Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Last Science Café of the Season

Last night we did the last of four science café's for the opening season, "Don't Stress Me Out," with Dr. Jennifer Byrd-Craven. I felt like this one went really really well in terms of getting across the gist of my guest scientist's work. And, we had a fun activity with the mock experiment.

Here's me, preparing to kick things off with a song. My new song this time was called "It's Not Fair (When Your Mother is a Scientist)."

Here is Dr. Jennifer Byrd-Craven, explaining her work.

This is during the mock experiment. These girls are collecting their spit on a swab, so their stress hormone levels can be measured. (We didn't actually get to measure hormones, but we went through the motions.)

More spit swabs. Each pair was asked either to talk about a problem or design a theme park. The theme park pairs were in the control group. The problem pairs were in the experimental group; we expected to see their stress hormone levels rise.

This pair is designing a theme park.

This pair is discussing a problem. Look how stressed they are!

This topic inspired lots of discussion.

I'm working on a Spring schedule now, so please stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Don't Stress Me Out!

Don't miss the next exciting "Born to Do Science" Café!! Tuesday December 2 at 6:30 in the hastings coffee shop here in Stillwater, OK. We are the only science café in the world (as far as I know) catering to kids and families.

Dr. Jennifer Byrd-Craven will speak about her research into how friendships can influence stress.

I met with Dr. Byrd-Craven the other day to plan our session, and this promises to be a lot of fun. We will set up a mock study and give our audience members the experience of becoming experimental subjects! (Don't worry, it won't stress you out too much to participate!)

Please be there if you can, and please tell and/or bring a friend! We make a conscious effort to keep these sessions fun and informative both for adults and kids in second grade and up. 

This is our last scheduled café for the Fall season. Watch for info on the Spring season coming soon, and keep your first Tuesdays open!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Microbe Hunter

Howdy Friends,

On November 4 we had a great café with Dr. Mostafa Elshahed, "The Microbe Hunter." I kicked it off with a brand new song using the same title.

I gave a three minute summary of Dr. Elshahed's research. Then we passed around some bacteria cultures for everyone to look at, and I wrote down a bunch of questions from the audience.

We spent the bulk of the time answering and discussing questions about bacteria, and about how Dr. Elshahed identifies and isolates new species. Here are a few photos...

Examining a bacterial culture:

Dr. Elshahed:

Me, in the foreground, taking questions:
Answering questions:

These kids are lined up to see...

Bacteria under a digital microscope, thanks to our friend Dr. Bruce Ackerson, shown here setting things up.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Vote For Science!

This is just a reminder that the next "Born to Do Science" Café is coming up this Tuesday, that's right - election day! So do your voting early, then come on out to the coffee shop in hastings, here in Stillwater, OK at 6:30PM for the third installment of our brand new science café series, the first that we know of in the nation that's geared toward kids and families!

Our guest scientist will be Dr. Mostafa Elshahed, "The Microbe Hunter." Dr. Elshahed is a microbiologist at Oklahoma State University, and he recently received an $800,000 grant to assist in his search for a brand new phylum of bacteria! He has found the evidence that this new creature exists, and will be attempting to isolate it in the lab. Join us for a discussion of this fascinating process! Kids and adults will be encouraged to ask questions and will have the chance to observe some bacterial cultures with a microscope. See you there!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Café Attendees See the Light!

It's been a busy week! I'm happy to finally be sitting down to tell you about Tuesday's "Born to Do Science" Café!

I kicked things off with a brand new song, "My Molecular Eye!" It was another last minute effort, though I shouldn't really say that because I've been writing it in my head for months. Anyhow, I was very pleased with it, and it got a nice round of applause.

Dr. Hoff explained his research on bacteria that can "see" light using a photo-sensitive protein, which we may have coined a name for (a Google search will lead you to this page!) - the "Molecular Eye." Did you know bacteria can grow this big...

Just kidding! Dr. Hoff was showing us how small bacteria are, though. More like this...

Or even smaller! Here's a photo of our audience - we had a good mix of kids and adults. Look at all those eager young minds soaking up the science!

After we discussed Dr. Hoff's research we took a break for a hands-on activity. It seems some molecules have an affinity for water and an aversion to oil. This is part of the mechanism that makes the molecular eye unfold when exposed to light.

All in all, it was another successful session. Dr. Hoff joined Lisa, Evalyn and I for dinner afterward, and he and I yammered endlessly about the goals of the science café and different approaches to science education in general.

