Posts Tagged ‘science’

Nature Talks: Outreach that works

When it comes to delivering content, sometimes presentation is crucial.

We’ve seen this firsthand. Already-good food tastes even better when presented with visual flair. The right teacher, lit up with knowledge and passion, makes practically any subject come alive.

Dynamic delivery has always enhanced the message, however it’s distributed. For a good modern example, just take TED talks. Their tag line is “Ideas worth spreading”. The mission is to deploy “Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world” – a goal that would almost certainly fall flat without the “riveting” part.

Visiting different museums I am often struck by which ones are doing “it” well and which ones are not – namely, getting people to care about what’s being presented. A difficult task. Money is always a problem – and then there’s the whole issue of audience.

Should museums dumb things down? Presenting content as entertainment sells more tickets, hopefully. Alternatively, institutions can go high-brow and cultivate support from well-heeled elites. That seems to work fairly well for things like art. It used to work well for classical music, only most symphonies are hurting now too. But history and science seem less able to tap into the patron scene that historically boosted high culture.

High-brow, low-brow or academic, most institutions stand in need of public engagement and what gets called “community”.

It’s a huge challenge and an important one. I worry that catering to indifferent masses is a path to irrelevance. After all, entertainment is a fickle, movable feast. Meanwhile, museums that “go Disneyland” run the risk of alienating their true supporters. Worst of all, some organizations fail both camps by becoming unentertaining and irrelevant.

Disneyland is just a metaphor here – there’s a valid place for making money by providing entertainment. Only making money is not the core mission of real museums. Experts often say differentiation is essential: identify a need, or a niche, and serve the heck out of it. But what if the mission strikes many as…boring?

That vexing dilemma is why it’s interesting to observe who is doing what regarding public engagement, including this venture out of Ottawa.

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Dr. Jordan Mallon was the first speaker in “Nature Talks” – he blogs about the experience here. Image courtesy of Canadian Museum of Nature


The Canadian Museum of Nature is trying out a series of TED-style “Nature Talks”. They are free, though reservations are required. The first one “sold out” – and not everyone who is interested can be there in any case. So the talks are being video taped and provided online, with French subtitles.

Here’s the first talk, from January 15th on “De-extinction: re-thinking forever

Imagine a world where T. rex steak is on the menu and Passenger Pigeons darken the skies once again. Movies such as Jurassic Parkplanted the idea of resurrecting extinct species in the popular imagination, but can we? And if we can, should we?

Palaeontologist Jordan Mallon will guide us through what science is able to achieve in this field, and under what circumstances.


“Rethinking” is the theme. Upcoming talks include: Species Hybridization: Rethinking ExtinctionPlant Intelligence: Rethinking Thinking and Parasites: Rethinking Healthy.

My husband said while I’m on the subject of talks I should give a shoutout to Canada’s Massey Lectures, a long-standing Toronto event that is packaged up into thoughtful late-night radio on CBC. But I’m not sure that falls into what I’m talking about here: ways to spice up museums and such like.

We are told interactive events are essential to attract modern/young audiences. So what would that look like, without “selling out” the mission of knowledge as its own pursuit? Of course, enhancing mission without compromise is something all sorts of organizations grapple with. (Ellen Rocco knows this and is fond of saying the station never rests on its laurels.)

From museums, to local libraries, to public radio, what’s your take on this topic? What’s worth trying to keep old things relevant – or help good things come across even better?

Is the local growing season changing?

Chart of frost dates in various NY locations. Photo: Lucy Martin

Chart of frost dates in various NY locations. Photo: Lucy Martin

Like many All In readers, I like to garden and I’m fond of books.

One of the more useful books I collected shortly after moving to this region was something called “Taylor’s Encyclopedia of Gardening.” This was the 1948 edition, by Norman Taylor (1883-1967). Checking on line I discovered it’s still being produced, with a different editor, naturally.

It’s a great book, just stuffed with useful information, including small maps and charts showing the average frost-free growing season by state or province.

