Pluto again?

Here’s a good example of the issue of media bias and representation. If you read each of these two articles, you’re likely to come away with two very different opinions about the Pluto issue, NASA, and Chief Bridenstine.

Article 1 – Pluto is a planet, insists NASA Chief Jim Bridenstine

Article 2 – NASA Administrator Says Pluto Is Still a Planet, And Things Are Getting Heated

Pluto’s thin atmosphere
Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

It’s also a good reality check on the way in which decisions are sometimes made, and the flaws in those methods. Science requires rigor – decisions must be both supported by logic and facts, and need to stand up against reasoned criticism over time.

On the other hand, it’s a reminder of how much offhand casual comments by professionals can inadvertently change someone’s opinion in a way that was never intended and is actually completely at odds with the beliefs of the speaker. The quote below was taken directly from a recording of his conversation with students etc. at UC Boulder.

“You can write that the NASA Administrator declared Pluto a planet once again. I’m sticking by that, it’s the way I learned it, and I’m committed to it.”

Jim Bridenstine, at the Aerospace Engineering Sciences Building at the University of Colorado Boulder, Aug 2019

The reasoning here “that’s the way I learned it” is completely contrary to everything scientists stand for. By making this type of statement to the public, he implicitly gives support to everyone else who wants to ignore evidence, laws, and the beliefs of other people in blind support of their own. Don’t ever believe something on the sole logic of “that’s the way I learned it.”


New Students!

Welcome to the world of science, my Diversity of Life students! You’re in here with me for the semester, for good, awesome, or chaos! Check out some of your fellow student’s comments and advice below.

What’s the story about your world?
Image by Mystic Art Design from Pixabay

Thanks for sharing such interesting tidbits about yourself on the cards! I had everything from jobs and favorite music, to drawings of faces and norse runes! I learned that most of you are engaged with the material that we’ll be learning in this class, even if some of you are terrified you’ll be lost or get behind.

On that note, here are some of the pieces of advice from your classmates (or perhaps yourself) on doing well in this class. You might also find advice from previous classes useful too!

  • Find an interest in the topic
  • Review the material
  • Get the books/material
  • Participate in class
  • Ask questions (I dunno what about, but I’m going to ask!)
  • Study a little every day instead of just before an exam
  • Make/use study guides
  • Ask questions outside of class

Office hours this semester (Fall 2019) are Monday & Tuesday 2-4 PM, and I’m upstairs mixed in with the IT department offices – Science Center 264


Unusual Effective Use of Plastic Balls

Plastic catches a lot of flack from the sustainability and environmental communities because of how often single-use items are created and wasted, and how persistent or biotoxic it is. One of the largest balancing forces against this problem is when plastic is used in effective, enduring, and creative ways such as this example using partially-filled ‘shade balls’ in this California Reservoir.

Here are some of the highlights.

  • What was the problem? Bromide from mild seawater intrusion + chlorine + sunlight = carcinogenic bromate
  • What was the solution? Block the sunlight from catalyzing bromate formation
  • Why the shade balls? Move with the changing reservoir, keep the water cooler, less evaporation from the reservoir, food-grade plastic and inert, secondary benefits of decreasing waterfowl and algae, decreased chlorine needed for water treatment

Are there a ton of other issues with plastic and artificial reservoirs? Obviously. Was this still creative and effective? Certainly. For the record, I still wouldn’t advise eating pieces of plastic…even if it’s food safe.


Fish Time

News flash!

SARC was featured in the December issue of Georgia Southern University’s Magazine:

“Student volunteers get hands-on experience growing and harvesting food using sustainable farming technology.”

Undergraduate SARC research student helping me measure a plecostomus catfish that assists with tank cleanliness at SARC.

The ABO+- Question

How does blood type work? Is mine common? Do I have to worry about a transfusion?

There are many different antigens, or structures, that can be present on the exterior surface of your red blood cells. They’re an important part of your immune system, and antigens generally allow your body to both recognize and respond to cells that are “other”. Not your blood? Trigger immune defenses! Dangerous non-human cells? Trigger immune defenses! 


