First and foremost, I would like to thank AAAS, Verizon, Subaru and Suzanne Thurston for the opportunity for my colleagues and I to attend the AAAS Conference from Feb 14- Feb 17th at the Hynes Convention Center and Sheraton Hotel. I like, Alexia really needed a day to digest all of the information I had gathered over the last 4 days. I had the the pleasure of being invited as a guest to the 2013 AAAS / Subaru Science Books and Films Prize for Excellence in Science Books. It was a great experience to hear from the authors, especially Temple Grandin's author Sy Montgomery. She spoke of appreciating the unique mind, and her speech was very inspiring. This experience has really allowed me to grow as an educator. Not only were the sessions that I attended relevant and current in their research, I was able to meet some extraordinary people: authors, teachers, scientists, professors, etc. Amazing!
The first session I attended was called "Watching Atoms Move from Structures to Dynamics to Mesoscale Processes." The ulimate goal for imaging processes and this presentation was quanitifying atomic movement. The idea of watching atomic motions as they occur during structural changes has been referred to as the "Making the Molecular Movie" Experiment. With the development of femtosecond electron pulses which show single shot structures, the audience was able to view several movies of atomic movement. Being a Chemistry teacher, I found this absolutely fascinating. By understanding how atoms behave, or being able to quantify their movement, scientists can observe biomolecules in fluids, which may provide insight in the future as to how a pathogen attacks a cell. In this presentation a new imaging capability called the DTEM, dynamic transmission electron microscope was also, discussed.
Another session that I felt was really interesting was called "Tiny, but Mighty: Neutrinos and the New Frontier of Science." I was blown away that the director of Fermilab was present and a speaker at the conference. She discussed the role of neutrinos and the role they had in the evolution of the early universe. There are three types of neutrinos, and neutrinos were noticed from beta decay. Neutrinos are the 2nd abundant particle in the universe, with no charge, and in the beginning believed to be massless (now not true). Neutrinos have mass, but it is such a small non-zero mass, that quantum mechanics could allow them to morph into another kind and back again, called "neutrino oscillations." The session went on to discuss how neutrinos may help scientists answer questions about the origin of the universe. Could they hold the key to why we exist? Why does the universe exist and why is it matter dominated? I found this session extremely interesting, and was impressed with Sam Zeller's presentation.
Another session that was incredible was the "Toxicological Impact of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill on Human and WildLife Health." Again, being a Chemistry teacher, I was excited to go to this session because it is a topic that I discuss with my students in class when we cover Density. The BP Oil Spill occurred on April 20, 2010 in which methane gas from the Macondo wellhead leaked up onto the drillrig and exploded, killing 11 people and starting the largest incident of ocean toxicology in the world. 250,000 gallons of oil each day leaked into the ocean, totaling over 205 million gallons in 3 months before it was capped. In this session, the effect of using chemical dispersants was discussed, and how this may have caused damage to offshore/inshore wildlife habitats. Pictures were shared of many long term effects: coral bleaching, reduction in dissolved oxygen content, photosynthesis inhibition, etc. One study discussed the effect of crude oil and dispersed oil on sheephead minnows. There was a reduction of reproduction, and during the summer of 2010, a hypoxic zone measured 20,000 km2. Greg Mayer discussed the effects of the Gulf Killifish: low survival rate, less interested in mating/feeding from exposure to oil. Scientists used PCR to view mitochondrial DNA damage and nuclear DNA damage. John Pierce Wise discussed his offshore toxicology study of Bryde and Sperm whales. Whales were chosen because it was believed that the population of the Alaskan killer whale was expected to be completely lost after the Exon Valdez Oil Spill. Scientists assessed the exposure of th whales by taking biopsies of whale skin for metal analyses. They were able to determine toxicity, and DNA damage in cells from biopsies. Scientists posted daily blogs reporting their work. You can view this here: http://www.usm.maine.edu/toxicology/overview
Specifically, traces of chromium and nickel levels were looked at because oil is known to have these metals present. The data presented suggests that high levels of chromium and nickel were in both sperm whales and oil related materials suggesting the toxic effects in offshore waters. This session was fascinating, and I am excited to share this research with my students in my classroom. For many students, "it is out of sight, out of mind," but for scientists, its the aftermath of biological effects that we know can cause more harm than the original event.
In addition to the sessions, I took home so many useful ideas/demos from the exhibit hall. One demo had students stepping on a paper cup, and then stepping on a wooden board that was placed on top of 150 paper cups. The idea was to assist students in understand the formula for pressure (pressure=Force/Area). By increasing the area that the cups were spread out on, the cups could hold your weight. This was really neat, and I will definitely do this demo in the future with my students.
Another experience, I will never forget is when I met a Japanese scientist from RIKEN laboratory (a team of scientists across Japan and China), where the 113th element was discovered. The 113th element was created by fusing together zinc and bismuth atoms. When I asked if the element had been named yet, the scientist laughed and said that the lab has submitted several names, but there is no name yet. He said he hoped that it would be named after a country or famous scientist. I can't wait to find out what they end up naming lucky number 113! You can view this article here: http://www.rikenresearch.riken.jp
Attached I have included some photos of my experience at the AAAS Conference. It was an unbelivable opportunity, and I have taken so many useful ideas, demos, research, and experiences with me!