Guest Blog Post by Tad Theimer, NAU Professor of Biology
Flagstaff is a city of science. We are literally surrounded by science. Up on Mars Hill there lies Lowell Observatory, to the north the Museum of Northern Arizona, the offices of the USGS, to the east and west the laboratories of GORE, to the south Northern Arizona University, the Rocky Mountain Research Station, TGen, the Naval Observatory, to mention but a few.
So I stand here as a scientist in a city of scientists. How many of you out there are scientists? How many the family or friends of a scientist?
It’s been said that you know you are a scientist when you wake up on a Saturday morning and think, “I could walk the dog, I could read the paper, I could go for a run, but what I really want to do is analyze that new data set, or sneak off to the lab for one more quick experiment.” And all your friends and families of scientists have seen that, you’ve seen them sneak out the door late at night or early in the morning. So we here all know that inside the breast of every scientist beats a heart as passionate, as driven, as that of any artist, musician or poet. Scientists do what they do because they can’t help themselves. They are driven by an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, by an insatiable hunger to understand the world. That relentlessness, that dogged curiosity, is something folks who haven’t been around scientists may not realize, and as a result they may underestimate the power that stands here today. Because that same passion, that same resolution, that scientists bring to doing science, scientists will also bring to defending science. And that is why we stood here last year, and why we stand here today and why we will be here next year, and the year after that, and the year after that!
So we here in Flagstaff understand what science is, why it is important, and that we must help others understand the important role science plays in our lives. The speakers who went before me articulated that very well. But there is another point about science that we have to make folks understand. Scientists follow data to whatever truth they may lead, regardless of the implications that truth may have. And so scientists sometimes discover inconvenient truths, truths that make us have to question the way behave toward this earth, toward each other. Truths that are inconvenient because they come with costs. The cost of making sacrifices today so that our children and grandchildren can have a decent world to live in tomorrow. This is an important role scientists play, and
I have been trying to think of a simple analogy to help folks understand that important role of science, so let me try this out on you:
Let’s imagine that my inconvenient truth is that I only have $10 in my bank account. But because of this magical piece of plastic called a credit card, I can buy a car, I can buy fancy food and delicious drinks. And some of my friends will support me in ignoring my inconvenient truth because they like to ride in my car and drink my drinks and eat my food. But one or two of my friends will take me aside and say “Tad, what are you doing? You’re acting crazy! You only have ten bucks! If you keep this up you’re heading for financial ruin!” Now we all know which one of those friends is the most valuable. It’s the one with the courage to stand up and tell me the truth even though I didn’t want to hear it. And that’s what scientists do! They are the friends who stand up and tell us the truth even when we don’t want to hear it!!
We are passing through dark days for science. Honesty, reliability, consistency, responsible conduct. These are the cornerstones of science. These are also the foundations of a civil society. Yet every day these ideas are mocked, denigrated, cast aside! We live in a time when integrity has been replaced with irresponsibility, where falsehoods hold the same credence as facts. It is no wonder that we sometimes feel dazed, in a world turned upside down.
These are dark days, but we have seen darker. When I am most in despair for this world, I am reminded of Galileo, that great scientist who dared to follow his data to an inconvenient truth, that radical idea that the earth was not the center of the universe, fixed and immovable, but instead moved around the sun in its orbit. Today that seems like a ridiculously harmless fact, that the earth goes around the sun, but at the time, it was a very inconvenient truth, for it flew in the face of religious dogma. So at the age of 70, Galileo was dragged from his home, thrown in prison and eventually brought before the Inquisition in Rome, forced to kneel and to recant his life’s work, to state that the Earth was immobile and did not move in its orbit. But the story is told that as Galileo walked out of that room, he whispered under his breath, “and yet, it moves!” And so might we say to those who deny climate change today, “and yet, it changes!”
You can ignore the truth for a while. You can walk away from the Paris climate accords, you can tell your administrators to strike out all references to human-caused climate change. You can confuse the electorate by saying climate change is still debated, that there is no consensus. You can ignore the National Academy of Sciences and 17 other scientific societies that have stated that human-caused climate change is real and needs to be addressed. You can ignore all that and build yourself a beautiful house of cards. But eventually that house of cards will fall. Scientists know this. Scientists understand the meaning of that old Buddhist saying: “There are three things in this world that cannot long be hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth”!
