Archive for June, 2012

June 22, 2012

“Looking Out the Window and Looking at the Earth”: Exploring the Third Planet from Space with The Man on a Mission and Windows on Earth

I’d venture a guess that very few of us fulfill our childhood professional aspirations. I am fairly certain that I—for one—will never be a princess, professionally or otherwise. I know my good friend didn’t become a veterinarian, and I certainly know that my younger brother hasn’t (and probably will never) drive a dump truck. On the other hand, I am very impressed by those who do make good on their childhood ‘callings’—especially if those callings could change the way we see the world.

Richard Garriott is one of those people whose desire to become a space explorer has changed the way we view our world—and beyond that—intergalactic travel. While perhaps easy to peg him initially as an “experience hunter”, Garriott’s 2008 voyage into space as the first American 2nd Generation Space Flight Participant has opened up possibilities for privatized space travel and consequently—greater understanding of our vast universe.

“Man on a Mission” is the documentary released this year that paints the portrait of the ineffably driven Garriott—a game development guru and son of Skylab astronaut and scientist Owen Garriott. While nearsightedness prevented Richard from ever pursuing his dream career as a NASA astronaut, his entrepreneurial successes allowed him to invest in early commercial space ‘tourism’, private space travel research and development, and then millions (and a rigorous year of training) to join the Russian team on Soyuz TMA-13 for a 10-day trip to the International Space Station in 2008. Coming full circle from near-sighted and Earth-bound, Richard’s Lasiked eyes and scientific proclivities served him well onboard the 2008 flight. He not only conducted a visual acuity experiment for NASA, but he replicated the 1973 photographic targets taken on his father’s mission to show natural and human influence over the course of one generation of space travel. Better yet, he used a beta version of Windows on Earth—a TERC-developed software tool now approved by the International Space Station as a standard tool for Earth observation and targeting. It’s always a special moment when we see TERC resources being used on film!

Image of Richard Garriott’s Windows on Earth interface courtesy of sensysmag.com

Windows on Earth (WinEarth) was originally developed by TERC with funding from the National Science Foundation ( grant #DRL-0515528) as an educational tool for use in museums, and it is currently installed at the National Air and Space Museum, Boston’s Museum of Science and several other museums. Members of the Association of Space Explorers recognized the potential of the simulation software to assist astronauts in scientific Earth photography on the ISS. With funding from the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), TERC is currently enhancing the Windows on Earth software and adapting it for use by astronauts to replace the current multi-step process for targeting, photographing and geo-referencing images.

“If you asked any person who has returned from space what they enjoyed the most, the answer will come back, ‘looking out the window and looking at the earth’,” said Owen Garriott in the film. Thanks to the Garriotts’ missions and TERC’s development of the WinEarth software, perhaps our future will be rife with enhanced zero-gravity exploration and images of our planet captured for posterity by Windows on Earth.

If you were to ask me now, I’d tell you this: I’d like to be a space explorer and view our amazing planet from the sky when I grow up…

June 14, 2012

Slower/Faster, Larger/Smaller: Exploring Ratio and Proportion with ‘Math Moves’

“This chair is too big!” she exclaimed. So, she tried out the next chair.”This chair is too small,” she said. So, she tried the very last chair in the corner.”This chair is JUST right,” and she said happily snuggled into it.-Goldilocks at the Math Moves Exhibit

TERCtalks tries out the ‘Math Moves’ chairs for size at the Museum of Science, Boston

There’s something quite fantastical about the new ‘Math Moves’ exhibit at the Museum of Science in Boston. Entering the Blue Wing flanked by a larger-than-life chair (and a doll-sized one) to the tune of sonic resonance and the sight of cast shadows, the setting is far more Robert Southey-ish/Lewis Carroll-y than ‘Museum Forum for Pre-Algebra Learning’ or ‘Early Preparation for STEM Career Interest’. But—as a true testament to the exhibit’s success—‘Math Moves’ exposes youngsters ages 6-12 to concepts of ratio and proportion through genuinely fun activities that are not only ‘hands-on’—they’re multisensorily, experientially and kinesthetically-on!

