Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mark Your Calendar!

I'm putting together a new season of Born to Do Science! Starting in January, we'll be meeting mostly on third Saturdays at 10:00 AM at the Stillwater Public Library in Room 119 (same as before).

These are the dates:

Jan 15, Feb 19, Mar 19, Apr 23, May 21

I do not have specific speakers lined up yet, though I'm working on that, and I'll let you know soon...

(If you are a scientist and would like to talk about your research with kids, please let me know!)

Songs From the Science Frontier is Here!

The new CD is now available! Songs From the Science Frontier contains 12 songs for learners age 8 and up. Most of the songs are based on research of the scientists who have been "Born to Do Science" guest speakers. If you've attended the program, then you've heard me perform them, but you haven't heard them like this! I worked with producer Chris Wiser of the Sugar Free Allstars, and he helped make the songs sound fantastic!

You can sample the songs and purchase CDs and/or downloads via these links:

CD Baby
Order a signed copy

Happy listening!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Pre-Order Songs From the Science Frontier

Now taking pre-orders for the new Songs From the Science Frontier CD at www.montyharper.com!

CDs will ship in November. We're working hard on the recording process right now, and the songs are sounding fantastic!

Monday, August 23, 2010

We Did It! Songs From the Science Frontier is In Production!

Many thanks to all my backers and supporters! We passed the $9,000 funding goal on kickstarter.com early Friday morning - a day and a half before the deadline! The last $1K or so just seemed to melt away overnight!

So now I have a CD of science songs to record! Our first studio date is a week from today.

I spent Saturday celebrating with friends and supporters via a live video feed online! It was also my birthday, and as promised, I got a chocolate cake smooshed in my face! I know you are anxious to see that, so here you go...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Songs From the Science Frontier

Howdy, BTDS Friends!

Can you take a few minutes to help me out?

Remember those songs I started each program with over the past two years? I've been polishing them up, and I've got enough to make a really great science CD!

I'm excited about this because it will help bring the science and scientists that you've been enjoying in the live program to many thousands more kids.

I'm planning to record with producer Chris Wiser of the Sugar Free Allstars! He'll help me get a fantastic sound in a pro studio with amazing musicians. We plan to make a CD that families will want to hear over and over again.

All I need is the funding to make it happen!

Please support my fundraiser on Kickstarter.com. You can pledge any amount from $5 on up. (No money changes hands unless and until I reach my goal.) For a pledge of $20 you can pre-order a signed CD, and know that you helped connect more kids with science. Other amounts will get you various other rewards.

If I reach my goal by August 21, which is also my birthday, I'll throw a live online video party for all my backers, at which my wife, Lisa, has promised to smoosh a chocolate cake in my face!

Please check out my three-minute pitch video on kickstarter.com, then consider pledging to support my project.

Please also help spread the word. Below the video are buttons for facebook, twitter, and email that make it easy.


P.S. Stay tuned for news about the next season of "Born to Do Science!"

P.P.S. Check out this "Born to Do Science" theme song (while available) and let me know what you think!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Super Wheat Follow-Up

Remember our first session this past season, "Super Wheat" with USDA wheat geneticist, Cheryl Baker? Remember she brought little vials of wheat for us to look at and taste? 

I got an email from the Slavens family a while back. They said, "Thank you for giving us the wheat. We planted it and look how much it has grown! Thank you lots! :)"

Recently I received this update: "We have harvested the wheat and hope to get it cleaned, the old fashioned way, with a sheet and some breeze. Our goal is to eventually make some bread! Wish us luck!"

Is that cool, or what? Good luck to you, and let us know how it goes with the bread!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Luminescence Dating

It's way late, but I'm finally posting my report and photos from our last session of the season!

Dr. Regina DeWitt was our guest, and she showed us how luminescence dating works. (See my previous post)

I sang a new song called "Grain of Sand" which explains the process from the sand's point of view. Just to set the mood, and to let our eyes adjust, I sang it in the dark.

Then we all headed into the closet. That's right! See what kind of shenanigans you've been missing? 

There's a large closet in the back of the room. It was the only available space we could make dark enough to see the demonstration Dr. DeWitt had prepared.

So everyone crowded into the closet, and that's when we realized that Dr. DeWitt's hot plate wasn't working and needed to be plugged into a different outlet. I had to scramble around in the dark to figure that one out. Turns out the outlet was near the top of the wall! 

