Coordinating Exchanges for Learning

Were the contemporary scientific discoveries that were placed before you as a child in any way a catalyst for your own curiosities? As a youngster did you keen-fully observe the engineering of technology that was tooled for discovery? Did the Apollo or space shuttle orbiter missions inspire any meaning or perspective?  Are you a scientist, a citizen scientist?  Are more science professionals needed?

Childhood impressions are core components to who an  individual becomes. Positive influences by skilled and knowledgeable teachers, concerned even loving parents are paramount.

Although science is tractably understood through experience and the application of theories, the details are complicated, work and tenacity are required to reach any level of competence, as is a recursive process that takes years to master, the best practice being an early inception, suggesting 4th or 5th grades as optimal.

As a lot, elementary school teachers are amazing, passionate, empathetic educators who contribute directly to student successes.   They are excellent “conductors” orchestrating the development of knowledge across the disciplines, despite their lack of high proficiency at any of  the “oboe, violin, timpani, harp”, or any of the “instruments” they aptly “conduct”.

Middle school teachers build upon their colleagues base by applying their special areas of credentialed interest and skill for specific subjects, that is the mathematics teacher teaches math, the science teacher science, the music teacher music, the arts art.

Generally these teachers were trained at the bachelors level, were raised and attended nearby schools where education theories, psychology strategies, human behaviors were well studied, but elected to take a fewer rather than more science and mathematics courses.

Missing for many teachers is that detailed experience in, for example, the sciences, the associated physics or chemistry experiments, the engineering design and access to relevant applications, and or the technologies that have shaped human kind, say in biology.

Moreover, integrative strategies that rely on trans-disciplinarity where the dynamic of collaboration is used in solving relevant problems have few examples of successful implementation.

Helpful are the opportunities that any science, technology, engineering, or mathematics expert creates for students, particularly when in a collaboration with those teachers.

Traditional learning opportunities which align formally in the classroom are ideal, yet well implemented after-school programs continue to impress principals, teachers, parents, while inspiring selected students.

Needed is a coordination of professionals from companies such as John Deere, Sanford Engineering, Mortenson Construction, Moore Engineering, but also from North Dakota Universities and Colleges,   as well as from non-profits and for-profits which are practiced at informal learning strategies that include the Inspire Innovation Laboratory and Discover Express Kids.

As an example of an exchanged asset,  consider astronomy and astrophysics as an integrative topical strategy that is proven effective at sparking a middle school student’s scientific interests.

Lofting sophisticated instrumentation such as the Hubble Space Telescope into the heavens was an accomplishment built upon the successes and failures that extend from “choosing to go to the moon” by President Kennedy.

It was relatively recent that there was knowledge of other galaxies in the universe, that galaxies are clustered much the way stars are, that they collide, explode, evolve, all fascinating and a wonderful context to inspire students.

Providing tours of the solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, and beyond is a unique specialty of  the University of North Dakota’s Physics and Astronomy Department through an outreach project funded by the NSF-EPSCoR program.

In UND’s portable Elumenati Geodome, youngsters are treated to a highly engaging planetarium experience where craters on the moon, atmospheres on Earth and Mars, where solar system dynamics can be viewed in a 3D splendor.

Knowledge that such a program exists,  that a highly specialized and experienced professional can join in your North Dakota classroom through communications facilitated through the vehicle of the ND STEM Exchange is among its core functions.

Lining up, coordinating, managing, and assessing those opportunities is a developing role of the North Dakota STEM Exchange, a project being piloted by the North Dakota STEM Network.

For more information on the Exchange, please visit:

A Century Ago, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity Changed Everything

PRINCETON, N.J. — By the fall of 1915, Albert Einstein was a bit grumpy.

And why not? Cheered on, to his disgust, by most of his Berlin colleagues, Germany had started a ruinous world war. He had split up with his wife, and she had decamped to Switzerland with his sons.

He was living alone. A friend, Janos Plesch, once said, “He sleeps until he is awakened; he stays awake until he is told to go to bed; he will go hungry until he is given something to eat; and then he eats until he is stopped.”

Worse, he had discovered a fatal flaw in his new theory of gravity, propounded with great fanfare only a couple of years before. And now he no longer had the field to himself. The German mathematician David Hilbert was breathing down his neck.

So Einstein went back to the blackboard. And on Nov. 25, 1915, he set down the equation that rules the universe. As compact and mysterious as a Viking rune, it describes space-time as a kind of sagging mattress where matter and energy, like a heavy sleeper, distort the geometry of the cosmos to produce the effect we call gravity, obliging light beams as well as marbles and falling apples to follow curved paths through space.

This is the general theory of relativity. It’s a standard trope in science writing to say that some theory or experiment transformed our understanding of space and time. General relativity really did.