Make no mistake, the walls of ignorance are strong, especially when reinforced by girders of greed and self-interest. But history has shown us that that stone of ignorance will yield to the cold, hard steel of science-based fact. It is for us today to follow in the footsteps of all those scientists and believers in science that went before us, to pick up those hammers of steel and bring them down on that rock of ignorance, knowing all the while that those walls will not fall to one blow, or to a thousand, but the point is to keep on hammering, to keep those hammers ringing. So I say, make those hammers ring here in Flagstaff, but also make ring so that they can be heard down in the statehouse in Phoenix. Make those hammers ring here in Flagstaff, but also make them ring so that they echo in the halls of congress back in Washington. Make those hammers ring here in Flagstaff, but most importantly, make those hammers ring so that they rattle the very walls of the White House! Make those hammers ring!
Guest Blog Post by Rose Houk
It’s pretty easy to just flush the toilet and forget where our human waste goes. For most of us, it’s “out of sight, out of mind.”
But on a Saturday in April, nearly 50 interested residents toured Flagstaff’s Rio de Flag Water Reclamation plant to look a little deeper into where our wastewater goes once it leaves our homes and businesses.
It turns out the behind-the-scenes story is really interesting.
The Rio de Flag Water Reclamation Plant is a clean, attractive building standing just beyond Sam’s Club by a trail along the Rio. Inside are bright offices, maps on the walls, and a friendly city employee, Jim Huchel, who greeted us and led the tour.
Once we were all signed in, Jim gave us a firsthand look at the reclamation process from beginning to end. The plant, built in 1993, receives wastewater from the west side of Flagstaff. It first comes into the “primary clarifier,” what looks like a big black spaceship that just touched down. We peered inside to see a thick, dark, watery substance just sitting there.
Unseen were the natural bacteria that were beginning to biologically alter the wastes. Some of the material in the chamber stays suspended, while other parts sink. The suspended solids are skimmed off and sent down to the city’s other water reclamation plant at Wildcat Hill.
In the next step, the liquid enters a secondary chamber where it’s further clarified. It then flows indoors where it’s treated with ultraviolet light for a third step of purification.
Jim poured the water into a wineglass, and it looked good enough to drink. In fact, it’s graded as Class A+, but under Arizona regulations reclaimed water can’t yet be used as potable, or drinking, water.
Residents had lots of questions: Is the reclaimed water okay to put on plants? Is it safe to drink? Using reclaimed water for drinking will take getting over the “yuck” factor, said Erin Young, the city’s water conservation manager. She noted that Arizona is devising regulations that might make that a possibility.
The Rio de Flag plant can treat up to four million gallons of wastewater each day. In summer, nearly all the reclaimed water is spoken for –to irrigate fields, parks, and golf courses, some residences, and for industrial uses. In winter, the city sells excess reclaimed water to the Arizona Snowbowl for snowmaking. A certain percentage also goes back into the Rio. According to the city, reclaimed water accounts for about 20 percent of Flagstaff’s total water use.
Next time you see those purple pipes and signs indicating reclaimed water, it will have a whole new meaning.
A Big STEM City Thank You to Rose Houk for this post! And to Jim Huchel and Erin Young of the City of Flagstaff for this engaging and educational tour!
Girls Take Center Stage at the Flagstaff All Girls Chess Championships
Guest Blog Post by William Cheney, Originally published in the Arizona Daily Sun
The 2017 All Girls City Chess Championships were held on Saturday, January 28, at Lowell Observatory. The tournament was moved one week after the scheduled date due to all of the snow Flagstaff received the weekend before. This was the third annual all-girls tournament and three sections were a USCF rated tournament, run by Northern Arizona Chess Center. This is the first year the event was hosted by Lowell Observatory and it attracted over 50 participants. Besides the K-3, K-5 and K-12 sections, there was also an unrated women’s section.
Lowell Observatory, STEM City, Northern Arizona University and Flagstaff Film Festival all hosted the event. In between rounds, students and families were able to explore the visitor’s center, look through telescopes and interact with the hands-on experiments at the site. They also met a female astronomer and heard her interesting presentation during the lunch time break. Dr. Deidre Hunter, an astronomer at Lowell Observatory, gave a presentation on women in science and her work with dwarf constellations. The Flagstaff Film Festival gave out two tickets to each of the first-place winners in each section. NAU gave out three scholarships to the first- through third-place winners in the K-12 section good for any STEM related field at NAU. Thank you to Provost Dan Kain for giving out the scholarships! Domino’s Pizza and Chick-Fil-A also contributed to the event.
