Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Scientists Create World's Smallest 3-D Glasses

The world's smallest 3-D glasses belong to a praying mantis. That's right, researchers at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom have created some pretty nifty bug glasses specifically for the eyes of praying mantises. 

Reported by Sarah Gray on SALON.com, the goal of this buggy experiment is to better understand three dimensional (3-D) vision. Analyzing how praying mantises see in 3-D can help scientists understand the evolution of 3-D vision, as well as help develop and implement 3-D vision and depth perception in robotics. 

I know what you're thinking: So why use praying mantises in a study like this? Well, it turns out that the stick-legged bugs have vision very similar to our own. According to Newcastle University, praying mantises are the only invertebrates known to have 3-D vision. Other animals that possess this same type of vision include cats, horses, sheep, macaques, rabbits, toads and barn owls, as stated in the SALON.com article.

To perform the experiments, which involve presenting 3-D stimuli and moving targets in front of the mantises, the team uses beeswax to attach the tiny spectacles to the insect. With the glasses on, the mantises are placed in front of a computer screen for the series of tests. Once the experiment is over, the glasses are removed and the mantises are placed back in their living space to feed on crickets - what a life!

To learn more about the experiment and to hear from the researchers themselves, see the full SALON.com report.

A video of the experiment can be viewed below:

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What to do with All Those Leftover Peeps: A Dissolving Experiment

Easter has passed and if you're joining in a candy coma, we don't blame you. But if you don't think you could stuff another Peep in your mouth if your life depended on it, we don't blame you there either. Do you wish you could just make those sugar-filled, fluffy marshmallows disappear? Well consider your wish granted: cue the dissolving peep experiment.

Here's what you'll need:
  • Water
  • Vinegar
  • Apple Juice 
  • Soda 
  • Laundry Detergent 
  • Five Clear Glasses
  • Five Peeps of your Choice

Once you've gathered the goods, it's time to get started.
  1. Start by arranging your glasses on a tray. Add one Peep and one of your five liquids/solvents to each glass and label them. 
  2. Now for the hard part: waiting. As you wait to see what will happen to your Peeps, write down predictions - what you think will happen and why.
  3. After three hours, check on your marshmallow friends and record what kind of changes you see. At this point, the only thing you should be noticing is color change.
  4. After 16 hours, take a peek at your Peeps again and see what's changed. More color change should be occurring, though you might not notice any dissolving yet.
  5. On day two, you'll start to see signs of the Peep in the vinegar dissolving, and b day three, you'll notice the Peep in the apple juice starting to dissolve.
  6. End your experiment on day four (or keep on keepin'-on if you wish!). Carefully take each Peep out of their respective cup and observe what's left of them.
  7. Record what you observe (amount of Peep dissolved, color change, shape change, texture change, etc.) and have your kiddos write down why they think the Peeps reacted differently in each solvent.
If there's too many Peeps in your house for you to count at this point, do the experiment again and try out different solvents!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Enrollment in STEM Booms Since Recession

Good news for STEM advocates: a new study suggests that undergraduates at four-year institutions have become much more likely to study STEM fields, especially engineering and biology.

As reported by Scott Jaschik for Inside Higher Ed, the new study suggests that STEM enrollments are growing while professional field enrollments (especially business and education) are shrinking, contrary to what public discussion might suggest.

The new research was presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association last weekend and is by professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania Jerry A. Jacobs and professor of education at the University of California at Los Angeles Linda Sax.

Though much of the data normally discussed on student enrollment patterns is pulled from the National Center for Education Statistics, this new study is based in large part on the "freshman survey" conducted annually by UCLA on a national pool of freshman at four-year institutions. Jaschik points out that in their paper, Jacobs and Sax state that this data set enables them to spot trends much earlier than is possible with the federal database, since that information is based on graduation (which comes later than enrollment) and because government cuts have led to delays in federal data.

Using data collected by UCLA, Jacobs and Sax write that enrollment in STEM fields steadily declined between 1997 and 2005, hitting a low in 2005 of 20.7 percent. While modest gains appeared in 2006 and 2007, significant increases started to show up in 2008. The percentage of freshmen planning to major in STEM fields increased from 21.1 percent in 2007 to 28.2 percent in 2011, just as the recession was prompting students and families to focus on job opportunities in various fields. That represents a 48 percent increase in just a few years.

Read Jaschik's entire article to find out how the growth in STEM fields played out across the subjects and if the gender gap so commonly discussed in conjunction with STEM fields changed during the boom.