Tag Archives: science outreach

Flame challenge: What is energy?

Alan Alda Centre for Communicating Science holds a sci-comm competition every year. This year’s challenge was to explain what energy is, in a way any 11-year-old could understand. Here is my entry:

What is energy?

“You should eat more to get more energy” says my mum. But what is energy? Am I creating energy when I eat food? Let’s find out.

If you look around now, you might see your table, books, and pencils. Every object around you has energy proportional to its mass. But just like Pokémon, energy comes in various forms: heat, light, electrical, chemical, stored energy (called potential energy), energy due to motion (called kinetic energy) etc.

Energy is like currency (money) that changes form when it is spent. For example, you and your pencil on the desk have energy, and you can spend it to do any work. But when you use it up, it is converted from one form to another.

The pencil has chemical energy in it.  When you burn it, the energy is converted to heat and light energy till all of it is spent. But the heat and light energy were not created from nowhere, nor is the energy destroyed; it just converted from chemical to heat and light. All the energy in the universe is already inside everything around us in various forms. So we cannot create or destroy energy.

You need energy to do any work. Food that you eat gives your muscles the power to move so that you can walk. This energy has been converted from the Sun’s light energy which is converted to chemical energy by plants which we animals eat. So when I eat, I gain the energy from food, but I do not create energy.

I better go eat my lunch now before I spend the chemical energy in my muscles for walking so that I can catch all the Pokémon.


I did not win the competition, but it was definitely a challenge writing this.

Here is the winning entry: http://www.aldakavlilearningcenter.org/practice/flame-challenge/past-challenges/energy

 

 

Insect inquiry: School outreach on making kids ask questions

Last week, I visited kids at the North Ainsle Primary school in Canberra. It was a fun outreach program with discussions about insects found in their school garden. The main goal was to make the kids ask questions about the insects and other small creatures that they find outside their classroom. There were some really interesting questions and some cool doodles (pictures ahead)!

The spirit of asking questions

Traditionally, students are taught to answer questions. They rarely get to learn to ask good questions. It definitely comes with practice, being inquisitive and critical. So I gave the kids a definition of insects and asked them to note questions about the insects they found outside. Surprisingly, they had some really good questions (although not exclusively on insects): what is the speed of a snail? What does it depend on? Do all ants eat other ants? Why are there spots on ladybugs (They even had some hypotheses for this)?Can butterflies fly after touching their wings? Do insects have nose? How do they taste? Why do insects have only 6 legs; why not 10? Do ladybugs change colour depending on their mood? How do insects grow hair on their skeleton? Did you know that baby slaters (wood lice) have a pouch to keep their young ones just like the kangaroos do?

Asking questions–particularly the right ones–is a great skill. It is a major part of doing science. General public can and do ask questions, but may not have the time and resources to answer them. Scientists, on the other hand, go a few steps deeper than a lay person. However, Why should you trust scientists? This Ted talk has something to think about.

Finally, here are some of the questions asked by the kids:

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To make the session fun, I asked them to draw doodles if they wanted to. Here are some:

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Credits: class 3/4 of North Ainsle Primary school. Teachers: Rachel Levinson and Amy Pepper

PS: (NPR made a great podcast on asking questions: http://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/514152888/the-spirit-of-inquiry )


Is summer the best time for ant outreach? A Google-trends analysis

How popular is the word ‘ant’ in google searches from different countries? How does it change over time?

I used Google trends to check that. World wide, there seems to be a seasonal pattern in the search popularity.

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Note: Here 100 means the most popular (given the range of time, country, topic (Biological sciences etc). 0 means less than 1% popular relative to the most popular score (of 100).

Although it could be biased by the population who knows how to use internet and have access to it, North American countries like Canada and US follow a seasonal search pattern with summer periods getting more searches.

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The United Kingdom has a similar pattern too.

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Perhaps it could be to get rid of ants in their houses. (This is definitely a correlation and a speculation, but not causation). But not all ants are bad. Maybe summer time is the best to teach people about ants, organise ant outreach programs and school visits etc. Although any time is good time to teach anything (almost), making more online content during the summer months can be helpful for people. And also for raising awareness about ants, diversity, conservation, pest control, and all the cool ant science!

I expected a similar pattern for most norther hemisphere countries, but it was not true for countries like Russia and Germany (although there seems like a weak pattern towards recent years in Germany). It could be due to various reasons like culture,and internet literacy/usage/availability.

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Souther hemisphere countries like Australia have a peak in its summer time (Dec-Feb). But this was not true for South Africa.

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So more ants for the summer. More ant searches. More ant content for the summer. That is what we need.

 

Just-questions: a new podcast series

Have you wondered how scientists ask questions, what their first research question was like? I started a podcast series called just-questions to address how researchers ask questions.

Please consider subscribing for future episodes. Comments/Criticism welcome.

About Just-questions:
Science often starts with questions. Each question has a story. But most podcasts are about answers and their associated stories. In this series, I will talk to researchers about their research questions, methods, and how they ask their questions. There is a lot one can learn about asking questions. This is useful for students starting/learning to ask research questions.

Ant walk 2016

Here is our recent science outreach ‘antwalk’ in Canberra. Although it is like science outreach every day I work outside collecting data on the ANU campus. There are always curious people asking about my work, learning  and getting interested in knowing more about  how f-ant-astic ants are! There are curious magpies and possums too (maybe they just want to eat the ants or the cookies that I give them).