Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Santa, The Chimney Expert

Santa, The Chimney Expert
By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager
“…And laying a finger aside of his nose, and giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.”  Does that make Santa an expert on what one can find in a chimney?  He does have plenty of experience.
            Since 1900, the number of homes constructed with chimneys has steadily declined. Will Santa have to change his methods of operation? Will some animals have to change their habitats?
            Before the eleven hundreds, dwellings had fire pits and the smoke traveled to the ceiling and throughout the structure.  Spaces near the top were used for storage and hanging meats, thus taking advantage of the preservation qualities of smoke.
            When early attempts to control the smoke led to the development of the chimney, a second floor could be added to homes.  By the fifteenth and sixteenth century, chimneys were built of brick and found in most homes.
Chimneys are busy places and can be the residence for several types of creatures.  Bats, blue-tailed skinks, squirrels, spiders, raccoons, chimney swifts and other animals take shelter within these structures.  Tales of wildlife coming into a house through the chimney are common.
Found in North Carolina and most eastern states, the gray, cigar-shaped chimney swift was once a crevice dweller, but eventually transferred to the warm environment of the chimney to build its nest.  The small birds spend most of their waking hours flying and catching insects to eat while in flight.  They quickly dive into the water to bathe and come up shaking the water from their bodies.
Many modern chimneys are covered and have narrow flues, which are not suitable for nesting.  The glue-like saliva, which the bird uses to cement its half-saucer nest to brick walls, no longer works. 
In 2012, chimney swifts were added to the watch list because they are in steep decline.  Swifts migrate to South America and spend the winter in Peru, Ecuador, Chile, and Brazil.  Although the swift is gone, the nest will remain in the chimney.
 Santa might also encounter a nasty substance called creosote, which is a by-product of incomplete combustion.  Burning fossil fuels such as wood and coal produces water, carbon, and volatile chemicals which condense on chimney surfaces.  All forms of creosote are highly combustible.
Several factors can make the build-up worse.  Restricting air flow by closing fireplace doors, failing to open the damper completely, burning unseasoned wood, and overloading a firebox can all accelerate the build-up.  
This black, oily substance can eventually become a thick deposit which reduces the airflow in the chimney and may cause a chimney fire.  Most of the time, the fire is contained inside the chimney, but if the fire is hot enough, it can ignite materials close to the chimney and cause a house fire.  Homeowners should have their chimneys cleaned regularly by a professional.
Whatever Santa encounters, he always gets the job done with the help of many elves, of course.   

Monday, December 16, 2013

Do you believe in the magic, er, science of Christmas?

Do you believe in the magic, er, science of Christmas?

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager
Have you ever wondered what was wrong with Rudolph’s nose? Some scientists who have considered the problem proposed that he might have had a severe cold, but others take it a step further.
Reindeer noses actually have an abundance of membranes that warm the air coming into their bodies. Because of the warmth and moisture, parasites and bacteria might have created an infection, which caused the famous red nose. Poor Rudolph!
What about the reindeer antlers? Their names sound male, but real reindeer shed their antlers around Christmas time, so they must have been misrepresented. How shocking!
Although Germans have an abundance of evergreen trees, they invented the first artificial trees by using dyed goose feathers. What a mess that must have been!
The tallest Christmas tree on record was a 222-foot Douglas fir that decorated the Northgate Shopping Center in Seattle, Wash., in 1950. Most Christmas trees grow for 15 years before they are cut.
Another Christmas legend tells that spiders wove a blanket for Baby Jesus, so in Poland, spiders and their webs are used to decorate trees and are considered signs of kindness and wealth.
Evergreens were symbols of eternal life and rebirth, so bringing them in the house during winter was a sign of preservation of life for ancient people. From that belief, grew the Christmas tree tradition. A strong environmentalist, President Teddy Roosevelt would not allow a Christmas tree in the White House.
According to legend, Martin Luther, protestant reformer, was moved by the beauty of stars shinning between branches of a tree. He brought a tree into the house and decorated it with candles to share with his children. Apples were one of the first ornaments to decorate trees.
Because the rooster was thought to be the first animal to announce the birth of Jesus, Bolivians attend the “Mass of the Rooster” on Christmas Eve each year and actually bring roosters to the service.
The name mistletoe comes from the Anglo-Saxon word, which means “little dung twig” because bird droppings are the method of spreading the seeds. Druids thought of the mistletoe plant as sacred because it has berries when other plants seem to die. They believed that it had special powers to cure illnesses and to hold evil at bay.
Aztecs believed that the beautiful poinsettia was a symbol of purity and often used it as medicine to reduce fever. Poinsettias are not poisonous, but holly berries are.
There are several possible explanations for the Christmas Star appearing in the story of Jesus. Some people think it may have been an exploding star or a supernova. Others believe it could have been a planetary alignment of Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn, which would have produced a noticeable light. Another possible cause of the light could have been a comet.
Christmas traditions and legends often contain a touch of science, and that makes them more interesting for some believers.
(Source: facts.randomhistory.com/Christmas-facts)