Everyone I've talked to seems very excited about what I'm trying to do, though it's a bit crazy on the surface - having scientists explain their research to children in a way that doesn't water down the science but still engages the kids! It's certainly a challenge, and I'll keep refining the format until it works the way I'm seeing it in my head.

I know we're already doing something right, based on the evaluation cards folks turned in - everyone said they would definitely come again, even if they didn't quite understand all the science. That rocks!

I hope we'll see you at the next one, November 4th, with Dr. Elshahed, "The Microbe Hunter!"

Saturday, October 4, 2008

"The Molecular Eye" this Tuesday!

Our second "Born to Do Science" Café is coming up this Tuesday October 7th at 6:30 PM at the coffee shop in hastings here in Stillwater, OK. Please come if you can, and remind all your friends, especially those with kids in second grade and up.

I had a nice long lunch with my guest scientist, Dr. Hoff (above) in preparation for Tuesday's cafe. I learned a lot about the "Molecular Eye." This is going to be a very cool session, involving microbial behavior, protein folding, and possibly even the physics of light. If we can get kids to understand it on some level (and I think we will) I'll be very proud, and so will they!

Congratulations to my Guest Scientist for November, Dr. Elshahed, on his $800,000.00 Grant!! Mark your calendars for November 4 - maybe he'll tell us how he plans to spend all that money!

See you soon!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

First Café Explosive Success!

Well, I can hardly believe it, but the first café is over and done with! Our guest scientist, Volcanologist Dr. Jeffrey Byrnes, was fantastic! We had a big group - all the chairs were filled. A lot of kids were there, and they asked great questions. Everybody seemed to have a great time. I debuted a song called "Volcanic Rock." The whole event was just very very cool all around.

Here are some photos, and below that I'll share some of the feedback we got from the audience.

Dr. Jeff tells us about volcanoes on other planets.

The kids examine some of the volcanic rock specimens Dr. Jeff brought with him.

We collected feedback cards; all of them were positive. Here's what a few folks had to say:

"Thank you so much for doing this."

"Keep with it, get the word out - it's awesome"

"This is the best science thing I've ever been to."

"I loved it."

"Where can we send a thank you to the organizer and the scientist? Thanks for an awesome program!"

"I think these are a great idea!"

"Thank you for everything"

"Thank you for providing this opportunity."

I say: Thanks for coming, and you're welcome! See you all next time!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Feeling the Buzz!

The Stillwater News Press published a great story on the science café today! You can read it online.

I've been feeing the buzz! Yesterday I went over to tell one of my mom's neighbors about the café and she had already learned of it from two different sources, one of which I had no idea had picked up on the story. It seems to have "legs" of it's own, which is very exciting!

If you know of a group that caters to kids and/or science please be sure to pass word along! Contact me if I can help in any way.

Only two days left before the big premier! It's getting exciting!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Press Release and Flyer

A press release and flyer are now available to help publicize the Fall 2008 season of the "Born to Do Science" café!

If you're planning to attend, don't come alone - please download these items by clicking below, print them, and share them.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Volcanoes of Venus!

How Volcanism Shapes the Planets

Talk with Dr. Jeffrey Byrnes, Volcanologist, about his research into the formation of volcanic land forms on Venus, Mars, and Earth.

Tuesday, September 2, 6:30 PM, hastings coffee shop, Stillwater, OK.

These science talks are free and open to the public. They are designed to engage adults and children, grades 2 and up. More talks are scheduled the first Tuesday of each month, September - December, 2008. Hosted by children's songwriter, Monty Harper.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Born to Do Science Cafe!

I'm starting a science cafe here in Stillwater, OK! What's a science cafe you ask? It's a series of events where a scientist speaks to the public. For more information, check out the Nova Science Now science cafe website.

I'll be doing four events to start with and I'm in the process right now of lining up some scientists! My science cafe will of course be aimed at families with kids. We won't water down the science but we will try to make it accessible and interesting for all ages.

My goals for the kids who come to these events are:
1. They will talk to someone who is passionate about their work; someone doing something important to help make the world a better place.

2. They will feel that at some level they can understand the science we're discussing.

3. They will feel that this is something they could do themselves if they wanted to - asking good questions and pursuing the answers.

