May 8, 2012 | 1
BRONX–Marine biology and subway construction were the hot topics here today among two groups of Girl Scouts at IS 131, Albert Einstein School.
Shenica Odom of the Girl Scouts Council of Greater New York had asked Scientific American to participate this spring in its Career Exploration Program, designed to encourage about 1,200 girls in the South Bronx to explore careers and professions that they might not have otherwise considered for themselves, including jobs involving science, technology, engineering and math (STEM jobs).
So Anna Kuchment, Rachel Scheer and I enthusiastically signed up to visit with sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at various local schools to talk about our jobs with Scientific American as well as the school and work experiences that have helped us along the way. Anna, who edits the magazines Advances section, spoke to girls at MS 22, Jordon Mott School, on May 3. Rachel heads up SA‘s corporate public relations and spoke to girls at IS 131 on May 4.
I kicked off my IS 131 visit by handing out “I am a Scientific American” buttons, as well as some copies of our lastest issue and reproductions of our first issue back in 1845. I asked the students to discuss their scientific questions with me and how they might go about answering them. Here are some of the fantastic ideas they came up with (the initials of the student who asked the question follows each question along with some information and links to get one started on answers):
–How long can dolphins hold their breath? (MH, Well, here’s an engaging video that explains how long humans can hold their breath. Dolphins are mammals, like us, so there are definitely many similarities in our body forms and functions, though obviously we are land creatures and they are marine creatures.)
–If a shark swims backward, will it die? (ML, I doubt this, but here is an article on some of sharks’ other talents.)
–Are the oil companies going to go broke? (JS, Like all businesses, oil companies must evolve to changing economic and social conditions in order to stay in business. Here’s an in-depth report on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago that explores some of what BP has and has not done to stay in business.)
–What is whale oil? (CC, There is some interesting history about this energy source on this page.)
–How do you build tunnels that allow subways to run underground? (LA, Anna Kuchment wrote about this question last summer for Scientific American.)
–What is in the smoke that comes out of buildings in some housing projects? (ML, This article outlines five measures that can help to clean up our air.)
–Why shouldn’t we kill sharks? After all, they kill us. (KAC, Actually, a group of scientists has estimated that humans kill somewhere between 26 million and 73 million sharks a year for the fin trade, as one student pointed out, whereas sharks kill about 1 person in the U.S. every two years, mainly when we swim into their habitats. More on the perils facing sharks today can be read here.)
–And my favorite: Does whale urine protect you from jellyfish stings? (JKN, This question is a variation of the legend that urine from any animal will assuage a jellyfish sting. It is not true. Try a paste of baking soda and seawater instead.)
I hope these questions spark continued interest in science and efforts by students to answer questions by collecting data and analyzing evidence. Much of the best science starts with questions like those above, and smart answers tend to prompt several more intriguing questions. As I told the girls, my job as a science writer and editor is never boring, I learn countless amazing facts every day, and I work with fun, smart and nice people.