After 14 years of puttering around in this growing climate, here’s what I’ve noticed: it seems like every year’s been different. Cold and rainy. Hot and dry. Late spring, early spring. Once or twice it felt like we got just the right amount of sun and rain. But who can guess what to expect? Old timers, you tell me: is so much variability normal around here?

It also feels like the growing season has been getting longer. September is often a full growing month. Oh, there may be a light frost that can be dodged with sheets and blankets. But I’ve come to expect no killing frost until early Oct. Sometimes mid-October. One time it didn’t come until late October!

Here’s an article from USA Today about crops “moving” north, thanks to warmer/longer growing seasons. And something closer to home about growing-season shifts near Rochester, NY. The USDA updated their benchmark plant hardiness zone map in 2012. This New York Times article cites at least one researcher who thinks it is already outdated.

Map of typical growing seasons for Vermont, circa 1948 from Taylor's Encyclopedia of Gardening. Photo: Lucy Martin

Map of typical growing seasons for Vermont, circa 1948 from Taylor’s Encyclopedia of Gardening. Photo: Lucy Martin

It’s hard to complain about gaining September as a bonus round of growing and eating. But “they say” winters are getting shorter and/or warmer, with less snow than was previously considered normal. It turns out I quite like winter. The possibility of losing that season’s many pleasures is worrisome.

Old, but useful. The 1948 edition. Photo: Lucy Martin

Old, but useful. The 1948 edition. Photo: Lucy Martin

Do you have a favorite reference for gardening Qs?

By now I have about 5 linear feet of books about gardening in this part of the world. For modern tips and inspiration I admire some of the books by Elliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch. I still turn to my trusty Taylor’s, of course! In these modern times there’s also tons of stuff on line, including Cornell University Cooperative Extension.

There’s no profound point here. It’s just been another lovely, gorgeous week of warm fall weather. It made me want to ask long-time area residents about any changes in the growing season they may have noticed, good or bad.

 

Oct 24 postscript: A light frost returned to my back-yard garden Oct 23, followed by a hard frost the next day. We had annuals in steady bloom and could harvest green pole beans right up until those dates.

Getting dirty: the worm edition

Aren't they adorable? Red worms for worm composting. (photo: Lucy Martin)

Aren’t they adorable? Red worms for worm composting. (photo: Lucy Martin)

This follows an earlier post by Ellen Rocco on NCPR-types getting down and dirty. (Yeah, we like to mix things up and dig deep!)

Worm composting is nothing new. I was sort of slow to try it out, but about two years ago a friend shared some extra worms and I’ve been keeping a bin ever since.

The good news is keeping a worm bin isn’t much trouble at all. Surprisingly, there’s no smell to speak of and the care required is minimal. Mind you, if worms, or mounds of muck, creep you out, don’t try this at home!

The bad news: I’m just not sure the end result justifies the endeavor.

While the red worms recommended for this job are said to eat about half their own weight every day, they don’t weigh that much, folks. It’s a slow process with a fairly low output. Contrast that to my July project of establishing a sourdough starter. It’s already a good culture and gives me great bread several times a week. A better return on effort.

Our household of just two generates kitchen trimmings at a far great rate than one modest worm box can handle. So we still have and use a back yard compost unit and send less readily composted material (like oily stuff) out by way of Ottawa’s Green waste collection system.

But, seriously, if you want to close the loop of converting waste to more food, consider raising chickens, rabbits or pigs. In our case, we travel too often to meet the daily care required by livestock, which is a plus for worms, I guess. They can run their own lives pretty well without constant care.

Anyway, this week it was essential that I clean out and totally renew my bin, because it had become far too wet. (Amazingly, the worms seem to chomp along just fine even in less-than-ideal conditions.) That job consisted of dumping it all out, scrubbing the main bin, separating the desired casing/humus from the worms (humus = the shredded newspapers and kitchen scraps that had been digested) ripping up new bedding and putting the worms back in with more food.

