How Wolves Changed the Yellowstone Ecosystem

Posted on February 22, 2014 No Comments

A great short video explaining the dramatic changes to the Yellowstone ecosystem with the re-introduction of wolves. Even the rivers changed.

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Yellowstone Youth Conservation Corps

Posted on January 13, 2009 No Comments, another site, provides links to hundreds of internship opportunities. We highlight some science and engineering internships and plenty of other options too. Visit the internship directory site to find options like the Yellowstone Youth Conservation Corps. The YCC was established to accomplish needed conservation work on public lands and to develop an understanding and appreciation of participating youth in our nation’s natural, historical, and cultural heritage.

The Yellowstone YCC is a program that emphasizes work ethics, environmental awareness and recreational activities. Approximately 30 students are selected each summer from across the country and are expected to complete forty hours of work each week.

In the past, YCC enrollees have been instrumental in building backcountry bridges; trail construction and maintenance; log cabin restoration; painting; and working on a wide variety of resource management, maintenance, and research projects. Many of the projects take place in remote locations within Yellowstone and work crews may be camped out for up to ten days.

Along with the work projects, enrollees spend significant time participating in YCC environmental education and recreation programs. Many of these activities are scheduled in the evenings and on weekends. They include hiking, rafting, fishing, backpacking, ranger led programs, guest speakers, enrollee and staff presentations, and trips throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

To be selected you must be at least 15 and not turn 19 before the term ends in mid August.

via: Send Your Kid to Yellowstone National Park This Summer

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Swarm of Yellowstone Quakes Baffles Scientists

Posted on December 31, 2008 1 Comment

Swarm of Yellowstone Quakes Baffles Scientists

Swarms of small earthquakes happen frequently in Yellowstone, but it’s very unusual for so many earthquakes to happen over several days, said Robert Smith, a professor of geophysics at the University of Utah. “They’re certainly not normal,” Smith said. “We haven’t had earthquakes in this energy or extent in many years.”

“There doesn’t seem to be anything to be alarmed about,” Vallie said. Smith said it’s difficult to say what might be causing the tremors. He pointed out that Yellowstone is the caldera of a volcano that last erupted 70,000 years ago.

Yellowstone has had significant earthquakes as well as minor ones in recent decades. In 1959, a magnitude 7.5 quake near Hebgen Lake just west of the park triggered a landslide that killed 28 people.

So far the most powerful quake over the last few days has been one at 3.8 on the Richter scale. An earthquake of 4.0-4.9 “Noticeable shaking of indoor items, rattling noises. Significant damage unlikely.” The Richter scale is a logarithmic scale, meaning a measure of 4.0 is 10 times as powerful as 3.0 quake, and 5.0 is 100 times more powerful than a 3.o quake.

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Who Should Profit from Yellowstone’s Microbes

Posted on November 23, 2007 No Comments

The Gold in Yellowstone’s Microbes

Year by year, Yellowstone’s hot waters are yielding remarkable new microbial specimens with implications for medicine, agriculture and energy, as well as offering clues to the formation of earliest life on Earth and maybe even on Mars. The potential financial windfalls are enormous, as evidenced by one big jackpot.

Yellowstone microbes (and those from a few other hot spots on the planet) may also hold great promise for bioremediation — cleaning up chemical pollution, oil slicks and smokestack emissions — as well as the means to accelerate biomass fermentation and develop drought-resistant crops. And there is more to be discovered: Probably less than one percent of Yellowstone’s microscopic life forms have been discovered and studied.

the National Park Service signed a secretive research-sharing agreement with Diversa Corporation in 1998. Non-profit groups quickly cried “bio-piracy!” when they found out and sued the Service over the arrangement. While a federal court dismissed the case, it ordered the Park Service to address the issue… But the Park Service is still trying to come up with an acceptable, benefits-sharing agreement that might allow bio-prospecting of microbes and disclosure of findings, with a fair return to the Park from any commercial success.

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Scientists Chart Record Rise in Yellowstone Caldera

Posted on November 10, 2007 2 Comments

Scientists chart record rise in Yellowstone caldera

The floor of Yellowstone National Park’s gigantic volcano has been rising at a record rate in recent years, probably due to an underground blob of molten rock more than 14 times the size of Billings, according to a new study. The Yellowstone caldera rose nearly 3 inches a year for the past three years, faster than anyone has ever recorded. “These are rates three times (greater) than previous historic rates,” said University of Utah seismologist Bob Smith, a lead author of the study to be published in the journal Science today.

But that rapid rising isn’t an indication of an imminent volcanic eruption or hydrothermal explosion at Yellowstone, he said. It appears in line with behavior at other volcanic craters that rise and fall for thousands of years without large-scale, catastrophic eruptions. “These things go up and down,” Smith said. “That’s very common for calderas globally.”

The researchers believe the 463-square-mile slab formed from molten rock in the magma chamber beneath Yellowstone, causing the surface of the caldera to rise.

Related: Light-harvesting Bacterium Discovered in YellowstoneCurious Cat travel photos of Yellowstone National Park

Light-harvesting Bacterium Discovered in Yellowstone

Posted on July 26, 2007 4 Comments

photo of Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park, by John Hunter

Surprising new species of light-harvesting bacterium discovered in Yellowstone

In the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park, a team of researchers has discovered a novel bacterium that transforms light into chemical energy.

Remarkably, the new genus and species Cab. thermophilum also belongs to a new phylum, Acidobacteria. The discovery marks only the third time in the past 100 years that a new bacterial phylum has been added to the list of those with chlorophyll-producing members. Although chlorophyll-producing bacteria are so abundant that they perform half the photosynthesis on Earth, only five of the 25 major groups, or phyla, of bacteria previously were known to contain members with this ability.

“The microbial mats give the hot springs in Yellowstone their remarkable yellow, orange, red, brown and green colors,” explained Bryant. “Microbiologists are intrigued by Octopus and Mushroom Springs because their unusual habitats house a diversity of microorganisms, but many are difficult or impossible to grow in the lab. Metagenomics has given us a powerful new tool for finding these hidden organisms and exploring their physiology, metabolism and ecology.”

Unexpectedly, the new bacterium has special light-harvesting antennae known as chlorosomes, which contain about 250,000 chlorophylls each. No member of this phylum nor any aerobic microbe was known to make chlorosomes before this discovery. The team found that Cab. thermophilum makes two types of chlorophyll that allow these bacteria to thrive in microbial mats and to compete for light with cyanobacteria.

This discovery is particularly important because members of the Acidobacteria have proven very hard to grow in laboratory cultures, which means their ecology and physiology are very poorly understood. Most species of Acidobacteria have been found in poor or polluted soils that are acidic, with a pH below 3. However, the Yellowstone environments are more alkaline, about pH 8.5 (on a scale of 1 to 14). Bryant noted, “Judging from their 16S rRNA sequences, the closest relatives of Cab. thermophilum are found around Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone and hot springs in Tibet and Thailand. As we look more closely, we may find relatives of Cab. thermophilum in the microbial mats of thermal sites worldwide.”

Photo of Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park by John Hunter.

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Dogs and Wolves Share a Sense of Fair Pay

Posted on July 1, 2017 No Comments

Dogs and wolves share sense of fair play

The scientists tested similarly raised dogs and wolves that lived in packs. Two animals of each species were placed in adjacent cages, equipped with a buzzer apparatus. When the dog or wolf pressed it with their paw, both animals got a reward on some occasions. Other times, the dog or wolf doing the task got nothing while the partner did.

The key finding was that when the partner got a high value treat, the animal doing the task refused to continue with it.

photo of a Gray Wold looking at the camera

Gray Wolf by Gary Kramer (USFWS), public domain

This is a similar result as that found with Capuchin monkeys that don’t like being paid less than others.

The question of social status or hierarchy also played an important role in the experiments with dogs and wolves of higher rank taking umbrage more quickly.

The human impact on dogs isn’t entirely absent though. Pet dogs are less sensitive to being treated unfairly – probably because of their experience with us!

It is fun to see these results mirror aspects of our psychology. It is fun to see how these experiments test out animal’s responses.

