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by Lewis

Gliding out on the rings of Saturn

August 2, 2014 in sci


I learned something new this year, we all did. It started with a picture from NASA in 2012, but its full meaning wasn’t revealed until this year, in magazines like Scientific American and Nature.  When I showed the picture above to my students, I realized after half a minute that they didn’t understand what they were seeing: Saturn’s rings on their side, its moon, Enceladus in the foreground, Titan in the background, and a tiny moon to the right of its rings.  In the future, our kids will see it, know it, as if we always knew what it is, when the truth is we only saw for the first time this year, and a lot of us couldn’t make sense of it.

galileo's drawing of Saturn's ringsThe first person to see Saturn’s rings was Galileo Galilei.  When he drew what he saw, even he couldn’t figure out he was looking at rings. More importantly, simply drawing a heavenly object going around another heavenly object was heretical. The notion that something (the rings) went around something other than the Earth (Saturn) violated a millennium of church doctrine and during the Inquisition, that was a very bad thing.  Galileo was led to the church dungeons, and was forced to view torture instruments, the unspoken word being that he would feel them as well if he did not recant. He did, and then, as the story goes, mumbled eppur si muove — “and yet it moves.”

Eventually the church police power waned, although it’s flexing its muscles against scientific facts more and more these days.  Once it was OK to see Saturn’s rings, for four hundred years we wondered how they got there.  And then this year the Cassini spacecraft scanned Enceladus, and radioed back the data which gave us the answer: the moon has an underground lake that may even nurture life.


Can you imagine standing on one of Saturn’s tiny moons, watching Saturn’s massive weight pull and squeeze Enceladus like a mother’s hands on her pimply child’s face until some subterranean mist squirts out from an underground lake, wafting into Saturn’s rings? And that the accretion of geysered mists from Enceladus over four billion years formed Saturn’s rings? Every day, year, century, millennia, we see, first not understanding or accepting something new about the rings, rings a couple of billion years in the making.  The rings will always defy human understanding, a promise that what we think we know now will change, that the mysteries of the universe will continue to surprise us, shock us into new ways of viewing our world and others.

I was in downtown Brooklyn today, at WordCamp NYC 2014, maybe that’s why I heard Walt Whitman’s words wafting down the streets:

WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer;
Encedalus methane plumeWhen the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Thanks Walt, you made my day.


Natural Science Survey Genetic Technology Links

June 18, 2014 in sci

Genetic Technology Videos

Genetics Home Reference

Class #2: Three Science Icons

April 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

A cold and rainy night — not a good time to load up on a lot of science.  So tonight we’ll focus on three scientific pictures of universe that have completely changed our understanding of it.

  1. Hubble Deep Field

    Hubble Deep Field

  2. Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation — a surprising hum can be heard when tuning a microwave receiver to a wavelength of 7.35 centimeters.  Alien voices?  In fact, this static on the airwaves is the afterglow of the Big Bang, irrefutable evidence of not only that a Big Bang exists, but that it occurred 13.7 billion years ago.

    Cosmic Background Radiation

  3. Large Hadron Collider

GS-42150: Welcome to Natural Science Survey

April 21, 2014 in sci

Week #1: Using Telescopes to Expand Scientific Knowledge of the Universe

Science is different from every other school subject: it is uniquely modern. History, geometry Art, … all of these subjects could be studied in ancient times, but not science.  Its origins can be clearly traced to specific times and places just a few centuries ago.  For example, the day Galileo Galilei pointed his telescope into the night sky is heralded as one of the first scientific events ever.Galileo_stamp

What made his actions “scientific” was that he observed, measured and sketched what he actually saw in the dark sky, rather than repeating the millennium old catechism that heavenly bodies are pure spheres, revolving around the Earth.  Simply by looking through his telescope, from a scientific perspective, he did something no other human dared to do: he moved the Earth 93,000,000 miles away from the center of the universe, and placed the Sun there instead.

herschelivoryEvery time an improvement to the telescope was made, a new, radical, scientific insight into the nature of the universe was made.  For example, William Herschel’s  telescope was one of the first to use mirrors rather than glass lenses, and with it he was able to discover a new planet, Uranus. He effectively doubled the size of the known solar system simply, like Galileo, by pointing his telescope toward the dark heavens.  Edwin Hubble, in October 6, 1923, pointed the Mount Wilson telescope at the Andromeda spiral nebula, and found a Cepheid variable star that is 900,000 light years away — well beyond the reaches of our own Milky Way galaxy — thus proving that there are many galaxies, not just the Milky Way, in the universe, a universe now many times larger than was assumed before that day.


Today, space telescopes are offering us similar epiphanies into the nature of the cosmos. Where Galileo found a couple of moons around Jupiter, we now know of 146 moons in our solar system.  News flash: one of them, Enceladus, has a liquid lake probably containing organic molecules, our first evidence of possible life existing outside of Earth.  Last week, NASA published evidence of an exoplanet, Kepler 186f, that is likely in the “habitable zone” of its sun.  Just a month ago, a new supernova, SN 2014J, exploded into the heavens. It has allowed scientists to observe the effects of dark energy, phenomenon that we only discovered a few decades ago, yet occupies 70% of the stuff that makes up the universe.

Our children will know so much more about the universe than we did growing up,, because of these new space telescopes.  Even now, we can learn about strange moons and planets, simply by surfing the webpages listed to the left of this post.