Monday, December 2, 2013

Fair Trade helping the world and the local community

Fair Trade helping the world and the local community
By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager
Here at Port Discover, we take our citizenship seriously in many ways. Through our programs like the annual Earth Day Celebration and our many conservation efforts, we promote efforts to conserve the resources of the earth.
To help support our organization and give the kids an opportunity to take something science related home, we opened a science shop last year at Port Discover. The small area at the center offers a wide variety of science education related products that people can purchase during a visit to Port Discover.
The selection includes such things as stuffed animals, games, books, science experiment kits, seeds and plants.
Recently we added products from the World Fair Trade Organization. If you have purchased coffee from Starbucks and Nestle Corporations, you are probably acquainted with Fair Trade products. The largest producers of Fair Trade coffee which is their largest selling product are Uganda and Tanzania.
The first Fair Trade markets began in the 1940s and 1950s when some religious organizations received craft products for their donations to third world countries. The current Fair Trade movement began in the 1960s with an emphasis on “trade not aid.” A philosophy of helping others to help themselves was the core value of the organization.
Profits from selling the products are used for community projects that improve the lives of everyone, such as, roads and bridges which connect people to each other and the world. The market-based model provides and alternative to dependency on aid from other countries. The communities learn the democratic process concepts of being self-governing and making their own decisions.
The businesses operate fostering the principles of reforestation, water conservation, and environmental education and awareness. They continuously support practices which help their community and the planet. Also, Fair Trade standards require that people have access to health care and education. Participants are taught about wise business practices and sustainability.
Women in these developing nation communities are empowered through their work with Fair Trade. They are guaranteed access to health care, job rights, freedom from harassment, and opportunities for education and leadership roles.
Fair Trade principles include payment of a fair price, restricting child labor, transparency and accountability, non-discrimination, good working conditions, and respect for the environment. Products are made or grown from sustainable natural resources, recycled, and biodegradable materials.
For example, beads from Uganda are made by rolling glossy, colorful paper into a bead shape and then coating them with lacquer. Other meticulously made products in the science shop are crafted from recycled wire from cars, plastic bags, banana leaves, telephone wire, steel drums, and old tires.
Handcrafted paper from India, African paper art dolls, and Mayan weaving are among the products offered from Fair Trade. Products come from all parts of the world including Kenya, South Africa, the Caribbean, and Haiti.
Port Discover strives to help us all understand more about our small planet, and in the process, we hope to support our educational programs.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Batman reflects his namesake in North Carolina

Batman reflects his namesake in North Carolina
By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager
Having the characteristics of a bat might not be useful unless you are Batman. You certainly would not want to be a “dingbat”, or “an old bat,” or “have bats in your belfry,” or “be blind as a bat.”
When Batman comics appeared in the 1940s, the hero took on some of the traits of the mammal of the Chiroptera order which means “hand-winged.” He was stealth and intelligent, worked in the dark, and was a friend to people.
An abundance of mystery and lore surrounds this creature which is so helpful to humanity. People are naturally suspicious of an animal that flies in the dark, sleeps upside-down, and has a menacing appearance. Classic tales like Dracula promoted the idea that bats were evil creatures.
Most bats eat insects, nectar, pollen, or fruit, but three species do require blood meals and are referred to as vampire bats. From that reality came the myth that bats like to bite people and often carry rabies. In North Carolina, you are much more likely to run into a raccoon, skunk, or fox that is rabid than a bat.
Of the 17 species that live in North Carolina, seven are endangered. Bat Cave in Henderson County is an unincorporated community which takes its name from an actual cave which is the largest granite fissure cave in North America.
The 300 by 85 foot cave is the home of the endangered Indiana bat and is owned by the Nature Conservancy which works to protect the animals. People are not allowed to enter the cave, and hiking near the cave is prohibited because bats have been greatly affected by white noise syndrome.
Bats which are nocturnal are not truly blind but like most mammals do have difficulty seeing in the dark. They use an internal radar system called echolocation to maneuver. By vocalizing clicks which bounce back to them from surfaces, the bats can determine where to fly.
One thousand species of bats make up one-fifth of all mammal species worldwide. They are the only mammals that have true sustained flight. Other animals, such as the flying squirrel, actually glide.
A colony of 1,000 bats can consume 22 pounds of insects in one night. One bat can eat 25 percent of its weight in one meal. That would equal about 36 pounds of food for a person weighing 150 pounds. They eat far more insects than purple martins, and are also helpful with pollination and seed distribution.
The small creatures are predators of the hornworm moth which can devastate tobacco crops in North Carolina. Peru is a major exporter of bat waist or guano, an extremely effective fertilizer because of its high nitrogen, phosphate and potassium content.
Like so many organisms today, bats are victims of the world’s population increase and other environmental factors. People can help by installing bat boxes around their homes and planting native species which attract insects for the bats to eat. Like Batman, they are not our enemies.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The wind: A powerful, productive force to serve man

The wind: A powerful, productive force to serve man
By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager
I can whistle, or I can howl. You can’t see me, but you can see my effects. You can feel me as I rock you in a swing. I help you play with a kite. I can be an enemy or a friend. Who am I? I am the wind.
Egyptians made the earliest know wind powered boats in approximately 3,500 BC., and by 200 BC, windmills were being used in China to pump water. In 600 AD Persians built windmills to grind grain into flour. During the 1300’s, the fields in the Netherlands were drained with the help of windmills, and France used them to irrigate their farms.
American settlers in the west pumped water using windmills. Six million of the devices were built across America by the late 1800’s. Charles Brush built a large windmill that produced 12 Kilowatts of electricity in Cleveland in 1888. Electric wind turbines eventually began to be used in Europe and America to provide power to rural areas.
Progress continued to be made, and today, 70 percent of the world’s wind energy is produced in Europe. Germany, Denmark, and Spain led the way by passing laws to encourage greater use of wind energy. In 2007, the U.S. wind energy increased by 45 percent and in 2010, the offshore wind farm, Cape Wind, was approved by the federal government.
Wind is really a form of solar energy because it is caused by the uneven heating of the atmosphere by the sun, the earth’s surface, and the rotation of the earth. When the wind is put to work, the turbine converts the kinetic energy into mechanical power and finally into electrical power.
As the wind turns the blades, the shaft which is connected to a generator turns producing electricity which is transmitted through lines to a substation. Later it goes to homes and businesses where it is used.
Wind energy is renewable unlike coal, oil, gas, and other fossil fuels which take thousands of years to form. It is also clean and does not contribute to global warming which makes it healthier.
With the concern about energy resources growing worldwide, wind energy has become the fastest growing source of electricity production. Shepherds Flat Wind Farm in Oregon is the largest in the U.S. and produces enough electricity for 235,000 homes.
Wind farms are not without their critics. Some people think the turbines, which can be as high as a 20 story building with 200 foot long blades, numbering in the hundreds are ugly. They consider them a detractor to the beauty of the landscape. Others complain about the noise the machines make. Many people decry the loss of birds and bats that are killed by the blades.
If you would like to learn more about wind energy and its production in our area, attend Port Discover’s Science Café program on Thursday, November 14 at 7p.m. at Montero’s Restaurant. Craig Poff of Iberdola Renewables in Pennsylvania will be the guest speaker.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Believe it or not, winter folklore may have something to say

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager
Believe it or not, winter folklore may have something to say
When the cool, shorter days of September and October begin to wane, most folks wonder what the coming winter will be like. Will it be mild like so many of our coastal winters are, or will we have to put an extra log on the fire?
A couple of weeks ago we were observing the squirrel activity in the backyard and noticed that they were busier than usual. They were running back and forth to the raised bed garden boxes burying something.
Hubby, the investigator, observed for some time and reported that they were stashing nuts from the nearby pecan tree and putting them deep in the soil.
Now, that looks like some serious squirrel planning to me. Do the squirrels know something that we don’t?
If you read the Farmer’s Almanac and are a student of folklore, you know that Mother Natural often shows some signs of a harsh winter on the way. Of course, you could read the scientific calculations and predictions, but the folklore science is much more fun. It might even have some scientific basis, if you look closely enough.

Predictions of the severity of winter can be observed in the animal and plant world along with the weather of the months preceding winter. Some people use their body’s aches and pains along with their bunions, corns, and various twinges to predict the weather.
Squirrels who frantically gather nuts, nest low in the trees, and have tails bushier than usual, might foresee a cold winter. Thick fur on animals like dogs, horses, rabbits, and cows and skunks that are fatter than usual are also predictors of cold temperatures.
Plants also show signs of preparation for winter. Thick corn husks, heavy berry growth on dogwood and holly trees, more acorns, hickory nuts, and walnuts are all signs of a cold winter on the way.
If leaves drop in the fall before reaching the height of color, you can expect a hard winter.
If the first week of August is hot and there are many fogs, there will be more snowfall. Generally, warm falls are followed by cold winters, while an early killing frost forecasts a harsh winter.
When there are more spiders and thick webs, you should expect a cold winter. The most studied profit of winter is the wooly worm. If they are crawling around slowly before the first frost, have heavy, black coats, and are plentiful, look out for a frigid season.
Scientifically named Pyrrhactia isabella, the furry creature is actually the larval stage of the Isabella Tiger Moth, a yellow moth with a two inch wing span. They spend the winter under bark, a rock, or a log and can endure —90 degrees. Some people believe that if you see more worms heading north, the winter will be mild, but if they point south, the winter will be colder.
Observe nature and make your own prediction. It’s fun, if not accurate.
(Source: www.flickr.com)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Devastating Floods Can Result in Human Helplessness

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Devastating Floods Can Result in Human Helplessness
Living in the Albemarle region has innumerable blessings. As Goldilocks would say, it’s “… not too hot, not too cold.”

We usually escape the extreme weather faced by many places in the world. The hurricanes of my childhood were worse than the ones we have endured in recent years. Storms named Hazel, Donna, and Ash Wednesday stand out in my memory.

The National Weather Service has described the flooding taking place in Colorado over the last two weeks as being of Biblical, indescribable proportions. The airlift being conducted is the largest since Hurricane Katrina. The media has highlighted the number of deaths, people still missing, the total of survivors being air-lifted to safety, the horrific property loss, and the emotional and monetary cost.

Human capabilities are dwarfed by the power of natural disasters and their aftermath. They make us feel powerless. History proves our helplessness in such times.

There are five main types of floods. The Areal variety happens when rain falls at such a rapid rate that the water cannot run off quickly enough. Sometimes a series of storms causes the disaster, or rain falling on areas with impermeable surfaces like concrete or frozen earth. Flash floods often result.

Riverine floods are caused when large rivers with drainage areas have obstructions such as landslides, ice, or debris. Large dams built by beavers can also cause flooding in low areas.

Estuarine and coastal flooding are caused by a combination of rising tide and low barometric pressure. Conditions created by storms at sea, tsunamis, and storm surges create these types of floods.

Urban flooding happens when heavy rainfall is too much for the drainage system of a populated area. Catastrophic flooding is the result of an earthquake, a volcanic eruption, or a dam collapsing.

The effects of flooding can include damage to buildings, bridges, roads, and canals. Loss of electric power can stop water treatment plants from operating which results in waterborne diseases.