All shown here in stages:

Clean bin filled with more ripped newspaper beside mix of worms and old muck - which should not be this wet. (photo: Lucy Martin)

Clean bin filled with more ripped newspaper beside mix of worms and old muck – which should not be this wet. (photo: Lucy Martin)

 

Note: the ripped newspaper is supposed to be moistened until damp, but not sopping. I skipped that because the muck going back in was already plenty wet enough to do the job.

And how, pray tell, does one salvage the live worms? Well, there are different methods. I went with making cones. The worms prefer to avoid light and air, so they burrow down.

Stage one: build some cones. (photo: Lucy Martin)

Stage one: build some cones. (photo: Lucy Martin)

You can guess the rest.

Remove outer layers of each cone, and the few worms that come off too.  (photo: Lucy Martin)

Remove outer layers of each cone, and the few worms that come off too. (photo: Lucy Martin)

By the end of this process, the worms are doing a group hug that practically pushes any humus out from the compact mass. It’s kinda cool.

The poor worms are probably freaking out, but by the end of this process they are easily gathered and moved.  (photo: Lucy Martin)

The poor worms are probably freaking out, but by the end of this process they are easily gathered and moved. (photo: Lucy Martin)

This gave me half a three-gallon bucket of worm casing fertilizer. The worms went back into the fresh/clean bin.

Yes, eggs and the smallest worms are lost this way. But so it goes, they can’t all be sifted out.

I wanted to share a webpage on making a worm farm from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. Maybe it’s just because humor on a government page was unexpected, but I found it laugh-out-loud funny. This excerpt also suggests easier ways to sort worms from muck:

Some folks sort the worms out of the castings and put the worms in fresh bedding. We have other things to do with our time and prefer a split harvest method. It helps if you have trained your worms ahead of time for this harvest method. To train your worms, you start feeding them at only one end of the bin. Do this for about a week. (Worms learn pretty fast.) Now take the bedding/castings out of the end of the farm where you were not feeding them and add it to your plants or garden. You will be removing about half to two thirds of the bedding/castings in this step. You will lose some worms, but those were the ones that were not very smart. Remember you trained the others. Place the remaining bedding/castings in a container while you scrub the bin and fix new bedding. Prepare this bedding the same way you did the first time, damp newspaper, crushed egg shells, and a handful of dirt. Now add the worms you trained, castings and all onto the fresh bedding. Feed and you are back in business. I have found that the worms will move out of the old bedding in a couple of days. If you want a cleaner farm, you can remove the old bedding in a few days.

So, that’s the scoop on the dirtiest chore I did this week. (Besides the cat’s litter box.)

Do you keep worms and have tips to share?

Again, I remain skeptical this is all that useful. But it’s sort of fun and makes me feel, I don’t know, semi-virtuous!

Know your fungi? Help us!

mushroom4b

Unknown mushroom #1. Photo: Conant Neville

Last weekend I headed to the Adirondacks to bag some more peaks and check them off my list. I’m hoping to become a 46er before I graduate this year. With all the nice weather, I took advantage of the weekend and spent Saturday hiking Nippletop and Dial with some friends.

We met several people along the trail, but the most interesting thing on trail for me was the abundance of mushrooms.

Although things had dried out quite a bit with the warm weather and sunshine, the trail was still sloppy. I think all the moisture has encouraged fungus growth, which explains why I ran into a lot of mushrooms along the trail. I am not much of a mycologist, but I snapped several photos of my fungal friends as I hiked and I’m hoping some of you can help me identify them–maybe some of them are even edible–but if not, they’re still pretty cool looking.

Feel free to leave a comment if you’ve any guesses, and make sure to tell us a bit about these mysterious mushrooms if you have a fungal affinity.

Unknown mushroom #2. Photo: Conant Neville

Unknown mushroom #2. Photo: Conant Neville

Unknown mushroom #3. Photo: Conant Neville

Unknown mushroom #3. Photo: Conant Neville

Unknown mushroom #4. Photo: Conant Neville

Unknown mushroom #4. Photo: Conant Neville

 

 

“Humidex” anyone?