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Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring

Posted on July 18, 2009 3 Comments

Project Exploration wins a presidential award for science education

This week, Project Exploration received one of 22 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring, a prize that carries a $10,000 grant and an award ceremony this fall at the White House.

So Project Exploration started summer and after-school programs to expose students underrepresented in the sciences, primarily girls and minorities, to scientists and their real-life work. Students design research projects and test them in the field, or work summers at museums demonstrating science to young children.

One group of girls is currently tracking coyotes in Yellowstone National Park, Lyon said. “Over time, they find they’re making discoveries not just about science but about themselves,” she said.

Related: Presidential Award for Top Science and Math TeachersFund Teacher’s Science ProjectsNSF CAREER Award Winners 2008Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (2007)

SUNY Plattsburgh professor earns presidential honor

Her students have been working to unlock the mysteries of the past as they analyze the DNA from skeletons of ancient Maya. They are trying to answer questions like did the disorder Beta-Thalassemia, a type of anemia, really exist in the Americas before Columbus set sail? What accounts for differences in burial among some of the Maya? Were some from more aristocratic family lines? What route did the Maya take across the Bering Strait? And are there other Native American tribes that share a common ancestry?

Her students are also working to unlock mysteries of the present, studying a newly found gene that exists in paramecium (single-celled organisms) that may tell them more about evolution.

Others have just completed a joint project, working with Elwess, Adjunct Lecturer Sandra Latourelle and members of the college’s psychology department – SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor Jeanne Ryan and Professor William Tooke. They searched for links between an individual’s genes, aggressive behavior and the ratio of one finger to another. Their results will be released soon.

This sort of work has led to SUNY Plattsburgh undergraduates winning top honors for poster presentations at both the National Association of Biology Teachers and International Sigma Xi conferences four years in a row. In addition, many of Elwess’ students have also gone on to pursue higher degrees in the field, being accepted into schools like Yale and the University of Oregon.

President Obama today named more than 100 science, math, and engineering teachers and mentors as recipients of two prestigious Presidential Awards for Excellence. The educators will receive their awards in the Fall at a White House ceremony.

The Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring, awarded each year to individuals or organizations, recognizes the crucial role that mentoring plays in the academic and personal development of students studying science or engineering and who belong to minorities that are underrepresented in those fields. By offering their time, encouragement and expertise to these students, mentors help ensure that the next generation of scientists and engineers will better reflect the diversity of the United States.
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Extremophile Hunter

Posted on June 3, 2009 2 Comments

NSF has begun publishing a new web magazine: Science Nation. The inaugural article is Extremophile Hunter

Astrobiologist Richard Hoover really goes to extremes to find living things that thrive where life would seem to be impossible–from the glaciers of the Alaskan Arctic to the ice sheets of Antarctica.

“It may be that when we ultimately get a chance to bring back samples of ice from the polar caps of Mars, we might find biology that looks just like Earth life and it might be that it originated on Earth and was carried to Mars,” said Hoover. “Of course, if it can happen that way, it could have happened the other way. So we may never know the ultimate answer to how did life originate.”

Some of the structures he has imaged from these meteorites are intriguing, bearing striking similarities to bacteria here on Earth. Could these be the fossilized remains of extraterrestial life?

“I am convinced that what I am finding in the carbonaceous meteorites are in many cases biological in nature, and I think they are indigenous and not terrestrial contaminants,” said Hoover.

It is a highly controversial interpretation. “We have for a long time thought that all life, as we know it, originated on Earth. And there isn’t any life anywhere else,” he said. “That’s an idea, it’s a hypothesis, it’s a totally unproven hypothesis.”

Related: TardigradesWhat is an Extremophile?Light-harvesting Bacterium Discovered in Yellowstone

The Engineer That Made Your Cat a Photographer

Posted on September 14, 2007 21 Comments

photo by Binky the cat or another catThis article is the result of the first Curious Cat engineer interview. My favorite post detailed the great engineering project Jürgen Perthold undertook to engineer a camera that his cat could wear and take photos. So I decided to interview him.

