Blogs: Science

Did you know that the process of photosynthesis helps us to survive?  Here’s a basic description to get you started understanding how this works.  Watch the video, take the follow-up test, and then try the karaoke song.

If you’d like to be sure you’ve mastered the basic concepts of photosynthesis, this site tests you frequently as you work your way through the information, and won’t allow you to progress until you’ve passed each test.

Let’s move on to more detailed information, including the “recipe” for photosynthesis and a description of the “teeny tiny pigment pancakes”.

With your knowledge of the basics about photosynthesis,  you can understand even more clearly how important plants are to life on earth.  Watch this thought-provoking vimeo and think about the impact of plants on our world.

Bring on the music!  It’s time to celebrate the amazing process of photosynthesis!  You may find that one or two of the following selections will help you to remember the facts about photosynthesis.  This song has a catchy tune, and will have you singing, “Every plant can do this fundamental process, and we can call this photosynthesis.”  Join in on this rap music video, or try this song from "They Might Be Giants".

Want to know more about photosynthesis?  Contact a librarian through your computer or at your local library.

arctic tern

I always thought that bird watching would be boring until I actually did it!  I can't recall exactly how many birds I saw on my first official try, but I do remember being impressed by the beauty and variety of shorebirds on view in winter down around Tillamook Bay.  I was so completely charmed by the sweet little buffleheads as they bobbed around that I almost forgot the freezing temperatures!  Then there was the visit in and around the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in spring where I was blown away by the beautiful American White Pelicans and got a close-up look at a rough-legged hawk making a meal of a duck.  On another visit to the same area, I got a rare and long look at some juvenile golden eagles as they were snacking on something. 

My latest avian adventure happened last spring in Britain when I went to the Farne Islands and was dive-bombed by an Arctic tern!  Fortunately, I had a hat on and had been warned that this might happen. I wish I had started my bird-watching ventures when I was a lot younger. if I actually kept a life list, it certainly would have been more complete had I started observing birds when I was five.  Fortunately for today's youth, there are lots of fun, fact-filled books to help get them excited about birds.  Check out this list for some ideas!

The aliens slip into our universe through holes 1” by 2”.

Video game cartoon alienThe aliens have no legs.

The aliens have their mouths under their arms.

The aliens have half of their brains in their arms.

The aliens change colors at will.

The aliens can open locks without using tools..

Woman scuba diver and octopus

The aliens can tell what you’ve been eating, drinking, and what drugs you’ve been exposed to just by touch.

We call the aliens octopuses. They broke off from our evolutionary line back when we were barely protozoa. Yet they’ve developed an amazing brain and a complex body. And, according to author Sy Montgomery, they can connect with us in a deep way. Sy herself has spent many hours with an octopus holding her arms with its many suckers,  even ending up with an “octopus hickey.”

If this fascinates you, join Montgomery in her new book, The Soul of an Octopus, as she dives heart and soul into the world of octopuses. For some great photography, or to share with children, follow it up with her newer children’s book, The Octopus Scientists.

No alien lover or animal lover should miss these latest works by this prolific author. In fact, while you're waiting for the octopus books, try some more of Sy Montgomery's titles for both adults and chidren.

Photo of Gustav HolstOne hundred years ago, English composer Gustav Holst began work on what would become his most famous work -- The Planets -- which he would complete in 1916. The work is a suite for orchestra, with each movement being named after a planet in the Solar System. At the time of its writing, the existence of Pluto was unknown; and so Neptune was the most remote planet to be included in the work.Image of Solar System

Holst died in 1934, not long after Pluto's discovery in 1930 by astronomer Clyde Tombaugh at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. With the official count of planets expanded to nine, I always thought it was unfortunate -- maybe even a little sad -- that Holst was not able to "complete" his suite by adding in a movement named after the planet Pluto. But fast-forwarding about 75 years, Pluto's status was reduced to that of a dwarf planet by the International Astronomical Union.

So maybe Holst didn't just run out of time after all. Perhaps he just didn't consider the tiny newcomer to be worthy of sitting alongside such lofty celestial bodies as Mars and Jupiter!

Space Tourism ArtworkFor many of us, the most imposing barrier to joining the growing ranks of space tourists has been cost. When Dennis Tito made his eight-day flight back in 2001, you could get in on a ride for around $20 million. That was the going rate for about the first six years before the price inevitably began to skyrocket to its current rate of roughly $40 million. But you know what’s been holding me back? The lack of coffee. Well, not just any coffee -- I’m talking espresso. How do you get a truly great cup of espresso while you’re circling the globe in a weightlessness condition?Espresso in space photo

Well, after reading Wednesday’s New York Times, I learned that that great hurdle has now been cleared. Samantha Cristoforetti, who also happens to be the first Italian woman to travel in space, just became the first person to successfully brew and enjoy an authentic Italian-style espresso in space.

Two developments made this feat possible: The 44-pound ISSpresso machine and the microgravity coffee cup. The fact that the machine weighs 44 pounds really isn’t a problem in space and the cup allows astronauts and space tourists to enjoy their drink pretty much as they would back on Earth.

So what’s holding me back now? Well … I’m still saving for that ticket and hoping that increased ridership will bring down the cost!

H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald

It was my second term in Conceptual Physics when I learned that I was not cut out for the career in science I had dreamed about while watching Star Wars over and over again. Subsequently, supportive friends and teachers taught me this “it’s not the end of the world” mantra: “D is for diploma.”

Things turned out fine. I remained a decent student and survived my remaining science courses. I focused on other subjects that I still excelled in and ended up with a great job that I love after plenty of other failures and just enough success; however, there are still times I dream of discovering the secrets of black holes or the ocean floor.