One common set of antigens studied are A & B, carbohydrates encoded for by the A and B versions of this allele, which are co-dominant. The O allele encodes for neither of these antigens, and is a recessive trait. It takes OO to result in an O blood type. A combination of A/B and O alleles results in Type A or Type B blood, respectively. Matching A and B alleles in the same individual is the only way to have type AB blood.

+ –

Another common antigen is the Rhesus factor (named after Rhesus monkeys, where this was first discovered). This is a protein antigen, and is either present + or absent – in addition to the other antigens. Remember, these are just two of many antigens that can be present on your red blood cells, and the possibilities when you extend this concept to all cells in all species with innate immune systems is practically endless.


When you compare blood types, this is where the transfusion/transplant question comes into play. Blood type compatibility can also be a potential problem during pregnancy. If an organism’s system is encountering blood (via medical treatment or via the placenta) that contains antigens that aren’t recognizable as belonging to you, it triggers the immune system. Organizations like the Red Cross consider type AB+ to be a universal receiver because those cells already contain (and recognize as safe) all three of the major antigens (A, B, and Rh). Type O- is considered the universal donor because it contains none of those three antigens.

For example, if a person with type A+ blood needs a transfusion because of an injury, it would be relatively easy to find a matching donor. Why? The injured person has the A and Rh antigens, so they can receive any type A blood or any type O blood, + or -, without it being rejected by their immune system.


On the whole, O is most common, followed by A, B, and AB. For the Rh factor, + is more common than – is. Combined, this means that most people have only the Rh antigen on their red blood cells. Answer: The approximate distribution of blood types in the U.S. population is as follows, and this pattern also varies globally based on your ancestry.

  • O-positive: 38 percent
  • O-negative: 7 percent
  • A-positive: 34 percent
  • A-negative: 6 percent
  • B-positive: 9 percent
  • B-negative: 2 percent
  • AB-positive: 3 percent
  • AB-negative: 1 percent


Basic blood type is a great playground for mentally studying dominant and co-dominant inheritance patterns using Punnet squares. If a mother has type A blood, what would be her possible genotype(s)? If a father has type O blood, what would be his possible genotype(s)? Is it possible for their child to have type O blood? Type AB blood?

Bloom’s and Blooms

How to teach about flowers… or anything else.

I’m currently enrolled in the online course Online Teaching Certificate, which is about (you guessed it) how to teach… online courses. Ironically relevant repetition aside, it’s being superbly useful to me as an instructor with only ~4 years of formal teaching experience under my belt, because it’s serving as a thorough introduction to the principles underlying good teaching and effective course design.

My day consisted of 1-2 hours of grading before a scheduled phone interview this morning, 5 hours of teaching, at least 3 more hours of grading and prepwork for the remaining 1.5 weeks in the summer semester, and then ~2 hours of work for the online course. In the midst of all of this we’re trying to close on a house by the beginning of July. Oh, and I wrote this blog entry. 🙂

The focus of this week’s lesson was course design, with most of the discussion centered around the use of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning to design, teach, and evaluate successfully. It’s useful for students to think about these concepts as well, as it’s a helpful way to structure your studying.


Bloom’s Taxonomy

  • The first level of learning is simply to remember the relevant information (e.g. vocabulary words).
  • Then, you should be able to understand the information in context and apply it to scenarios (e.g. use it in an example).
  • Analysis adds your ability to compare and contrast related topics, and how they are organized so that you can troubleshoot (e.g. look for flaws or connections).
  • In truth, evaluation will require an even more thorough explanation of that analysis, with your added judgement and interpretation (e.g. choose the best of several methods).
  • Once you’ve those levels under your philosophical belt, you understand a topic well enough that you should be able to effectively create new content (e.g. a study guide).

What next?
You should find yourself constantly returning to those earlier levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy to analyze and evaluate your own work!

  • Are there errors?
  • Does it logically make sense?
  • Do you still remember the details?
  • Does the new material integrate ideas from each of the various parts of the issue?
  • Can you distill the topic to its core elements so that a 5th grader would understand you?

featured image: a giant bee in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, Socorro, NM (July 2016)

A Bolt of Lightning

A bit of dramatic writing for you, my handful of followers.

I’ve been writing a lot of Dragon Age fanfiction for a while now, but not much work on Divergent PathsMeet Hallenon: A strong, reliable mage who lost most of his clan to a tragedy. He is kind but uncompromising, good at keeping secrets but not secretive.

