Blogs: Science

Who is this Molly everyone’s talking about?  Why are those girls giggling so much about bath salts?  Cruise over to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s site for teens for information on many kinds of drugs, including street names, addictiveness, effects on the brain, and symptoms of abuse.  Then swing by the University of Utah’s Mouse Party for informative animations of the ways drugs interact with neurons to produce those euphoric effects. 

Perhaps you need to write a research paper on a drug or addiction and you’re casting about for a suitable topic.  Sara Bellum’s blog, produced by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, as jumping off points for more research on many angles of drug abuse.  You may be inspired by a blog on e-cigarettes or the prevalence of performance enhancing drugs in sports or how new brain science is influencing addiction treatment.  Learn how addiction works from How Stuff Works and click on links to more articles on specific drugs.  Once you’ve chosen your topic, use the Teen Health and Wellness database with your library card and PIN to find further information and articles.

If you’re debating the pros and cons of drug legalization, take a look at the Drug Policy Alliance website.  They present political arguments and opinions in favor of legalizing marijuana in the United States.  Weigh those against the opinions of CALM (Citizens Against Marijuana Legalization) for your compare and contrast paper.  Librarian Cathy C. gathered lots of recent information on the efforts in Colorado and Washington to legalize marijuana in her blog postOpposing Viewpoints Resource Center in Context is available anywhere with your library card and PIN.   Search “drug legalization,” “drug abuse” or “drugs and athletes” for balanced, factual pro/con articles.


For more help, contact a librarian.

If you've ever wanted to move, build or take something apart, you need tools.  The most basic of these are called simple machines.  Used alone or in combination, they allow us to do the jobs we need to do.  They are levers, wheels and axles, pulleys, inclined planes, wedges, and screws.

Simple Machines

Here are some different ways to learn more: quiz yourself, learn their history, build something fun, work on the math and find out how they are used in a job setting.  See how simple machines might have built a mystery castle.  If, after all that, you can't remember what they are, here's a catchy tune to help jog your memory.

Need more information?  Visit your local library.

In the great outdoor laboratory that most of us know as The Planet Earth people are working all the time to determine how mountains and canyons were formed, lakes are made and why volcanoes erupt the way they do.

 They are practicing geology. They also study small and not so small changes that might help to predict the future. The study of the earth doesn’t just involve our planet, it includes other planets, and the activity that human beings are doing on the Earth every day.

The National Geographic Society calls on all of us to recognize the importance of Geo-literacy.

You may love to pick up rocks when you hike or have an assignment to build a volcano. Perhaps you travelled to Crater Lake (put on your 3d glasses for this one) with your family and became fascinated by that very deep, round and blue body of water. You can observe the history of the earth in the small details in your backyard, or the larger than life details of the entire world. Just imagine being able to name any rock formation as your family drives by it on the highway, or rides by it on a bicycle.  

For inspiration take a look at the Earth Science Picture of the Day (EPOD) that will also provide you with links to NASA’s Earth Observatory and Visible Earth

In addition to great books about geology the Multnomah County Library has a couple of electronic encyclopedias that can answer many of your questions about the Earth Sciences. You will need to use your library card number and PIN to login to the New Book of Popular Science or Kids Infobits.

illustration of a geologist

Once you’ve satisfied the Oregon State Standards for elementary, middle and high school students in Earth Science, you can start thinking about career options as a Geoscientist.


While you are waiting for a new blog post from me check out the Student's Link on EPOD. It's just for kids.




Trees at Hoyt ArboretumAre you looking for help identifying trees?  A simple scientific method for identifying plants or animals has an impressive name: the dichotomous (dih-kot-uh-muhs) key.  As you use this tool, you make a series of choices based on characteristics of the item you want to identify.  Oregon State University has an excellent dichotomous key for identifying common trees of the Pacific Northwest.

Sometimes it's helpful to have a small handbook that you can take with you when you're outdoors looking at trees.  You can create your own tree identification handbook by printing some of the Pacific Northwest Native Plants Identification Cards.  Learn about the ID plant cards, search by common name of plants, or search by scientific names of plants.   There's even a blank template (Word doc) so you can create additional cards.

If you want more information, contact a librarian through your computer or at your local library.








There’s lots of ways to measure yourself, and this video tells you some ways to do it.

If you are paying attention to calories, concerned about your weight, planning to exercise, or just want to check how healthy your are, check out these online tools. Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) measures the number of calories you burn even if you’re sleeping.  Your Body Mass Index is a measurement of body fat based on height and weight that will help you know if you are under, over or average weight.

You can look up how many calories you burn doing your favorite activities, or how long you should do an activity to lose weight, plus figure out the best exercise to lose weight. If you’re a runner and use a pedometer, you’ll need to measure your step length to figure out how far you run.

Your target heart rate can help you know how hard you should exercise so you can get the most aerobic benefit from your workout.

There are other health calculators you can use, and one that will help you assess your health, exercise, and vulnerability to disease as well. If you need more help, feel free to contact a librarian.

In 2011, the  United States Department of Agriculture replaced the idea of the Food Pyramid with My Plate ,which gives you a plan to figure out what you need to eat to be healthy. But not everyone agreed that My Plate represented healthy eating habits. Healthy Eating Plate vs. USDA Eating Plate argues that the USDA plan was influenced by political and commercial pressures from food industry lobbyists. They said that their plan, created by experts at Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School, is better because it’s based on science.


