Ocean acidification explained with dry ice

Dear imaginary readers,

It took ages for me to write a post as I am about to embark in a very exciting new adventure in the very near future.

I wanted to write this post straight after I was back from Into the blue in Manchester last October, but my worst enemy, the God of Postponing won the battle.

If you remember I was there with the Environmental Chemistry Group of the Royal Society of Chemistry working as a volunteer to introduce the public to the real problems the environmental chemists work on.

We had three stalls with different “hands on” interactive activities for kids (even though adults seemed to enjoy as well).

The first and the second were about environmental pollution, with a tray full of soil and small pieces of plastic dispersed in it and simple nitrates and phosphates testing kits.

into the blue 2

The real queen of the activities we proposed was the ocean acidification demonstration. It does involve smoke and colour changes so it does automatically attract the public attention.

In the rest of the article you can find the procedure, materials and adaptations you can use to realize the experiments in secondary schools, lab or even in the streets, as we did!

First of all we assessed what the audit knows about pH, asking questions and showing a pH colour scale. Then we encourage people to test different thing like drinking water, “fake” pre-made ocean water (pH about 8.2, adjusted with NaOH), coke, orange juice, milk and soap solution with bromothymol blue, litmus paper or any other pH indicator.

Ask the spectators if they know where seawater fits in on the spectrum. Explain that pH is measured on a logarithmic scale like earthquakes and a small change in pH from 8.2 to 8.1 corresponds to an increase in acidity of about 30%.

For this activity, the audience should understand that when humans release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, some of the carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean. This changes the chemistry of seawater making it more acidic. About one third of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere over the past 200 years has been taken up by the ocean.

Then we started to explain why ocean acidification is a current and future problem. The average coastal ocean pH is 8.2, but it is changing because of the addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and the subsequent absorption of that carbon dioxide into the ocean. About 30% of the carbon dioxide produced daily is absorbed by the ocean. The pH of the ocean has decreased 0.1 in the last century; it is becoming more acidic (less basic). Some of the organisms at greatest risk include larva and shell-forming animals at the base of the food web that provide food for larger species. Organisms faced with the stress of ocean acidification can migrate, acclimate or go extinct and values of 7.8 are expected by 2100 for the average ocean water, representing a doubling of acidity. Additional stressors that increase the impact include temperature increase and habitat loss.

Then you show the spectators the dry ice in a watch glass pointing out that is the solid form of CO2 and that is changing to a gas (sublimation) at room temperature, so its temperature is about -78 C so they should never touch it with bare hands. When it is added to water it rapidly changes to the gas form and some of this gas becomes dissolved in the water.

We then added enough dry ice to a conical flask containing the “ocean water” and bromothymol blue and the solution will turn progressively yellow as the pH decreases because of the formation of carbonic acid that acidifies the solution.

Because of the quick reaction and the big temperature difference between the “sea water” and the dry ice there will be quite a bit of what looks like smoke or fog billow away from the conical flask (it is actually vapour). The kids will go really excited (some of them even scared) and you will definitely get some “oooooooooooooooh”.

 

intotheblue5

When the reaction has finished and the spectators have regained their concentration, we tried to recap what they saw and why it matters to the ocean’s environment. Adding carbon dioxide to water makes it more acidic or less basic. This is what is happening to the ocean. Humans add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels (driving cars, creating electricity, etc), deforestation, and in many other ways. The ocean then absorbs some of what gets emitted into the atmosphere, sometimes we say that the ocean acts as a “sink” for carbon dioxide. This effect is worsened by the global warming of the planet. The change in the chemical average composition of the ocean’s water, have consequences on many marine creatures, such as shell forming organisms such a corals, bivalves (clams, mussels and oysters) and pteropods (free swimming snails) that are sensitive to changes in pH.

If you want to do this demo as part of a wider lesson in schools, you can add a detailed explanation of the different reactions the CO2 gives in different environments and related demonstrations (acidic rain, weathering of rocks, cave formation)

For the ocean acidification the chemical reaction is the following.

CO2 + H2O      →        H2CO3

As shown in the chemical reaction scheme, when carbon dioxide (CO2) dissolves in seawater, it creates carbonic acid, which releases bicarbonate ions (HCO3-) and hydrogen (H+) ions into the water. The hydrogen ions make the seawater more acidic (lowering its pH). In addition, some of the hydrogen ions react with carbonate ions (CO3=) already in the seawater to create more bicarbonate. This reduces the amount of carbonate (an important mineral for building shells) dissolved in the seawater. The impacts of ocean acidification and lower carbonate ion concentrations on marine ecosystems include reduced growth of organisms that form calcareous skeletons or shells.