Rating: PG for violence & magic


The Storm Coast calls to Hallenon. 

Stark and powerful by the sea, vibrant and uncompromising as it rises inland, it is a place of strength. A storm rages before him, churning the sea as he watches from a high, rocky promontory. Brown hair turns black in the rain, pulled back from his face and plastered to walnut skin. He stands alone, scouts and companions ensconced in tents or on watch beneath windswept trees. It is a Keeper’s job to see, to remember, even when he is among the last of his clan.

Mana flares within his skin as a flash snaps into existence far offshore, splitting the night with its brilliance.


In an instant, the bolt of lightning shatters a tall stone column beyond the cresting waves. Arcs of power skitter across his body in sympathy. Storms have always been as much a source of magic for him as a thinning Veil is for any mage. These are his elements, the wind and the lightning. Hallenon lets loose on his aura and the field of energy flares around him, rippling as the storm continues to rise in strength, encircling him in a veritable cyclone of power.


A deeper explosion sounds from far behind him as a bolt shatters a lone tree standing high on a cliff. Rarely has he seen so violent a storm, even along the Waking Sea. This place has earned its name well, and Hallen closes his eyes to let the rain pound on his upturned face, thoughts drifting to why he is here.

The Inquisition already has a strong foothold on the Storm Coast, conscripting mercenaries and rooting out Venatori cultists for the past several months. Far from safe however, the Inquisitor – his sister Elisara – sent himself and a small group to deal with roving bands of darkspawn that refused to be kept down. She had wisely chosen a group that would neither give him grief as a mage, nor be swept under by the vicious, deadly creatures from the bowels of Thedas. Warden Blackwall is truly the one leading them, both in close combat and in methods of keeping themselves from succumbing to the Blight. Cole’s speed and unusual nature likely make him the least vulnerable of anyone besides the warden himself, and Krem and his small group of Chargers are practical and seasoned – valuable traits for dealing with chaos.

Arms crossed, he stands as an immovable silhouette of power as the storm sweeps inland, quieting to a steady rain.

Dark forms catch his attention on the beach below, creeping out from a cavern to the south. Three are small, hunched and skittering down the stones. Genlocks, from Blackwall’s descriptions. Two are taller, broad-shouldered with larger weapons. Hurlocks, presumably. The dark night seems to hinder them no more than it does himself, and they begin moving along the shoreline.

The cyclone tightens around Hallenon as he draws in the latent power of the storm. Arcs flash across his outstretched fingers as he gathers electricity between his palms. Energy builds, and he draws his hands apart until miniature bolts flash angrily from palm to palm. Rain drips from his brow as he focuses on the largest of the hurlocks, sweeping his right hand high. Muscles tingling as the force races through him, fingers tightening into a fist as he brings it down and—


Even from this distance he sees the creature spasm and fall to its knees, its fellows scrambling from the bolt’s impact on the earth. Winds whirl abruptly in the opposite direction as he rises, left hand spread wide, fingers shedding sparks. Down again, fearless on the edge of the cliff.


The bolt sears through the sky, splitting into arcs of death and pounding the entire group into a faintly smoking ruin.

Hallenon stands, rolling his shoulders. His heavy wool coat steams slightly, drying despite the rain. No more darkspawn creep onto the stretch of shore beneath the storm mage’s gaze.

Link to this and other Dragon Age works on Archive of our Own.

Drama in a Song

Courtesy of Solas and Dragon Age: Inquisition

This elf will insult you, patiently teach you, tell you epic stories for hours, steal your heart and call you “ma Vhenan,” walk out without a goodbye, and then shatter your world when you finally see him again after two years.

…Thanks, Bioware. Can we please have him back in the next game too?!

Featured Image: My Inquisitor Elisara Lavellan, a commissioned drawing from Ladylike-Foxes!


Elisara Tarael Lavellan

“Under God” – Religion & Politics Brief

Interesting history here about the changes to the US Pledge of Allegiance over the years.


American Christians frequently protest about removing the phrase “Under God” from the pledge, and a variety of groups field objections (on various grounds) to students not being required to say the pledge at all. While symbolically pledging oneself to the country is certainly a show of loyalty, the addition (or removal) of this phrase is most certainly NOT one originating with the Founding Fathers’ beliefs or guidance for this country.