Since the dawn of the scientific revolution and the days of Isaac Newton, the discoverer of gravity, scientists and philosophers had thought of space-time as a kind of stage on which we actors, matter and energy, strode and strutted.

With general relativity, the stage itself sprang into action. Space-time could curve, fold, wrap itself up around a dead star and disappear into a black hole. It could jiggle like Santa Claus’s belly, radiating waves of gravitational compression, or whirl like dough in a Mixmaster. It could even rip or tear. It could stretch and grow, or it could collapse into a speck of infinite density at the end or beginning of time.

Scientists have been lighting birthday candles for general relativity all year, including here at the Institute for Advanced Study, where Einstein spent the last 22 years of his life, and where they gathered in November to review a century of gravity and to attend performances by Brian Greene, the Columbia University physicist and World Science Festival impresario, and the violinist Joshua Bell. Even nature, it seems, has been doing its bit. Last spring, astronomers said they had discovered an “Einstein cross,” in which the gravity of a distant cluster of galaxies had split the light from a supernova beyond them into separate beams in which telescopes could watch the star exploding again and again, in a cosmic version of the movie “Groundhog Day.”

Hardly anybody would be more surprised by all this than Einstein himself. The space-time he conjured turned out to be far more frisky than he had bargained for back in 1907.

It was then — perhaps tilting too far back in his chair at the patent office in Bern, Switzerland — that he had the revelation that a falling body would feel weightless. That insight led him to try to extend his new relativity theory from slip-siding trains to the universe.

According to that foundational theory, now known as special relativity, the laws of physics don’t care how fast you are going — the laws of physics and the speed of light are the same. Einstein figured that the laws of physics should look the same no matter how you were moving — falling, spinning, tumbling or being pressed into the seat of an accelerating car.

One consequence, Einstein quickly realized, was that even light beams would bend downward and time would slow in a gravitational field. Gravity was not a force transmitted across space-time like magnetism; it was the geometry of that space-time itself that kept the planets in their orbits and apples falling.

It would take him another eight difficult years to figure out just how this elastic space-time would work, during which he went from Bern to Prague to Zurich and then to a prestigious post in Berlin.

In 1913, he and his old classmate Marcel Grossmann published with great fanfare an outline of a gravity theory that was less relative than they had hoped. But it did predict light bending, and Erwin Freundlich, an astronomer at the Berlin Observatory, set off to measure the deflection of starlight during a solar eclipse in the Crimea.

When World War I started, Freundlich and others on his expedition were arrested as spies. Then Einstein discovered a flaw in his calculations.

“There are two ways that a theoretician goes astray,” he wrote to the physicist Hendrik Lorentz. “1) The devil leads him around by the nose with a false hypothesis (for this he deserves pity) 2) His arguments are erroneous and ridiculous (for this he deserves a beating).”

And so the stage was set for a series of lectures to the Prussian Academy that would constitute the final countdown on his quest to grasp gravity.

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Researchers Reveal How Climate Change Killed Mars

Climate change isn’t just something to worry about here on Earth. New research published today shows that Mars has undergone a dramatic climate shift in the past that has rendered much of the planet inhospitable to life.

About 3.8 billion years ago, Mars was a reasonably pleasant place. It had a thick atmosphere filled with carbon dioxide that kept it warm. Rivers trickled into lakes across its surface. Some researchers think there might even have been an ocean.

“It seems to have been a much more clement climate, a climate more suitable to sustaining life at the surface,” says Bruce Jakosky, a researcher at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Nobody knows if there was life on Mars back then, but it’s now a hostile place. The water’s mostly gone. So is a lot of that cozy atmosphere. To try and find out what went wrong, Jakosky and other scientists have sent a spacecraft called the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission, or MAVEN.

With each swing around Mars, MAVEN actually dips into the planet’s atmosphere, gathering data. The results are published today in two journals — Geophysical Research Letters and Science — and they reveal something remarkable: Mars’ atmosphere is actually leaking into space.

“It’s leaving at a rate about 100 grams per second,” Jaksosky says. “That doesn’t seem like much, but you add it up over a couple of billion years and it’s enough to remove the entire atmosphere.”

The cause is our friendly neighborhood star, the sun. It’s constantly shooting out high energy particles known collectively as the solar wind.

“[The wind] streams outward at a gas flow at about a million miles per hour,” Jaksosky says.

On Earth, our magnetic field blocks the solar wind. Particles become tangled in it before they can ever reach our precious air supply.

There is no magnetic field on Mars, so when the solar wind reaches the Red Planet, the atmosphere gets stripped away.

To view an excellent simulation by NASA demonstrating solar winds on Mars, read more at: