Somewhere Over, er, Around the Rainbow

Rainbows — who doesn’t love them? Everyone — no matter what age, no matter how bad their day is going — will stop and admire, even if only for a second or two, those beautiful arches of color whenever they happen to appear.

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Our infatuation with them goes back thousands of years. In many religions, they are viewed as a sign or message “from above.” In many cultures, they are a symbol of peace and hope. In this day and age, however, rainbows make fantastic social media fodder, and if there’s been a good rain, it’s almost certain that you’ll find at least one picture of Mr. Roy G. Biv.

So last week after a wet several days, Shana and I took to our Facebook machines to skim the obligatory rainbow pics posted by our friends, and we noticed something rather interesting — several shots of unusually flat, double-rainbows.

Rainbow

Being the curious science enthusiasts that we are, we wanted a logical explanation for these oddities. Shana decided to consult our go-to guy for any inquiry involving the sky — Dr. Nicholas B. Suntzeff, University Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy.

We learned that rainbows are naturally 360 degrees, and half of it lies below the horizon where there is no moisture. As for why our rainbows in question had less arch than normal, Dr. Suntzeff explained:

“It is flat because the photo was taken during the middle of the day. The rainbow is circular around the anti-solar point. Here, the anti-sun must be way below the horizon.”

He also passed along this link that offers a very detailed explanation:
http://www.atoptics.co.uk/fz795.htm.

There you have it — rainbows are naturally circular, thus eliminating any hope for ever finding that pot of gold at the end of one.

At least they’re still pretty to look at.

(Incidentally, for those who might want to try that water-hose experiment to see the full 360-degree effect in action, I’d recommend leaving your dog, if not your adorable toddler, inside. Curious? Click here.)

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Anything look familiar, from photo to explanation, in this September 30 Astronomy Picture of the Day? Just goes to show this is phenomenal double stuff the world over!

Seasonal Natures

Reports earlier this week of the first snowfall in parts of Colorado came bundled for me with a somewhat jolting reminder of something I have thus far left undone. (Yep, I can almost hear my mother, if not my co-workers, laughing.) Funny how Mother Nature has a pesky way of doing that to all mammals, hibernating and otherwise.

In tribute to summer’s last gasp and stockpiling memories to last you all winter, I come bearing humble gifts — additional photographs from Texas A&M Center for Mathematics and Science Education research scientist Dr. Carolyn Schroeder and the 2014 edition of G-Camp, an outreach program for teachers offered through the Department of Geology and Geophysics in the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M University. Because Carolyn truly outdid herself in the way of great photos, I had decided back in July to reserve all floral-related ones for a special album I would post at a later date in order to showcase the more geoscience-specific ones in the previous blog entry. Seems like I blinked and it became September, but hopefully, the better late than never adage applies.

As Carolyn says, the mountain wildflowers (in this case, seen in places ranging from Silver and Yankee Boy Basins near Ouray to the ghost town of Animas Forks northeast of Silverton) were nothing short of stupendous — “everything from mountain bluebells and columbines to different colors of paintbrush, violets, delphiniums, stonecrop, pink elephants and etc. They painted the landscape in broad swaths of color. It is amazing that such loveliness can spring from such a hostile environment, even from just rubble.”

For those who might not want take a tourist’s (albeit a scientist’s) word for it, resident Colorado author Kathy Lynn Harris confirms Carolyn’s scientific analysis in a recent blog entry of her own. To borrow from Kathy’s fantastically picturesque words, “It’s been an especially good wildflower season. Even as September approaches, there are still carpets of white, yellow and lavender mountain daises and large swaths of bright purple fireweed. The sweet scent of pink and violet clover fills the air on our walks.”

I can almost smell the heaven! But enough of my procrastinating — go enjoy your own vicarious walk already, courtesy of another successful collaboration between Mother Nature and science.

Science: There’s a Magic to It

“It’s magic!”

It’s hard to hear yourself think, much less anything else, in a classroom full of sixth-graders, but that excited shriek caught my attention.

YAP_demo_PhysicsI was taking photographs of a Physics Show demonstration for the Youth Adventure Program (YAP) in the Mitchell Physics Building last month. The kids were in awe over a tiny cube-shaped magnet that was floating in midair around a circular disc. And indeed, it gave the appearance of something on the supernormal side of things.

“It’s not magic – it’s physics,” noted Dr. Tatiana Erukhimova, senior lecturer and champion of the Department of Physics and Astronomy’s premier outreach extravaganza.

Technically, that’s true. We actually were witnessing the principles of superconducting levitation at work. Superconductors expel magnetic fields, so when the disc is cooled to its point of superconductivity (with the help of some liquid nitrogen), the repulsion is so strong that the magnet appears to be suspended in air.