There are also food pyramids created to represent Latino, Asian, African Heritage and Mediterranean Diet food cultures. Which ones match the way you eat? If you need more help researching diet and nutrition, feel free to contact a librarian.


On October 28, 2013, the governors of Oregon, Washington, California, and the premier of British Columbia announced they had agreed to a set of shared goals for the region to reduce carbon emissions and address climate change, called the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy.

Although the plan is not legally binding, it says that Oregon will, among other things, set a price on carbon emissionsestablish a target for reducing carbon emissions, encourage the use of zero-emission vehicles and the design of "net-zero" buildings. 

In 2012, the Union of Concerned Scientists produced Cooler Smarter: practical steps for low-carbon living, which "shows you how to cut your own global warming emissions by twenty percent or more."

Hank Green of the popular Crash Course and Vlogbrothers series explains five human impacts on the environment:



Elizabeth T. Kinney (from Smithsonian collection)Now that I have a niece, I have become even more aware of the amazing female role models that can inspire her to learn and succeed in whatever way she chooses. Women have been instrumental in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) since ancient times (Hello, Hypatia!). Children have survived leukemia because of the work of Nobel Prize winner Gertrude B. Elion. Mathmetician Katherine G. Johnson calculated the flight trajectory for the first American to go into space in 1959. You wouldn’t be reading this blog if not for the work of Grace Hopper, who advanced computers beyond binary. Yet we still tend to think of the accomplishments in these fields as belonging almost exclusively to men.

Ada Lovelace Day, happening this year on October 15, 2013, aims to change that. Named after early programmer Ada Lovelace, Ada Lovelace Day is an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This year’s events include lectures, meet-ups, and a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon to edit and create Wikipedia entries on women who have made significant contributions to the STEM fields.

In honor of my niece and all of the other young girls (and boys) in my life who might design the vaccine or software that changes the world, I am celebrating this week by learning and spreading the word about women in STEM past and present. The Anita Borg Institute has some fascinating profiles of women in technology; Eastern Illinois University rounds up biographies of women in science and Agnes Scott College brings us bios of women mathematicians through history; and I can’t get enough of this amazing set of photographs of women in science from the Smithsonian.

And I definitely got schooled watching this epic rap battle between Rosalind Franklin and Watson and Crick. (Don’t miss the shoutout to Shirley Anne Jackson at 2:27!)

Want to learn more? Check out the incredible reads below or contact a librarian. And let us know about your favorite woman in STEM in the comments!

As I’m sure you all already know, NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) had declared that this week is National Aerospace Week!  Which means it’s time to indulge in some of my favorite things:  Music, frogs, geodesic domes and home cooked meals.  I guess we should add outer space to the list as well.  But first, a word from Carl Sagan about our Pale Blue Dot.  It’s totally worth the minute and a half.  I’ll wait for you.

Ready?  It has been an exciting time at NASA leading up to this week.  It is time again for the Harvest Moon for those of us on Earth and out in space Voyager 1, which launched in 1977 and is older than me, has officially left the building (and entered interstellar space), the Q&A here brings up some interesting points, like how you can’t get rid of those old computers, because the new ones don’t understand what Voyager is sending back.  And the newest member of family, the LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) left Earth for the Moon with some unintended frog assistance:  

LADEE and Frog Launch

But in spite of all these events and their ongoing efforts to increase awesomeness around (and above) the globe, not all the news for NASA has been cheery lately.  Even while working in partnership with private ventures, the reality is that the Space Shuttles have been retired and the NASA budget, like most government agencies, has shrunk in the last years.  (The video is from 2009, but covers the issues quite well.) 

But there is plenty to still study and dream about.  New types of vehicles are being created, new inventions will be added to the list of thousands that are already are a part of our lives, and work for a mission to Mars is underway.  (Including, but not limited to how to cook for long space missions.  Hint: pack tortillas.)

And what do the minds at NASA do when they aren’t being officially awesome?  The make music videos of course! Not only can you watch the obligatory parody, a group from the Jet Proplsion Labratory helped create this merging of science and rock and roll that we will cap our Aeronautics Week!

Want more?  Ask an astronaut... I mean a librarian!

When genetically-modified wheat was discovered in an Oregon field in the spring of 2013, the long-standing debate over genetically-modified foods intensified. How was Roundup Ready wheat created? And how did it end up in a field in Oregon, years after it was discontinued? What is the government’s role in regulating such technology?

Citizens and scientists have been debating the pros and cons of GMOs for years. Polls have shown the public is skeptical. Environmental and food safety organizations are concerned about the risks GMOs pose for humans and the planet. However, the companies engineering the crops, such as Monsanto, insist they are safe, as do some farming groups. A number of scientists take a middle ground, acknowledging the potential benefits of genetic engineering but criticizing the current use and regulation of GMOs. Some writers have even argued for an open-source” model of food genetics.

For an excellent overview on this issue, check out Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center in Context, which contains articles, statistics, audio files, and images. You’ll need to log in with your library card number and PIN to access this resource from outside the library.

Are you looking for some specific information not covered here? Contact a librarian for help.


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