The Engineer That Made Your Cat a Photographer by John Hunter:

This time I thought about our cat who is the whole day out, returning sometimes hungry sometimes not, sometimes with traces of fights, sometimes he stay also the night out. When he finally returns, I wonder where he was and what he did during his day. This brought me to the idea to equip the cat with a camera. The plan was to put a little camera around his neck which takes every few minutes a picture. After he is returning, the camera would show his day.

The Amazing CatCam is not only a great product but a wonderful engineering story. See our past post for some background on how an engineer allowed you to help your cat become a photographer. On the development of the CatCam Jürgen Perthold says, “More or less it was just a joke, born with a crazy idea.” Such a great sentiment and with wonderful results.

What path led him to the desire and ability to pursue the crazy idea and become the Curious Cat engineer of the year? He was born in Aalen, Germany. He started playing with electronics as he was 13. At 15 he added computer programming and with a friend they programmed games, applications and hardware control over the years. He studied Optoelectronics at the University of Aalen, Germany extending his knowledge further.

For the last few years he has worked for Bosch, an international manufacturing company, in the automotive hardware section. Last summer, he transfered from Germany to Anderson, South Carolina as a resident engineer for transmission control unit in a production plant for automobile parts. On a side note, the United States is still by far the largest manufacturer in the world.
photo by Binkey the cat, from under a car
The demand for the cameras is still higher than his capability to produce the cameras. He has raised the price, to limit the demand. When I first saw the prices I couldn’t believe how inexpensive it was. And, in my opinion, they are still a incredible deal. Order your CatCam now: it is a great gadget for yourself or it makes a great unique, gift. Most orders have been from the UK, Germany and the USA.

Most people don’t have technical background so they buy the full unit. But he reports that some brave souls order a kit because of price or availability although they have not done anything similar before. What a great way to challenge yourself and, if you succeed, end up with a wonderful creation when you finish.

He is in discussion with several different groups to ramp up production. The main problem is that producing the device requires electronics, optics, software, mechanics and logistics expertise. So, for the time being, he continues to modify the cameras by hand because no investments are necessary and the production can be scaled according to the demand. The required soldering, electronics and system knowledge makes it a challenge to outsource. So, for now, CatCam production is adding to the USA manufacturing output total. He is also planning to produce more products.
photo of Jacquie the cat wearing a CatCam
Jürgen believes that getting the cat camera working was not that challenging. You can take a look at his explanation of how he did so to decide for yourself. He does admit that challenges do arise if you want to produce cameras for others. To do that you must create a product that is foolproof, reliable, and easy to use and manufacture.

“I was surprised how famous one can get with ‘boring’ technical engineering stuff. I like this not only for me but for all other engineers out there who daily work hard on challenges which others don’t even understand. We as engineers make the world moving but usually we are not recognized.” Everyone enjoys the products of the labors of engineers (such as cell phones, MP3 players, cars, planes, bridges, internet connections) but few see the required knowledge, work and the people that bring those products into being.
photo by Jacquie the cat of a vine
Jürgen “hopes that I made ‘engineering’ a bit more visible to people who did not think about it before, for example, female cat owners who never had a solder iron in the hand and bought plain SOIC chips because they wanted the cat camera…”

I think he has done a great job illustrating the engineering behind the CatCam and making engineering fun. And in so doing hopefully is making more people aware of the engineers that make so many wonderful modern gadgets. Go buy a CatCam now (and if you are adventurous buy the parts and create your own – you will learn a lot about what makes all your modern gadgets work). And then send in the pictures your cat takes so everyone can see the wonderful things engineers make possible.

The photos here show the results of several new cat photographers (Binky the cat [first 2 photos] and Jacquie the cat [last 2]). Only a small percentage of CatCam owners have shared there pictures so far.

Over the next few years he would like to learn to sail, visit Yellowstone national park, walk the Camino de Santiago again, move on to other international assignment (maybe far east) and continuing raising his two children.

The Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog is written by John Hunter and tracks a wide variety of developments, happenings, interesting under-publicized facts, and cool aspects of science and engineering.

2007 Posts

Posted on August 25, 2007 No Comments > Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog > 2007 Archive

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