Science may be the fabric of what we know as “magic,” but it takes a lot of creativity Tatiana_YAP(and perhaps some charisma, too) to capture an audience’s imagination using only everyday objects, especially when that audience is hyperactive pre-teens. People like Tatiana, and also Dr. James Pennington who spearheads the Department of Chemistry’s Chemistry Roadshow, are masters of this.

To me, there’s a little bit of magic in that.

Earth to Teachers

As one of the rotating images within its website header teases, what has 72 feet, covers 3,000 miles in 16 days, can earn 3 graduate hours of credit, and is more fun than summer vacation when you were a kid?

The answer is G-Camp, an outreach program for teachers offered through the Department of Geology and Geophysics in the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M University. As the ultimate in immersive summer extravaganzas, the two-week camp sets off for a variety of sites across Texas, New Mexico and Colorado, teaching the principles of geology in the field by allowing participants to explore and experience first-hand the processes and environments of planet Earth from past to present.

Texas A&M Center for Mathematics and Science Education research scientist Dr. Carolyn Schroeder serves as one of G-Camp’s instructors. Prior to coming to Texas A&M, she taught earth science in Texas public schools for 30 years, earning Texas Earth Science Teacher of the Year honors in 1986. This past year, she returned to the classroom, teaching introductory geology courses at Texas A&M in addition to her duties with CMSE, which include serving as director of the Texas A&M-College Station Regional Collaborative for Science.

Our G-Camp tour guide, Carolyn Schroeder, pictured here at Otto's Point, Colorado.

Our G-Camp tour guide, Carolyn Schroeder, pictured here at Otto’s Point, Colorado.

“Once you have taken a field trip with a geologist, you are hooked for life,” Carolyn says. “That’s what happened to me on my first one with Dr. Mel Schroeder back in 1974, and I continue to love learning about geology and sharing that love with others, both through the classes and workshops that I teach and by informal means as well.”

Consider this your two-part vicarious pictorial education, courtesy of Carolyn and G-Camp 2014! While you’re waiting for Part 2, feel free to stop and smell/see the flowers Carolyn experienced along the way and/or follow the group on Facebook for bonus pictures and information, if not points.

Small Wonders

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This gallery contains 11 photos.

“The Noticers of the world are rare and beautiful gifts. … Pausing to delight in the simple joys of everyday life is the only way to truly live.” — Rachel Macy Stafford, The Hands Free Mama * ~ * ~ … Continue reading

Texas, Our Texas

“When I moved here to East Texas over three years ago, I was a little homesick. I grew up in California and also worked and lived in Chile most of my life, and I never lived far from the ocean. Last year when I was in West Texas, I met an elderly woman who had grown up on a ranch west of Eldorado. She said that whenever she leaves Texas, she too feels homesick — not for the ocean but for the sky. I asked her why. She said that growing up on a ranch, especially at night, you have the sky from one horizon to the other horizon, and anywhere she goes, she feels penned in by city lights, fences and city buildings.

“The sky is really a part of the history of Texas. It is in our flag. It is in our music. It is really in the soul of Texas. And I am proud to be here at Texas A&M, helping to bring the sky back to this part of Texas.”

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

On December 4, 2009, Texas A&M University astronomer Nicholas B. Suntzeff put the icing on the celebratory cake with this absolutely perfect big-picture analogy, an excerpt of his remarks presented as part of the official dedication of the George P. Mitchell ’40 Physics Building and the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy.

Nearly five years later, I think his grandiose words are just as fitting in capturing the magnificence of another stately project, Between Heaven and Texas, executed by another master of observation, Wyman Meinzer, the Official State Photographer of Texas whose life’s work involves appreciating and accentuating the Lone Star State’s beauty and sharing it with the world. If you haven’t already had the pleasure, meet Wyman and his most recent, resplendent take on Texas, our Texas.

Wyman Meinzer – Between Heaven And Texas from Wyman Meinzer on Vimeo.

Moon Dance

By now, I’m reasonably certain you’ve all seen just about all there is to see in the way of beautiful photographs depicting the recent total lunar eclipse. So wonderful that so many not only witnessed one of astronomy’s rare treats but also took the time to document it for posterity. In my case, it was with an iPhone camera to appease sleeping children and more than a little curiosity — theirs and mine. Technological innovation and one’s inner scientist make for a powerfully motivating combination!

But just in case you missed what I’d consider to be among the cream of the crop, here’s a double-shot of Lone Star State perspective, from wildflowers to Aggies. Everything’s bigger in Texas, if not better!

After staying out till 6 a.m. on April 15, photographing the different phases of the eclipse over a spectacular field of bluebonnets near Ennis, Texas, Mike Mezeul II created this fabulous composite that was making the rounds on Facebook, among other places. Prints are available at http://tinyurl.com/nkazyum. (Credit: Mike Mezeul II.)

After staying out till 6 a.m. on April 15, photographing the different phases of the eclipse over a spectacular field of bluebonnets near Ennis, Texas, Mike Mezeul II created this fabulous composite that was making the rounds on Facebook, among other places. Prints are available at http://tinyurl.com/nkazyum. (Credit: Mike Mezeul II.)