Often the toll of diseases like typhoid and cholera are worse than the flood itself. Food shortages are brought on by bad harvests after the tragedy.
The effects of flooding are long lasting and costly.
China was the scene of the five most deadly floods in history, which occurred in 1931 (2.5-3.5 million dead), 1887 (2 million dead), 1938 (5-7 hundred thousand dead), 1975 (231,000 dead), and 1935 (145,000 dead).
In 1928 California experienced the 110th worst flood on record when the St. Francis Dam failed.
The famous Johnstown, Penn., flood occurred in 1889 when the South Fork Dam collapsed after several days of heavy rain. The dam was 14 miles upstream from the town and had been built to form a lake for vacationing millionaires like Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon. Welsh and Germans coal mining immigrants were the victims of the mishap.
Floods give us a new level of understanding and compassion for victims of natural disaster in our world.
(Source: www.lakelandelectric.com)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Fountain of Youth and Life

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager
The Fountain of Youth and Life

           When Ponce de León was looking for the fountain of youth in 1513, he found something just as exciting and beneficial to humankind.   He discovered “a current such that, although it had great wind, they could not proceed forward…the current was more powerful than the wind.”  It was the Gulf Stream.

            Later explorers Peter d’Anghiera and Sir Humphrey Gilbert took note of it also.  Hernando Cortez and Anton de Alaminos convinced other Spaniards to use the strong current to propel them north before they turned eastward to Europe. 
            Benjamin Franklin published the first map of the Gulf Stream in 1770.  Seeing the current as a way to speed-up commerce between the colonies, he pushed the British to use the speed of the Gulf Stream.  When they finally did take his advice, they shaved two weeks off the cross Atlantic trip.  During the colonial period, the Gulf Stream was extremely beneficial and influenced where the largest cities and ports grew.
            The Gulf Stream originates in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and then begins at the tip of Florida and winds along the coastline of the eastern United States to Newfoundland. There it divides, and forms the North Atlantic Current as it travels to Europe.  Scientists believe that the current keeps coastal countries of Europe and North America warmer than they would be ordinarily.
            Driven by wind stress, the Gulf Stream could almost be described as a powerful river within the ocean.  It is forty to sixty miles wide and averaged 3,900 feet deep.   Moving an average of five miles per hour, it hugs the coastline of the United States.  Off Florida, the temperature is seventy-five degrees, but as it goes north to Newfoundland it cools to sixty-four degrees.
From coastal North Carolina, the fishing fleets head-out into the warm waters of the Gulf Stream which produce some of the best deep sea fishing in the world.   Species that would not be there if the water were not so warm become the prizes of the anglers.  When the boats reach the Gulf Stream, the color of the water changes to a deep, crystal clear blue through which the sea life can be clearly seen. 
Hurricane watchers know that the warm waters of the Gulf Stream help to form and strengthen storms that approach the coast.  Many of them that have weakened sometimes gain power in the stream and reform into even more powerful storms.
Endurance swimmer Diana Nyad recently reached her goal of swimming from Cuba to Florida on her fifth attempt at age sixty-four.  She covered 110 miles in fifty-three hours.  “The Gulf Stream was my friend, and usually it’s not,” she said.  “Usually you’re out there going in circles…this time the Gulf Stream went north, right where I was going.” 
And so, Nyad became one of the many adventurers helped by a force of nature, the Gulf Stream.
Source (staff.orecity.k12.or.us)


Monday, August 26, 2013

Port Discover: A look at sinkholes from geology to mythology

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager
Port Discover: A look at sinkholes from geology to mythology
Recently, Summer Bay Resort in Clermont, Fla. visitors thought they were hearing an impending thunderstorm, but within a few hours, one-half of the resort had collapsed into a 100-foot hole in the earth. One hundred, five guests quickly evacuated, and miraculously no one was injured.

During last March, sixty miles southwest of the resort a man sleeping in his bed was swallowed-up by a sinkhole, and he was never seen again. Geological testing done fifteen years previously in the area of the resort had shown that the ground was stable. Twenty percent of the U.S. is prone to having sinkholes including Florida, Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky, Texas, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania.

North Carolina has some areas in the piedmont and the southern coast that have the conditions necessary for sinkholes to form. Northern coastal areas are not at risk for developing sinkholes.

Last year, an eight-foot wide sinkhole swallowed a car in Durham. A twenty-foot wide sinkhole was caused by a waterline break that weakened the earth below. Since 2010, Raleigh has experienced a sinkhole that took down a city bus and a few months later a sinkhole opened on Wade Ave.

Geologists know that sinkholes appear in karst terrain where the underlying rock of gypsum, limestone, or other carbonate rock can be dissolved by underground water. When the rock becomes unstable because of the water flow, the ground above collapses into the hole that has been formed. Often the event happens quickly and with no warning.

