The Buzz about Cicadas

People are buzzing about the anticipated influx of billions of cicadas to the eastern United States. Some are eagerly awaiting their arrival, while others are sure to be spooked by the insects’ beady red eyes and orange wings.

The New York area is part of the Magicicada Brood II’s range and can expect to see the insects sometime in April or May. After spending 17 years underground, they will emerge when the ground, at 8 inches deep, reaches a steady temperature of 64 degrees Fahrenheit. To help residents predict the emergence of the bugs, NYSCI has teamed up with Radiolab and WNYC  to offer workshops on how to build your own cicada detector. Participants will use the detectors to observe the ground temperature at their homes and record their findings on a special website. In the process, they’ll learn some DIY skills and citizen science, while helping the rest of us prepare for the cicadas’ appearance.

Voices from the Past

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As New York City gets ready to implement its ban on big sodas, the issue of obesity once again takes center stage.

We’ve heard from nutrition experts, soda corporations, consumer agencies, politicians and Joe Schmo about whether we should have a tax and if it will do any good. But why do we crave all these bad-for-you foods in the first place?

Turns out it’s partly evolution’s fault. Our prehistoric, hunter-gatherer ancestors didn’t have regular access to high-energy foods, so when it was available, they gorged on it. Think ice-cream-binge-after-being-dumped kind of gorging. Only instead of ice cream, they feasted on animals they were able to hunt, and fruit and nuts that were in season. Those high calorie binges helped fuel their big brains. But today, we have access to far more sugar and fat than our bodies need, which can lead to overindulgence and obesity.

This link between how our species evolved and the foods we crave today is explored in our new exhibition, The Evolution – Health Connection, which is open through June. Along with obesity, The Evolution – Health Connection also looks at the evolutionary reasons behind some other very human problems: painful childbirths, sunburns, lactose intolerance and back problems.

So the next time that little voice in your head says that you need a soda and fries, resist! Stand firm! Distract yourself! Because after all, it’s just your ancestors talking.

Pop-Up STEM Party

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When the urge hits to hack, remix, design and make, New York City teens can visit a special pop-up at NYSCI this Saturday. The Learning Labs Pop-Up introduces teens to web design, digital photography, 3D printing, computer animation, sound recording and more in a free workshop made possible by a grant from the Institute of Museum Library and Services.

Approximately 50 teens are expected to attend this Saturday’s event. Activity highlights include a Mozilla web maker session by Hive NYC, digital beat making by World Up, and 3D printing by Pixel Academy. With games, food and prizes, the event will feel more like a party than a science lab.

Saturday’s Pop-Up Learning Labs will run from 1 – 4 pm, with another one planned for April 13. Pop on by!

Where’d You Get Those Pants?

imageA quirky fashion trend has been spotted around the city: crazily patterned pants with blue plaid, harlequin checks, and orange and brown swirls. The pants have crossed age and gender lines, with males and females, young and old, wearing the trendsetting garments.

The pants can’t be found at your neighborhood Gap store or at your favorite vintage clothing shop. In fact, they’re not really clothing at all, but a small photograph of pants attached to a thin stick. Using the “StickPic”, the camera on your mobile device, and a willing fashion victim, you can create a fun photo of someone wearing the crazy pants. But to make the photo truly come alive, you’ll need to use a little math.

StickPics are part of Digital Design Lab, a new project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that will create mobile apps for use in classrooms throughout the country. The Fancy Pants app, to be released later this year, will be the first of four apps that will turn your mobile phone into a scientific and mathematical tool. Fancy Pants will focus on proportions and forced perspective photography – math concepts that allow you to take a photo of your friend “wearing” those outrageous pants. Digital Design Lab will also include web videos with science-based design challenges and a website where students can post their ideas and solutions.

The central part of this project, however, are the apps, which will allow users to measure and document unexpected phenomena – like that guy wearing those pink psychedelic pants.

Beauty in the Eye of the Microscope

A rose by any other name … Oh wait, those are stink bug eggs.

Through Friday, the eighth Olympus BioScapes Imaging Competition brings images of beauty captured under light microscopes to our museum. The winning images were selected from more than 2,000 submissions and reflect the latest advances in neuroscience and cell biology. Visitors can marvel at the beauty of stink bug eggs, be awed by the iridescent colors of a damselfly eye, and yes, even admire the peony-like splendor of a fruit fly’s ovaries.

And you thought you’d seen everything.

Photo: Stink Bug Eggs by Haris Antonopoulos

Kenya, Meet New York

Photo by Liz TitoneNew Yorkers are accustomed to tourists. Approximately 50 million of them visit our city each year to soak up the culture, take in a Broadway show, and gobble down untold numbers of pizza slices. But this summer, the city will welcome a very special group of youngsters from Kenya. The school kids will visit NYSCI, participate in science lessons, and get a glimpse of life in New York City – all without ever leaving Africa.