Ocean acidification and global warming are relegated to the science fiction shelves by one of the more powerful politician of the world, at a point in the life of our planet when the consequences of the increase of CO2 released into the atmosphere are about to spiral up culminating in a very hostile environment for humans and every other living thing.

For this reason is more important than ever to engage in outreach activities trying to explain to as much person as possible that our choices have a very big and dangerous impact on the place where we live, and that it is important to act on a personal and a political basis.

Time is now!

“I think that once people understand the great risks that climate change poses, they will naturally want to choose products and services that cause little or no emissions of greenhouse gases, which means ‘low-carbon consumption.’ This will apply across the board, including electricity, heating, transport and food.” Nicholas Stern, IG Patel Professor of Economics and Government, Chairman of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and Head of the India Observatory at the London School of Economics.

Have a lovely end of summer everyone, but always try to be conscious! Hasta la vista

 

 

 

Advertisements

Femmes of STEM Podcast Shares Stories of Women in Science

Free Radicals

by Sophie Duncan

An illustration of femme scientists from a variety of fields using a microphone with the words ‘Femmes of STEM’ to break through a glass ceiling of Science History. Artwork by Keshy Jeong.

Breaking down the false narrative around the absence of women in STEM.

August 2, 2017

Although I know that white cis-males are not the only historical scientists of note (because that would be absurd), that doesn’t mean I know the names and stories of the scientists left out of his tory. However with my new favorite podcast, I am learning the names and stories I knew had to exist, but did not know where to find. Femmes of Stem, a bi-weekly podcast, tells the story of all-star femme scientists from history. In March I was lucky enough to interview the creator of the podcast, Michelle Barboza-Ramirez, who is retelling science history, one episode at a…

View original post 1,155 more words

Soapbox Science in Brighton is looking for volunteers

soapbox

Have you ever encountered a lady dressed wearing a lab coat and talking about scientific staff standing on a soapbox in the middle of your local high street?

If your answer is yes, chances are you took part in a Soapbox Science event. Soapbox Science is a fairly recent (everything started in 2011) outreach platform for promoting female scientists and the work they do.

The two co-founders of this fantastic series of events are the ecologist Nathalie Pettorelli, who currently works as researcher at the London zoo, and the biologist Serian Sumner, member of the Eusocial Insect Research Group, at the University College London.

Public areas are transformed into an arena for public learning and scientific debate, following the format of London Hyde Park’s Speaker’s Corner, which is an historical place for public debate.

It is all about direct, hands on science communication:

“What happens if you put a few scientists on soapboxes on a busy street? We’ll tell you what happens: People who don’t usually think about science get to hear about it first hand, from scientists who don’t necessarily have shaggy beards and odd matching shoes, but who do know how to share their passion for experimentation, discovery and innovation. Soapbox Science is a grass-roots approach to taking science to the public. No fancy festivals; no stuffy lecture-theatres: just some of the UK’s top women in science, a couple of silly props, a dash of summer showers, and lots of unsuspecting tourists. It’s street theatre with a difference. And we aim to make a difference!”

Sumner & Pettorelli, Soapbox Science Founders, July 2012.

Soapbox-Science-4-of-79

Someone may see the fact that the speakers have to meet only the requirement of being a woman, other than being a genuine scientist, as discriminatory. I would rather call it a positive discrimination, a way to put ourselves in the first line showing to the public what we can do and that we actually do it, showing off the importance of women in STEM. Many people struggle to convey on the fact that there is a problem of imbalance and stereotypes preventing women to occupy the decisional places of the ladder, but the House of Common Science and Technology Committee report “Women in Scientific Careers” 2014 states that only the 17 % of academics in STEM are female, even though the number of women enrolling scientific courses is increasing.

One of the most important Soapbox Science event is going to take place in Brighton on Saturday 29th July 2017, 1-4pm, on Brighton Seafront. The key speakers of the day will be:

