STEM Tuesday

STEM Tuesday — Natural Disasters — Author Interview with Amy Cherrix

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Today we’re interviewing Amy Cherrix, author of EYE OF THE STORM: NASA, Drones, and the Race to Crack the Hurricane Code.

Mary Kay Carson: Tell us a bit about Eye of the Storm and how you came to write it.

Download a Discussion & Activity Guide for the book.

Amy Cherrix: Eye of the Storm is the story of an elite group of NASA meteorologists and the Hurricane Severe Storm Sentinel mission (HS3). These scientists and engineers re-purposed military drones to conduct high-altitude hurricane research. This Global Hawk drone was built for use in dry climates. Global Hawk is so delicate, it cannot take off during so much as a light rain shower, yet it can fly safely high above hurricanes–the most violent storms in nature’s arsenal. How’s that for irony? The drone is loaded with remote control science instruments that measure humidity, air pressure, temperature, and more. The Global Hawk’s pilot flies the aircraft using a computer mouse and keyboard from a control room on the ground that is hundreds, or thousands, of miles away from the aircraft.

I stumbled onto this incredible story while engaging in my favorite Saturday morning activity. I love to pour a big cup of coffee and surf the NASA.gov website (an activity I highly recommend to science enthusiasts and story writers). When I read about the HS3 mission, I knew I had a great book idea on my hands. I sent emails to the mission’s principal investigators and within an hour, replies from NASA were pouring into my inbox. NASA is a public agency and its scientists love to share their work. I accepted a generous invitation from the mission’s principal investigator, Dr. Scott Braun, and visited NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the coast of Virginia to observe the mission. I interviewed drone pilots, engineers, meteorologists, and mechanics. Every single person was deeply invested in the mission’s success. It was inspiring.

MKC: Anything you’d like to share about the time you spent with researchers while writing this book?

Amy: The scariest part of writing this book was not knowing if the team would have a hurricane to study while I was visiting Wallops Flight Facility. What would I write about if nothing happened while I was there? But sometimes, things just work out for the best.  Hurricane Edouard formed soon after my arrival and was the best storm the HS3 team had studied to date! It was an ideal sample, staying far out to sea, not threatening land, and it spun for days. They were thrilled and it was an unexpected honor to be present at such a high-point of the mission.

MKC: Why do you choose to write STEM books?

Amy: I write STEM stories because I have always been insatiably curious about science and the natural world. When human beings try to overcome the forces of nature—whether it’s gravity, or the weather—challenges abound. Scientists confront these impossible challenges everyday. That’s their job. I’m fascinated by that kind of determination, patience, and persistence.

Amy Cherrix is the acclaimed author of In the Shadow of the Moon: America, Russia, and the Hidden History of the Space Race, as well as two middle-grade nonfiction books in the award-winning Scientists in the Field series: Backyard Bears: Conservation, Habitat Changes, and the Rise of Urban Wildlife and Eye of the Storm. Her newest STEM picture book is Animal Architects (9/7/21), from Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster. www.amycherrix.com

MKC: For readers who loved The Eye of the Storm, what other middle-grade books would you suggest?

Amy: I highly recommend every book in Houghton Mifflin’s Scientists in the Field series, of which Eye of the Storm, is a part. There’s something for everyone; thrilling stories about science in the fields of geology, biology, seismology, meteorology, genetics; just about any branch of science you can imagine. These books show young readers that science is much more than a white coat and a laboratory. Science is adventure!

MKC: Could you share where you are right now on a current project and how you’re approaching it?

Amy: I’m working on a new STEM picture book series for Beach Lane Books called Amazing Animals. I just finished the first book in the series that publishes on September 7, 2021 called Animal Architects, illustrated by Chris Sasaki. Many animals, both on land and in the sea, build amazing structures to help them trap food, attract mates, or hide from predators. From undersea cities of coral, to a mother penguin’s palace of pebbles, the natural world is a construction zone. I spent months reading books, watching nature videos, taking notes, and studying photographs to collect their stories. The second book, Animal Superpowers, publishes in fall 2022. I approached Animal Architects with a spirit of wonder. I wanted to inspire readers’ curiosity. To do that, I created a list of the various structures animals and insects build. Then I imagined what questions young readers might ask of nature’s builders. The answers I found surprised me at every turn. For example, before writing this book, I’d never given termites a second thought. But I learned that some species of termites build giant, naturally air-conditioned towers. How cool is that? These tiny insects work together as a colony to build a home that helps them survive as a group. We can learn a lot from nature. I hope this new series inspires young readers to ask their own questions about the natural world, and consider what actions they can take to protect our planet and its creatures.