The girls and their families really enjoyed the Spaceguard Academy at the Observatory!
In the K-12 section, the winners of the tournament were as follows: first place, Emma Tennyson, Phoenix area; second place, Mia Osmonbekov, Northland Preparatory Academy; third place, Barbara Senff, Blue Ridge High School. In the K-5 section, the city champ was Adrianna Long, 5th grade, Killip; second place went to Imola Seiben, 4th grade, BASIS Flagstaff; and third place went to Christian Begay, 4th grade Killip. In the K-3 section, first place was for Natasha Vasquez, second place went to Alexa Cardenas and third place was for Kayleigh Smith. All three girls are in third grade at Killip. The women were led by Lecretia Ashley. In second place was Sarah Martinet and third place went to Vicki Uthe.
Some of the top national and state girls in chess were at this tournament. In the 8-year-old USCF national all girls’ list was Natasha Vasquez, who is 91st in the nation and 6th in the state. In the 10-year-old group was Imola Sieben, who is 78th in the nation and first in the state. Also in the 10-year-old group is Adrianna Long, who is 93rd in the nation and second in the state. Emma Tennyson, who is 71st in the nation and first in the state, was there as well.
The 3rd Annual All Girls Chess Tournament Champions!
Guest Blog post by Christine Sapio, CocoNuts Coach and CHS Educator
On December 3, 2016 the Coconino High School “CocoNuts” FIRST Robotics Competition Team hosted 400+ FIRST Robotics students at the 9th Annual High Altitude Robotics Extravaganza. The Extravaganza featured two FIRST events happening simultaneously at Coconino High School: The Flagstaff FIRST Lego League Qualifying Tournament and the Northern Arizona FIRST Tech Challenge Qualifying Tournament. Thirty-six teams will compete in the two events.
The Flagstaff FIRST Lego League Qualifying Tournament featured 26 teams from Flagstaff, Kingman, Cottonwood, Heber, Holbrook, Phoenix, Camp Verde, Glendale, Cibecue and Sedona. The teams competed in this year’s challenge ANIMAL ALLIES for a chance to advance to the Arizona FIRST Lego League Championship January 14-15, 2017 at Arizona State University.
The ANIMAL ALLIES Challenge calls for teams of 9 to 14 year-old children worldwide to research and present their original ideas that explore the interactions between humans and animals. Teams will also build, test, and program an autonomous robot using LEGO® MINDSTORMS® technology to solve a series of wisdom-gathering missions which include: pushing a lever to open a door to learning, moving an idea outside of the box, loading a model with knowledge and skill loops, and more. The cornerstones of the experience are the FLL Core Values, which emphasize contributions of others, friendly competition, learning, and community involvement.
The Flagstaff FIRST Tech Challenge Qualifying Tournament featured 10 teams from Flagstaff, Laveen, Winslow, Buckeye, Gilbert, Heber, St. Michaels, Eager, and Joseph City. The teams are competed in this year’s challenge VELOCITY VORTEX. The teams were competing for a chance to advance to the Arizona/New Mexico Championship February 25, 2017 at Northern Arizona University.
The 2016-2017 Game: VELOCITY VORTEXSM presented by Qualcomm® is played on a 3.7m × 3.7m (12 ft. × 12 ft.) square field with approximately 0.3m (1 ft.) high walls and a soft foam mat floor. The field is divided diagonally into a “red” and a “blue” side corresponding to the two alliances. In the center of the field are two goals on a rotatable stand called the Center Vortex. Two ramps, each with a goal, called the Corner Vortex, are placed in opposite sides of the field. The Center Vortex Goals and Corner Vortexes are alliance specific. There are also four alliance neutral Beacons, two placed on each front wall next to the Corner Vortex. There are floor markings as well as Vision Targets placed on the field walls as reference points for robot navigation.
The top teams in the tournament were: FIRST Lego League Champion’s Award: FALA Llamabots, Flagstaff Arts & Leadership Academy, Flagstaff FIRST Tech Challenge Inspire Award: Navajo Code Writers, St. Michael’s Indian School, St. Michael’s FIRST Tech Challenge Winning Alliance: Mogollon Rim Jaegers (Mogollon High School in Heber) and elkSPLOSION (Round Valley High School in Eager)
Nine FIRST Lego League teams and three FIRST Tech Challenge Teams advanced to their respective Championship Tournaments.