  • Ms Pollie Barden (@polliepi), University of Sussex “Firefly – A game of dark intentions”
  • Professor Claudia Eberlein (@ClaudiaPhysics), University of Sussex “The Quantum Vacuum – Something from Nothing?”
  • Dr Samantha Furfari (@SamFurfari), University of Sussex “Coordination Chemistry: What is it and what can it be used for?”
  • Dr Orode Aniejurengho (@orodeUVA), Tissue Click Ltd. “Using helpful viruses as medicine to fight bacterial infections”
  • Ms Madeleine Conaghan (@maddyconaghan), University of Brighton “Invent, Design and Create products that solve problems”
  • Dr Charlotte Clarke (@astronomnomy), Brighton and Sussex Medical School “Why astrophysics and neuroscience look the same to a rubber duck”
  • Miss Millie Watts (@GeoMillie), University of Southampton “Will climate change cause more tsunamis in the UK?”
  • Professor Louise Serpell (@serpelllab), University of Sussex “Changing the shape of proteins: from spiders to Alzheimer’s disease”
  • Dr Ruth Murrell-Lagnado (@RuthMurL), University of Sussex “Excitable cells and Drugs”
  • Dr Dawn Scott, University of Brighton “City nights with the wild furry urbanites: do you know what happens in your garden after dark?”
  • Miss Taniya Parikh (@taniyaaaaaaa), University of Portsmouth “A galactic tale: from a cloud of gas and dust to billions of stars”
  • Ms Sonali Mohapatra (@Sonali_Mohapatr), University of Sussex “Gravity and Blackholes: Linking Fantasy and Reality”

For this event Soapbosx Science is still looking for volunteers helping out rounding up the public, chatting to them informally about science, supporting the speakers by managing props and helping to calm any pre-box nerves as well as handing out Soapbox goodies to lucky audience members. But perhaps the most important role of the volunteers is gathering data so we can effectively monitor the success of the event: volunteers carry out the bulk of our streamlined evaluation process, through interviews, observations and counting footfall.

Soapbox-Science-c-Loreal-(1)

For more practical information and application click here.

cropped-soapboxscience-logo

The UCL 3MT competition winner!

Every year the UCL organizes a competition dedicated to doctoral candidates who have to recap their work into a three minutes presentation to a non-specialist audience called UCL 3MT.

This year the winner is Alexandra Bridarolli, who is working on the NANORESTART Horizon 2020 project, researching nanotechnology-based solutions for the conservation of contemporary art materials. Her thesis is focused on using nanocellulose for the consolidation of cellulosic materials in particular on canvas from the 20th century.

I love her theatrical and pathetic attitude during her presentation!

What do you think about her presentation? Does is show enough enthusiasm? Is it comprehensible to everyone?

In my opinion it is an excellent example of how science can be made interesting and taken out of the closed, often self-centered academic world, and made accessible to the public without using cryptic complicated language.

So… well done Alexandra!

We can do it!

Women-in-STEM-Icon

Today we are celebrating “International Women’s Day” and I’d like to talk about the achievements of women in STEM, presenting a couple of female scientists who made it, struggling in a world dominated by men.

Despite being overshadowed by their husbands or close colleagues, judged badly and criticised for not being in compliance with the “female” stereotypes and their scientific discoveries often being stolen or underestimated, they lead the way in their field.

Regardless of their social, economic and ethnic background they are inspirational figures that should urge us to keep fighting for our rights, our freedom of expression and self-determination.

Mary Anning (1799-1849)

Mary_Anning_painting.jpg

Mary was born into poverty, but became the greatest fossils finder of her era, influencing the new science of paleontology despite not being acknowledged by her peer colleagues. Several books and articles are talking about her using anedoctes and stories, but very little is known about her real life, and many people are unaware of her contributions to science.

Mary Anning has been credited with the first discovery of ichthyosaur fossils, but perhaps her most important find, from a scientific point of view, was her discovery of the first plesiosaur.

It was only when the famous French anatomist, Georges Cuvier realized that this was a genuine find, that Mary became a legitimate and respected fossils expert in the eyes of the scientific community.

In spite of this recognition, the majority of Mary’s finds ended up in museums and personal collections without credit being given to her as the discoverer of the fossils. As time passed, Mary Anning was forgotten by the scientific community and most historians, due to the lack of appropriate documentation of her special skills.

I beg your pardon for distrusting your friendship. The world has used me so unkindly, I fear it has made me suspicious of every one.” Letter to a friend.

Dr Praticia Bath (1942-present)

bh-patriciabath-inventors

Grown up in Harlem, she is a renewed retired ophthalmologist who pioneered laser eye surgery. She is the first African American woman to complete a residency in ophthalmology (1973) and the first faculty member in the Department of Ophthalmology at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute.

Her research led to the development of a community ophthalmology system, which increased the amount of eye care given to those who were unable to afford treatment. In 1976, Bath co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, which established that “eyesight is a basic human right.”

In 1981 she began work on what she would call a “Laserphaco Probe.” The device employed a laser as well as two tubes, one for irrigation and one for aspiration. The laser would be used to make a small incision in the eye and the laser energy would vaporize the cataracts within a couple of minutes. The damaged lens would then be flushed with liquids and then gently extracted by the suction tube. With the liquids still being washed into the eye, a new lens could be easily inserted. Additionally, this procedure could be used for initial cataract surgery and could eliminate much of the discomfort expected, while increasing the accuracy of the surgery.

