Driven by Nature

Cross-country road trips present the perfect opportunity to let your mind wander. The possibilities (much like the road) are endless, particularly if you’re a scientist.

Meet Dwight Bohlmeyer ’84, who earned both a B.S. in marine biology at Texas A&M University at Galveston in 1984 and an M.S. in genetics from Texas A&M University in 1989. A former department head for the Division of Natural Science (2009-2014) and a longtime biology instructor (1997-2014) at Blinn College’s Bryan campus, he recently joined the Texas A&M Institute for Quantum Science and Engineering, where he manages the Salter Farm Educational Research Program.

Dwight and I met this past fall by way of Monarch butterflies and related marketing opportunities. He’s a glutton for all things STEM education, and in addition to having a keen eye for photography, he has the science background to make it beneficial beyond the beauty. If you follow us on Facebook, chances are you’ve probably seen some of his work.

In fact, it was via Facebook that I first learned about his latest project, a daily nature photography challenge to capture five species a day throughout 2015 for a total of 1,825 species by December 31. He dreamed it up as a rather unique New Year’s resolution while filling mental space during his return trip to College Station from Missouri, where he was visiting family for the holidays.

Even though I know these things are all about stretching one’s limits (which I like to think I accomplish by default as a full-time working mother of three), I think Dwight’s really outdone himself here and that the results will be well worth following. And we can all do just that at FIVEx365, the WordPress blog he’s set up to help document his results and keep him accountable like the disciplined scientist he is. He even has rules, which he outlines in the first entry.

And to think, all this time, I’ve been jamming out to mixed CDs and XM Radio during my extended travels. Get the picture?

A cold and rainy start to 2015, beautifully illustrated by Dwight Bohlmeyer using a canna lily as both his artistic and scientific medium. See more of his work at FIVEx365. (Credit: Dwight Bohlmeyer)

A cold and rainy start to 2015, beautifully illustrated by Dwight Bohlmeyer using a canna lily as both his artistic and scientific medium. See more of his work at FIVEx365. (Credit: Dwight Bohlmeyer)

Daydream Believer

“Daydreaming is a short-term detachment from one’s immediate surroundings, during which a person’s contact with reality is blurred and partially substituted by a visionary fantasy, especially one of happy, pleasant thoughts, hopes or ambitions, imagined as coming to pass, and experienced while awake…”

No better day than Sunday to share this visionary fantasy — an absolutely spectacular time lapse called “The Mountain,” shot in 2011 at Spain’s El Teide, the country’s highest point and home to Teide Observatory.

Happy detaching!

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.

image

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.

Angel in Flight

Meet Aggieland’s “Angel,” the rare white hummingbird whose story was chronicled earlier this week, as captured by Waco photographer Dr. Spencer Moore this week at the Country Star Bed and Breakfast. Dr. Moore is one of several Brazos Valley area photographers who have visited the Country Star this week for the opportunity to see this marvelous wonder of nature who has appeared each day since Saturday, August 16. See more photos of Angel and other subjects documented by Dr. Moore at his website, Dr. Spencer Moore Photography, or read his first-person observations as shared with Houston Chronicle science writer Eric Berger.

(Credit: Dr. Spencer Moore, http://www.drspencermoorephotography.com/)

(Credit: Dr. Spencer Moore, http://www.drspencermoorephotography.com/)

(Credit: Dr. Spencer Moore, http://www.drspencermoorephotography.com/)

(Credit: Dr. Spencer Moore, http://www.drspencermoorephotography.com/)

(Credit: Dr. Spencer Moore, http://www.drspencermoorephotography.com/)

(Credit: Dr. Spencer Moore, http://www.drspencermoorephotography.com/)

(Credit: Dr. Spencer Moore, http://www.drspencermoorephotography.com/)

(Credit: Dr. Spencer Moore, http://www.drspencermoorephotography.com/)

(Credit: Dr. Spencer Moore, http://www.drspencermoorephotography.com/)

(Credit: Dr. Spencer Moore, http://www.drspencermoorephotography.com/)

(Credit: Dr. Spencer Moore, http://www.drspencermoorephotography.com/)

(Credit: Dr. Spencer Moore, http://www.drspencermoorephotography.com/)

(Credit: Dr. Spencer Moore, http://www.drspencermoorephotography.com/)

(Credit: Dr. Spencer Moore, http://www.drspencermoorephotography.com/)

(Credit: Dr. Spencer Moore, http://www.drspencermoorephotography.com/)

(Credit: Dr. Spencer Moore, http://www.drspencermoorephotography.com/)

The Beauty of Rare Creatures and Social Networking

Science truly is all around us. The secret lies in being a Noticer — a term I’ve referenced before in this blog. And it’s collaborative by nature, too. (By the way, there’s an intended pun there. Read on to see. Oops, I did it again — ha!)

OK, enough with the cheesy humor and on with the real story. This past Saturday, Country Star Bed and Breakfast owners Cher and Doug McHan were shocked by an amazing sight at one of their property’s bird feeders — a white hummingbird. Albinism, a genetic condition that results in a lack of pigmentation in the skin, hair, scales or feathers of an animal, has been documented in many different species throughout the animal kingdom. When it comes to hummingbirds, most people have seen the more common jeweled-green and ruby-throated varieties, but this guy (or gal) — who’s more specifically a leucistic hummingbird, versus the extremely rare albino version characterized by pink eyes and feet — is novel by any standard, especially here in Aggieland.

Armed with her trusty sidekick — the Canon Rebel T4i camera she regularly uses to document the establishment’s most loyal visitors (deer) and other happenings for the B&B’s Facebook page and website — Cher snapped a few quick shots and posted them on social media. She also reported it to a white hummingbird banding website she found.

(Credit: Cher McHan.)

(Credit: Cher McHan.)

Saturday close-up. (Credit: Cher McHan.)

Saturday close-up. (Credit: Cher McHan.)

In short order, Cher’s Facebook friend David Harkins (a 1984 Texas A&M wildlife and fisheries sciences graduate) advised her to alert iNaturalist.org and the Birds of Texas Facebook group. He also put her in touch with his own friend, photographer Bill Morris, who visited the Country Star Monday to document the exceptional find. Meanwhile, Cher’s cousin, Doreen White, gave it a name: Angel.

(Credit: Bill Morris.)

(Credit: Bill Morris.)

(Credit: Bill Morris.)

(Credit: Bill Morris.)

(Credit: Bill Morris.)

(Credit: Bill Morris.)

Say what you will about social media’s intrusion into society, but so often it uses its powers for good. In this case, it helped put the exclamation point on that extraordinary in the everyday we talk about in our boilerplate. Good bull, er, hummingbird!

See additional images courtesy of Waco photographer Dr. Spencer Moore here.

(Credit: Cher McHan.)

(Credit: Cher McHan.)

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

Gallery

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.)