Author Archives: Eva Amsen

The African Science Truck Experience

The African Science Truck Experience (TASTE) is an amazing charity I first found our about when founder Amy Buchanan-Hughes spoke at a science unconference I co-organised a few years ago.

TASTE is a project to provide school kids in Uganda with appropriate science lab tools that they need to study science in middle and high school. It’s difficult and expensive to set up science labs in individual schools in Uganda, but TASTE solves the problem with wheels: They have a mobile lab (the “science truck”) which can travel from school to school. Kids use the equipment when the truck is in town, and then it leaves after their labs are done, onto the next location!

TASTE1

In 2013, they reached 1400 students this way, and now TASTE are planning their next trip to Uganda. They are raising money throughout 2015 to be able to return in 2016 with the mobile lab and teacher training.

They’ve just started their fundraising, which involves a weekly focus on a specific item that they need sponsors for. This week’s item is…. a box of cockroaches, to help students learn anatomical drawing, which is a part of their curriculum.

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You can follow TASTE on Facebook and Twitter to keep track of the weekly items, or their fundraising page to donate. (Note that the donation amounts listed are in British pounds. £10 is approximately $15 US)

Images from TASTE site and Facebook page.

Maud Menten, #ScienceWoman

Which science woman inspires you? That was the question that It’s Okay To Be Smart and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls are currently asking people to answer in video format.

I couldn’t really pick one, because I know way too many inspiring science women, so I went with Maud Menten: one of the scientists who laid a lot of the groundwork for the field I studied. Only, I didn’t realise she was a woman until years after I first heard about her work!

I used my Lego set again, but this time I also put myself on screen.

It’s kind of embarrassing that I just blindly assumed that all the people in my textbooks were men. Half of the students in my undergrad chemistry department were women, and later half of the PhD students in my grad school biochemistry department were women as well. But at the top level, there were only a handful of female professors. I never really needed female role models to be able to choose science, and I thought I didn’t really care or notice what gender my professors were, but I wonder if I might not have blindly assumed that everyone in textbooks was a man if I had been around more female professors.

Or would I still have assumed that all scientists of the past – the ones mentioned in our books – were men? It’s hard to say, but having more women in top science positions now will change the demographics of the people mentioned in textbooks of the future.

2015 science festivals around the world

Want to travel the world visiting science festivals? You could, if you wanted to.

The first major science festival of the year is already over. Techfest (Asia’s largest science/tech festival) ran from January 2 to 5 in Bombay, India. It’s an annual event, so consider this a heads-up for 2016.

Below is a list of science festivals for the rest of 2015. It doesn’t include all science festivals – there are way too many. Instead, it lists some throughout the year, across the world, including some of the biggest ones. For a more complete list see this 2011 post on Schemes and Memes.

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

  • 2015 date tba – Geek Picnic – St Petersburg, Russia

September

October

November

 

I challenge you to visit all of them! (Good luck on May 9…)

Garbage – Part 2: Earthships

Part two of my garbage-themed science travel series. This week, a place I visited after seeing it on a documentary.

4937828296_f9f887c202_zIn 2007, I saw the documentary Garbage Warrior at its premier at the Hot Docs film festival, and three years later it inspired a detour to Taos on my way to a conference in Albuquerque.

Garbage Warrior tells the story of Michael Reynolds, a renegade architect who developed a way to build sustainable homes out of garbage. It sounds crazy, it sounds disgusting, but the homes are beautiful and the way they are designed, built, and developed is experimental in not just the architectural sense, but also scientifically experimental: They try things, and if it doesn’t work, they change parts until it does work. Reynolds’ early customers didn’t always understand that aspect of “experimental” and complained when things didn’t work, but over time the buildings have become better and better.

The houses are called Earthships, and this is what they look like:

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I stayed in this particular Earthship for one night in 2010, in between two conferences. I wrote up my experiences for WorldChanging Canada at the time, so you can read a bit more there as well. Continue reading

Garbage – Part 1: Pacific Garbage Patch

Two of the most interesting science-related destinations on earth are both garbage-related, so get ready for a garbage-themed two-part post.

Remember the duckies that floated around the oceans for years? Ocean currents brought them all the way across the Arctic. But ocean currents don’t always push garbage to shore. The currents also create large vortexes from which floating plastic can’t escape. Instead, it all stays within the vortex, and creates a patch of floating waste in the convergence zone.

Marine Debris Poster (4) AI9

This is what happened at the Pacific Garbage Patch.

Despite some photos you may have seen, this is not a large patch of floating objects. (In fact, I can’t find ANY reliable and reusable photos of what it ACTUALLY looks like, so you just get a map.)

Unlike the duckies, which retained their duckie shape throughout their oceanic travels, the majority of the plastic in the Pacific Garbage Patch is not shaped like any recognizable objects. It’s mainly plastic pellets, down to microscopic size. The water can look relatively normal on the surface, but water samples consistently show plastic.

As Miriam Goldstein describes in an interview with io9, it’s not entirely clear what the effect is of so much plastic in the ocean, but it’s definitely changing the ecosystem.

It’s also very difficult – logistically – to clean up plastic from such a large and remote area. It’s not close to any particular country, and the garbage comes from everywhere, so whose job is it to clean?

The best solution, of course, is to prevent garbage from ever ending up in the ocean in the first place, and next week I’ll take you on a virtual trip to a place where household waste is being reused in a unique way.

Map from Wikimedia, in the public domain.