Recycling E-Waste: Who Knew it Was This Easy!

Man on Laptop Surrounded by E-Waste
E-Waste Meets Its Maker
Photo by Tom Grillo and Story by Brian X. Chen


E-Waste is a huge issue in our culture and disposing of it responsibly is often on our wish list but never makes it to the done pile of life.  Three programs by Gazelle, Amazon, and Best Buy have made it that much easier.  Not only are you helping the environment but you can get cash for your unwanted stuff as well.  Win:Win!

Investigating Online Laboratories

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An ever present concern with teaching science courses online is how to translate laboratories into the digital world.  A number of companies have been working on just this task, including a Danish company named Labster.  Labster has a number of potential laboratories including a CSI case, Animal Genetics, and Medical Genetics to name a few.  Labster’s work creates an exciting platform for students to engage in real world problem solving in an interactive manner.  Online laboratories do have inherent drawbacks and need to be tailored to students’ knowledge base and familiarity with hands on laboratory work.  However, I do believe a mix of at home laboratories, in the classroom, and online can yield a significantly more in depth understanding of experimental design, technical work, and resulting analysis than any one of these on their own.  I have high hopes for these digital laboratories and I am excited to see their continued development.

A Few Science Highlights of 2013

The Importance of Sleep to Brain Health


The age old question of why do we sleep may finally have an objective answer, we sleep to clean!  One of the hallmarks of many forms of neurodegeneration is the presence of protein byproducts that aggregate into piles similar to those surrounding an overflowing waste bin.  It seems that while we sleep cerebral spinal fluid circulation in the brain is enhanced washing it clean of debris.  Perhaps, some extra shut eye is just what the doctor ordered.

Serious Upgrades to Tools for Genetic Engineering

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Early medical genetic engineering work in people used live viruses to induce genetic alterations.  This work at times resulted in severe adverse reactions that has slowed the progress and promise of genetic engineering.  However, new technology called CRISPR has been developed utilizing a bacterial protein Cas9.  It is highly specific and holds great promise for resolving a number of diseases by introducing “healthy” DNA.  This article in Nature describes some of the current work being done.

Going Boldly Where No Spacecraft Has Gone Before


Voyager 1 has entered interstellar space and with some still functioning instrumentation.  It took some of mankind’s first close up images of our solar system and is still trekking.  Check out this NASA site for some cool images.

Appropriate Assessments for Reinvigorating Science Education


Maryland has been ranked number two in the US news and world report state rankings in education.  What are the schools in Maryland doing that sets them apart?  Perhaps, one thing is the way they assess student learning.  Rather than a compartmentalized, test based method, students are asked to do some problem solving.  As reportd by Bruce Alberts in his 2002 article on “Appropriate Assessments for Reinvigorating Science Education“, a typical elementary science assessment in Maryland looked something like the following:

Your teacher has received a bouquet of flowers and is having trouble with them. The leaves are drooping, and the flowers look sick. You decide to do an investigation to discover what might be wrong with them.

Students must then perform the following tasks:

  • Read two articles about plants and their stem system.
  • Write an essay explaining how you would study your teacher’s flower to determine what’s wrong with it.
  • Draw an illustration that would help other students understand your investigation.
  • With a partner, use a magnifying glass, look at the cut edge of a bottom of a celery stalk (which is used in place of the flower), make a list of things you observe about the stalk, break the stalk, and describe what you see.
  • Draw and color a picture of what you think will happen to this celery if it sits in red dye overnight. Explain why you think so.
  • On the next day, study the celery that was soaked overnight in the red dye. Write a paragraph to explain how the celery is the same or different from what you predicted yesterday.
  • Write an essay explaining why a scientist might want to do more than one investigation when trying to answer a question about science.
  • Write a note to your teacher telling what you have learned about flowers and how to take care of them.

I am not sure if this type of assessment is in practice today, but it definitely goes a long way towards the goal of engaging students with project based learning and developing critical thinking skills.  Learning more about the work is Maryland is high on my priority list.  Maryland’s Next Generation Science Standards

You Have Multiple Genomes


As reported by the NYtimes in September, researchers have discovered that we have multiple genomes in our cells.  The variance in genomes had previously been thought of as a result of technology limitations, but has recently been acknowledged as a state of being.  A number of mechanisms account for this variance including mutations, pregnancy, and twins.  “In 2012, Canadian scientists performed autopsies on the brains of 59 women. They found neurons with Y chromosomes in 63 percent of them. The neurons likely developed from cells originating in their sons.”  This chimerism and mosaicism has a number of implications including variations in forensic analysis, cancer treatment, disease risk, and organ transplant, amongst others.



Who wants to be a Scientist?

A new facebook game is capitalizing on the power of the human brain to recognize patterns in genetic data.  Scientists in the UK built a game entitled “Fraxinus” to sort through data sets looking for variations in the genome of ash trees and their nemesis the “ash dieback fungus”.  These variations may be the key to saving the ash trees from annihilation and it is a great way to de-stress and get some altruism points simultaneously.  Check it out!



Maria Guillily, PhD