Guest Blog Post by Vicki Anderson (STEM VISTA Member) and Danitza Hill (Lead Science Teacher at Leupp)
Leupp Public School had their Winter Family STEM Night on December 1st from 5:30-7:00 pm. About 150 participants used STEM Activity Passports to log in their hands-on activities at 20 stations. The stations were run by teachers, students, and community groups from both Leupp and Flagstaff.
Top-notch hands-on STEM activities for the Leupp students and parents were provided by: NAU Tribal Environmental Education Outreach Program (EEOP), NAU NASA Space Grant group, American Indian Mobile Education Resource (AIMER), NAU Cohort Education students, W.L. Gore engineers, The Wonder Factory, NAU Americorp VISTA STEM Education Project Volunteers, and the Leupp Public School teachers, support staff, and PTO.
Welcome to STEM Night, and The Wonder Factory shares activities with Leupp families
STEM activities were organized by content areas of Engineering, General Science, Astronomy, Geology, Forestry, Math, Technology and STEM integration into Navajo Culture. Some of the many exciting challenges included building catapults, making 3D pasta dinosaurs, designing and testing MAKEY-MAKEYS, making snowflake prototypes with a 3D Printer brought by W.L. Gore, developing molecular gastronomic treats (s’mores), making constellation telescopes, designing, making and testing their aluminum boat buoyancy, and playing math games and measuring activities.
This Leupp Public School STEM Night was a wonderful collaboration with the community and partners in Leupp and Flagstaff. This fun exposure to STEM educational activities was a good motivator for students to want to become future engineers, scientists, mathematicians and technologists. A special thank you goes to Principal Ryan Chee and Danitza Hill (Lead Science Teacher) and the LEUPP staff and the Leupp and Flagstaff community partners for their support in providing these STEM enrichment educational opportunities! Go STEM!
Ruby Hammond, a doctoral graduate student with Tad Theimer's lab at Northern Arizona University, recently presented on Flagstaff birds to Killip Elementary School's after school Habitat Class. The class, led by teacher Mable Wauneka-Goodwin and volunteer Moses Aruguete, is building a bird-friendly habitat in the school's Luna Courtyard.
The fourteen 2nd and 3rd graders already knew a lot of information about both birds and bats, and had many bird stories to share with Ruby! They are all enthusiastic about creating better habitat for birds near Killip and learned more about the local birds and their food and nesting preferences from Ruby's presentation.
Ruby also taught the students some good tricks for identifying birds. Now the students (and you) can distinguish between a raven and a crow!
Ruby's "Urban birds in Flagstaff" presentation and information on nesting preferences is now located on the STEM City Resource page. Moses Aruguete also provided information on building nesting shelves for Robins and Cardinals on this same page.
Killip's Habitat Class hopes you will help feed and house the birds this winter!
The Girls on the Run season finale on November 11th at Coconino High School included a Hall of Heroes with many STEM professionals represented! Thank you so much to the following Wonder Women for participating in the 2016 Hall of Heroes!
Medical professionals, Dr. Kate Preston, Dr. Margaret Donnelly and Clinical Pharmacist Randee Fullenwider, all shared their experiences in the medical field with the girls.
Mechanical Engineer Beth Cooperrider, Lawyer Jennifer Mott, and Wildland Forest Fighter Maggie Knight shared their journeys and careers with the girls.
Lowell Observatory Astronomers Dr. Lisa Prato and Dr. Deidre Hunter shared starry wonders, and Lisa Lamberson, owner of Mountain Sports, described the joys and challenges of running a successful store in downtown Flagstaff.
Thank you all for your contributions to empowering our young women through the Girls on the Run Hall of Heroes!
Guest post by Lisa Winters, formerly of Arizona Game and Fish, and presently a STEM VISTA Member with the Grand Canyon Trust
The best ten days of the year, the Flagstaff Festival of Science, is in full swing. And this year, we had the first BioBlitz at Francis Short Pond! Organized by Rocky Mountain Research Station, Willow Bend Environmental Education Center, and Friends of the Rio de Flag, the BioBlitz was an opportunity for students, teachers, and the general public to work in collaboration with biologists, naturalists, and other scientists to complete a biological inventory of the plants, animals, and organisms that live in or near the pond.