The Panda's Thumb book jacketArcheological digs and guest spots on NOVA sometimes enter my rich imagination and, just as I used to live out my fantasies of rock superstardom through air guitar in middle school, I find an outlet for scientific delusions of grandeur on the library shelves with those amazing scientists that can speak my language and hold my hand through the equations and lab lingo. One of the best-selling and most entertaining science writers was the late Stephen Jay Gould, and his award-winning series of essays entitled The Panda’s Thumb taught me everything I actually understand about the theory of evolution (well not everything, as you’ll see below). Gould’s short entries make it easier for us in the scientific laity to fight the urge to nap in the middle of a chapter.

For those of you with a longer attention span who are interested in evolution, I recommend David Quammen’s beautiful verbosity. His writings on The Black Hole War book jacketDarwin and Wallace more or less equal the remainder of my evolutionary knowledge. Even though it was physics that destroyed my chances of being an award-winning scientist, it is still one of my favorite subjects. The Black Hole War (eBook ) by Leonard Susskind is my favorite narrative on the subject. It combines great diagrams for all the mathy (all right, this isn’t a real word) points, fun anecdotes about some of the world’s foremost scientists, and a long arduous battle between Susskind (with a couple colleagues) and Stephen Hawking and the entire scientific world concerning what happens when information passes through the horizon of a black hole. Spoiler Alert: Susskind won and opened new avenues for String Theory, Holograms, and oh so many fun physics wormholes.

Cataclysms on the Columbia book jacketCataclysms on the Columbia brings us back home to the ancient history of Cascadia, as well as to the recent past. Bretz, an intrepid geologist, also fought with the scientific community over his discovery. He realized that it must have taken one or many (upwards of 90) cataclysmic floods to form the geological markers from Western Montana through Eastern Washington, down through the Columbia River Gorge, all the way into the Willamette Valley. Of course, everyone at the time accused him of Catastrophism, which was viewed by many as a religious perspective, not legitimate science. Bretz’s strength of character and the vivid descriptions of what the floods must have been like are respectively inspirational and terrifying.

This is only a small sample of the highly readable Science-Fact available at MCL. So if you too are a member of the numerically-challenged laity, please respond below with your favorite science book and I will add it to the Page-turning Science reading list being created as we speak!

Diabetes is a disease that people have known about for thousands of years, even if they didn't call it by that name.  Wonderopolis has a simple, helpful overview of diabetes and a quick interview with a young diabetic about how he test his blood.  There are actually two types of diabetes with similar symptoms and treatments but different causes.  The American Diabetes Association website has information about Type 1 Diabetes, and they also have a free, dowloadable booklet about living with Type 2 diabetes.  You can even find statistics about the frequency of diabetes in the United States from the Center for Disease Control.  


Symptoms of the disease can be scary, but it helps to know more about what is happening inside the body.  Some people take medicine to help control their diabetes, and other people can control it through their diet, choosing recipes and foods that help control their blood sugar levels.

Once you've learned about the disease, you can test your knowledge with this crossword puzzle or one of these online games about making smart food choices.  

And as always you can contact a librarian for more information!


Salt by Mark Kurlansky is about the history and uses of salt. Today salt is cheap and easy to buy, but it was not always so. The ancient Chinese developed salt production and financed much of their government through salt taxes. If you can control salt, you can control much more. The British had a firm grip on India's salt which is why Gandhi staged a salt march as a protest. If you like history and politics you will enjoy Salt.
Salt book jacketSalt can do much more than make food taste good, it also can preserve food. Before the 20th century and refrigeration, salt was widely used as a preservative.  The history of salted food was my favorite part of the book. Read Salt and you may find yourself making sauerkraut.
Salt production is fascinating. It was needed, rare and valuable. Its value led to many creative methods of production. Most of the methods involve evaporation. Some salt is mined. Many different ways have been used over time. The end result is many kinds of salt for different uses. There is more to salt than table or sea salt.
This is a fun and enjoyable book. It has remained popular for over 10 years. The reason I waited so long to read it was I never thought salt could be interesting.

Book cover: The Disappearing Spoon

A while back I told all ya’ll about The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Keane. Loved it. It inspired me to order up a poster of the periodic table and stick it on my living room wall, thinking that if it was in front of my eyeballs, there may be some passive absorption. It kinda worked--I learned the noble gases, but really it was just the pressure of a pub trivia team that inspired that. Still I want to understand this stuff at a level higher than my C in high school chemistry.

In an effort to up my game I watched Hunting the Elements by PBS/NOVA. I’ll be honest, based on the boring cover, my hopes were not terribly high. It was ~amazing~. One dude actually made a wooden periodic table, the size of a real dining room table, and gave each element its own little compartment.  If I had that in my house I could pick up and hold a sample of molybdenum. Super cool and very practical. There are enough violent explosions and deadly gases throughout to keep things lively, plus who wouldn’t love to see how gold bricks are made?

Book cover, The Periodic Table: A Visual Guide to the Elements

The book, The Periodic Table: A Visual Guide to the Elements,  is essentially a field guide, just two pages per element--one a color picture of the element and the other its most interesting info. Platinum, for example, is a precious metal used all the time in jewelry, as we know, but it’s also essential in your car’s catalytic converter.

So, in my expert opinion as an armchair science girl, I think anyone with an interest would love the dvd. Have a kid who loves kitchen-science experiments? Watch it with them. But also, anyone who may struggle with a chemistry class in the near future might like both in combination. Perhaps even as a preemptive strike at understanding before the struggle begins. Seeing and hearing info in a different way can make a huge, helpful difference . It certainly did for me.



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