Meanwhile it was getting pretty dicey with all those warm bodies crowded into a small dark space! But we got past it.

Dr. DeWitt heated up some dosimeters on the hot plate. They look like little white pills in the light. In the dark, as they warmed up, we could see them start to glow a nice pale green.

They work the same way as the sand grains Dr. DeWitt uses to date archeological digs. The dosimeter accumulates radiation damage, which basically means electrons are knocked loose and get trapped in flaws in the crystalline structure. (She had irradiated them ahead of time.)

When heated, the trapped electrons gain enough energy to escape and travel back to where they belong. Moving electrons emit light, and that's where the glow comes from.

Once we were all out of the closet, we had plenty to think and talk about. It was a pretty lively group. I'm thinking of starting every BTDS in the closet!

Dr. DeWitt brought a geiger counter in order to show us that many common things are slightly radioactive, such as bananas and nuts.

The kids had fun both during and after the presentation, testing different objects for radioactivity.

Watch for an announcement soon about our planning meeting for the next season of BTDS! If you are a researcher in or near Stillwater, OK, we'd love to have you as our guest scientist. Please write!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Luminescence Dating! Thursday May 20!

Don't miss our last "Born to Do Science" program of the season, this Thursday, May 20, 6:00 PM at the Stillwater Public Library.

No, it's not about amorous fireflies.

Luminescence dating is a way of finding out the age of a geological structure (such as a sand dune or river bed) or an archeological site. It works because grains of minerals in the soil accumulate radiation damage at a steady rate over time. If we hit them with a bit of energy, the damage is repaired, and the grains glow, or luminesce. The amount of light they give off indicates the amount of damage accumulated, which tells us how long they've been buried.

ImageOur guest scientist, Dr. Regina DeWitt, is working on a device that dates sediment in this way, and will be small enough to fit in a shoe box. Why does it need to fit in a shoe box? Because NASA is funding the development of this instrument so that one day it might become part of a Mars Rover! Instruments on the Mars Rovers need to be small so that they can be launched into space and carted around on the surface of Mars.

This is going to be a really cool program! We'll get to play with a geiger counter, see an example of luminescence, talk about Mars, and as always, hear a brand new song.

I hope to see you there!

P. S. If you want to get a head start, here is Dr. Dewitt's webpage on the General Principals of Luminescence Dating.

USA Science and Engineering Festival Theme Song update

A quick update, since many folks have been asking about the USASEF Jingle competition.

Thanks so much to everyone who voted for my song! I heard from a lot of you that you were rooting for me, and I really appreciate it!

Well, all the finalists were deserving, and unfortunately mine did not win.
But congratulations to the winners:
USASEF Jingle Competition Results

I will be performing at the festival, October 23 & 24 in Washington D.C.
Maybe I'll see you there!!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

USA Science and Engineering Festival Theme Song

I'm really excited about this, and I wanted to share it with my BTDS friends...

I submitted a song to the USA Science and Engineering Festival theme song competition, and it has been selected as one of seven finalists out of nearly 100 entries!! 

The USASEF is asking people to vote for their favorite finalists online. 

Could you click here, take a few minutes to listen, and if you like my song best, give it your vote? Thanks!!

I will be performing at this festival in October, and I'll be singing many of the very songs you got to hear first at BTDS! See the countdown clock at the top right corner of this page? Can you tell I'm excited?

Don't forget our last meeting of the Spring is May 20! We'll take a break over the Summer and resume sessions in the Fall.

See you soon!

Friday, April 16, 2010

What Is the Shape of the Molecule?

Last night we had another great "Born to Do Science" at the library! Dr. Christina Bourne was our guest scientist from the OSU Vet Med department.

Unfortunately, the batteries in our camera died not far into the program, so I only have two photos to share, and neither of them is of our scientist!

Here I am sharing the brand new song, "What Is the Shape of the Molecule?"