Sinkholes can be a few feet or hundreds of acres wide and the depth can range from one to one hundred feet. They have swallowed highways, buildings, and swimming pools. The more urban the setting, the more damage is done.

Human activities that can eventually contribute to the earth’s giving-way include broken pipes, old landfills and collapsed mines. Scientists working at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) develop geological maps which are used by planners, policy makers, and the public to determine if land is at risk.

For thousands of years, Mayans have inhabited the Yucatan Peninsula, and the ancient Mayans were advanced in mathematics, language, and art. The peninsula itself, which is surrounded by the Bay of Campeche, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea is underlined with limestone that makes it vulnerable to the formation of sinkholes.

Ancient Mayans considered the geological phenomenon to be a gateway to the underworld and the home of their god of water, Chac.

These deep wells or cenotes were considered sacred places, and often the Mayans would throw the human victims of their sacrificial ceremonies into the clear water.

In modern times, the wells have been explored and human remains and jewelry have been found. Mayans thought that they gained favor with their gods by performing sacrifices.

Even now, some people consider it a blessing to be able to drink from the cenotes.

Often in human history science, religion, and mythology form a continuum of human understanding.
(Source: images.lregsi.com)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Red or Grey, don't let those foxes out-fox you

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager

Red or Grey, don't let those foxes out-fox you

The first time I saw the red fox in the yard, I was taking a walk down our long driveway. Startled, I stopped and looked at him, and he returned the stare. What bothered me was that he didn’t run as I expected even when I waved my hands and made noise.

That’s when I started backing up and ended the exercise for the day.

Later, we started seeing a gray fox walking through the back yard every day at about the same time. Hubby discovered a den with four pups under some tree branches. It was time for some research.

Both red and gray foxes live in all parts of North Carolina, but the gray fox is the native. European settlers who liked to hunt them brought red foxes to America in Colonial times. The same shade of red fur covers their heads, bodies, and tails, but the underside is light and its legs and tail are tipped with black. Gray foxes are smaller and have some red on their neck and legs, but their overall color is gray with dark streaks. The gray fox can climb trees and the red fox cannot.

Many people are afraid when they see a fox in the daytime and think it might be rabid or aggressive. In recent years, foxes have become used to the lack of threats by humans and the availability of food near urban areas.
If you see a den of pups, it is best to leave them alone until the babies are older and the family moves on. Try to fill the den with something like branches so that they will not nest there again.

There are several steps you can take to so that conflict with the fox will be reduced. Of course, you should never approach or try to pet a fox, and do not feed them or any wild animal. If they lose their fear of people, they might become more aggressive. Keep your pet’s food and garbage containers secured. Also, keep bird feeder areas clean and pick-up any fruit that has fallen from trees.

Keep your own pets away from the den because the fox may become aggressive if he feels threatened by another animal.

Close crawl spaces and places underneath porches so that they won’t be encouraged to rest there or build dens too close to your home. Yelling or banging pots and pans may discourage them also.

The most important thing to do is to teach children that they should never approach any wild animal. Foxes may be particularly attractive to children because they look like dogs.

Call local animal control if you see signs of rabies in any animal such as aggression, stumbling, turning in circles, or foaming at the mouth.

It is illegal to relocate foxes in North Carolina because if there is a problem, it will just spread. Mutual respect and caution is the key to living with wildlife nearby.

(Source: www.nickdunlop.com

Monday, July 29, 2013

Guest Columnist Cameron Pharr

Cameron Pharr: Port Discover gives intern
look at hands-on science ed
I decided to volunteer as an intern at Port Discover this summer, before I head off to North Carolina School of Science and Math. I can honestly say that I have met some wonderful people both as coworkers and as visitors to the center.

During their science camp, I had the chance to supervise some of the children in our area. I was impressed by how much the kids knew about real world and current science issues, such as the energy crisis and how we are in search of a better energy source.

Port Discover presents a variety of exhibits ranging from aeronautics to nutrition. Along with the exhibits, visitors at Port Discover can look at and enjoy both the live and the preserved animals. Among others, the live animals include Angus, the bearded dragon, and Ruby and Ebony, the two rats.

There is also the Kids’ Garden in the back where all organic and natural plants are grown and shared with the community.