Win a FREE copy of EYE OF THE STORM!

Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (within the U.S. only) to receive the book.

Good luck!

Your host is Mary Kay Carson, author of Wildlife Ranger Action Guide, The Tornado ScientistAlexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson

STEM Tuesday — Natural Disasters– Writing Tips & Resources

STEM Tuesday

Disasters

Hmm…

How is one supposed to write a Writing Tips & Resources post tied into natural disasters? Besides being an apt descriptor of 99.9999% of my writing drafts, the tragedy of a natural disaster has very little to do with writing, right?

Well, my work here is done. Stay safe everyone, take care, and I’ll see you for my next STEM Tuesday post in three months!

(STEM Tuesday Voice-Over Narrator: Hays went back to watching college basketball. Again, he’s taken the easy way out and shirked his duties as a STEM Tuesday “expert”. All in favor of banishing him from ever taking another step onto the STEM Tuesday stage, say—)

Wait! Don’t banish me yet. I’ve just had a revelation, albeit a revelation triggered by my favorite team’s upset loss in the tournament and a completely busted bracket. Nevertheless, it’s still officially classified as a revelation.

Natural disasters actually can tie into a Writing Tips & Resources post. How? Let’s pull back and have a look at the big picture.

This image is created from eight images shot in two sequences as a tornado formed north of Minneola, Kansas on May 24, 2016. Photo by Jason Weingart Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

Natural disasters affect everyone. They can come without warning or they can come as forecast. They come by land, sea, and air. They come in all shapes and sizes, just like writers. There is one thing, however, common to natural disasters. They wreak havoc. Take another look at the excellent book list for Natural Disaster Month. Havoc. Havoc. And more havoc.

Three things a writer of any age can learn from natural disasters.

Modeling & Predicting

There was a news blip from the time period after the worst of Hurricane Katrina had passed and before the 2008 financial crisis. It was the usual politics vs science funding BS that is so frustrating for a basic research scientist. A politician went on a rant about the “wasteful” funding in an appropriations bill about a grant awarded to a scientist at a major Texas university to study using GPS to determine and map exact heights on the earth’s surface. As you can probably imagine, the politician ranted on and on about the sheer stupidity of such an endeavor. If the scientist wanted to know how far something was off the ground, why don’t they just go outside and look at it instead of bloating their budgets with tax dollars? 

When the reporter tracked down the research scientist, he explained his research was focused on developing this aspect of GPS technology to better map elevation data. The ultimate goal was to be able to model geographical regions most susceptible to dangerous flooding with specific rainfall patterns. (I wish I could find the source reference but I can’t. I will continue to search for it, though, and post it here if I find it.)

Establishing models by establishing the science. That’s the goal. Better models help explain the world around us. Better models help us to predict the natural world, including natural disasters. The ability to model and predict allows us to stay safer and survive when Mother Nature strikes.

A writer does something similar. They experiment to find out what processes work for them and what doesn’t work. Their individual writing process becomes the model and the model allows them to tell whatever story they want to tell. That’s kind of like a prediction for creating stories that accomplish what the writer wants to accomplish. Janet Slingerland did an exceptional STEM Tuesday In the Classroom post last week that highlights mapping, which is a form of modeling, as a tool.

Planning & Preparation

Being a lifelong resident of tornado alley, we are brought up to plan and prepare for the tornado season. Tornado drills, safe havens indoors and out, supply boxes, and many other preparations are part of everyday life from March to November. We learn to pay attention to the weather report. We learn to know what to do in case of a tornado watch and a tornado warning so when these situations arise, we can be ready.

Planning helps a writer by providing a course of action and a direction. Preparation through practice and learning gives the writer the tools needed to successfully reach that destination. Through planning and preparation, a writer knows what to do when situations arise and is ready to tackle those hurdles.