Here we are demonstrating some background information about how proteins and inhibitors work. The kid volunteer is our "protein." She is a large molecule that has a job to do inside a bacteria. This protein's job is to combine the blue and green molecules together to make a new substance. The new substance is something the bacteria needs to survive. But we don't want the bacteria to survive! So we try to stop it doing its job with an "inhibitor" molecule. That's something that sticks to the protein and gets in the way. Those big gloves are a trial inhibitor. They stuck to the protein but didn't stop it from doing its job, as you can see. So then we tried oven mitts. The oven mitt inhibitors worked, but not perfectly well. They slowed the protein down quite a bit, but she was still able to catalyze her chemical reaction (I mean, put the green and blue blocks together).

Dr. Bourne's work is a lot like this demonstration. She searches through thousands of possible inhibitors to find ones that will stop a particular protein from doing its job. The protein she's working with comes from an anthrax bacterium. That's right - some day her work may lead to a new medicine that can cure anthrax!

Dr. Bourne uses x-ray crystallography to find out what her protein looks like. This helps her shape the inhibitor molecule just right so it'll stick to the protein and keep it from working. Here is a representation of her protein, in blue. The yellow bit in the middle is the inhibitor molecule, which Dr. Bourne has tweaked so that it fits just right and keeps that protein from functioning.
Our next program:

May 20, 2010

The Older the Rock, the Brighter It Glows

Using Luminescence Dating to Determine the Ages of Rocks

Dr. Regina DeWitt from the OSU Physics Department will speak about a dating technique she has developed based on the natural ability rocks accumulate over time to luminesce. Dr. Dewitt's work is funded by NASA and her luminescence dating instrument may be selected for inclusion on a future Mars rover!

See you there!

Friday, March 26, 2010

New Flyer

We have a new flyer to help promote the last two BTDS events of the Spring season. Please print a few and post them where interested families might see them! Thanks!!

Here's the link:

Friday, March 5, 2010

Let's Get Small!

I just wanted to post a reminder about the Born to Do Science schedule, plus a bit of news.

There is no program this month due to Spring Break.

Our next program is "What Is the Shape of the Molecule?" on April 15, with Dr. Christina Bourne. We'll be talking about x-ray crystallography. If you are one of the people who wrote "Chemistry" on your feedback form, make extra sure to be there. This topic involves proteins and lots of organic chemistry.

Here's the bit of news -

The library is presenting an extra science program in conjunction with the Oklahoma Wondertorium between now and then.

A display on nanotechnology will go up in the North Lobby case the first couple of days in April and will remain through the end of the month. There will be a program for hands-on experiences on Saturday April 10th, with several stations for demonstrations. This will be a come and go thing for about three hours.

Mark your calendar now, and be sure to catch the nanotechnology display and/or program, not only because it's really cool, but also because on the 15th, we'll be talking about things that happen in the natural world on the nano scale. This will help you start to think small!

See you soon! Enjoy!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Everybody Blown Away by Latest BTDS Event

Last night our guest scientist was Dr. Steve Stadler. He's our Oklahoma state geographer, and through the Oklahoma Wind Power Initiative he's been instrumental in creating tools that help bring more wind energy to our state.

We started the program with "The Wind Energy Song." Here I am turning our group into a human wind farm:

We started the program a bit differently, and had everybody brainstorm about what factors might be important in determining where to locate a wind farm. Then we asked Dr. Stadler to comment on each one. We discussed the ways trees, buildings, water, and elevation might effect wind turbines. As it turns out, wind speed is the important factor in all cases.

We used the yellow windsock pictured below, in front of a fan, to demonstrate that the higher the wind speed, the more work the wind can do. In this case, a lower wind speed didn't carry enough energy to lift the windsock. But a higher speed did. In fact, the "wind power density" is related to velocity cubed - meaning that even a little increase in wind speed provides a big increase in the energy it carries.

Below is Dana, our Support Group Coordinator, helping the kids put together their own anemometers, a word I had plenty of trouble with last night. These little gizmos measure wind speed. We learned that there are 120 Mesonet stations scattered throughout Oklahoma. Each weather station has an anemometer and other instruments to collect weather data. These data points, combined with a mathematical model, allow Dr. Stadler to accurately predict average wind speed at any location in the state, at any time of year. That's good information for someone who wants to put up a wind farm!

Thanks, Dana, for supplying the anemometers!!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Wind Energy!

Howdy, BTDS fans!

Our next program is coming up February 18, 6:00 PM at the Stillwater Public Library. Dr. Steve Stadler from the Oklahoma Wind Power Initiative will be our speaker. Among other things, he was instrumental in setting up Oklahoma's famous Mesonet system, and he uses mathematical models to determine where the best spots are for commercial wind farms.