  • The added words were the response to cold-war politics in the 1950’s. President Eisenhower’s suggestion can easily be read as an attempt to unify the US against the (implied) godless communist/socialist Soviet Union, much like the rhetoric of the European crusades.
  • The United States was formed on the principle of religious freedom, not religious unification. Of particular note is that 1- the Declaration of Independence does not use Judeo-Christian phrasing and 2- The Constitution mentions neither a god nor a creator.

Flag image originally from Brandon Paxton’s post on Facebook.

Worried about time? Analysis? So is your neighbor.

You made it to Biology II, and you’ve realized it’s a completely different course than Biology I. Uh oh.

I asked all of my Principles of Biology II students this semester to share “Any concerns that you have about the class” after the first day. Here’s a peek at what y’all said, and some help! (I’ll update this later this week after lab students finish the orientation)

General worries…

  • Staying organized / Managing my time / Due dates – Find someone to help you be accountable. Meet, text, or email each other when you’re supposed to be reading the book/your notes. “This chapter’s killing me… are you doing any better?” Do you need music in the background while you study?
  • A lot of information / Multiple chapters per week – Review vocabulary terms & section headings first. Skim the chapter, looking for unfamiliar ideas. Mark those sections for extra time, and take notes about what you don’t understand. Don’t highlight everything.
  • Keeping up with notes during lecture – Focus on added explanations that I mention in class. Don’t try to write down every word – outline & use short notes – especially if it’s already on the slide (I post them on the course website). Many students print them or add typed notes on the digital pdf itself. This is definitely how I went through organic chemistry!
  • I’m not a science major / Missed the first week / Took biology I elsewhere / Struggled with biology I – Ask questions, and don’t panic. Use the course website to keep an eye on your grades. Ask for help early: Office hours (free…), STEM tutoring (free), making friends (okay, you might buy them lunch sometimes). I also post extra videos and activities that will give you another run through of many of the crucial topics, both for Biology I and II.
  • Study skills – Focus on understanding the concept, then fit the terminology into the broader story. Use active studying techniques – quiz yourself, write out answers to end-of-chapter questions, explain things to study partners out loud. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that re-reading your notes / chapter / flash cards is going to be the most effective use of your time.

Information worries…

  • Making the best grade that I can / Making an A – Shoot for the stars, and at least you’ll land on the moon. Read the study guides along with the textbook chapter when possible, so that you know what the most important topics will be. Find out why/how you answered wrong when it happens. Always aim for that A, and back up that ambition with solid, productive work.
  • The comprehensive final exam – Study Guides will be posted on D2L throughout the semester. Come to office hours and review exams I-IV after they are graded so that you understand why/how/when you chose the incorrect answers.
  • This class will be challenging – Certainly, but there is a bit less memorization than Biology I. The broader topics (evolution) are more intuitive to understand, though the taxonomy will require you to do the most memorization. Focus on understanding the concept, then fit the terminology into the broader story.  This class is designed to prepare you for amazing upper level courses – such as parasitology, ecology, & macroevolution. I also post extra videos and activities that will give you another run through of many of the crucial topics, both for Biology I and II.
  • I need to apply the information and think critically / How does this connect to everyday life – This is true in all of your courses, honestly. Stop and reflect on the WHY, HOW, and WHAT of the topic. You already use many of the concepts as part of how you adapt your decisions on a daily basis. Natural selection? Ecology? It’s all costs vs. benefits in a world of limited resources. You can often start by putting yourself “in the organism’s shoes,” but don’t take it too far. Many species do not have the same level of memory and self-awareness that humans do, and respond on a much more instinctual level.
    • Use logic to think through the possibilities.
    • Avoid falling into the teleological trap of thinking about what an organism “wants” based on your own ideas as a human.
    • Set aside belief. This is not a course on religion, opinion, or anthropology. Science is the search for truth about how the world works.

It helps to remember that you’re all in this boat together, even if your seats (your lives/backgrounds) are different!

Featured image: Science scarf and epic purple shirt – cool things from my mother-in-law and mom, both of whom love that I’m a college professor.