laboratory walls are glass. Not tapered glass, nor fluted glass, but rather thin, see-through glass. NRC visitors will hang out in the lounge areas surrounding the glass labs, gaping at scientists as they work.

Here you see the concept...

I fully support this idea, and I’m all for science immersion, but my multi-part hypothesis for this experiment is as follows:

    (1) The visitors will peer curiously into the labs.
    (2) The visitors will bang on the glass, just like we all do at the zoo, even though we are not supposed to.
    (3) The scientists will, one day at a time, tape their experimental protocols and photos of their families onto the glass walls, thus protecting themselves from the outside world.
    (4) The visitors, via advanced yoga poses, will find ways to peer into the labs despite the wall coverings.
    (5) The scientists will increase their wall postings until 100 % coverage has been achieved.

Two complementary exhibits at the NRC are Investigate Labs and Citizen Science Center. In both settings, visitors can conduct research experiments. With Investigate Lab, the experiments are designed to be hypothesis-driven, short-term, hands-on kinds of analyses. An example might be to extract DNA from fruit. Oh yes, fruit has DNA.

At the Citizen Science Center, museum visitors participate in long-term research projects, collecting and analyzing data that they’ve gathered from nature. An example here would be tracking butterfly migration or observing tree defoliation. Research projects of this magnitude are much more successful when everyone in the community contributes data.

And, of course, there will be an aquarium. People love aquariums.

Mark your calendars, citizen scientists: the NRC is destined for a Spring 2012 opening!


Science matters

Science Friday hits again. And this time it’s about science education.

Source: Stripped Science

Here is the crucial question: How can we keep students interested in science?

Little kids find the world around them fascinating. They crouch down in their backyards to eat a fistful of dirt, they crane their necks to sniff blooming flowers on a bush, they poke squirrels with sticks, they’re all ears as a garbage truck comes crawling down the street, and they constantly observe. They collect and analyze data, then probe for more. Little kids are scientists!

At what age do we lose this curiosity? And why? Once we can figure out how to answer these questions, we’ve got a great shot at retaining more of our little scientists, regardless of whether they pursue careers in the field.

On the fence about whether science is that important? It is. To satisfy your curiosity, check out the aptly titled “Why is science important?,” a film and blog project about this very issue, started by UK science teacher Alom Shaha.

The Science Friday broadcast at the heart of this blog post includes Harry Kroto, winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Francis Eberle, the Executive Director of the National Science Teachers Association, and Stacy Baker, a biology teacher at Staten Island Academy in New York.

Baker has created the Extreme Biology blog, a tool to engage her high school students in learning and loving biology. Let students blog about science and you’ve got a great teaching tool.

Baker posts videos, links, questions and assignments. This strategy breaks down communication barriers, stimulates a dialogue between Baker and her students, and gets the students talking to each other. Her students post recent studies they’ve read, and ask and answer each others’ questions.

The nature of the web allows more bravery than in a classroom setting, and students normally too shy to speak in class can voice their thoughts here. Best outcome of this blog? Students teach each other. There’s no better way to learn material than to teach it.

In one entry Baker posted about malaria, she describes the cause – the Plasmodium parasite – and a recently discovered potential treatment – starving the parasite. One student wrote a song about this recent breakthrough and posted her video on the class blog. Putting science to music? Very effective, young Skywalker. She learns from the best.

“Here Comes Science”

Put science to music and you’ve got a great teaching tool. The alternative rock band They Might be Giants (TMBG) already has this figured out. Their latest album, “Here Comes Science,” delves into biology, physics, paleontology, evolution, astronomy, chemistry and anatomy.


Ira Flatow interviews the two core musicians, John Flansburgh and John Linnell, in their first appearance on NPR’s Science Friday. Flansburgh and Linnell have created a plethora of education-oriented music since they joined forces in Brooklyn in 1982.

The Science Friday broadcast opens with the album’s first song, “Science is Real.” This tune tackles the scientific method, from forming a hypothesis to testing it to proving (or disproving) it.

“Science is Real” concludes with the following sentiment:

And when a theory emerges
Consistent with the facts
The proof is with science
The truth is with science

Once the recorded clip ends, Flatow plays devil’s advocate, or rather science’s adversary. What about the people who contest that scientific theories could ever be truth? he asks. (Read: evolution, global warming, big bang theory.) Flansburgh and Linnell’s counter-argument: yeah, well, sorry folks, but that’s how science works. Science is real. Believe it. Flatow agrees. So do I.

The duo performs “Meet the Elements” to introduce some of the more well-known elements and their uses. A few lines from this ditty point out that the noble gas helium fills balloons to make them float, the ubiquitous carbon is in both coal and diamond, and the metal iron forms rust when oxygen strikes it.

Even elephants make an appearance in “Meet the Elements.” Why? Because they’re made of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen. All living creatures require those four elements to sustain life. (As a side note, you’ll see these four elements referenced in my Glowing bananas post.)

“If this [song] had existed my freshman year of high school, it would have been a godsend for my grades,” the band tells Flatow.

Ira Flatow prefers TMBG’s version of this song to Tom Lehrer’s “The Elements.” Lehrer, a mathematician, teacher, singer and songwriter, crafted clever songs earlier in his career. This particular one is to the tune of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Major-General’s Song.” Both versions expose us to the periodic table of the elements, but I’m a fan of Lehrer’s alliteration and catchy tune.

Inspiration for the Giants’ new album came from their tune, “Why Does the Sun Shine?,” in which the band sings how the sun is a mass of incandescent gas. After popularization of the song, the band members discovered that the sun is, in fact, not incandescent gas, but rather super-excited gas, or plasma. Their defense: “This whole fact-checking thing is very difficult for a rock band.”

The result is “Why Does the Sun Really Shine?,” in which TMBG explains that the sun is miasma of incandescent plasma. What followed was an entire album of science songs. Cool. Previous albums of theirs include an entire album about the alphabet, “Here Come the ABCs,” and, the natural next album, “Here Come the 123s.”

TMBG teamed with artists to bring science to life not only in an auditory context, but also visually. An animated video accompanies each song on “Here Comes Science.” I love the paleontologist video. Dinosaur bones, fossils and extinction, oh my!