Humidex2

Well, it’s been stinking hot across the entire region this week. Oppressive temperatures outdoors – which may be even worse on upper stories of un-cooled buildings. When overnight lows don’t bring much relief this can quickly feel overwhelming.

To be sure, there are different kinds of hot, including the oft-heard line: “It may be x degrees, but it’s OK because it’s a dry heat.” No such luck here, though, where humidity bogs things up even further. With high humidity the body’s air conditioning system can’t do its job: buckets of sweat produce little real relief.

Thankfully, passing thunderstorms have occasionally broken that swelter.

The effect of humidity is so noticeable that Canada invented what’s called a “humidex” (humidity index) back in 1965. In lay terms, this combines the heat of the current air temperature with the humidity of the dew point – does that help? Or would you rather just hear what it “feels like?”

Here’s a more explicit explanation/worksheet on what the humidex is and how it’s calculated.

The formula goes like this:  Humidex = T + (0.5555 * (e – 10)), where T is the temperature in Celsius and e is the vapor pressure in millibars (mb).

Of course, that needs further conversion into Fahrenheit for U.S. consumption. The U.S. prefers something called the heat index, which Wikipedia says produces a resulting ”felt air temperature” or “apparent temperature.”

Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips spoke with CBC news about the popularity of the humidex:

“It may be impure from a scientific point of view, but it is actually proven to work. There is more stress on the body in a humid situation. You can’t be as productive on a humid, moist day as you would be on a hot, dry day.”

Humidity is but one consideration when it comes to comfort. There’s also sun intensity, often measured with a UV index. The UV index runs from a low of 0 to a high of 15. In Ottawa at least, 9-10 seems to be about as high as that gets. I grew up in Hawaii where the UV index was 12 the day I wrote this, which is pretty typical.

So you’ll get a worse sunburn – faster – closer to the equator. But if you want to talk steamy, drippy, “please-let-it-end!” discomfort…Ottawa heat waves beat Hawaii – hands down.

Photo: Mr. T in DC, via creative commons

Photo: Mr. T in DC, via creative commons

Newscasts certainly seem to be devoting more time and importance to weather. Taking the cynical view, it’s a cheap way to repetitiously fill time with a safe, popular topic. (Weather is much faster to explain than the European debt crisis and more entertaining than elusive Senate reform.) On the other hand, people really DO care about weather and want lots of details.

Some are critical of “feels-like” measures such as the humidex and even the better-known wind chill factor. As with this site, where physicist Miguel Tremblay explores the topic at length, including doubts about applying science to quantify a “feeling,” the rise of sensationalism in meterology and the use of “debatable assumptions” in some of those formulas.

What do you think? Has weather coverage just gone overboard? Do we need things like a humidex? Or are you satisfied with the basics: highs and lows, wind speed and direction and likelihood of rain?

Lastly, what’s your idea of a perfect temperature? Mine is probably a high of 26 C / 78 F and an overnight low of 16 C/ 60 F. What Canadians contentedly call “good sleeping weather.”

Stay cool and take comfort in the old adage “this too shall pass.”

Horsing around with really old DNA

Chincoteague pony (aka Assateague horse), via Wikipedia/Creative Commons

Chincoteague pony (aka Assateague horse), via Wikipedia/Creative Commons

As a child I was horse-mad. For a while I actually wanted to be a horse – running around barefoot planning to end up with feet as hard as hooves. Short of that impossible notion, becoming a jockey seemed like the next best thing. Unfortunately, that wasn’t really a choice growing up when and where I did.

So I devoured every horse book I could find in the libraries on Maui and fruitlessly begged my parents for a Welsh pony. Or a Morgan. Maybe an Appaloosa. I swore I would get some horse of my very own as soon as I could manage that. Ironically, that’s quite easily done where I live now. Except that obsession faded into mere memory.