React & Recover

The cost to humanity from natural disasters is beyond measure. There is no price tag to the emotional, physical, and mental toll a disaster leaves in its wake. However, there is often a sliver of hope that arises from the destruction and chaos. People help each other. Families, households, neighborhoods, communities, nations come together to help each other recover. Out of the rubble springs a new future. Rebuilt and, hopefully, rebuilt better.

Writing is similar. The first draft, and in some of our cases, the second, third, and fourth drafts are often chaos. Havoc on the page. We recover through revision. We revise through community. Writing groups, critique partners, beta readers, etc. all help our writing spring anew from the rubble of an early draft. Just as one would rely on the kindness of a community to recover from a natural disaster, rely on the kindness of the writing community to lift your words.

Tree ridge in flames during the 2018 Woolsey Fire, California, US. Photo courtesy of Peter Buschmann, United States Forest Service. https://www.flickr.com/photos/usforestservice/45923164272 We’re All In This Together

There you have it. A few ways to learn from natural disasters ways to improve your writing. Never forget, however, no matter how much havoc and chaos exist internally and externally, there’s a great community of writers there for support and encouragement.  

Just write. 

Start with one word and then follow with the next word. Repeat.

Just write. 

This is perhaps the best of the whole list of STEM Tuesday Writing Tips & Resources.

Just write.

The world needs your story.

Typhoon Molave on October 27, 2020. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiasts, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training-related topics at  www.coachhays.com and writer stuff at www.mikehaysbooks.comTwo of his science essays, The Science of Jurassic Park and Zombie Microbiology 101,  are included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64.


The O.O.L.F Files

Natural disasters are serious business to which a serious amount of STEM both contributes and is advanced. The drive to learn more about natural disasters continues with the ultimate goal of protecting life and limb. This month’s O.O.L.F. Files explores some of these entities and how they work to advance the knowledge base to keep us all as safe as possible.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • From the NOAA About web page:
    • NOAA is an agency that enriches life through science. Our reach goes from the surface of the sun to the depths of the ocean floor as we work to keep the public informed of the changing environment around them.
    • From daily weather forecasts, severe storm warnings, and climate monitoring to fisheries management, coastal restoration and supporting marine commerce, NOAA’s products and services support economic vitality and affect more than one-third of America’s gross domestic product. NOAA’s dedicated scientists use cutting-edge research and high-tech instrumentation to provide citizens, planners, emergency managers and other decision makers with reliable information they need when they need it.
  • That first line just about says it all! Enriching life through science!

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

  • Due to the increase in the sheer number and severity of disasters and emergencies, FEMA has catapulted to one of the most important federal agencies in coordinating disaster response.

National Weather Service Storm Chaser Info Page

  • Uh…where has this site been all my life? I need to jump down this rabbit hole and find out what’s down there. 

Managing Fire by the U.S. Forest Service (USDA)

Japan Tsunami 2011

  • This month brings the ten-year anniversary of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. The tragedy is an example of the multi-layered effects of a natural disaster at its worst.

Chaos Theory

  • Chaos by James Gleick
    • I recently checked this book out and started reading it. Chaos Theory has been a mind worm since the time I first read Jurassic Park. So far, so good!

Chaos: Making a New Science Cover

Mathematician Edward Lorenz

“When a butterfly flutters its wings in one part of the world, it can eventually cause a hurricane in another.” – Edward Norton Lorenz

  • One of the key figures in the development of chaos theory and its application in meteorology.

Popular Science: How Science Has Battled Natural Disasters

  • This is a pretty cool article about several historical methods scientists used to fight natural disasters.

STEM Tuesday — Natural Disasters — In the Classroom

STEM Tuesday
This month, we’re exploring natural disasters. In my reading, I explored a few different types of disasters.

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The Science of an Avalanche (21st Century Skills Library: Disaster Science)
by Carol Hand (2015)

This book does a good job of covering the science behind avalanches. This is a rather traditional NF book that looks at different kinds of avalanches, ways to prevent them, and how people are rescued from them.

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Extreme Earthquakes and Tsunamis (When Nature Attacks)
by John Farndon (2018)

This is a browseable book with lots of images to explain where and why earthquakes and tsunamis happen.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgHurricane Harvey: Disaster in Texas and Beyond
by Rebecca Felix (2018)

This book introduces readers to hurricanes through the lens of one devastating hurricane: 2017’s Hurricane Harvey.

