Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Birds - Best of Both Worlds

I love birds. Mostly the smaller ones. Oh, I know the snowy egret is a wonder, but cardinals and bluebirds just make me smile as I start my day. 

Recently, I came across a research article on the brilliantly colorful Tanagers, who make up fully 10% of all songbird species. Anyway, a graduate student, Nick Mason, at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology wanted to see if Darwin's theory that brightly colored birds don't have

complex songs and dull colored birds are singing divas was accurate. He decided to look at the hugely diverse Tanagers by measuring  the plumage of 303 species using a spectro-photometer and analyzing 2,700 recordings of bird songs. 

The research  team studied nine feather color variables and 20 song variables to develop a “complexity” score for both plumage and sound. Mason used the Macaulay Library of bird songs (world's largest/oldest scientific archive of biodiversity audio and video recordings) for his research.

When the feathers had settled, the team found that there weren't widespread limits on the evolution of showiness vs. singing. 

So contrary to what Charles Darwin speculated, birds, or tanagers at least, can be "beautiful and mellifluous, or drab and hoarse, or anything in between."
Go science!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Science in the Wild West

Summertime offers time to visit family, friends and places you might have only read about. Recently I ran across a PBS series hosted by Alan Alda on science of the western United States. 

In "The Wild West," Alda rounds up science stories with a distinctly western flair, including scorpions and rattlesnakes, tales told by bones, a search for diamonds, a cowgirl's use of physics to throw a better lasso and a visit to Biosphere 2 (Arizona) to learn about the seven biomes.

The best thing about the series is that they include classroom curriculum tie-ins and resources. It offers a treasure trove of history, science, and social studies activities. 

Not only is the series fun and entertaining, but you get to learn a lot about my part of the country. Go science! 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Citizen Science

Nearly everyone finds time to get outdoors in the summer. Families, friends, bicyclists, hikers, divers, photographers and more are doing activities set in nature. So what better time for scientists to recruit extra eyes, ears, and hands for reporting on mother nature's residents and mysteries. 

Discover magazine and SciStarter's new online Citizen Science Salon allows everyone to become amateur scientists and collaborate on important research projects.

Interested in marine research? MyOSD-Ocean Sampling Day is scheduled for June 21st. Seahorse lovers can help improve understanding of those ocean friends at iSeahorse. Want to help gather information about horseshoe crab hitchhikers and phytoplankton? Get started here (horseshoe crabs) and here (phytoplankton). You can also help analyze deep-sea videos (15 seconds at a time) with Digital Fishers

How about sorting out whale sounds? Each family of Killer Whales has its own dialect. Closely-related families share calls. Get the details at WhaleFM.

More interested in outer than inner space? The Moon Zoo project helps identify and map the moon using images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera. 

Want to look further? The Kepler spacecraft stares at stars in the Cygnus constellation and records their brightness every thirty minutes to search for transiting planets. Help out at Planet Hunters.

Didn't see your favorite science project? The Citizen Science Alliance keeps a list of current projects. An internet search for citizen science will also turn up more projects at different universities and agencies. Go science!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Physics - Up Close & Personal at Discovery Museum

If you're like me, it's a lot more fun to hear about science directly from folks actually doing science than just reading about it. So, I wanted to give you a heads up about an free public event tomorrow night, June 7, 2014, 6:00 p.m. at the Museum of Discovery

James L. Merz, PhD, Professor of Physics at the University of Notre Dame will share what sparked his passion for engineering and physics. The talk will be followed by a reception and a tour of the museum's latest travelling exhibit, Mystery of the Mayan Medallion. It sounds like a lot of fun. Go Science!