If you'd like to explore this topic ahead of time, here are some cool websites to check out. Many thanks to Dana for helping collect these links!

Oklahoma Mesonet - This is the official Mesonet website. Spend some time poking around. You can see all kinds of data about current air and soil conditions in Oklahoma! Click "overview" to get some background information.

Power of the Wind - This article on Science News for Kids covers all the basics of wind energy.

KidWind - Lots of information for teachers and students, including directions for building your own wind turbine.

Alliant Energy Kids - This site includes information on many renewable energy sources, and has a great drawing showing the inner workings of a wind turbine. And you can test your knowledge with this Energy in Motion game.

Saul Griffith on Kites as the Future of Renewable Energy - This YouTube video shows a short talk on an interesting alternative way of harvesting the wind.

Here's Dr. Stadler speaking about Oklahoma wind power on OklahomaHorizonTV:

Here's me, singing my Wind Energy song for Evalyn's first grade class (two years ago):

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Upcoming Programs

Please mark your calendar for our next three programs!

Feb 18, 2010, 6:00 PM, Stillwater, Oklahoma Public Library
Where Should I Put My Wind Farm?
Modeling and Mapping the Oklahoma Windscape
Dr. Steve Stadler from the Oklahoma Wind Power Initiative will speak about his research modeling Oklahoma wind, which is key to developing the state's wind energy resource.

Apr 15, 2010, 6:00 PM, Stillwater, Oklahoma Public Library
What is the Shape of the Molecule?
Using X-ray Crystallography to Deduce Protein Structure
Dr. Christina Bourne from the OSU Department of Veterinary Pathobiology will speak about how potential disease-fighting drugs can be developed through understanding the shapes and functions of key protein molecules.

May 20, 2010, 6:00 PM, Stillwater, Oklahoma Public Library
The Older the Rock, the Brighter It Glows
Using Luminescence Dating to Determine the Ages of Rocks
Dr. Regina DeWitt from the OSU Physics Department will speak about a dating technique she has developed based on the natural ability rocks accumulate over time to luminesce. Dr. Dewitt's work is funded by NASA and her luminescence dating instrument may be selected for inclusion on a future Mars rover!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Building the Bat Family Tree

Last night we had another great Born to Do Science event here at the Stillwater Public Library.

I kicked things off with a new song called "Bat Man." (I'll get these songs posted one day, really, honest!)

Dr. Ron Van Den Bussche then guided us on how to study the tree of life. We learned that species that look alike may not actually be closely related. And visa versa: species that look very different can be closely related.

How do we know? By studying genes. The more closely related two species are, the more genes they have in common.

The physical characteristics of species (morphology) can be misleading. Studying genes can lead us to new conclusions about who's closely related to who. Then we can go back and look at morphology more closely to verify the new information.

That gives us multiple lines of evidence, or two different ways of knowing. When they agree with one another, we can feel more confident we've got it right. When they disagree, we need to do more research.

We also learned many cool things about bats. There are 1200 different kinds; the smallest is the size of a thumb; the largest has a wingspan as wide as a basketball player is tall.

At the end of the presentation, we looked at bat specimens. All the small brown bats in the photos below are members of the bat family that Dr. Van Den Bussche is trying to sort out. Each sample represents a different species.

Notice that there isn't much to go on as far as morphology is concerned! That's one reason this family of bats is the last to be organized. Dr. Van Den Bussche is the only one working on them. He's using DNA to sort them all out.

Next month, February 18 - wind energy! See you then!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Building the Bat Family Tree

Coming Thursday January 21, 2010, 6:00PM at the Stillwater Public Library...

Molecular Evidence Reveals Bat History

"Bat Man" Dr. Ron Van Den Bussche from the OSU zoology department will speak about his research into the evolution of a family of bats that makes up eight percent of all mammal species!

If you'd like to prepare for this presentation (or learn more afterwards) here are some resources to check out!

Other researchers doing similar work:

Scientists Fill Blanks on Bat Family Tree (article)

Bats and Their Evolution (video)

General Background:
Vespertilionidae - the family of bats we'll be looking at
Speciation (video)

The Tree of Life (video):