Thanks to Lisa Winters, left, of Grand Canyon Trust, and Zack Zdinak, right, of Life Drawing and Education
Stations were set up around the pond that collected information about water quality, aquatic insects, birds, plants, and fish. Over 260 students from Marshall Elementary, Flagstaff Junior Academy, and Mount Elden Middle School measured the temperature and dissolved oxygen of the water, used microscopes to identify the aquatic invertebrates they caught, wandered the pond in search of common plants, used binoculars to spot ducks and red-winged blackbirds, fished for rainbow trout, and then pulled together what they learned by constructing a life cycle diagram of an organism of their choice. In the afternoon, many community members got the same chance to explore this unique ecosystem in their backyard while contributing to the survey data collection.
Photos show Alice patiently fishing, the excitement of the catch, and measuring for data prior to release!
Additional partners of the event include the City of Flagstaff Sustainability Section, The Museum of Northern Arizona, Grand Canyon Trust, local illustrator Zack Zdinak, and more! The event was made possible through a generous grant from the National Geographic Education Foundation and the AZ Game and Fish Heritage Grant. Thank you all for the great contributions to citizen science and education in Flagstaff!
Guest Post by Elii Chapman, Flagstaff Junior Academy, Math and Science Educator and Garden Club Advisor
As the school year came to a conclusion last spring I learned about a fantastic funding possibility for our gardening project at Flagstaff Junior Academy: Flagstaff Neighborhood Sustainability Grants. Our project fits all aspects of the criteria sought:
At the time I wrote the project proposal there were some of these criterion that I did not fully anticipate meeting. Our existing project was a campus garden that had been funded by a grant from Western Growers Foundation. This garden project was built and used the first year by the Sustainability elective class for 5th and 6th grade students. The second year our Orchestra teacher, Mary Allison, certified in Permaculture, joined my science sessions to teach us the principles of Permaculture Systemic Theory. This year, I wanted to extend our growth season and the productivity of our garden project with the addition of a greenhouse. Mary Allison created a shopping list for the grant proposal to the Flagstaff Neighborhood Sustainability Commission. It was approved!
This year, we have an after-school garden club. It is open to all students, but comprised mainly of 5th grade female students and parents from a variety of grades. As the day approached to install the greenhouse, I had heard from one committed parent volunteer, Matt Young, who was bringing his professional builder knowledge and tools. The day before the big day, I heard from a 6th grade parent, Susie Jardine from American Conservation Experience that several newly arrived AmeriCorp members expressed interest in helping. Thank you to the following AmeriCorp Members who came to help:
Morgan Fiorina, Anna Buchanan, Emily Tanner , Selina Burnette, Daniel Brunner, Tristan Joseph , Victoria (Tori) Maurer, Stephany Gonzalez, and Brandon Martinez.
Our new greenhouse was complete that afternoon at 5:10pm! What an amazing day resulting in a fantastic educational resource. We will continue exploration of native plants and climate difference in the Common Garden system, and grow student knowledge of germination and cooperative plant relationships. Our Garden Club will likely grow now too in terms of age and gender!
Guest Post by Moran Henn, Executive Director,
Willow Bend Environmental Education Center
What better way to help celebrate Colorado River Days than kiss some fish!?
That’s just what some lucky kids (and a few brave parents) got to do
thanks to Colorado River Days’ Annual Fish and Watersheds Science Saturday
at Willow Bend event.
This free, all ages event focused on the importance of the Colorado River,
healthy watersheds, and native fish. Participants engaged in hands-on
activities organized by numerous event partners who came together to make
the event a great success.
Activities included making paper watersheds with the AZ Trail Association,
creating nature journals to record drawings and stamps of wildlife and
nature with the Sierra Club, watching the far reaching effects of water-flow
on a 3D terrain model and learning how long objects last in ecosystems
when left behind with Oak Creek Watershed Council, making origami boats
and rowing in a real river ducky with Grand Canyon Youth, learning about
the ecology of aquatic worms and snails with Friends of the Rio, seeing
the effects of rain on the watershed with Willow Bend, and the highlight
of the event... meeting live native fish up close and in person with the
USGS aquatic lab team. Over 4 species of native fish were on display,
including the Humpback Chub and Rainbow Trout.
The public experienced, in a fun and engaging way, just how important the Colorado River is, not just to Flagstaff, but to everyone who depends on healthy flowing rivers.
Information on other Colorado River Days activities can be found here, and consider subscribing to Willow Bend's newsletter to stay informed about upcoming Science Saturday programs and other events.