Monthly Archives: March 2015

Summer of Science

How about a summer of science for your high schooler (or 8th grader)?!?! OK Higher Ed is offering a fantastic opportunity for students who will be in 8th-12th grade next year. It’s called the Summer Academies.

A total of 26 academies will be held at 17 college campuses across the state throughout the summer.  Topics include biology, engineering, math, aeronautics, meteorology…you know, all the STEM stuff. Best of all, it’s FREE!!!

Check out these quotes from former academy attendees courtesy of OKMath.

“No field of study has started a fire within me like architecture and interior design has. Your enthusiasm for my ideas and designs was new and exciting for me.”

“This is the best thing I will ever do this whole entire summer.”

“College doesn’t seem as unimaginable as before. I will definitely be going to college.”

OKMath also reports, “a greater percentage of Summer Academies students go to college immediately after high school than compared to other students.” Also, “Summer Academies students earn degrees at a higher rate than other students.”

Click here to register and see a full list of academies being offered. You can also call 1-800-858-1840 for more information.

And remember, it’s FREE!!

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This Scientist Is OK- Kyle Davies

Kyle Davies is a paleontologist and a fossil preparator at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. He builds the displays you see on the museum floor. He most recently helped prepare Aquilops americanus display which debuted in February.

Davies is one of those people who’s living a childhood dream. He says all he ever wanted to do was build fossil displays. How abut that? Now he’s doing it and that makes him an OK scientist.

It’s what’s in the Gut that matters

Scientists at the University of Oklahoma are getting international attention for research into what’s in your gut. Cecil Lewis and his team at the Laboratories of Molecular Anthropology and Microbiome Research at OU studied what’s inside the guts of a group of Norman residents and compared it to the guts of a hunter-gatherer society in the Amazon.

They found that the population of gut microbes of the people in the Amazon and city-dwellers in Norman have some significant differences. For example, one microbe called Treponema was not found in the Norman population but was found in the tribe of hunter-gatherers. This is a bacteria that has been in human and primate guts for millions of years.

“In our study, we show that these lost bacteria are in fact multiple species that are likely capable of fermenting fiber and generating short chain fatty acids in the gut.  Short chain fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties.  This raises an important question, could these lost Treponema be keystone species that explain the increased risk for autoimmunce disorders in industrialized people?  This is what we hope to explore next,” says Lewis.

You can read the research for yourself in nature.  Or you can read this article in Science Magazine by Ann Gibbons to see how researchers convinced the tribe in the Amazon to let them study their guts. (Let’s just say, sometimes science ain’t pretty.). Gibbons sums it up quite nicely about what this means and why this kind of research is important.

This Scientist is OK- Dr. Lynn Soreghan

Dr. Lynn Soreghan is a geologist at the University of Oklahoma. She studies what’s called deep time climate, basically we’re talking about Earth’s climate from hundreds of millions of years ago. She does it by studying ancient dust that has now solidified and become rock.

In this video she talks about why she loves geology, what ancient dust particles tell you about climate of the past, and what she thinks about the state of science education in Oklahoma. You can really see at the 2:52 mark as she tries to find the words to describe her frustration with some of the meddling that goes on in science education in our state.

What is the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum?

We talk a lot about the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History here at SIO. This outstanding story is produced by the museum. It explains what it is, what it does, and how its mission serves Oklahoma.

This is a great look at why the Sam Noble Museum is unique and why Oklahoma is better off because of it.

The Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History is a fantastic place for the kids. Spend the day and learn all about Oklahoma’s rich history.

Fighting Cancer, One Clump of Soil at a Time

Have you ever looked around your yard and wondered if it held the key to fighting cancer? Okay, so maybe not…but here’s a cool way you can be a part of a scientific experiment and maybe unlock the next new drug.

It’s called Citizen Science. It’s part of the National Products Discovery Group in the University of Oklahoma’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry (whew, that’s a mouthful!).

In a nutshell, they’re looking for soil samples…from your yard, from your neighbor’s yard (with their permission of course), or from your pasture. The scientists are looking to see what microorganisms are living in that soil. They’re specifically looking for fungi. Here’s why from their website, “Fungi are capable of making many new compounds that can thwart the growth of cancer cells, impede the spread of infectious pathogens, as well as treat many other human diseases. With millions of fungi estimated to be living on earth, you probably have several new species inhabiting your area that we have never tested.”