After volunteering at Port Discover, I can truly say that there is more than meets the eye when you first walk in. The staff has taken great care of me, even better care than I had hoped. Port Discover could be better appreciated and supported by our community.

Now I am preparing for my junior year at The North Carolina School of Science and Math. It is a school located in Durham for students gifted in the areas of math and science, and offers opportunities to rising high school juniors and seniors. Students are handpicked by the board of admissions at NCSSM and are required to be near the top of their class.

Applicants to the school must apply during their sophomore year of high school and subsequently meet deadlines such as turning in transcripts and medical release forms. If applicants become “finalists”, they can choose whether they want to accept the offer to go to NCSSM. Other applicants are placed on a waiting list and are offered the chance to attend only if a finalist gives up his or her position.

Along with the academic criteria, the students that the NCSSM board of admissions is looking for must be well rounded. For example, most of the students that go to NCSSM either play a sport or participate in several extracurricular activities. In addition, as a graduation requirement, each student must complete at least 60 hours of volunteering during either the summer before junior year or the summer before senior year.

For me, going to NCSSM is an incredible opportunity to pursue a career in the sciences because of the advanced level of the instruction at the school. In addition, being away from home in high school is going to prepare me for what college is going to be like academically and will teach me how to live on my own and manage myself as an adult.

Port Discover’s guest columnist Cameron Pharr spent 60 hours volunteering at the hands-on science center for kids. He is the son of Doctors Maria and Tark Pharr.

Monday, July 15, 2013

If you’ve lost your marbles, find them at a science center

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

If you’ve lost your marbles, find them at a science center

When was the last time you “lost your marbles” or “had your marbles counted?”

Maybe you can find them at Marbles Kids Museum in downtown Raleigh.

The name comes from a wall which wraps around the museum and is filled with over one million marbles that light up at night. The museum brochure says that at Marbles “kids are encouraged to use their marbles (brains) to think and learn.”

Play is the work of children, and Marbles makes that work fun and inviting for the child’s mind. We took our grandchildren, a girl age 5 and a boy age 2, to the popular kid’s place on a Saturday morning recently. The building was literally jumping with children at work learning about their world.

Two floors of excitement house activity centers named “Around Town,” “Splash,” “Ideaworks,” “Art Loft,” “Money Palooza,” and “Power 2 Play.”

Everything is reduced to child size so they can fully explore and experiment.

Learning centers for children like Marbles and Port Discover operate with the idea that kids should be free to explore, experiment, observe, and come to their own conclusions about the world. Both centers are part of the Association of Science and Technology Centers Travel Passport Program which grants members free admission to over 300 science centers, aquariums, zoos, and museums nationwide.

In North Carolina, there are fifteen science centers to visit with one in almost every major city. You must live at least 90 miles away from the center to get free admission through the passport. The program also includes centers in Charlottesville, Martinsville, Richmond, Roanoke, and Winchester, Virginia. If you become a member of Port Discover, for ten more dollars, you can become an ASTC member also.
Statistics report that the United States ranks 23rd in math and 31st in science among 65 top industrial countries in the world. Since educational programs and teacher training have been severely cut in the state budget, Port Discover has become a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers, administrators, day care centers, afterschool centers, churches, girl scouts and many other organizations that serve the children of our community.

Through our school outreach programs, the center walk-in visits, Second Saturday events, toddler programs, afterschool programs, summer camps, Earth Day Festival, teacher training programs, and adult Science Café, and this Daily Advance column, we provided over 18,000 adults and children with information about science topics last year.

Funding for Port Discover comes from grants, contributions, and membership, and no admission is charged.

Membership not only gives you the satisfaction of supporting science education in our community, but also has rewards. Early registration for programs, center birthday parties, First Friday Kids Art-In, discounts for camps and science shop purchases are all benefits of membership.

We invite you to come by the center or go online (www.portdiscover.org) to investigate becoming a member at Port Discover, Northeastern North Carolina’s Center for Hands-on Science. You’ll be glad you did, and so will we.

(Source: www.toonvectors.com)

Monday, July 1, 2013

Demons of the Summer

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager
Demons of the Summer
They’re back!

First, you hear their unmistakable deep, humming roar buzzing around your head. Then you actually sense their frantic wings moving the air around your ankles. Then, pow! You’ve been nailed by one of the most hideous creatures of the southern wetlands. You immediately feel the pain, and over the next couple of days, there will be swelling and intense itching.

