Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Weathering the Storm

There have been a lot of extreme weather events that have made the news lately, especially tornadoes. When I was growing up, in both Oklahoma and Michigan, I remember going through tornado warnings and having to either bunker down under a desk or huddle in the hallway at school, once for an entire day.  It certainly was an experience that stuck with me, and is one reason that I will never live in the midwest again.  This kind of weather happens on a yearly cycle, and extreme weather events are predicted to get worse as our climate changes

Why is the tornado season cyclic?  Tornadoes actually don't have a season per se, but can occur any time and anywhere.  However, they are more common in the springtime when the jetstream brings together warm moist air (such as from the Gulf) and cold dry air (such as from the Arctic).  When winds at higher altitudes blow in the opposite direction of the winds near the ground, rising warm air gets twisted in the opposite direction and creates a funnel.  There's a little more to it than that, but that's the basic concept.  You can read more about tornadoes and tornado preparedness here.

When warm moist air collides with cold dry air and is given a spin by the jet stream,
the result can be a tornado.  Figure from NOAA's National Severe Storms Laboratory.

Tornadoes can happen any time of year.  Where are you located on this map?
Figure from passporttoknowledge.com.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Meeting New Role Models and Finding Inspiration

Monday was a very exciting and inspiring day for Brainy Girls!  As you probably know, one of the reasons I started this online magazine was to engage girls in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) community.  One of the best ways to do this, I think, is to provide strong role models for girls who can show girls (and boys) that women are needed in STEM fields and that they are capable and supported in pursuing their goals.  With every issue of this online magazine, I feature a woman with an interesting career who can demonstrate to girls that they really can do anything they put their minds to (you can read about Brenda Moraska LaFrancois, aquatic ecologist for the National Park Service, here). 

So, perhaps you can imagine my excitement when I attended the Pacific Northwest Girls Collaborative Project conference "Increasing Impact: Engaging Girls in STEM by Building Capacity" at Seattle University just a couple of days ago.  I was SO IMPRESSED by a panel of undergraduate science majors who talked about their experiences in pursuing science education, overcoming hurdles, and their incredible enthusiasm for the subjects they are studying.  Each one of these young women has something to share with girls who might one day follow in their footsteps, and I'm hoping that I might engage at least one of them to contribute to a Brainy Girls article for you!

Undergraduate science majors from Seattle University share their
experiences in pursuing a career in science.  What great role models!

In addition to meeting these bright and inspiring young women, I also met other professionals who (like me) are trying to engage girls in STEM fields.  I can't wait to collaborate with them on some projects, so you'll have to stay tuned for what might come down the road in the future!  Finally, I learned a lot about fundraising, and how I might get some financial support for running Brainy Girls, which I'm finding could be a full-time job if I had the resources.  The day was filled with inspiring ideas, potential for collaborative relationships, and I'm so glad that I was able to attend! 

I was so happy that my friend Kellie (left), a high school math teacher,
came to the conference with me!  We had a blast!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Remembering the Great Swarmageddon of 1987

Prints from Anderson Design Group
Have you heard the news?  It's on the horizon...yes, the 17 year cicadas are coming!  Brood II, in fact, will be upon the East Coast at any time.  But it will be ok - you'll be ok - everyone will be ok.  I know because I was there once...in another time, another place.

The year was 1987.  I was a seventh grader at Washington Irving Middle School in Springfield, Virginia.  The summer was upon us - hot and humid, and quiet but for the trees whispering in the wind.  But this quiet would not last, oh no, because the Brood X 17 year cicadas were to emerge that summer...flooding the air with their chirping drone, loud enough to keep me awake at night when I needed the windows open to cool my bedroom.  It must've been June when the cicadas arrived...when their song first announced their presence.

At first I was scared.  At that age, I did not particularly like insects, especially large ones, and especially ones that could fly.  But there was no avoiding them.  As I walked to the bus stop in the morning, they were everywhere - covering the trees, on the ground...there were shed exoskeletons littering the grass.  In some areas, you could not avoid walking on them.  But as I was forced to coexist with these creatures, I discovered that they were fascinating - they had these beady red eyes, black bodies and clear wings - and they were actually kind of cute.  They didn't move fast, which I also liked.  It was easy to pick them up - I can still remember how their jagged legs clung to my hand. 

And before I knew it, they were gone.  Their bodies remained, but their mission had been accomplished: they mated, and died.  They would not return for another 17 years, and the cycle continued. 

Cicadas are amazing insects with a unique life history strategy.  Want to read more?  Check out the article I wrote that describes how these creatures live and die.  And don't be afraid - these incredible animals are a part of our ecosystem and are a sign of healthy forests.  Embrace the beautiful cicada, in all its red-eyed chirping glory! 

Photo by Wikimedia Commons