 

While there are many ways these books can tie into other lessons, I found myself focusing on data analysis and communication. I also wondered about science experiments related to the topics and found a few that are easy to explore either at home or at school.

Map It Out

Each book includes a list of the most extreme occurrences of the natural disasters it covers. Map out these locations on a national or global map.

To take this even further, think about how to convey more than just a location. How would you represent different types of disasters, when they happened, and the severity of each event?

Sometimes, an area is hit with multiple disasters at the same time. How do you communicate data on multiple disasters in the same place at the same time? This happened in 2020. To read about the issue and how communicators dealt with it, check out this write-up: https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2021/01/challenge-of-mapping-disaster-areas-during-national-emergency.html

You don’t need to restrict yourself to the information contained in the books. There are lots of other resources out there for exploring natural disaster data, predictions, and mapping. This site covers many different types of hazards: https://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/hazard/hazards.shtml. Links to specific types of natural disasters are listed below.

Pick an idea you want to convey with the data. Would you like to show the most severe events in a specific state, region, or country? How many events do you want to show? What time period do you want to cover? Are you focusing on one specific location or type of event? Do you want to see trends over time?

The information you want to convey should drive how you will show the data. Make sure to include a key and whatever other information a reader will need to interpret the data you are showing.

Earthquake Mapping

The U.S. Geological Survey has this website, dedicated to data and information related to earthquakes: https://earthquake.usgs.gov.

Map out the largest earthquake events logged in the past month. Practice searching for and looking at data by finding the earthquake nearest your home/school or in your state in the past year. (https://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/search)
Investigate earthquake hazard maps. What are they and what to they tell you? Here are a few places to look for answers.
https://www.usgs.gov/natural-hazards/earthquake-hazards/hazards
https://www.fema.gov/emergency-managers/risk-management/earthquake/hazard-maps

Avalanche Mapping

Here are a few resources where you can explore avalanche data/mapping.
http://avalanchemapping.org
https://avalanche.state.co.us
https://www.jhavalanche.org
https://utahavalanchecenter.org/avalanches/map

Hurricane Mapping

To explore information and mapping for both current and historic hurricanes.
https://www.nhc.noaa.gov
https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/historical-hurricanes
https://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/hurricane-imagery

Tsunami Mapping

For information on tsunami mapping, check out these sites.
https://www.tsunami.noaa.gov
https://www.conservation.ca.gov/cgs/tsunami/maps
https://dggs.alaska.gov/pubs/tsunami

Explore The Science

Each book talks about the science behind the natural disasters. Explore this further by conducting a science experiment. Practice science communication skills by documenting the experiment. Make sure enough information is included so that another scientist could replicate it.

To explore liquefaction, which can happen during earthquakes, check out this experiment.
https://www.exploratorium.edu/video/shaky-sediments-science-snack-activity

This activity recreates a tsunami in a 2-liter bottle.
https://www.shakeout.org/downloads/ShakeOut_ES1_TsunamiBottle.pdf

Make a Seismograph

Scientists detect earthquakes using sophisticated seismographs. There are lots of different ideas for making a basic seismograph at home or in the classroom. Here are a few:
https://www.sciencebuddies.org/stem-activities/make-a-seismograph
https://www.iris.edu/hq/files/programs/education_and_outreach/aotm/8/1.SeismographModel-Lahr.pdf
https://www.scienceworld.ca/resource/make-your-own-seismograph

Bonus Ideas

Make Artistic Waves

Woodcut print of a giant wave above several small ships, by Japanese artist Hokusai

The Great Wave is a famous woodcut print by Japanese artist Hokusai. While not necessarily depicting a tsunami, it does show a giant wave. There are lots of different ways to explore the art of the great wave. Here are a few:
https://www.deepspacesparkle.com/the-great-wave-art-project
https://www.crayola.com/lesson-plans/the-great-wave-lesson-plan
https://createdreno.blogspot.com/2013/04/a-hokusai-study-elementary-art-lesson.html

Learn About Mr. Tornado

PBS’s American Experience has a program about Ted Fujita, aka Mr. Tornado. It is a very interesting show about the man behind the F-scale used to classify tornadoes.
https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/mr-tornado

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author Janet SlingerlandJanet Slingerland loves learning about science, history, nature, and (well) everything, which she then turns into a book. To find out more about Janet and her books, check out her website: janetsbooks.com