Teaching science

What a creative brain looks like

by Marty Crossland on February 4, 2011

Here is a fascinating talk given by Dr. Charles Limb, a neurosurgeon who also happens to be a jazz musician. He has a particular research interest in how the brain works when it is being creative. He uses functional magnetic resonance imaging to create a picture of the brain of talented musicians as they create improvisational jazz music.

Watch this and enjoy!

From the TED website:
About this talk

Musician and researcher Charles Limb wondered how the brain works during musical improvisation — so he put jazz musicians and rappers in an fMRI to find out. What he and his team found has deep implications for our understanding of creativity of all kinds.

About Charles Limb

Charles Limb is a doctor and a musician who researches the way musical creativity works in the brain. Full bio and more links

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Illustrating truth and beauty inside a functioning cell

by Marty Crossland on December 11, 2009

David Bolinsky has done some awe-inspiring work to give us a glimpse of the complexity, beauty, and wonder associated with the functioning of cells in our bodies. He is engaged with the biology faculty at Harvard to develop a wondrous set of images and animations that help students understanding the structure and functioning of cells. Please watch this video to see some of the products of his work, and listen as he tells about his approach to this task. As you do, ask yourself the question, “How could my subject become more visual and how might I better illustrate what I want my students to learn?”

About David Bolinsky, from the TED website:

Medical illustrator and animator David Bolinsky has devoted his career to displaying scientific and medical concepts in a clear, fresh light.

Since the earliest days of computer animation, he knew this art could be a powerful tool for explaining scientific concepts in ways that traditional medical illustration simply couldn’t. Now, with XVIVO, the company he co-founded, he works with schools and with medical and scientific firms, turning complex processes into understandable, compelling films.

“The Inner Life of a Cell,” highlighted at TED2007, represents the leading edge of medical animation, in both its technical achievement and its focus on compelling, memorable action. Created as part of the BioVision initiative to help explain cellular processes to students at Harvard’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, the clip has captured the imagination of the press — and reportedly, of Hollywood.

“Who would have thought the inner workings of a white blood cell could be visually stunning? For those who fell asleep during high school biology classes, David Bolinsky’s presentation at the TED conference was a revelation.”

Wired News

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I really enjoyed a TED talk by Kary Mullis, where he talks about the nature of scientific experimentation as it relates to the nature of the scientist (or scientist-to-be). Dr. Mullis is a Nobel prize winner who discovered a way to “amplify” (or replicate) DNA strands, a now widely popular method that enhances genetic studies and criminal investigations.

In this entertaining talk he describes how his natural inquisitiveness as a child led to his significant contributions to science and society. In an interesting twist near the end of the talk, he discusses the real observational data from many sources that, in his opinion, debunk the notion of global warming — that is, despite ample observational data, no one has actually shown that global warming is occurring.

Teachers and instructors in the sciences, in particular, may find this presentation of interest and even inspirational.

As you listen to this talk, please be forewarned: Dr. Mullis is something of a “rough-cut gem”, and his choice of expressions and language at certain points may be offensive to some. Nevertheless, I found it a fascinating, entertaining, and very educational presentation.

About Kary Mullis (from the TED website)

In the early 1980s, Kary Mullis developed the polymerase chain reaction, an elegant way to make copies of a DNA strand using the enzyme polymerase and some basic DNA “building blocks.” The process opened the door to more in-depth study of DNA — like the Human Genome Project. Mullis shared the 1993 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing this technique.As he tells it, after winning the Nobel Prize, his next career move was to learn how to surf. It’s typical of Mullis, whose scientific method is to get deeply curious about a topic, work it out from first principles, and then imagine the next giant leap forward. As he puts it in his Nobel autobiography, revised several times since 1993, “I read a lot, and think a lot, and I can talk about almost anything. Being a Nobel laureate is a license to be an expert in lots of things as long as you do your homework.”

Most recently, he’s been taking a hard look at immunity; a recent patent from his company Altermune describes the redirection of an existing immune response to a new pathogen.

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A Virtual Space Observatory

by Marty Crossland on November 1, 2009

Microsoft has created yet another stunning tool for learning, called the Worldwide Telescope project. It provides a seamless, scalable view into the heavens and the cosmos that I think is outstanding. This is yet another free resource that should be invaluable for students studying astronomy, cosmology and origins, and other sciences.

Be sure and check out the Microsoft Worldwide Telescope project.

Here is an excerpt from their website:

Experience

WorldWide Telescope

Immerse yourself in a seamless beautiful environment.

WorldWide Telescope (WWT) enables your computer to function as a virtual telescope, bringing together imagery from the best ground and space-based telescopes in the world. Experience narrated guided tours from astronomers and educators featuring interesting places in the sky.
A web-based version of WorldWide Telescope is also now available. This version enables seamless, guided explorations of the universe from within a web browser on PC and Intel Mac OS X by using the power of Microsoft Silverlight 3.0.

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This video from NASA is not exactly about teaching technology. I am nonetheless fascinated and totally awe-inspired by it and I think you will be, too. This is about one of the most important pieces of technology ever built by mankind, the Hubble Space Telescope. And this video can certainly be used in the classroom for teaching purposes.

On two occasions the Hubble has been pointed for extended periods at tiny patches of sky that previsously showed no signs whatsover of celestial objects. The results astounded everyone. After watching it, see if you have a sense of the immensity and grandeur of creation, as I did. Enjoy!

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