Homework #1:

  1. Use the NASA moon webpage to choose a moon in our solar system to research.  Describe the Greek/Roman god associated with the name,
  2. Choose an exoplanet discovered by the Kepler space telescope.  Find any news articles associated with it, and the constellation it resides in.
  3. Choose a nearby galaxy


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by Lewis

Virtual Labs

March 12, 2014 in sci

Hubble Deep Field Academy

Log Worksheet

First Round of Virtual Labs

Worksheet #1: virtual_1

  1. pH Scale
  2. Concentration of Solution
  3. Beer’s Law
  4. Ohm’s Law

Second Round of Virtual Labs

Worksheet #2: virtual_2

  1. Atomic Dating
  2. Making a Genetically Modified Cell
  3. Mass Spectrometry

Carmen Fariña: Kathy Black redux?

December 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

Hello all,

Fariña's got my job?!?!

Fariña’s got my job?!?!

never do this: use my edublog to express overly political positions, but given the 100% sunshine every news organ is squeezing out about Carmen Fariña today (too much Christmas turkey perhaps), there should be at least one web page that isn’t a recitation of talking points the next mayor would like us all to believe about next year’s DOE.  A fan of Jeremy Bentham’s auto-icon, I empirically advocate that news should be based on factual experiences, usually hidden in a closet somewhere, not puff pieces.  Here’s the best mashup I could come up with of real experiences teachers have had with the future Chancellorix.

John Jance, my favorite Albanian unionist summed up our collective experiences as teachers at Harry Van Arsdale High School in its twilight years as a trades school:

On the first day of the 2003-4 school year, she met our HVA staff at a faculty conference, and proceeded to condescendingly read to us from a children’s book called Enemy Pie. At the conclusion, she stressed that all parties had to work together to benefit the children (duh). She then began to walk through the building nit-picking bulletin boards and broken clocks (none of which were repaired). During the year she rammed the “workshop model” down our throats, and refused to meet with BASIS UFT Chapter Leaders, which had been a bi-annual tradition for over 20 years. At the end of the year, offering us no assistance other than bromides, she closed our school. She was a total Bloomberg lackey!

As BASIS Supt., Farina rammed the “workshop model” down the throats of high school teachers. Veteran AP’s took it with a grain of salt and were slow in their approach. The newer AP’s were gung-ho to impress her and pushed it on rookie teachers. As a UFT CL I refused to comply in robotically teaching in lockstep according to her dictates, but our younger members were often intimidated, especially by newly hired AP syncophants.

Many teachers complained about Fariña’s do-it-my-way-or-the-highway ideological steamrollering / one model fits all indoctrination into NYC classrooms. Maybe she gets points every time her published pedagogy is enforced in a school.

Any and every pedagogical perspective should be experimented by teachers given the freedom to find their way through each unique, dynamic cohort of kids. Dropping kids on a four table island day after day is likely to inculcate “Survivor” behavior described in the above links. We’re sick of having a nanny mayor, do any of us want a nanny Chancellorix?

One last piece of info, this time historical in thanks to John Jance institutional memory, Thomas Jefferson publicly loathed political office.  But that was just a political position he found to be expedient when running for President.  Fariña’s 70 candles, “I’m retired” press statement is simply a smoke screen for her ambition to control a million student school system.

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by Lewis

Remote Learning!

December 27, 2013 in sci

Hello Rebecca and Janeisa,

Hope your holidays are going well, and will continue through the weekend.  It should go better knowing you don’t have to show up to Science class this week. So here’s this week’s assignments:

Periodic Trends

We ended last class moving bits of paper around, organizing them by atomic number and chemical property.  I would like you to go to a website to do more of the same, this time with the real life elements.

Note: you will need Java installed on your computer to use the applet. Let me know if you have problems loading it up.

Click on the image below. It will take you to a web page with the same graphic on it.  Click on the graphic again.


I would like you to do two things with this applet:

  1. Click on the ‘New Puzzle’ button.  Click and drag the element squares to their correct position on the Periodic Table.  When you move the squares to the correct space, they will lock into place.  You don’t have to move all of them, but we will have a ‘race’ the next class to see how many you can move in a short amount of time.
  2. Reset the table by clicking on the ‘Solve All’ button.
  3. Now click on the ‘Coloring’ drop down button on the upper right side.  You will see a list of chemical properties, the first one being atomic number.



Remember what the trend is for atomic number? (the numbers increase from left to right and from top to bottom).  I would like you to click on the different properties, and answer the same question.  That is, where are the lowest numbers for mass located/where are the highest mass located on the Periodic Table.  Again, using the color gradient right below the drop down arrow, the low masses (blue) are located at the top and left, and the high masses (red) are located at the right and bottom of the Periodic Table.

Answer the same question for the other chemical properties (boiling point, melting point, etc.)

Post your answers on your post page or as comments below.  I will be online this evening if you have questions.

More Games!

Here are some online interactive Periodic Tables I would like you to play along with.

  1. FunBrain
  2. SheppardsSoftware
  3. Active Science
  4. ACS — Not a game per se, but it will help you research last week’s rare earth homework assignment.

We will play these games in the computer room next class for points, so make sure you’re a pro with them!

Happy Holidays!

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by Lewis

RP-II Nat’l Science Survey

December 20, 2013 in sci


As we gear down for the holidays, let’s take a moment to consider the “Star of Bethlehem” as an Astronomical event.  Read the article, and post as a comment below the three possible explanations astronomers have proposed.