Looking back, I think horses represented avenues I hungered for as a child: freedom, adventure and companionship. Qualities I’ve been able to satisfy in the human realm as an adult. But horse-related news still resonates for me, which is why this DNA item caught my eye.

As published in the Journal Nature, and reported by many news outlets, a really old horse from modern-day Yukon Territory has ended up providing a significant scientific breakthrough.

Here is how Wired Magazine framed the accomplishment of a multinational team lead by Ludovic Orlando and Eske Willerslev:

By piecing together the genetic information locked inside a frozen, fossilized bone, scientists have deciphered the complete genome of an extinct prehistoric horse that roamed the Yukon more than 700,000 years ago. The work rewrites the evolutionary history of the horse and smashes the previous record for the oldest complete genome ever sequenced. In doing so, it redefines how far back in time scientists can travel using DNA sequences as their guide.

According to Wired the previous age milestone “…was an 80,000-year-old ancient cousin of humans whose genome was sequenced from a single finger bone found in Siberia.”

Przewalski's horse. Photo via Wikipedia/Creative Commons.

Przewalski’s horse. Photo via Wikipedia/Creative Commons.

By the way, the new information allowed researchers to confirm that Przewalski’s horse (an existing but endangered subspecies from the steppes of Mongolia) is the last truly wild horse.

The New York Time’s coverage states this advance means:

…DNA should be recoverable from animals that lived one million years ago. This would greatly extend biologists’ ability to understand the evolutionary past.

Science News spends a good chunk of its article on ways this expands understanding of the evolution of horses, then and now.

CBC has more about the regional aspects of this Canadian fossil find:

Duane Froese, an earth sciences professor at the University of Alberta, found the metapodial bone from the horse’s leg, equivalent to bones found in the palm of a human hand, about a decade ago in the Thistle Creek gold mine, about 100 kilometres south of Dawson City.

Froese has been at this sort of collecting for a while, including findings on ancient bacterial resistance to antibiotics that could be valuable information today, with concerns about the viability of antibiotic medicine.

And what was it like to be a horse in the Yukon 700,000 years ago? Again from CBC coverage:

The DNA analysis also showed that horse populations fluctuated with the climate over the ages.

“Basically, when it’s fairly cold, it’s good to be a horse. When it’s warm, it’s pretty bad,” said Eske Willerslev, another co-author of the report, at the press briefing.

To put this in perspective, maybe it’s useful to revisit the timeline of horse evolution (If you like going to that level of detail).

And what about distribution? After all, if modern horses were brought to America by Spanish explorers, when did those earliest horses disappear from this continent?

Canadian Geographic covered that here:

North American horses disappeared around 8,000 – 10,000 years ago. Multiple factors including hunting by early Natives, climate change, and disease are thought to have helped contribute to their demise. They disappeared around the same time as other large mammals like Wooly Mammoths.

Then the Conquistadors showed up and on it went from there. Up to and including a little girl in Hawaii, avidly reading about Misty of Chincoteague and dreaming of taming Mustangs.

Cover from Anna Sewell's 1877 horse classic, Black Beauty. Photo: Wikipedia

Cover from Anna Sewell’s 1877 horse classic, Black Beauty. Photo: Wikipedia

Fellow horse lovers of a certain age will know these authors very well: Walter Farley  who wrote the Black Stallion series. Marguerite Henry and the illustrations of Wesley Dennis - lots of wonderful titles there. Henry V. Larom and ”Ride like an Indian”. More classic horse-themed authors included  C. W. Anderson, (“Heads up, Heels Down”, “Flip” and “Billy and Blaze” series), Anna Sewell (“Black Beauty”), Mary O’Hara (“My Friend Flicka”) and Will James (“Smokey”). And I’ve just discovered James was born a Canadian Francophone in Quebec – who knew?