With a lot of forward planning and a solid nap the prior afternoon, Matai Chiang Wilson ’13 was able to stay up all night to photograph the five-hour-long eclipse as it occurred in conveniently clear skies over the Clayton W. Williams Jr. ’54 Alumni Center on the Texas A&M University campus. To see more of Wilson’s work, go to https://www.facebook.com/matai.c.wilson?fref=ts. (Credit: Matai Chiang Wilson.)

With a lot of forward planning and a solid nap the prior afternoon, Matai Chiang Wilson ’13 was able to stay up all night to photograph the five-hour-long eclipse as it occurred in conveniently clear skies over the Clayton W. Williams Jr. ’54 Alumni Center on the Texas A&M University campus. To see more of Wilson’s work, go to https://www.facebook.com/matai.c.wilson?fref=ts. (Credit: Matai Chiang Wilson.)

The Right to Wonder

Wise words from author William C. Martin from his bestselling book, The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents. And not just for children and their parents, either.

To me, he’s describing science in a nutshell here. Uncannily like the opening sentence in the About section of this blog. Small world/wonder.

Oh, and did I mention that before he became a writer, Martin got his bachelor’s in engineering from the University of California at Berkeley?

Let’s be curious out there, folks. And encourage others, regardless of age, to do the same.

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“Do you have agendas for your children that are more important than the children themselves? Lost in the shuffle of uniforms, practices, games, recitals, and performances can be the creative and joyful soul of your child. Watch and listen carefully. Do they have time to daydream? From their dreams will emerge the practices and activities that will make self-discipline as natural as breathing.”

Dakotalapse

“We fail in even the simplest of all scientific observations — nobody looks up anymore.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

I came across this incredible time-lapse video by Randy Halverson while doing research for a story. Mesmerizing doesn’t quite do it justice. In fact, I’m not sure I have the words that would. Sit back and enjoy, preferably while watching in full-screen mode. You’ll thank me later.

The vimeo link includes some great background information from Mr. Halverson as well as appropriate credits.

Beyond that, um, wow. I’ll say it again, backwards. Wow. Totally blown away.

A Bittersweet Benchmark

On January 19, 2008, Texas A&M University lost one of its absolute best absolutely too soon: Presidential Professor John L. Hogg, a beloved chemist, champion of undergraduate education and science outreach, and all-around life force of graciousness and good will.

Last summer on a casual jaunt across campus for an errand, I noticed an unfamiliar maroon bench outside the Texas A&M Chemistry Complex that I’d apparently missed for the better part of five years — not unlike its namesake in the case of so many.

BenchThey say every person has a story, and so does this bench, as told here by longtime Texas A&M Chemistry administrator Ron Carter, associate department head and friend of John Hogg:

Dr. Hogg’s 2008 spring class had just started earlier in the week, and his students were very saddened when they were informed of his passing. Various faculty members stepped in to teach his class and take over his undergraduate advising duties and other roles within the department. While we all handled what had to be done, the students stepped up with their own approach, unbeknownst to anyone that I am aware of to this day. Toward the end of the semester, I received an anonymous telephone call, informing me a memorial gift in the name of Dr. John Hogg had been delivered to the front steps of the Chemistry Building. I went outside, and although no one was in sight, there in the bright sunshine was a shiny maroon memorial bench sitting at the base of the grand staircase leading up the Chemistry Building with an inscription on it honoring the memory of Dr. John Hogg. It was a very overwhelming moment to know his students cared and appreciated him so much that they had come together to purchase a lasting memorial in his honor. We have never received a note or letter from anyone claiming credit for his memorial bench. The Department of Chemistry and the College of Science subsequently provided the funds to have it permanently installed under one of the large oak trees at the main entrance to the Chemistry Building where he once sat and talked with students.

PlaqueSix years later, an anonymous gift as altruistic as the man himself continues to pay quiet but constant tribute regardless of weather or season to the memory and the ongoing impact of the beloved chemist well-known for shouldering many a worthwhile cause of great consequence with precious little fanfare while also counseling generations of Aggies toward career excellence in chemistry and inspiring anyone fortunate enough to enter his orbit along the way.

Between the bench and the stately oaks that shade it, it’s a picturesque metaphor for a man most at peace among his students, his colleagues and his chemistry who is clearly and dearly missed by all three.

As colorful and exciting an individual as his trademark tie-dyed lab coat, Dr. John Hogg and the Chemistry Road Show program he created introduced more than 2,000 people each year to the wonders of chemistry, physics and general science with the help of fire, explosions, weird polymers and super cold materials.

As colorful and exciting an individual as his trademark tie-dyed lab coat, Dr. John Hogg and the Chemistry Road Show program he created introduced more than 2,000 people each year to the wonders of chemistry, physics and general science with the help of fire, explosions, weird polymers and super cold materials.