The students will visit as part of a distance-learning program that will use videoconferencing technologies to virtually connect the Sereolipi Primary School in Kenya with our instructors at NYSCI. This pilot program, called The Mizizi Project, is a part of a partnership with the nonprofit organization e2 education & environment, which seeks to unite students and teachers in different parts of the world through a single collaborative virtual learning experience.

Over a series of sessions this summer, the students in Kenya will work on topics such as microbiology, biomimicry and environmental science. The result will be a “global classroom” where New Yorkers and Kenyans work together on a shared science curriculum.

Now if only we could get the other 50 million tourists to stop buying up all the Book of Mormon tickets …

Photo by Liz Titone

Lights, Camera, Science! Explainer TV brings science to YouTube

It may not have the glamour of filming at a Hollywood studio lot, but our Explainer TV program uses all the skills and tricks utilized by professional filmmakers. The program syncs science and education with video editing, marketing and communications to teach our Explainers, those multi-talented, red-aproned exhibit interpreters, to script, produce and film short videos about science.
 
The program has trained more than 20 high school and college Explainers since 2010. At last count, 26 videos have been created, earning more than 13,000 views on YouTube. Video topics include oobleck, ferrofluid and nanotechnology, as well as coverage of our events and exhibits.
 
The resulting videos are humorous and charming, and show the fun of science to viewers around the world. No gray card is needed to know that this program gets it just right.

Making Space for STEM

Move over textbooks. Step aside complicated instruction sheets. On Monday, an unusual space opens that will teach kids and adults how to create and build circuits, metalworks, quilts, crafts, robots, and most importantly, that wacky, out-there project that you were told could never be built.

Maker Space is a new area at NYSCI that is made possible thanks to an investment by Cognizant’s Making the Future education initiative. The space, designed by the Brooklyn-based firm Situ Studio, will feature workshops on topics like sewing, soldering, and programming using open-source hardware. But the real skills being honed will be collaboration, risk-taking, creativity and innovation. These are skills that are necessary for careers in STEM. And skills that will help prepare the next generation of leaders.

"Curiosity, creativity and collaboration all come together in the activities we have planned for this space…" said Margaret Honey, president and CEO of NYSCI. "The network of collaborators that will work with us in this new venue represent an inspiring pool of talent to give our visitors  – especially young children – the tools they need to nurture the innate human tendency to be creative and see the world differently."

Beginning in May, visitors to NYSCI can participate in workshops and drop-in sessions at the space. Topics will vary but will include sessions on the basics of soldering, sewing (using machines and equipment donated by SINGER® Sewing Company), and circuitry.

So forget your old notions of what you can and can’t accomplish. At Maker Space, there’s room for all your ideas, but there’s no space for limitations.

The Björk Bolt

Is today’s music instruction a little hollow? Should science education be hit with a thunderbolt?

Don’t worry. The thunderbolt is in town and she has collaborated with NYSCI and the Creator’s Project on an education series for middle school students. Björk, the Icelandic music superstar, has made New York City the first U.S. stop on her Biophilia tour, with shows at NYSCI and Roseland Ballroom. Not content to just sing about nature and science, Björk has made education an integral part of her New York residency. Through the Biophilia Education Series, music and science instructors are educating 50 Queens students by using Björk songs to teach topics like dark matter, crystalline structures, and viruses. Students were recruited from middle schools in our neighboring communities of Corona and Flushing.

In the Biophilia after-school workshops and this week’s winter break camp, students explore the fundamentals of music composition and production using iPad apps created by Björk for her latest project, Biophilia. Students also participate in demonstrations and hands-on activities led by NYSCI instructors that explore the scientific themes of Biophilia. The result is a unique educational experience that will get kids feeling electrified about songs, nature and technology.

Think of it as a bolt of inventiveness for science and music learning.

Photo: Students learn about the phases of the moon at a Biophilia workshop. Photo by Andrew Kelly. View more photos.

Recipes for STEM Learning

The woman looked at the items on the table. Vegetable oil, egg yolks, linseed oil and other ingredients. The elements for a perfect creation were right there in front of her, if only she could find the right combination.

The woman was not cooking. She was attending a workshop where participants mixed powdered pigments with everyday materials such as oils, soap and sand to create unique paints. The workshop was part of the conference Design, Make, Play Growing the Next Generation of Science Innovators, which was hosted by NYSCI in collaboration with O’Reilly Media and the White House Office of Science Technology Policy. Design, Make, Play brought together educators, policy leaders, university researchers, and makers to discuss how the kinds of do-it-yourself innovations on display at the annual World Maker Faire can become inspirations for reforming and improving the teaching and learning of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in schools.

Paints weren’t the only things created that day – wooden cars, mini bobsleds, robots, pop-up cards and other projects required participants to try out new techniques, find solutions to problems, and use their inventiveness.

So what’s the best recipe for getting kids and adults interested in science? Start with a base of make-inspired projects then add a dash of curiosity and a pinch of critical thinking. Innovation is sure to follow!

View photos from Design, Make, Play

Design, Make, Play’s lead sponsor is Time Warner Cable’s Connect a Million Minds. Additional support is provided by the National Science Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, and the Kauffman Foundation.