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 contributed by Jake Burwell, STEM Capacity Development VISTA
The 5th grade teachers at Killip Elementary school designed a Problem-based Learning Unit that focused on the students reviewing FUSD's new Wellness Policy that restricts the food/drink items allowed in the classroom. This unit aligned standards for understanding "matter" while integrating real world relevance as the students learned some basic chemistry such as the three common states of matter, physical and chemical properties and changes. They learned what chemicals, including sugar, go into drinks and their final product was a recommendation to the FUSD governing board as to what additional drinks could be included in the policy as "acceptable."
Tracy Blahut, Katie Butterfield and Jillian Hernandez co-developed the unit, and on April 28th, chemists Irina Barrow and Amy Sessions from W.L. Gore gave the students some basic background on matter and had the students do simple experiments on chemical and physical changes. Amy told the students that she struggled with chemistry in 10th grade, but persisted in her studies and now enjoys her work as a chemist at W.L. Gore! Students guessed from Irina's accent that she was born in Russia, and despite learning a complex career in a second language, is now a highly successful chemist at W.L. Gore.
After this introduction to chemistry, the students were given the following drinks to analyze: NOS, Rockstar, Monster, Sprite, Diet Coke, Coke, Capris Sun, Sunny D, and Propel water. They worked in teams to test their sugar content through a boiling process, taking notes on the results as they completed the experiment. The end results were shocking! With most of the drinks, a large amount of sludge remained after the water evaporated. Some drinks (i.e. energy drinks and Coke) contained over 14 g of solids out of an initial 100 g of liquid. They wrote up their results and created presentations for representatives from FUSD, with suggestions for the drinks that should, or should not, be included in the District's approved list, based on their sugar content.
A selected group of the 5th graders presented their findings to the Forest Highlands Foundation to demonstrate the relevant and educational value of this PBL unit. Thank you to the Forest Highlands Foundation for granting Killip Elementary the funds for the equipment for us to do this unit in the years to come!
Thank you to Irina Barrow and Amy Sessions for their great contributions to this unit!
Guest Blog Post by Janelle Reasor, Art and Science Integration Specialist
Marshall Magnet Elementary School has the longest running science fair of all 28 schools in Flagstaff! They had 199 projects from grades 1 through 5 in the categories of Earth, Life and Physical Science. There were also many student demonstrations.
The 5th grade students were all interviewed by their projects, and then all the projects were displayed in the gymnasium. Twenty of the student projects will advance to the Regional Science Fair in Prescott, Arizona.
Thank You to all 28 of our Judges and our 7 interviewers!
From Coconino Community College:
Melinda McKinney, Alejandra Cardoza, Jay Patel, Brandon Hankins, Sun Jeon, Justin Lovett, Ambrielle Begay, Jenille Montelongo Rodriguez, Zachary Thomason, and Lexia Henderson
From Northern Arizona University - Carissa Miyano, Dr. John Tingerthal, Jill Hager Cocking, Dr. Brendan Russo, Hanako Ueda, Chris Wirth, and Melissa Dimas
From W.L. Gore & Assoc. - Mike Heinzer, Justine Roberts, and Alex Leonard
From The Museum of Northern Arizona - Courtney McDaniel, Florence Borgeson, and Jennifer Glennon
From the Rocky Mountain Research Station, USFS - Grace Sorenson and Roy Lopez
From FUSD, Retired - Sue Holiday
From The Arboretum - Coreen Walsh
5th Grade Interviews Conducted By: Dr. G. Kent Colbath, Geoff Kie, Dr. Jamie Sanderlin, Judy LeFevre, Moragan Guild, Cindy Foubert, and Heather Overton
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!
By Dave Engelthaler, Associate Professor at the Translational Genomics Research Institute and the Chair of the Northern Arizona Leadership Alliance. This column was adapted from the keynote speech, given by the author, at Science Foundation Arizona's "Giving a Voice to STEM" Conference at NAU on September 30, 2016.
I have often referred to Flagstaff as the Shining City on Arizona’s Hill. It is no accident that I borrow this phrase from the famous, precisely American, ideal of a “Shining City on a Hill”. The early pilgrims imagined that they could create such a community for themselves after escaping the historical norms of European controls on destiny.
Three hundred years later John F. Kennedy reminded of this founding ideal, stating that the world was watching our shining city and that we must live up to our promise; shortly there after, we embarked on one of the greatest journeys of all time and put a man’s foot on the moon (Flagstaff had something to do with that, more on that below).
Twenty years later, Ronald Reagan again reminded us of this American City on a Hill ideal; and while we may not often remember Reagan as a champion of science, he was convinced during his tenure to not only not cut the budget of the National Science Foundation, but rather double it, before he left office. But, as under Kennedy and Reagan and other presidents in before and after, no matter what our economic and cultural condition, we have always led the way in advancing humanity through the sciences.