How cool is that? Just dig up a little soil and see if it’s home to a new cancer fighting agent! Click here to learn how to get involved and see where samples have been submitted from across the country.

Ancient Dust and Fossilized Raindrops (sort of)

Dr. Lynn Soreghan is a geologist at the University of Oklahoma. She has one of the more unique specialties I’ve come across. She studies deep time climate by looking at ancient dust. It was formed hundreds of millions of years ago but has now become rock or stone.

Be sure to check out the 2:05 mark where you can see what are essentially fossilized raindrops!!! Okay, not really, but you can see the imprint made when it rained millions of years ago in Colorado. It’s supercool.

We talked via Skype.

How you can help find Fossils

If you’ve ever wanted to work with fossils and help paleontologists make new discoveries this is the story for you. The Vertebrate Paleontology lab at the OSU Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa needs volunteers. You don’t need to have any experience, just a love for science. You’ll also get to work with Dr. Anne Weil.

Volunteers work Wednesday-Friday, 9 to 5 sifting through rock and soil looking for fossils.

Click here for a more information, as well as how to get in touch with the volunteer coordinator.

This Scientist is OK- Dr. Anne Weil

Dr. Anne Weil is a vertebrate paleontologist at the OSU Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa. Her specialty is looking at a “lost branch of mammalia” called multituberculates. They lived roughly 180 to 30 million years ago. Here’s an example.

She started college wanting to be a novelist but soon found herself taking geology and paleontology courses. Next thing you know she’s paleontologist researching fossilized mammal teeth.

She’s an OK scientist.

Tail feathers Changed after Severe Storms

Researchers from the University of Oklahoma and the Sutton Avian Research Center in Bartlesville have found evidence that severe storms have caused a physical change in a population of birds.

The team studied Grasshopper Sparrows near El Reno, OK. The birds survived a massive storm in May 2013. It was a deluge that saw a 2-mile wide EF5 tornado and hailstones that were more than two inches wide. The birds they studied were born just before the storm. You can read the study here.

Jeremy Ross in the field during study.

Dr. Jeremy Ross in the field during study.

Dr. Jeremy Ross was the lead researcher. He reports they found a spike in the chemical signature of what’s called pallid bands in the tail feathers of the birds. Dr. Ross says the bands contained more of a certain type of nitrogen isotope. He says the stress of living through the storm caused muscle tissue to break down which changed the composition of the nitrogen in the blood. That change plays itself out as the feathers develop. “This may be the first example of severe thunderstorms being scientifically implicated in sublethal stress impacts on wildlife,” says Dr. Ross.

Pallid band on the tail feather of a young Grasshopper Sparrow

Pallid band on the tail feather of a young Grasshopper Sparrow. Photo courtesy: W. Alice Boyle

So why would this happen? What’s it mean? Dr. Ross says the tail is less important than the wing feathers in young birds. During high-stress events, like severe storms, food can be harder to find because the hailstones can kill either one or both parents of the fledgling or kill the insects on which they feed. When that happens the body moves blood from growing feathers that are not as important in order to protect other parts of the body that need more blood and energy.

Dr. Ross say it’s not unusual for Grasshopper Sparrows to have pallid bands but it’s normally about 2% of the population. After the El Reno storm they discovered about 44% of the population showed the pallid bands.

A detailed look at the Pallid Bands in the tail feathers of young Grasshopper Sparrows

A detailed look at the Pallid Bands in the tail feathers of young Grasshopper Sparrows. Photo courtesy: W. Alice Boyle

The study came about by accident, Dr. Ross says the team was doing other research in the area when they noticed the high rate of pallid bands in the Grasshopper Sparrows. (What a great example of how fluid science can be!!) Dr. Ross told me, “This study represents the opportune accident that scientists often don’t plan for and, therefore, don’t report. We have encouraged the scientific community to follow suit and report such findings because as a connected network we can be assured that in any given year severe weather will strike an existing field study. From such events we can gain insight into what the impacts of current severe weather patterns are now and, from this insight, we can start to predict how intensifying and expanding severe weather patterns will impact wildlife populations under a changing climate.”