You’ve been bitten by the demon yellow fly, and you won’t soon forget it.

We have already seen the Diachlorus ferrugatus of the Tabanidae family in greater numbers than usual at our house. As we pull into our driveway, we can hear the tap of their devilish bodies hitting the car windows.

They are approximately one-half inch long with black and yellow bodies. The male of the species does not bite and eats flower nectar. The female, on the other hand, is driven to find a blood meal so that she can make her babies. She lays from 50 to 300 eggs near water sources like marshes, streams, or ponds.

Tabanids go through a complete metamorphosis including egg, larva, pupa and adult stages. They live for approximately 30 days and prefer shaded, humid areas and avoid large, open sunny areas.

Usually they like to be active in the late afternoon and on cloudy days, but they can attack at any time. They will follow a victim into a car or house if they get the chance.

The pests are attracted to motion, so if you have to be outside, stay still in one area.

Thrashing about to scare them will just cause them to attack. If you have to move, do so at a fast pace. If you decide to swat at them, it will take several tries to kill the persistent beast.

Insect repellent offers little protection unless it contains deet (diethyl toluamide). The best defense is wearing clothing that covers your body as much as possible. Keeping the grass and areas around trees in your yard closely cut will help control them.

Some people are allergic to the bites and suffer more than others. Carrying medicine prescribed by a doctor may be necessary. There are over the counter products that will treat the bites along with some home remedy concoctions.

There are homemade traps which can be very effective. Painting objects like beach balls or large plant containers black and then coating them with STP will usually work to cut down on the population. Hang the traps from trees where they will blow in the breeze. The yellow flies will be attracted by the movement and then get stuck to the surface of the trap.

Insects make-up more than two-thirds of all known organisms on the earth. Entomologists study the creatures of the insect world and help us learn how to live with them, control them, and even make use of them. Yellow flies are definitely in a class all by themselves.
(Source: Wordsandtoons)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Fathers of the Animal Kingdom

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager
Fathers of the Animal Kingdom
Sigmund Freud said, “I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.”   Although they don’t get any recognition, there are some stellar examples of fathers who are doing a remarkable job of parenting in the animal world.

The seahorse would be at the top of anyone’s list of great animal fathers.  He is actually morphologically specialized to take care of the babies.  The female inserts the eggs into the male’s brood pouch where he keeps them for 10-30 days depending on the species.  The male’s belly swells as the 10-300 eggs mature.  The labor and delivery can take several hours and after the babies hide in the grasses, the daddy will return to the same female to mate again.
In the insect world, the giant water bug works hard to care for his young.  After mating, the female attaches approximately 150 eggs on the father’s back.  He does deep knee bends to aerate them, strokes them to keep them clean, and leaves the water to remove parasites.  When the eggs hatch, he kicks them off his back. 

While the female red fox stays in the den with her kits keeping them warm and fed, the father must hunt and provide her with food every four to six hours.  After three months, the father brings food for the kits and hides it beneath leaves and brush.  He teaches them to sniff and seek out the food, thus laying the groundwork for hunting in adult life.
A male sea catfish gives up eating while he carries eggs the size of marbles in his mouth.  For a month, he lives off his body fat and continues for another few weeks to feed his young as they grow. 

Some species of frogs and toads also carry eggs in their mouths and do not eat.  Some types embed the eggs under the skin on their backs or legs.  The pouched frog carries eggs similar to the way marsupials do.  
The arctic lumpsucker fish may not be beautiful, but he is devoted to overseeing the eggs that the female lays.  He attaches himself near his offspring with special suction cups on his body.  From there, he defends the eggs and attacks any predators who threaten them.

March of the Penguins, a popular movie produced in 2005, masterfully presents the family life of emperor penguins.  After an arduous walk to their mating grounds, the female lays the egg and gives it to the father to protect while she marches back to the sea to eat for two months to replenish her depleted nutrition.  The father holds the egg between his feet keeping it warm and safe from the harsh elements until it hatches.
Other animal species including the arowana, rhea, wolf, and marmoset have unique ways in which the males carry out their roles as father.  Mother Nature has fascinating ways of insuring the survival of every species. 
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