It is this ideal that convinces me that in Flagstaff, we are a Shining STEM City on Arizona’s Hill.
In August of 2012, a group of Flagstaff Leaders, Businessmen, Educators, Scientists, and Concerned Citizens gathered in the woods on the base of the San Francisco Peaks. This group coalesced around the idea that Flagstaff is a STEM-rich City and that we as a community, businesses and schools, elected leaders and CEOs, teachers and families, needed to collectively band together to bring this rich surrounding to bear on the education of our children and enrich our communities.
There, up on our Hillside, we all mutually pledged our time, talent and resources towards making the STEM City ideals happen. In short – our goal was to have the most STEM literate graduates living and working in a thriving STEM-based economy.
We also had a unofficial motto for the day: “Dare Mighty Things”, which we borrowed from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who had, just the preceding night, coordinated the landing of the Curiosity Rover on Mars (and again, Flagstaff had something to do with this mission). And we both stole that from Teddy Roosevelt’s famous “Far better it is to dare mighty things” speech.
Historian, Fredrick Jackson Turner, just a few years before TR’s famous speech, gave us his “Frontier Thesis”, and proclaiming that with the end of the American Frontier, so might be the end the American spirit. While Jackson aptly, and controversially, linked Americanism and American spirit to the discovery and exploration of the American Frontier, I feel that he missed the mark in not understanding the new frontiers that we would identify and explore.
Our increased understanding and use of science and engineering opened up brand new frontiers, beyond land and sea.
One such Frontier, The Space Frontier, was no longer a pastoral landscape to watch from afar. Our STEM City has been at the forefront of the exploration of this new frontier, from the discovery of Pluto, to the training of Apollo astronauts in our backyard, to the camera control of the Mars Rover from our USGS facility, and now finally to the deep space explorations through our Discovery Channel telescope, providing insight into the beginnings of our universe and images of a frontier previously unseen.
Likewise, Flagstaff is home to TGen and the new Pathogen and Microbiome Institute at NAU, where some of the brightest minds are exploring another previously unseen universe – the microbiome. Every day, scientists in Flagstaff are embarking on the incredible journey into the human microbiome – the unseen ecosystem of bacteria and viruses and fungi that live on and in the human body. We are trying to understand how these microbes live, compete, collaborate and otherwise interact during our healthy and disease states. We, ourselves, our bodies, are the new frontier – and again that frontier exploration is here in our STEM City.
And we could go on about the new frontiers ventured by W.L.Gore engineers and SenesTech scientists and MNA paleontologists and Park Service geologists. The frontier is here in our STEM City and some of the greatest pioneers are the trainers of our next generation– the teachers and education professionals of our great public, charter and private schools. Most are ready, willing and able to interact with all of these resources; and some, like former STEM City Teacher of the Year Jillian Worssam, just kick down the door and say: “Let’s do this thing!”
Our STEM City is Worssam’s wildly successful Scientists in the Classroom. It is the Flagstaff Festival of Science (the longest running one in the country). We are the Coconuts; we are the Annual STEMMY'S Awards Ceremony; the STEM Art Competition; and the Super Bowl of STEM in the Dome event (where upwards of 8% of Flagstaff turns out!); we are the Space Station Science Experiment and the High Altitude Balloon Launches; and the superstar Killip Kindergarten Chess team that likes to challenge our Mayor. We are seventh-grade girls wearing lab coats inside a world-class research lab and we are a group of high schoolers rafting down our majestic Canyon to learn our geologic past. We are the Chamber Coding Camps. We are grad students teaching and learning in the K-12 classroom. We are parents, students and teachers on a hill having a star party. We are, in a phrase, America’s First STEM Community.
Arizona, and the rest of the country, is watching our shining STEM City
and we must live up to our promise.
Guest Blog by Susan Holiday
The Arboretum's Eco Explorers Summer Camp is a series of camps that began on June 13th and continues until July 22st. There are weekly programs at three age levels: 4-5, 6-8, and 9-13. While camps cost between $160 (half day) to $250 (full day), the Arboretum was able to offer 30 full and/or partial scholarships through a generous contribution from the W.L. Gore Foundation.
The camps included the Creature Camp, where the Dr. Aaron Smith brought some of his invertebrates from the Arthropod Museum at N.A.U. Other activities included meeting a miniature horse, the butterfly house and plenty of hiking and other outdoor activities.
The camps also included Wild Things!, Our Changing World, Natures Keepers, Gross Science and the coming camp Nature’s Artists. If you missed the camps this year, there will be camps again next year. Hope to see you then! Information can be found at http://www.thearb.org/learn/summer-camps/
Flagstaff STEM Coordinator