In the ‘Math Moves’ realm, grasping proportion can be as simple as sizing up three chairs (a la ‘Goldilocks’ above) or manipulating and gauging shadow sizes by moving cutout objects in front of a light source. Understanding ratio can come through dancing on a rainbow footboard near a monitor where visitors can see visualizations of their speed in comparison to a partner’s speed, or moving wheels along a track to compare frequencies of sound. And active engagement with fractions could come through building blocks, balancing levers, or even using body size as a relative unit of measure.

The ‘Math Moves’ exhibit is part of the MathCore project, a 5-year research endeavor and partnership between Explora (Albuquerque, NM); the Museum of Science, Boston; the North Carolina Museum of Life + Science; the Science Museum of Minnesota; San Diego State University’s Center for Research in Math & Science Education; Selinda Research Associates; and TERC’s Tracey Wright, funded by the National Science Foundation (DRL-0840320). Educators from the four institutions, three research centers, and advisors met in the first year to develop innovative ideas for exhibits on ratio and proportion. The result is a collaborative exhibit that is being hosted at the four institutions over the next 3 years. The project is being evaluated on visitor experience over time.

Next up for MathCore? An exhibit component uniting dance and math, currently in development. Think dancing “twice as fast” or “half as fast” within a fixed amount of time is a no-brainer? Well, even this adult learned a thing or two about math and movement during a test trial. Stay tuned for further details!

June 7, 2012

“Going Green” with GECCo and Girl Scouts!

Remember when you got your first badge? Or that blustery day when you were with your troop, picking up litter along the beach and learning about coastal organisms? Perhaps, like me, you remember last year when you brought home two boxes of Thin Mints from the Annual Cookie Sale. No matter what the precise memory, for most, a mere mention of “Girl Scouts” sparks multiple positive connotations—after all, the Girl Scouts have established one of the best-known leadership, mentorship and service programs for young-to-adolescent girls across the country.

This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the Girl Scouts—and the national theme for the centennial celebration is “Going Green”.  Our local council—the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts (GSEM)—is adopting a TERC-created patch program for Juniors and Cadettes called GECCo (The Girls Energy Conservation Corps) that educates Scouts in energy conservation, energy use and climate change, and environmental stewardship. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the GECCo project team created tools, activities, and games to help girls understand how they use energy; how they can save it; and how they can act as leaders in their communities.

So, the quick story is this: GECCo helps girls increase their self-and-collective efficacy about making a difference for the environment. And—as any GECCo patch recipient would tell you—“going green” has never been so much fun!

While the GECCo project has already reached over 4,000 girls in Eastern Massachusetts due to this partnership with GSEM, it will now have a potential audience of thousands more girls nationally. In addition, the GECCo project team is hoping to develop a second iteration of the project that will be gender-neutral and can be worked into after-school programming. Go go GECCo!

June 1, 2012

Drumroll, Please…

63,085 page views.

13,761 unique visitors from 103 countries.

13,237 video views.

3,955 public choice votes cast.

542 unique discussion posts.

The analytics have been studied.

The votes have been tallied.

And as of today, the  RESULTS ARE IN for the IGERT 2012 Online Video and Poster Competition!!!!!!!

In case you went off-grid on May 22nd-25th and missed the excitement—okay, we’re still really excited—check out all 113 videos and posters from this year’s talented batch of interdisciplinary science and engineering grad students in IGERT programs nationwide.

THEN filter and sort your way to the 25 awardees’ videos and posters. To whet your appetite, here is ‘Energy Textiles’—the triple-threat video and poster from Kristy Jost and Carlos Perez that netted the Judges’ Choice vote, the Community Choice vote, AND the Public Choice vote. Assuredly, Kristy’s and Carlos’ research significantly ups the possible applications of that tee-shirt you’re wearing…

Speaking of energy, the other awardee in the Public Choice category, Jesse Kohl, is researching how nano-engineering of photons (conventional light) into compressed volumes can result in greater energy efficiency for LEDs, solar cells, and lasers. Eureka!

While energizing fabric or harvesting light might sound like science of the future, these kinds of cross-disciplinary research applications are being investigated now in labs and classrooms across the country—and on the IGERT.org hub. So don’t be left in the dark and cold without an energy-storing tee—get a glimpse of these innovations of today before they’re the inventions of tomorrow!