That's it - nothing lofty. ;-)

If you'd like to help make this happen, please write and ask me to add you to the mailing list. I'll be sending out more details soon.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

My Older Science Songs

An update (11/25/09):

The best place to peruse my science songs is now in my new online songbook! Here's a direct link: Science Songs by Monty Harper

You'll find all the songs below plus many newer titles.

Now back to the original post. (I have disabled the old songbook links.)

Here is a list of songs I've written in the past that had some sort of science content. Clicking a title will take you into my online songbook. There you'll find lyrics and links to where you can hear, download, or purchase each song. (The last two are not available for purchase, but if you need a recording of one of them, just let me know and I will email you a copy.)

You can also preview and/or download seven of these songs from this iTunes playlist. Happy listening!

  1. Roundy Round
  2. You're a Dinosaur
  3. The Wind Energy Song
  4. Diving in the Deep Blue Sea
  5. Horny Toad
  6. It's Hard to Love a Reptile
  7. Gimme Vegetables
  8. Topologically Speaking
  9. Meet the Planets
  10. Stargazer

P.S. These songs are listed along with more than 2,500 other science and math songs in the MASSIVE Database, maintained by Greg Crowther. Check it out!

Born to Do Science


Welcome to my science blog. In a moment I'll explain the "Born to Do Science" mission, but first let me tell you a bit about myself.

My name is Monty Harper. I'm a children's songwriter. I've been writing and performing songs for kids professionally since 1993. I've recently become very interested in "The Public Understanding of Science."

I loved science as a kid. When I was little I thought I might become a scientist. I won my school science fair in 7th grade. But I got a bit disillusioned with science in high school and college in the 1980's. It seemed all the doable stuff was already done. Science knew all about electricity and magnetism, relativity, quantum mechanics, evolution, and DNA.

It seemed the only good questions left were the impossibly hard ones: "What came before the Big Bang?" or "How did life get started on Earth?" I believed that being a scientist meant teaching, plugging numbers into equations, or pondering the imponderable.

Boy was I was wrong, wrong, wrong about that!

Scientists have been very busy since then. Now we have the memrister, String Theory, evolutionary computation, and nanotechnology. We've sequenced the human genome, and we may be about to discover the Higgs Boson. The list goes on and on and on. It's totally mind blowing!

I think maybe it was the way science was taught that led me astray. We didn't learn to ask questions. Our textbooks presented the well-established facts. We repeated lab work and experiments that had been done a million times already. The results were completely predictable. You could read ahead in the lab book to find out what would happen. Any surprises had to be due to our own bungling!

Happily, my children's songwriting has brought me back to science in a very good way. I've been asked to write songs about outer space, dinosaurs, oceans, and insects. Researching these topics I found out just how much science had advanced since I gave up on it back in the 80's! Writing the songs has renewed my sense of wonder about the natural world.

So when my wife gave me an iPod Shuffle for Christmas a couple of years ago, one of the things I filled it with was science-related podcasts. I've been soaking it all up like a sponge! The pace of discovery these days is incredible! I love it! Every new story is fascinating to me, and all this input has been very inspirational to my songwriting self.

But the shear coolness of science, as huge as it is, doesn't quite get at the reason I'm starting this blog.

Many folks are alarmed at the current lack of respect for science in our public discourse. I often hear statements like, "We need to engage the public and get them excited about science, especially our young people!" And that's when my little heart goes pitter pat and my mental hand shoots up and I say in my head, "Me, me, me - I have something to offer here!"

Yes, public appreciation of science is vital to making the best public policy decisions. But there is also a deeper reason I'm interested in helping bring science to the masses. Science is the tool that allows us to collectively understand the universe we live in, including our own selves. It's arguably our greatest endeavor, our grandest adventure. Striving for knowledge is part of what it means to be human. Access to the scientific process is our birthright. We were born to do science!

My mission with this blog is to help make science fascinating and vital and cool and relevant to kids and families who might not otherwise give it a second thought. Sure, it's important to learn all the well-established science facts in school. But there's so much more to it than that. I want to put kids right out on the cutting edge where new science is happening now! I want to inspire them to think, to wonder, to ask questions, and to make science a permanent interest in their lives.

I'm not sure yet exactly what form this project will take. But plans are percolating. I know it will involve new songs. There may also be live events and conversations with actual scientists.

I'm glad you found me. Thanks for reading this. Please leave a comment. Please write to me if you have something to offer. Please tell your friends. Please be patient as I'm doing this with my "spare" time. And please stick around to see what happens!