In 1993, Bath retired from her position at the UCLA Medical Center and became an honorary member of its medical staff. That same year, she was named a “Howard University Pioneer in Academic Medicine.” Among her many roles in the medical field, Bath is a strong advocate of telemedicine, which uses technology to provide medical services in remote areas.

Do not allow your mind to be imprisoned by majority thinking. Remember that the limits of science are not the limits of imagination.”

Mary Leakey (1913-1996)

Mary-Leakey

She was a British paleoanthropologist who discovered the fossilized “Proconsul” skull, an extinct ape that is now recognized to be ancestral to humans. The fossil, believed to be more than 18 million years old, was the first species of the primate genus to be discovered from the Miocene era.

In 1959 while his husband Louis was resting, recovering from a flu, Mary discovered the partial skull of an early human ancestor. Early analyses of the artifact showed that this species was equipped with a small brain but massive teeth and jaws, and muscles so large they had to be anchored to a ridge at the top of the skull. It was later determined that Zinjanthropus boisei was nearly 2 million years old, showing how long the species had been in Africa.

Mary developed a system for classifying the stone tools found in Olduvai. Although she did the major part of the work and actual findings, her husband Louis took the credit and became famous.

In 1960, the Leakey team made its next major discovery: fossils of Homo habilis, a species that is believed to be between 1.4 and 2.3 million years old, and to have originated during the Gelasian Pleistocene period. Their find also provided evidence that the species were adept in making stone tools, making them the earliest known experts in that field.

Even in her early teenager years she proved to have an unconventional rebel spirit. During her school days in a Catholic convent she was expelled twice. Once for causing an explosion in a chemistry laboratory and another for refusing to recite poetry.

I quite liked having a baby – I think I won’t put it more strongly than that. But I had no intention of allowing motherhood to disrupt my work as an archaeologist.

Esther Lederberg (1922-2006)

Esher Lederberg

Esther was an American microbiologist who discovered the bacterial virus lambda, the transfer of genes between bacteria by specialized transduction, developed the technique of replica plating and founded and directed the now closed “Plasma Reference Center” at Standford University. Her husband Joshua used the replica plating technique and won the Nobel prize il 1958.

At 31, Joshua was already a full professor whereas Esther, who was two years older, remained an associate investigator. In an interview that followed his 1953 Eli Lilly award in Bacteriology, Joshua affirmed that this prize should have been shared with his wife.

Despite that, on the occasion of his Nobel Prize, Joshua did not mentioned Esther in either of his speeches, when he received the award and during the gala dinner.

She did pioneering work in genetics, but it was her husband who won a Nobel prize.” Obituary from The Guardian.

Wangari Maathai (1940-2011) 

Wangari-Maathai

She was a famous Kenyan environmental scientist and activist, educated in the USA, studying biology at the University of Pittsbourgh. After that she returned to her home country working as research assistant to a professor of zoology at the University College of Nairobi.

Later she became a senior lecturer in anatomy (1975), chair of veterinary anatomy (1976), and associate professor (1977).

In addiction to her work, she became involved in a number of civic organizations, such as unions, environment conservation projects, human and women rights associations, and she became the Kenya Red Cross Society director in 1973.

Her involvement in politics during the 90’s costed her loosing her job, and the end of her marriage, with her ex-husband making allegations of adultery.

Maathai was the first woman in central or eastern Africa to earn a Ph.D and the first woman head of an university department in Kenya, and last first, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Price for her political activism.

“It was easy to persecute me without people feeling ashamed. It was easy to vilify me and project me as a woman who was not following the tradition of a ‘good African woman’ and as a highly educated elitist who was trying to show innocent African women ways of doing things that were not acceptable to African men.”

“African women in general need to know that it’s OK for them to be the way they are, to see the way they are as a strength, and to be liberated from fear and from silence.”

Into the blue. Environmental Chemistry Outreach Exhibit

 

Dear imaginary readers,

it’s with excitement that I can say I will be part of this amazing event curated by the Environmental Chemistry Group of the Royal society of Chemistry.

It will take place at Manchester Runaway Visitor Park from Tuesday the 25th until Saturday the 29th of October.

Into the blue will bring alive the world of environmental science and research by immersing visitors in a hands-on science exhibition, experiencing the best of the UK’s environmental science research and the cutting-edge technology that is used to measure and monitor our environment.

Some lucky visitors will be able to go on board and experience the UK’s most advanced research aircraft, to ask questions of real scientists and interact with a range of exhibits from all of NERC’s centres.

For more information and tickets visit the NERC website.

I can’t wait for that!

 

 

science-weekok