As an adult I made sure to read everything by real-life champion steeplechase jockey and best-selling mystery writer Dick Francis. Side note: Francis seldom bothered to pen well-rounded female characters. Maybe that came from the prevalent culture of the early 1960′s – when he started churning titles out like clockwork. But his male protagonists always had something interesting to solve – as champions of self-determined, honest character. It would have been nice if the female characters were more than devices to prove the hero was heterosexual!

Who else loves horses and horse-themed books, or did at one time?

And – getting back to the science of this thread – what do you suppose being able to extract and sequence really old DND from all sorts of animals may lead to?

The long, long road to precise navigation

 

High school student Senta Osoling learning to use a sextant, 1942. Photo: Alfred T. Palmer, Library of Congress

Our wiz-bang gadgets are making the miraculous seem commonplace these days.

Which is one reason I wanted to call this to your attention: “Time and Navigation: The Untold Story of Getting from Here to There”.

This new, permanent exhibition opened April 12 at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

And what is the secret to finding exactly where you are on earth? Well, as Heather Goss put it, on Smithsonian’s Air & Space blog, The Daily Planet, “You’re going to need a clock”.

This sundial birdbath only tells time after a fashion. Navigation needed real timepieces. (photo by L. Martin)

An exhibition overview by Edward Rothstein for the New York Times brought this to my attention. I love exhibits that try to convey the scope of critically important accomplishments like this. Because we tend to forget just how hard this particular problem was.

As Rothstein wrote:

The history of navigation is in fact a history of getting lost. Or worse. It is also, as the exhibition shows, a history of gadgets that struggle to take some measure of the world, organizing it, dividing it, turning each spot into a crossroads of invented measurements.

Note that phrase “invented measurements”, because that is how modern man gets this job done. My head explodes when considering these concepts, but you could say that’s the gist of it: time as an invented measurement, coupled with the creation of an invented grid – and that is how we map the world. (These things seem so “real” but to some extent they are artificial constructs. Birds do the same thing perfectly well without clocks, thanks anyway.)

Today, it’s a snap to have GPS at one’s fingertips, providing pin-point placement with zero effort. But think – marvel, if you will – at the heavy mental lifting that went into defining (then solving) this problem. Dreaming up time as a concept and then treating time as something to be measured. The amazing ingenuity it took to invent so many different devices to measure distance (and time) and then link them to establish location. Quoting Rothstein’s article again:

The subject of navigation itself intersects several academic disciplines. The exhibition is a collaboration between two branches of the Smithsonian, the National Museum of American History and the National Air and Space Museum. There are four curators, each involved in a different part of the story: Paul Ceruzzi, aerospace electronics; Roger Connor, aviation; Andrew Johnston, geography; and Carlene Stephens, timekeeping. It is a measure of the centrality of the subject — and the general ignorance about it — that an entire museum could have been devoted to it. Indeed, the show’s achievement is not that it makes the subject seem easy — for that, we can just play with Google Maps or Google Earth — but that it reveals that it is difficult beyond imagining.

As students of this topic already know, figuring out north and south on the globe was the easy part – because that could be determined by checking location against the sun and stars, like Polaris. The devil was in determining east and west (longitude). That really couldn’t be solved until better timepieces were invented. (Which did happen, across centuries.) 

Here’s another blog about visiting Greenwich, England (with a photo of the prime meridian!) and the Longitude Act of 1714, establishing a prize of £20,000 (perhaps 3 million in today’s dollars) for the invention of a way to measure longitude at sea with some accuracy. Here’s more about the the inventor and device that eventually took the prize in 1773: John Harrison and his H-4 clock. 

Ye olde hand-held compass: useful for determining direction, but not able to establish location. (photo by L. Martin)

Rothstein says the most modern section of the exhibit is actually something of a let-down. He felt inventions like GPS  (“when things become more complex while seeming more elementary in their use”) are not explained as well as sextants. (I wonder, was it too difficult to explain GPS? Or do we bother less to explain what is both new and familiar?)

In any event, GPS.gov gets the connection and is a sponsor of the exhibition.

Humans! A fractious and disorganized species, at times. But capable of great achievements, such as navigation.

If you find yourself in D.C. with any time to spare, this sounds like something worth seeing.

Do you know how to navigate? (For this question, pushing a GPS button doesn’t count!)

Was it hard to learn? What struck you about the subject while you learned the ins and outs?

What close calls did you have by NOT having that skill?

Listening Post: Large idea collider

I’m a hopeless science weenie, as evidenced by my daily reading of the National Science Foundation’s e-newsletter. But I’m also an English major, and a little at sea among subatomic particles and such. It’s all dark matter to me. I try to keep up, despite my limitations, so I jumped on the post “Higgs Boson in plain English, and why it’s so important.” It even included an animated comic book explanation video. Now this is my kind of science.

You can explain anything with cartoons.

Except that plain English doesn’t have to make plain sense. Consider, for example, the doctrine of the Trinity, or transubstantiation. For those of you who have been busy eating carbonized meat and potato chips, drinking adult beverages, and touching off fireworks for the last couple days, scientists at CERN in Switzerland have produced evidence for the existence of the long-sought theoretical particle, the Higgs boson, that would explain why things have mass. (Consider the alternative!)

The cartoon characters say that in the large hadron collider at CERN–which produced (almost for sure) the Higgs Boson–what you put into it doesn’t make any difference to what comes out. As long as you have enough energy, you can create any particle that requires that much energy or less. The Higgs Boson took a really big bunch of energy, and is a big deal, because the so-called standard model in physics (used for the last couple of decades) requires it to exist in order for  everything else to work. No pressure.

But the cartoon guys keep posing and not answering questions: What is mass? We don’t know. How many types of subatomic particles are there? We don’t know. What do these leftover particles over in the corner here do? We don’t know. But the existence of the Higgs boson would be one more thing that we do know, saving the bacon for the standard model.

And the standard model, of course, explains everything–everything except gravitation, that is. Then there is dark energy, and dark matter. And let’s not forget the nature of time, and the nature of consciousness. Put some thought into a large idea collider, spin it up real fast, and see if any plain English comes out.

You say tomato, I say tomahto

If you’re a gardener, you may start your own seedlings or buy them from a nursery or mooch them from a friend who starts plants. In any case, you’ve probably been–or are about to be–planting tomatoes. I put in (horrors) 42 plants last week–so many varieties I love, some heirloom, some commercial standbys.

Okay, I have tomatoes on my mind. This article showed up in the New York Times today, just when I thought nothing about tomatoes could surprise me. How about this: plant geneticists have sequenced the tomato’s genome and discovered 31,760 genes, about 7,000 more than a person.

Coincidentally (or, again, maybe all things tomato are jumping out at me at this time of year), I also stumbled on this wonderful story from Robert Krulwich which describes an experiment proving that the dodder plant can “smell” a tomato plant. Check it out–complete with video and drawings. I grew up in Manhattan so it wasn’t until my early twenties that I first smelled the distinctive odor of a tomato vine–thanks to an old Italian man who grew tomatoes and figs in his backyard in New Jersey. An unforgettable aroma.

Tomatoes on your mind? Share a favorite recipe–something you like to do with those first ripe tomatoes out of the garden. (I make many a meal out of tomatoes drizzled with a bit of olive olive, basil, salt and pepper and several ears of fresh corn. Who needs anything more?)

Are the Values of Science and Religion Compatible?

2011-2012 Niles Lecture on Science and Religion from St. Lawrence University (reduced resolution) from North Country Public Radio on Vimeo.

The 2011-2012 Niles Lecture on Science and Religion from St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York. January 30, 2012. The topic discussed was, “Are the Values of Science and Religion Compatible?” Participants include SLU faculty members Aileen O’Donoghue, Karen Johnson, Laura Rediehs, Michael Greenwald and Aswini Pai.

NCPR will be out in the community recording forums, events and lectures of public importance, artistic merit and general interest. You can find NCPR archive video at our Youtube channel, UStream channel, and our latest efforts in the NCPR Vimeo channel.